Jo wandered slowly along the alm, Rufus bounding along beside her. As she passed the gates to the Sanatorium, she glanced up and then waved as she saw Jack Maynard driving slowly down the drive towards her. He pulled up beside her and wound down the window.
“Hello, Jo. Where are you off to?”
“I’m taking Rufus for a decent walk. I shan’t have the chance to do so once school starts again in a couple of weeks.”
“Would you mind if I joined you? I haven’t had chance to stretch my legs for a while.”
“Of course not.” Jo smiled, and then suddenly turned away. “Rufus! Come here, you bad boy.” The dog trotted up to her and sat down on his haunches.
“Which way were you planning to go? I need to go home and change first, and then I’ll catch you up.”
“I was just going to follow one of the paths and see where it takes me. There’s a couple we haven’t explored along, yet. We’ll wait here for you.”
“Okay. I shan’t be long. I’ll meet you at the end of the shelf.” Jack then wound his window back up and set off towards home. Jo ruffled Rufus’ fur and they continued slowly towards the end of the alm on which the Sonnalpe was situated. On reaching the path she meant to take, Jo sat down on a convenient boulder to wait for Jack to join her. Rufus sniffed the ground and found a scent trail which he began to follow. Jo left him to it, quite content for him to explore whilst she enjoyed the sunshine. Eventually, Jack came into view, and she rose as he approached, calling Rufus back to her. Together, they set off along the path Jo had spotted a few weeks ago.
They walked in a companionable silence at first, both just happy to be out in the fresh air after a few days of rain. Jo was surprised that Jack wanted to come walking with her at all. Although she knew him quite well, most of their encounters had been in the company of other people. For possibly the first time in her life, Jo felt rather shy and unsure of herself. Luckily, Jack saw her discomfort and started the conversation as they strolled along together in the wake of Rufus, who bounded along in front, turning back every so often to check that they were following.
“How was your first term as Head Girl?”
“Eventful. I suppose that’s the best way I can describe it, what with the Quintette playing Red Indians at Oberammergau and then adopting Biddy.”
“There must have been some good things as well?” Jack asked as well as he could for laughing. He had heard all about the incidents Jo mentioned and could imagine Jo’s reactions when she had discovered them. Jo smiled.
“Well, we finally got to go camping most weekends and wound up with the big camp at the end of term.”
“They weren’t exactly school, though, which is what I meant.”
“No, I suppose not. It was rather strange being one of the eldest in the school and having to take the lead though.”
“You’re a natural leader, Jo. Most of the younger children look up to you and you have a good friendship with those your own age.”
“I sometimes wish they wouldn’t. It’s bad enough when Madge tells me off for not setting a good example before the little ones at home.”
“You’re growing up, Jo. You only have one year of school left and then you have to make your own way in the world. Many of your friends will be considering marriage in the next couple of years.”
“I know. I have no inclination to marry, though. Look at Gisela and Bernie and Wanda. Can you imagine me ever being so domesticated?” Jack smiled in response as he took in her appearance. They’d just passed a number puddles and Jo had managed to splash muddy water over herself as they walked through them.
“Well, no, not at this exact moment, but that’s not to say that you might change your mind one day.”
“I can’t see it, somehow. Who would want someone like me?”
“I think you’d be surprised.” Before Jack could continue, Rufus came running back towards them and knocked Jo over before he could stop himself. Jo gave a yell as the huge St Bernard dog almost flattened her and Jack had to haul the dog out of the way so he could help Jo to sit up. He gave the dog a hefty smack on his haunches.
“Rufus! You bad dog! That’s no way to behave.” He crouched down beside Jo, who was looking slightly dazed. “Are you hurt anywhere, Jo?”
“N-no. At least, I don’t think so.” She gingerly moved her arms and legs before touching the back of her head. Her hand, when she removed it, was bloody. Jack saw and moved behind her, tilting her head forwards so he could see more clearly.
“Let me look.” He gently moved her hair about, until he found a small cut which was oozing. Digging in his pocket, he produced a clean handkerchief and pressed it against Jo’s head. “I think you’re going to need a stitch or two. Do you feel dizzy?”
“Hold onto this then, and I’ll help you up.” Jo obeyed, pressing the handkerchief against her head as Jack helped her into a standing position. She swayed slightly and he swiftly placed an arm around her waist. “Let’s go back and I can clean you up properly. Luckily, we’re not too far along the path.”
They set off back the way they had come, Rufus following. Jo was thankful to reach the grassy edges of the alm as she was beginning to feel very light-headed by now. If it hadn’t been for Jack’s arm around her, she would have fallen. Eventually, they reached the Sanatorium and Jack led them up the drive to the front door. Then he stopped.
“Jo, can you make Rufus wait here? He can’t come inside.” Jo pulled away and collapsed onto the doorstep so she was on a level with the big dog and spoke seriously to him. Jack disappeared inside for a moment to find a bowl of water for Rufus and a wheelchair for Jo. He rapidly returned and, once he’d placed the water in the shade, he helped Jo inside to the wheelchair before taking her to his office where he could tend to her head.
When Jack had finished, he could see that Jo was in no state to walk the last mile back to Die Rosen, so he persuaded her to lie down on the sofa in the corner of his office while he found someone to give her a lift. He almost bumped into Jem in the corridor as he closed his office door.
“I thought you’d gone home ages ago,” Jem stated when he saw Jack.
“I had. I went for a walk with Jo as I saw her pass with Rufus as I left. She’s cut her head and I was just going to see if I could find anyone who was about to finish to give her a lift back home since she’s rather dizzy.”
“How on earth did she manage to do that?”
“To be fair to Jo, it wasn’t her fault. Rufus was running back to us and knocked her flat on her back before he could stop. She caught her head on a stone or something and I’ve just put a couple of stitches in since it was quite a gash.” Jem just shook his head at his sister-in-law’s latest exploit.
“I’m due to finish in about ten minutes, so I can take her back. Where’s Rufus now?”
“He’s waiting outside the entrance, hopefully.”
“If you could take him home for me, I’d be grateful. I don’t have room for his bulk in the car as well.”
“Of course. I’ll just let Jo know what’s happening while you finish up.” Jem nodded and continued down the corridor. Jack slipped back into his office and told Jo that Jem would take her home since he was about to finish work. A knock came at the door and Jem appeared at Jack’s call. He smiled down at Jo, noting that she was rather paler than normal.
“Let’s get you home, Jo. You look like you could do with some sleep after this afternoon’s efforts. Jack will walk Rufus back for you.” Jo carefully sat upright and was grateful for Jack’s hand pulling her to her feet. Linking her arm firmly in his, he led the way to the entrance and helped her to climb into Jem’s car before waving as they left. Then he turned to Rufus who was sitting looking at him and debating whether to run after the car or not.
“You get to walk home with me, Rufus.” He smiled as the dog looked mournfully at him. “Come on. It’s your own fault your walk is over so soon, since you knocked Jo over.” Jack set off down the drive and Rufus ambled alongside him as they turned onto the road and walked back towards Die Rosen. Jem greeted Jack with a smile as he opened the gate and let Rufus into the garden.
“How is Jo?”
“Gone to bed to sleep off a headache.”
“I’m not surprised. It was quite a gash and we were a good way from the Sonnalpe when it happened.”
“Thank you for bringing Rufus home.”
“My pleasure. Tell Jo that we’ll have to finish that walk once she’s back on her feet again.”
“I will. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes. Bye.” Jack slid back through the gate and set off back to his own rooms.
Ten days later, Jo once more set out to walk Rufus. This was her last chance since school began in three days and she still had to finish packing her trunk ready for Jem to take down. Jem had passed on Jack’s message and Jo had agreed to meet him at the head of a path towards the back of the Sonnalpe shelf.
Jack watched Jo and Rufus approaching and rose to greet them with a smile. Jo had a rucksack on her back and her coat was slung through the straps below. Jack picked up his own rucksack, which contained a basic first aid kit and his own coat as well as a flask of coffee.
“Hello, Jo. How are you?”
“Hello. I’m fine thank you. Where are you taking me?”
“I thought we could explore along this path since I’ve never been along it before.”
“Okay.” Jo smiled and turned to Rufus. “No running off and no knocking me over this time. This is my last chance to take you for a good walk.” Rufus just looked solemnly at her and she ruffled his fur. Jack smiled.
“How is your head?”
“Much better, thank you. Jem took the stitches out a few days ago and it just feels a little sore when I brush my hair, now.”
“That’s good to hear. Shall we get off then?” Jo nodded and turned to follow the path. Her coat slipped out from where she had slung it and Jack picked it up from the ground. “Shall I put your coat in my rucksack, Jo?” Turning back, she saw him holding it up with a smile.
“That’s the third time I’ve dropped it! Yes, please, if you have the room. Mine is full.” Jack quickly rolled it up and pushed it into the top of his rucksack before shouldering it once more and following Jo along the path.
“What on earth have you brought with you?” he asked.
“I asked Marie for a picnic. I thought we’d probably miss Kaffee und Kuchen, so I brought it with me. There’s enough for both of us.”
“That sounds good. I brought some coffee, but didn’t think about food. Mind you, Frau Weber has gone into Innsbruck today, so she wasn’t around to ask.”
They walked companionably, talking about the upcoming term at school for Jo and Jack telling her tales of his own schooldays as well as holidays spent at Pretty Maids, when he and his twin sister had got into any number of scrapes. Rufus bounded on ahead, returning to check they were still following, though he managed to stop before he reached them each time.
Eventually, they turned onto another path which led them to a tiny viewpoint over the Tiernsee. Jo stopped to gaze out across the vista of mountains, drinking in the splendour of the view. Jack smiled as he watched her. He moved across to where she was standing while Rufus lay down in the grass and closed his eyes
“Shall we eat here, Jo? I think Rufus wants a rest anyway.” Jo turned to look and saw Rufus had made himself comfortable in the shade beside a rock.
“We may as well do.” She shrugged her rucksack from her back before beginning to empty the contents onto the ground around her. Finally, she discovered the rug at the bottom, underneath everything. Jack took it from her and spread it on the grass where they would be sheltered from the light breeze. Jo collected the packages up and placed them onto the rug while Jack picked up the water bowl and went to fill it in the nearby stream. He placed it by Rufus and returned to the rug where Jo was just opening the sandwiches.
They ate in a comfortable silence, enjoying the food Marie had prepared for them. When he had finished, Jack leaned back against a rock and closed his eyes, content to enjoy the soft breeze on his face for a few minutes. Jo slowly finished her coffee and set the mug down on the grass before turning to look out at the view before her once more. Rufus rose from his position in the shade and padded over to where they were sitting, flumping down on Jack’s legs, causing him to exclaim aloud.
“Ow! Rufus! Get up, you lump!” Rufus just wagged his tail, sending Jo’s cup flying. She shrieked and went to rescue it before returning to try and pull him off.
“Come on, Rufus, get up. You can’t squash Jack in that way.” Jack pushed as well as he could from where he was pinned against the rock and between them, they managed to move Rufus out of the way. Jack massaged his lower legs before he clambered back to his feet.
“Thanks, Jo. I didn’t realise what a weight Rufus is. Shall we pack up and head back since he’s ruined our peace?”
“I suppose so.” Jo knelt back down and began to gather the papers and mugs together. Jack took them from her and packed them away in her rucksack, which he then helped her to shoulder again. Once they were ready and had checked to see that they had left nothing behind, they turned and walked back in the direction they had come.
They eventually reached the Sonnalpe shelf once more and Jo called Rufus to her, making him walk sedately along beside them until they reached the gate of Die Rosen. Here, Jack stopped and smiled.
“Thank you for a lovely walk, Jo. I’ve enjoyed myself.”
“Maybe we could do it again in the next holidays?” he ventured. He was rewarded by a rather tentative smile.
“I’d like that.” Jo looked almost shy as she spoke.
“Have a good term and I’ll see you soon.”
“I will, thank you.” Jack turned to go and Jo let Rufus into the garden.
“Bye, Jack.” She watched him walk off before turning to take Rufus round to his shed and smiled. It had, indeed been a nice day and she looked forward to another like it in the future. She was sure that she had discovered another friend for life in Jack Maynard.