“I do hope I can do this!” sighed Juliet Carrick, looking out of the window of the Salon at Die Rosen, the pretty chalet on the Sonnalpe where she made her home.
Grizel Cochrane, her friend and future colleague at the Chalet School Annexe agreed. “I’m scared, Ju – what if we make a total mess of it?”
“Of course you won’t make a mess,” exclaimed the third person in the room, Madge Russell, the owner and first headmistress of the Chalet School, which she had founded some five years earlier on the shores of the Tiernsee, far below. Now an Annexe was to be opened up on the Sonnalpe, where delicate girls could be educated close to the talented doctors who served at the great Sanatorium there, battling the white plague that took so many lives. Juliet and Grizel, both former Head Girls of the Chalet School, and now returned from further education, were to staff the Annexe, and term was due to open the next day.
“Why do you think you will make a mess?” continued Madge. “I was just as inexperienced as you are when I opened the school proper, but I managed very happily, and so will you! All the girls are going to be under 12, except for Marie-Pierre and Anne-Christine Bouvier, and they are only 12 and 13. It’s not as if you had any Middles to deal with. Anyway, I shall be there in the mornings, this term anyway, and you’ll be fine!”
“But weren’t you nervous when you first started, Madge” asked Grizel, with a reminiscent grin. She had been one of the first pupils of the Chalet School, and well remembered the first trip to the Tiernsee with the then Madge Bettany and her younger sister, Joey.
“You know I was, Grizel, and I do see that it’s normal for you to be, too. But then, I had you and Juliet to deal with.....”
The three young women laughed reminiscently. “But don’t you see, Madge,” explained Juliet, earnestly, “that just makes it harder. You had to deal with me and Grizel – and goodness knows, we were far from model pupils – and we only have babies. What if we can’t handle them?”
Juliet and Grizel appeared far from convinced, but at that moment the Robin and Joey came into the room, so they had, perforce, to change the conversation.
Cecilia Marya Humphries, universally known as the Robin, was nine years old, with a mop of curly dark hair and laughing eyes. She was tall for her age, but rather thin, and was to be a pupil at the Annexe, as she was rather frail and it was only a few weeks since the doctors had been able to confirm that she had not, as yet, succumbed to the dreadful disease that had cut short her Polish mother’s life. But with a regime of fresh air, lots of sleep and plenty of good, rich milk, the doctors were hopeful that she would outgrow her delicacy and become as strong as anybody else in due course. However, she was to stay at the Annexe until her growing years were over, and had been appointed one of the prefects there, along with her friends Amy Stephens and Signa Johansen, who were also accustomed to Chalet School ways.
Jo Bettany was now seventeen years old, and about to start her second term as Head Girl of the Chalet School. She was slightly built, with black eyes shining out of a pale pointed face, which looked the paler for the straight black hair that was still short, although she was beginning to think of growing it. Once nearly as frail as the Robin, she had largely outgrown this in the clear, life-giving air of the Tirol, although she had been very tired at the end of the previous term, and, unbeknown to her, Madge and her husband, James Russell, the Head of the Sanatorium, had discussed very seriously whether she should spend her final school year at the Annexe. However, Juliet and Grizel had flatly refused to consider the idea, given that she was so near to them in age, and counted them, as they counted her, among her closest friends. So Jo was looking forward to going down to Briesau, where the school was, the following morning.
“Hullo, girls,” exclaimed Madge. “Are the babies all in bed?” The nursery at the Sonnalpe consisted of her own small son, David, and her nephew and niece, Peggy and Rix Bettany, twins of three years old, who made their home with their aunt while their parents were in the harsh climate of India.
“Yes, and they’re waiting for you to go and say goodnight,” said Joey. “Rix was so funny, he really can’t understand why he is not allowed to go to school with us, and kept saying ‘But I’m a Big Boy now!’”
“Poor Rix,” said Madge, getting up to go to the nursery. “I’ll start him on his letters next week, I think, which will give him something fresh to think about! Robin, only ten minutes, dear, before you must go up to bed. I expect Joey will sing to you, as it’s the last evening, won’t you, Jo?”
“Yes, of course I will,” said Joey.