By receiving this letter, you’ll know I’m safe. So much has happened since I last wrote to you, that I’m not entirely sure where to start. I suppose at the beginning would be a good idea. I’ve no doubt that your mathematical mind would prefer the whole thing in chronological order.
As you would have heard on the news, Hitler walked into Austria and declared Anschluss in March. Just before this happened, Jem dropped a bombshell. The school was to be moved up to the Sonnalpe and everyone had to pitch in and help out. Every time we called down there, we brought a carload of things up until there was only furniture to remove during the half term holiday.
It was strange having the whole school so close when they came back after half term. There were still a large number of girls there at that time, though we knew from Herr Marani that parents had received letters from the Gestapo stating that their children should be removed and sent to Austrian and German schools as soon as possible. For a few weeks we were left in peace. We’d had a couple of official visits from the local Gestapo, but none of them were overly interested at that point. It was just before the school broke up for Easter that the first thing happened, I suppose.
The older girls were quite upset about what was happening, and understandably so. Their world up until then had been relatively simple and friendships were still very important to them. What they then did was something which we should never have allowed. They made a Peace League. A lovely idea in principle and I sincerely hope those who signed remember the reasons for it in the coming years. I should never have agreed that going on a picnic to hide it was a good idea; however, I was persuaded and took the consequences.
The group consisted of myself, Jo, Hilary Burn, Jeanne le Cadoulec, Evvy, Corney and Robin. Jo was well on the way back to full health by this time and, as it was my day off, I could make sure she didn’t overdo it. I’d been spending a lot of my free time with her anyway and thought nothing of accompanying them for a picnic.
I’m sure you know that I’ve cared for Jo as more than a friend for a few years, now. When she began pushing me away the other summer, I honestly thought I’d done something to offend her, though I had no idea what. We’d spent a lot time together until then, going walking and occasionally into the local towns if the weather was bad. Suddenly, she didn’t seem to want to know anymore and she kept producing excuses whenever I asked her out. It was so unlike Jo to be so distant and formal and I couldn’t understand what I had done to be so thoroughly rebuffed. When she was finally admitted to the Sanatorium, I put two and two together, and it was a huge shock. I couldn’t understand how Jem had missed the signs when they lived under the same roof. Her admittance explained the reason why she’d been pushing me away, though I was still uncertain if I was correct in that assumption at first. It wasn’t until I’d spent an hour talking with her late one night, that I realised that I had been right.
Mollie, it was awful having to watch her go through it all and I hated being in the position of doctor to her. She was such a gregarious person and the enforced isolation was something she’d never had to endure before. You know how she’s always been friends with the whole world, and then she suddenly found herself isolated from everything in more ways than one. Complete bedrest is exactly what it says. You aren’t allowed to even read or write letters at first, simply because the movement of your arms make your lungs work harder. Imagine Jo having to go through that. She’s such a bookworm and most of her friends were living away by then, so her isolation was even more complete as the two things she loved were forbidden to her. I found her almost in tears that night, and it was then that I realised that she needed a friend, someone who would just listen to her and not judge her actions. She confessed her reason for hiding away from me that summer was that she was scared of the consequences when she couldn’t shake the cough she’d developed after a pretty severe chest cold. You remember when she came down with pleuro-pneumonia after falling though the ice one winter? Well, it had left her chest even weaker than it already was and as much as we’d warned her she needed to avoid catching cold, she then came down with one and it was the catalyst in the end.
I digress, anyway. Getting back to the picnic, we walked to a shelf which is seldom visited simply because the path is so bad. Halfway along it is a boulder which you need to climb up before you can continue along the path. Having managed to climb it without any incidents (a miracle considering that we had both Evvy and Corney in our party), we discovered that we were being followed. We’d had a strange encounter earlier with a local woman and her son and it turned out that it was the boy who was following us. Once we’d spotted him, Hilary came up with the bright idea that we should have a game of hide and seek so he would lose the trail and the document could still be safely hidden. Of course, this didn’t go entirely to plan and turned into both a cause for worry and also joy.
Whilst Jo was seeker, Robin and Hilary went to hide the document. The trouble was that Hermann, the little boy who had been following us, must have spotted it sticking out of Robin’s pocket. He followed them, though they probably heard him and thought better of hiding it since it wasn’t found. The trouble was that they also decided that they needed to find another way out of the cave which had been chosen. I’m sure you can imagine what happened next. Jo couldn’t find them and nearly landed herself back in the Sanatorium thanks to her thoroughness and haste. As it was, she had enough sense to come back and alert the rest of us about what had happened. Since she was now the only person who knew the location of where the document was to be hidden, I had no choice but to get her to show me so I could check for myself. Once I was satisfied that they were no longer around, I surmised that the best thing would be to go back home and raise the alarm if they hadn’t already arrived back. Hilary is a sensible girl and I suspected that she would head home somehow.
By the time the rest of us reached home, Jo was completely and utterly exhausted both physically and with worry. When we were greeted with the news that Hilary and Robin had arrived back a couple of hours earlier, she fainted. When she finally came round, I think we probably both gave Madge a shock as she certainly left the room with some speed. I’d suspected that Jo had finally changed her outlook on life a few weeks previously, but, had been content to let her come to terms with her future in her own time. You know how she’d always been determined to stay single and had no interest in growing up. I think her months in the Sanatorium had caused her to see life in a new light, and odd things she had recently done and said had made me realise that she had begun to grow up at last. The consequence of that picnic and the cause of Madge’s hasty retreat was that Jo stated that she didn’t know what she’d do without me. I’m sure you can guess the ending of this part of the tale. I proposed to her that evening and she said yes!
How I wish I could leave this letter at this point and just post it to you. I haven’t been in touch since the beginning of the year and it’s now July. So far, I’ve only told you what happened before the school broke up for Easter. I can see this letter is going to cost me a small fortune to post to you out in New Zealand. I wish you were closer than the other side of the world, Mollie. It still seems so strange that we aren’t living in the same country anymore. It’s time I was going to visit Jo, now, so I’ll pause here and continue later when I get back. I’ll explain more about what happened and why I’m visiting Jo at all, as it’s all intertwined and I don’t want to confuse the chronology now I’ve started.