"We'll be fine, Madame. We can manage with two of us and you'll be helping too."
Madge Russell shook her head. "I don't think you two realise just how much hard work twenty two girls are." She was right. Although Juliet and Grizel had been in charge of small groups of Chalet School pupils before, it had only been for short periods of time. It was different being in charge of a whole school.
Madge had plenty of time to learn that in the four years since she started the school, along with her good friend Mademoiselle Lepattre. They'd left England because Madge's younger sister, Joey, was a delicate child and the Austrian air had agreed with her. Madge was delighted both that Joey was much stronger now, and that the school had been such a success.
Her companions in the discussion were Grizel Cochrane, who had been the school's second pupil, and Juliet Carrick, who had joined later. None of them were at the school at the moment, which was on the slopes of the Alps in the Austrian Tirol on the shores of the Tiernsee. It was closed for the summer holidays, so they met in the garden of Madge's house, Die Rosen, which was further up the mountain on the Sonnalpe. Here, Jem Russell, who Madge had married a year after moving to Austria, had a Sanatorium for TB patients.
"You did say you would come and teach too, Madame."
"Yes, but in the mornings for a little while, now that David is older." David was Madge's only child. She already knew he had a brother or sister on the way, but she and Jem had kept it to themselves thus far. "And I won't be able to after this term." She also looked after her niece and nephew, as her brother worked in India.
Grizel sighed: she'd thought her suggestion a good one.
This year saw a new venture for the school, as they were just starting up the Annexe for delicate pupils near the San. Tall, fair-haired Juliet had just got her mathematics degree and was to be head. Contrasting with her, Grizel was shorter with curly, brown hair. A year younger than Juliet, she was fresh from two years in Florence studying music and had also returned to teach.
Juliet spoke. "Well, we'll just have to manage as best we can for a while."
"Who's managing what?" Joey, long-legged and a senior at the Chalet School burst into the room with her usual whirlwind.
"Sit down, Joey and we'll tell you," Madge said kindly. Although Joey was still a pupil at the school Madge never left her out of any of her decisions.
"It's Gertrud," Juliet began. "She's got herself engaged and won't be able to teach after all. So it leaves us one mistress short at the Annexe."
Along with the two English girls, an Austrian one, Gertrud Steinbrucke, was to be another of the mistresses. However, she had recently become engaged to Dr von Ronschlar, a new doctor at the Sanatorium. Madge had hoped she would stay on until her marriage, just as Juliet was doing, but Gertrud had fewer good reasons to put hers off. It wasn't something they could compromise on either. It was 1934 and married women couldn't teach. The Depression that gripped most of the world meant that there weren't enough jobs for men, never mind women, so it made sense that married women were kept by their husbands, leaving the jobs for those that needed them more. On Madge's part, the choice between marriage and teaching had been hard, but not one that she regretted, so she could hardly blame Gertrud for hers.
"Blast her!" Joey shot up from her perch at the edge of an easy chair. "Why must everyone be in such a rush to grow up?"
Madge smiled fondly and didn't even rebuke Joey for her language.
"I'm sure you won't feel like that forever, Joey," Juliet said kindly, although this was a subject that had arisen often since Joey became a Senior and, in theory, more grown up herself.
Joey turned to Juliet. "Personally, I plan to be an old maid like Grizel."
Grizel shot Joey a dirty look, but Joey hadn't meant anything by it and didn't even notice. Juliet was engaged to Donal O'Hara, but they couldn't marry until Donal had established himself in his business. Given Gertrud's recent announcement, it made Grizel the odd one out amongst the Annexe mistresses.
"Anyway, I think I have the solution to your problems."
Joey's statement hung in the air as they all waited for her to finish. But Joey had a sense of the dramatics and just grinned at the looks she received.
Juliet was the first to give in. "Well, don't leave us in suspense."
"Hold on, I'll just get it." She rushed from the room, unheeding of her sister's call not to run.
"Get what?" Grizel had recovered from her perceived insult and was now on tenterhooks as much as the other two.
Joey never meant to do it; she just had a habit of having brilliant ideas and refusing to tell anyone until she'd thought them through. Which wouldn't have been in a bad thing in itself, but she did tend to leave them annoying titbits that told them nothing.
Fortunately, she was only gone as long as it took for her to go up to her room and come back, now holding a letter. "This just came yesterday," she began. "It's from Sarah Jane Smith, remember her?"
"Of course," Madge replied, with a smile.
Sarah had been hard to forget. She came to the Chalet School for her last year before she went to university. Although she excelled in English, her passion had been for science and at that time there was none in the school. The decision had been made by her aunt, who was spending some time in Europe herself and wanted Sarah nearby, yet taught in an English school. Despite Sarah's unhappiness at the decision she had eventually taken to the variety of people in the Tirol and she left the school a more rounded person than she had when she started.
Which, Madge suspected, had been her aunt's intention in the first place.
"Well," Joey continued, "she's finished university now and looking for a job."
"Does she still want to be a journalist?" Juliet asked. Although Sarah and Juliet were the same age they hadn't been the best of friends. It had been a small school, though, and all the pupils were always eager for news of Old Girls.
"Oh, yes, dead set on it." Joey consulted the letter briefly. "But unable to get a job."
"That is a pity. Does she say why?" Madge had been quite fond of Sarah, as she'd been one of her star pupils.
Joey shook her head. "Just that she's thinking of getting another job while she tries to get into journalism. But the only thing she's qualified for is teaching and it's too late in the summer holidays to get one now." Joey looked up from the letter. "Don't you see? We need a teacher and she needs a school." She shook the letter a little to emphasize her point.
"Well," Grizel began, "it certainly sounds like the perfect solution."
"But she was a bit wild," Juliet said. "Would she really settle down enough to teach?"
"It has been three years, people can change a lot in that time," Madge said. "Remember how different she was after a year here? Besides, there have been other girls at the school you could describe as wild and look how they turned out." She looked over at Grizel, and both Grizel and Juliet blushed. "I think we'll give her a try."
Joey grinned. "I'll write to her right away."
And that was how Sarah Jane Smith came to teach at the Chalet School Annexe.