'Just listen to this, Jack,' said Jo Maynard over breakfast one morning. Most of her lengthy family was off at their various schools, and she and her husband were enjoying a relatively quiet breakfast with only the two sets of twins and Cecil in attendance. Jack had collected the mail bag and distributed the letters between himself and his wife, and Joey had read through two or three before calling for Jack's attention.
'What's that?' he asked, busy with his own mail.
'A letter from 'Veta,' Jo answered.
'Surely a letter from Elisaveta isn't shocking enough of itself to demand my attention,' returned Jack. 'I suppose she has something she wants you to do. You'd better let me know the worst. Is she claiming that year as her lady-in-waiting that you gave up so long ago?'
Jo fixed her husband with a glare. 'Don't be idiotic, Jack. There's a young girl she'd like me to look after for a while. But oh, my dear, not an ordinary girl. A princess.'
At that, Jack put down his mail. 'A cousin of 'Veta's?' he asked, for Elisaveta Helston had been Crown Princess of Belsornia before her country had been overrun by the Nazis, and then liberated by the fiercely anti-monarchist Russians. Elisaveta, her husband and children had escaped safely to England, and 'Veta had been known to declare on more than one occasion that she preferred the life of an ordinary housewife to the pomp and ceremony of her old life as a Crown Princess. But many of her friends and relatives had held onto their thrones, or had only recently lost them.
'It's the younger sister of the exiled King of Slavonia,' said Jo. 'Here, I'll read what 'Veta says about her. "Not surprisingly, Fazia longs more than anything to be a normal schoolgirl. I remember what that was like myself. Sadly, her brother the King – my distant cousin, Leo – is certain that the revolution will someday fall, and that he will be invited back to once again rule his country. And because of that, he will not allow Fazia to lead a normal life."
"In one part of her life, however, Fazia has had success in changing her brother's mind. Next year she will enter the Royal Ballet School in London. She'll never dance on stage, of course – Cousin Leo would never allow that. But he's fascinated by the ballet, almost obsessed by it, in fact, and it is this which has led to him agreeing that Fazia shall have her year in London. (Between you and me, Joey dear, I think Cousin Leo is more obsessed with a certain ballerina than with dance itself. Have you heard of Ella Rosetti? Leo flies all over the world to see her performances. Sensibly enough, it seems that Miss Rosetti will have none of it. I'd rather like to meet her and congratulate her on her superior taste.)"'
'I'd never have thought 'Veta had such a tongue in her head,' said Jack in astonishment. 'Such thoughts from a Crown Princess!'
'You forget, my dear, she's been an ordinary housewife for a number of years now,' said Joey, laughing. 'And I must say I don't like the sound of Cousin Leo. But about young Fazia. 'Veta says, "Before she goes to London, Leo is sending her to a chalet up above Kandersteg. She will have a very small staff, but be well protected. But the poor thing will be terribly lonely. I've told Leo that you are living up at the Goernetz Platz, and I beg you, Joey: take your triplets and some of their chums up to Kandersteg while Fazia is there. My own Jose, though, is too young. Give her some time with girls her own age. I've given your details to Karl von Ruyter, who is in charge of the Princess's security, along with all sorts of suitable references. Beg Hilda Annersley to give the girls leave if you must, but she is a dear woman and I'm sure she'll understand why I so want Fazia to have occasional company. She'll begin to feel that she's a prisoner up there and that will do her no good at all."'
'She goes on to tell me all her own latest after that,' said Joey, folding up the letter. 'What do you make of that?'
Jack passed his cup to Joey, who took it from him and filled it with coffee. 'I'll trust Veta's judgment as to the feelings of a young princess stuck in a chalet above Kandersteg. It seems to me, though, that you'll have to leave any real plans until this von Ruyter chap contacts you. You can't just go barging up to Kandersteg with a bevy of schoolgirls, not in this situation. You don't even know exactly where the girl is staying.'
'Sensible as always,' said Joey, refilling her own coffee cup. 'All the same, the moment this Herr von Ruyter contacts us, I'll lay the whole thing before Hilda. Len, Con, Margot, Jo Scott and young Rosamund Lilley will be quite a large enough party to begin with.'
Jack rose from his seat. 'Don't go too far into this yet, Joey,' he said. He leant over to kiss her, and then straightened up. 'I should be home in time for Kaffee und Kuchen, but you know what it's like. I'll try to get a message through if I'll be any later than that,' he finished, and he left the rest of his household to get on with the day.
Karl von Ruyter laid the letter from the exiled Crown Princess of Belsornia on his desk, and looked thoughtfully out the window onto the Swiss Alps surrounding the Chalet Rosenblum. Her Highness' letter, suggesting that Princess Fazia would be lonely without company of her own age, was persuasive. Karl had himself seen how the light had gone out of his charge's face since they had been here.
With the King's approval, therefore, he had contacted Mrs Maynard as Her Highness had suggested, and today the good English lady would be bringing her daughters and some of their friends to Kandersteg to spend the day with Fazia. Fazia's governess, Madamoiselle Dubbonet, was not well, and so Helga along with Karl himself would escort the princess down the mountain to Kandersteg. He had been assured by the King that Mrs Maynard was a woman of impeccable background – that she would have been Lady-in-Waiting to the Crown Princess of Belsornia had her health and other family considerations not intervened – and he had made inquiries into the English school to which Mrs Maynard was connected, and was satisfied that these schoolgirls would be suitable companions for Princess Fazia.
He was gratified to see that his young charge was looking brighter today. She asked numerous questions of both him and Helga as they made their way down the mountain on mules to the Sesselbahn, and from there into Kandersteg. Many of the questions he was unable to answer, and told Her Highness that she must wait until they met with Mrs Maynard for her curiosity to be satisfied.
Mrs Maynard and five girls of around Her Highness' age were waiting for them in the café attached to the Dom hotel in Kandersteg. The girls were all neatly dressed in a school uniform of gentian blue, and rose from their seats when Karl, Helga and Princess Fazia approached.
'Mrs Maynard,' said Karl. 'May I present to you Miss Fazia Gionetti.' He hoped that Mrs Maynard had recalled that Fazia was essentially travelling incognito.
Mrs Maynard smiled kindly at the young girl, and gravely shook the hand she offered. 'Miss Gionetti. But may I call you Fazia?' she asked, with a careful look towards Karl, who nodded in reply. 'After all, we are all to be going out on a picnic together, and it would seem rather odd.'
'Oh, of course, Mrs Maynard!' said Fazia.
Mrs Maynard turned to the schoolgirls. 'Fazia, these three are my triplet daughters,' she said, indicating three girls, one with long chestnut hair in a plait, one with long dark hair, and one with blonde curls. 'Len, Con, and Margot.' Fazia smiled at them shyly. 'This is Jo Scott,' added Mrs Maynard, placing her hand on the shoulder of the fourth girl, 'and this is Rosamund Lilley. Now,' she said, looking at Karl and Helga. 'Shall we all have Kaffee and plan where we shall go today?'
Fazia and the five Chalet School girls regarded each other silently for a moment, before Len Maynard leapt into the breach. 'Isn't this the loveliest little village?' she asked. 'Do you get to visit here often, Fazia?'
'No, not very often. Is your name really "Len"?' she asked in return.
Len laughed. 'No, it's Mary Helena, really, but I've always been Len, and I can't abide being called Helena. Con is really Mary Constance.'
'Ghastly, isn't it,' added Con. 'Jo and Ros here have far more sensible names.'
'Besides which,' added Margot, 'Len and Con were both named after teachers,' she said, as if this was a sin beyond imagining. The other girls burst into delighted laughter at her tone.
'It's not all bad,' said Len. 'Will you have a cream cake, Fazia?' she asked, passing the plate.
'Oh, no, I couldn't! I'm studying ballet, you see. I have to be very careful what I eat.'
Ballet was an entirely new topic to the Chalet girls, and one that Fazia enjoyed talking about. Discussion of dance and costumes and what Fazia had heard of the Steiner school in Lausanne and its annual concerts carried the girls through the rest of Kaffee, while Mrs Maynard and Karl and Helga discussed their plans for the rest of the day.
Karl looked over to where the girls were deep in conversation. 'Already she looks happier. I am glad that,' he paused, 'Mrs Helston thought to contact me.'
'Even girls in Fazia's situation need companions of their own age,' said Mrs Maynard. 'And I hope that if today's outing continues to be successful, that you will allow us to visit with your charge again.'
'I hope so too, Mrs Maynard,' said Karl.