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17 November 2010 @ 09:09 am
Chalet School Big Bang - another time (around the wheel) - 1/3  
Title: another time (around the wheel) [part one of three]
Main Characters: The Triplets, Grizel Cochrane, Beth Chester, Simone Lecoutier, The Doctor.
Rating/Warning: G
Word count: 14,377

 

If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do.
Don't you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal with all of you

And I feel like I've been here before
Feel like I've been here before

- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Deja Vu

Prologue (ii)
They had talked about going to the Tiernsee for the Easter break, but in the end Joey had decided it would mean too much travelling for the boys – it wasn’t fair on them, going so far when it was going to be a shorter holiday anyway. It turned out to be fortuitous that they were staying on the Platz – for her, anyway. Simone wrote to say that she and André were travelling to Berne to meet the children and have a little vacation there, and she hoped to be up by herself for a day or two – to see Thérèse, of course, but also to catch up with Joey. For Joey, who seldom saw her old friend, this quite made up for not getting to the Tirol.

Simone’s face was troubled when she arrived at Freudesheim on Wednesday morning. Joey saw it straight away, although she waited until the two of them were alone in the Salon before she gently asked what was wrong. “You’re going to think I’m silly,” Simone said. “It’s Cousin Thérèse – there’s nothing wrong, is there, my Jo? Something seems different about her.” 

Joey folded her hands into her lap, looking thoughtful. “Not silly,” she said. “You’re right – oh, not that there’s anything wrong with her, not as far as I know. But it’s almost like she’s just – waiting for something.”

“Not for – not for –”

“No! Not that, Simone. She hasn’t given up on life – I don’t think she could. She’s busy planning a Guide camp for her troop as soon as the last of the snow melts. Perhaps waiting wasn’t the right word. She’s – she’s looking forward to something. Whatever it is, she won’t talk about it.”

Simone relaxed. “She always did seem to see further than anyone else,” she said, after a moment.

“At any rate, I don’t think it’s anything we need to be concerned over! Now – you did say you had something to show me, my lamb! It’s not nice of you to keep me in suspense any longer.”

 “I do – mon Dieu! What was that noise?”

Joey rose, and went to the window. “A storm! Not a nice one, by the looks of things, either.”

“As if there were such thing as a nice one! I suppose you think us being stuck on top of a mountain in a shack is ‘nice’-”

“Libel! I was as uncomfortable as you were, and I still have nightmares about that milk. Those clouds do look a little ominous, though.” There was a touch of worry in Joey’s voice, and Simone joined her looking out at the sky.

“Hilary won’t send the boys home if it hasn’t passed by lunchtime, Joey.”

“No, of course not. Gracious!” As lightning forked across the sky, leaving a trail of the strangest purple-green hue. “We are in for a doozie.”

Simone suddenly laughed. “A – doozie? Joey, how do you pick up such expressions?”

Joey took no notice of her, distracted by the appearance of Bruno, who padded into the room whining in a most distressing manner. “You worried by the storm too, boy?” She sighed. “And it looked like such a nice morning, too! Simone, I’d better whip around and make sure the windows are closed – ” she paused. “Bother! The girls said I wasn’t to go upstairs under pain of being robbed of my pudding for a week. You wouldn’t mind checking to see that they know to batten down their hatches, will you?” Simone agreed, and Jo banged the Salon window shut – it often stuck – and flicked on the electric light; it was already growing darker.

“Anna! Was there washing outside? Should I fetch it?”

Joey’s maid stuck her head out of the kitchen door, and suggested – firmly – that Joey ought to watch the potatoes to make sure they didn’t boil over while she fetched the washing. Joey meekly obeyed. Anna tended to think that she was incapable of much beyond cooking vegetables and turning heels, and as the years went on Joey wasn’t sure but that she might be right. At any rate, she’d certainly never managed to press Jack’s shirts with the finesse that Anna did.

A sudden insistent rapping on the front door interrupted her thoughts. Was anyone else about yet? No – she’d better answer it. Remembering for once to turn the hob down, she glanced out the kitchen window - the threatened rain still was holding off, but that strange, purple-green lightning still flashed across the black clouds. Joey shivered.

The knocking came again, and she hurried down the hallway. Who would it be – someone seeking shelter from the storm, perhaps? The school would be closed until Friday, so there’d be no one there to welcome lost souls. Freudesheim would be the nearest place if anyone had been out for a walk. Wondering, she opened the door and was greeted by a familiar face, her former school-friend and matron of the Chalet School, Ruhanna MacDonald.

"Hanna!" Joey cried. "I thought you were off on a trip? I - oh, Maryah, I didn't see you there. Not that it isn't a pleasure to see both of you, but - Con?" as she noticed her second daughter standing with the two Old Girls. "I thought you were upstairs with the others." Then, catching sight of her face, she caught her breath. "What’s wrong?"

A deep growl of thunder greeted her last word, and Maryah glanced nervously up at the sky. "There's no time to explain," Hanna said peremptorily, and brushed passed her into the house, Maryah followed, throwing an agonising look at Joey as she went; but Joey managed to catch Con's arm before she followed the other two. "Con, what on Earth-"

"I'm sorry, Mamma," Con said, and then yanked her arm free. "I'll explain later, honest!" She took off after the others, and Joey stood for a moment, stunned by the quietest triplet's behaviour. Then she turned on her heel and was after them, anxious to know what had brought both Hanna and Maryah back from their holiday, and what had taken Con out of the house without a by-your-leave - and to come back, looking so scared.

Con was at the top of the stairs as Joey reached the hallway. She followed her daughter up, taking the steps two at a time - which she would definitely not be telling Jack later or he'd have things to say - and arrived at the top to see her daughter, still running, enter her own room. Someone screamed – it sounded like Con – and a babble of voices, harsh and high-pitched reached her ears. Joey quickened her pace, her heart beating rapidly from both the exertion and the frightening thoughts that were filling her head. She reached Con’s bedroom door just in time to see – “But that’s impossible,” she gasped, “there can’t be – ”

The storm was right on top of them, and the thunder boomed at exactly the same time as the lightning struck, and –


1. (iv)

Grizel Cochrane's face was solemn as she walked the familiar path around the Tiernsee. That morning had been spent setting up desks and chairs in the main chalet, where the Chalet School housed its Middles and Seniors, but for now her time was her own. After Mittagessen Miss Maynard had told the girls - Jo Bettany, sister of the school's founder, the Robin, Madame’s small ward, Simone Lecoutier, the Head’s cousin, and Grizel herself - that they had worked so hard they should have some time off. The Robin had been whisked off for an afternoon nap, as she was a delicate girl whose health was always attended closely. Jo had declared her intention to work on her current story, while Simone had some embroidery she wished to finish. Grizel, left by herself, had asked permission to go for a walk – just to stretch her legs, she said – and Miss Maynard had given her a keen look before acquiescing. Grizel had been unusually quiet ever since her ill-fated trip to see the Falls of Rhine, and even knowing that the trip had not cost her the position of Head Girl had not quite returned her to her usual contented self.

“Perhaps a walk will buck her up,” thought the mistress. “If she’s still looking gloomy when the rest of the school arrives the other prefects are sure to notice, and they’ll ask questions among themselves. But a walk ought to do Grizel good.”

At first, Grizel had been able to think of little else besides her own problem; but as her gaze swept out across the beautiful lake her thoughts turned to one of her favourite subjects – Games. The beginning of the term would see plenty of winter sporting, as even now snow covered much of the ground in a thick blanket, and on the far side of the lake she could see a few lone tourists gleefully skating. But she knew from past experience that as spring approached, and the melting snow turned all the ground to mud, there’d be no Games at all, and the Middles would get restless. 

“And restless Middles mean more work for the prefects!” she thought. “Dancing is all very well, but they ought to be outside, as long as the weather’s fine. Couldn’t we find something for them to do?” She was not struck by any brilliant ideas, however, and she resolved to bring it up at her first prefect’s meeting instead. Perhaps one of the others would be able to come up with a decent suggestion. 

Now thoroughly distracted by school matters, she ceased to worry about her own recent conduct at all, and she put her mind to thinking about the rest of the girls who made up the prefects. Some of the girls were relative newcomers to the Chalet School, while others, like Grizel, had been there almost right from the beginning. Grizel herself was the school’s very first pupil – apart from Jo, of course – but she wasn’t too concerned with keeping things going the same way they’d always been. “After all,” she thought, “we’re getting bigger all the time – there’ll have to be some changes. Girls like Deira O’Hagan” – an Irish firebrand who had only joined the school two terms previously, but who had proved to be a capable leader all the same – “are bound to have some ideas that we’ve never thought about before. I should ask them, when I get the chance.”

Her walk had, by this point, taken her some way around the lake, and she suddenly noticed with alarm that the sky was starting to grow darker – the winter sun and mountains meant days were still quite short at the beginning of the Easter term. She should enough time to get back before it was dark, but she would have to pick up her pace. She turned, retracing her footsteps, but she had not gone far when she heard a shriek and a girl came sliding around the path and straight into her. She was a large girl, a full head and a half taller than Grizel and hefty to boot and as the two collided Grizel thought, for a moment, that they would both be knocked off the path. But she kept her own head, and managed to land almost where she stood – with the girl on top of her.  

The stranger was upright in an instant. “Oh Gosh,” she cried. “I’m so sorry. I was running – and I didn’t realize my shoes were all wrong – but everything’s so strange – are you OK?”  

Grizel was ‘OK’, apart from a bruise or two where the girl had landed on her. She got herself up and dusted the excess snow off before it had a chance to melt. From her accent, the girl was English – a holidayer, obviously. But exactly what she was doing out here by herself was another matter. “I’m fine, thank you,” Grizel said. “You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?” Then, as the stranger shook her head, “If you don’t mind me asking – do you need help finding your way?”

“Yes – no – oh, I don’t know. This is the Tiernsee, isn’t it? But it looks so different – and I don’t know how I got here.”

She had an odd manner of speaking, in starts and stops, as if she had a lot to say and wasn’t sure if she ought to say it. It was clear to Grizel what had happened, however – the girl, had taken a walk by herself and had strayed off the path. It was not the first time she had heard of a tourist doing such a thing, although she wondered at a schoolgirl – because for all her height, the stranger was still quite young – walking by herself in unfamiliar territory.

“Why don’t you come with me?” Grizel offered. “My school isn’t far from here – we can ring up your people from there. Are you staying at the Kron Prinz Karl?”

“School?” the girl repeated. “Here? How?”

Perhaps she’d hurt herself after all – she seemed to be in shock. But Grizel was in no mind to wait around and explain things to her – while Mademoiselle would probably understand if she returned late, she was not going to take any more chances. She started back along the path, and after a moment, the girl’s long legs had caught her up.

“What’s your name, then?” the girl demanded.

“I’m Grizel Cochrane,” Grizel replied, adding, with a little burst of pride, “Head Girl at the Chalet School, where we’re going.”

“I’m sorry, did you say – Grizel?” The girl’s eyes were wide.

“Yes – short for Griselda. What of it?”

“Oh, I – nothing. It’s – um, it’s unusual.” She fell silent, apparently forgetting that it would be considered to give her own name in return. Grizel gently asked her.

“I’m – oh, I’m – Ma- MacDonald. Ruhanna MacDonald.” Scottish then – or part Scottish. She didn’t sound particularly Scots, but she did have glorious red hair – an eye-catching red-gold bob, obvious even under the winter cap that she wore. “So – there’ll be a phone at the school, will there? Only I expect my parents will be quite glad to hear from me.” Ruhanna glanced around her apprehensively. “And I’ll be quite glad to hear from them,” she murmured, almost to herself.

By the time they had reached the school, it was almost dark. Grizel, worried about how her lateness might seem, was instead given a few words of praise for bringing the stray girl back with her, and ushered in to the Dining Hall to join the others for the evening meal. Jo, who had seen her and Ruhanna arrive, demanded to know who she was. “Is it a new girl?” she asked excitedly.

“I don’t think so, Jo. Just a lost holiday-maker.” And in between mouthfuls of bread-twists Grizel told the girls – briefly – about what had happened.

“A bit of an idiot, then,” Jo said, when she had finished. “Honestly, going off by herself and getting lost like that.” Then she realized what she had said and looked horrified.

“Idiotic alright,” Grizel agreed, and Jo relaxed again. Simone, who had luckily not noticed this by-play, commented that Ruhanna was “jolly pretty – but very pretty.”

“She was good-looking,” Jo agreed. “But there was something about her …” she trailed off.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t like her,” Grizel scoffed. “You didn’t even meet her, Joey.”

“Oh! No, that’s not what I meant. I meant there’s something about her face – I feel like I’ve seen her before, but I can’t work out where. I don’t think I can have, though, because I’m sure I’d remember hair like that. Perhaps she just looked a little like someone I know – only I can’t remember who. It’ll come to me, I suppose.”

Grizel laughed. “Her hair’s rather red, isn’t it? And so straight! As much as yours is, Jo.”

Jo pulled a face. Her hair was the bane of her existence, untidy and ‘all-over everywhere’ no matter how many times a day she attended to it. “If only I had curls!”

“It is not curls that you need,” Simone said. Her own hair was straight and dark, like Jo’s, yet it was always neat and tidy. “Perhaps if you grew it-”

“Or you could curl it, with tongs,” Grizel teased. “Then you might have hair like the Robin’s.”

The Robin, who had been quietly attending to her milk, looked aghast at this. “But no,” she said in her pretty French. “If Joey had curls, she would not be Joey!”

The little party fell silent as the Dining Hall doors swung open, and Mademoiselle Lepâttre entered, Ruhanna in her wake. Mademoiselle had taken over the school when Joey’s sister, Madge, had married; most of the girls loved the Frenchwoman, but had not expected her to be able to take Madge’s place. Indeed, she hadn’t, but had forged her own place. She was a small woman, and typically French, with dark eyes and hair; as a Headmistress, she was compassionate and strong-willed, as capable as her predecessor. Now she smiled at her small collection of pupils.

“Guten Abend, mes filles,” she said. “It will come to a surprise to you, I know, but Ruhanna was in fact intended to become a pupil here. Her parents have said that since she has arrived – by happenstance, you might say – she might stay. Her things will be delivered tomorrow, and she will join you until classes begin.” She turned and smiled at Ruhanna. “The girls will make you feel very welcome, I am sure.”

“Thank you, Mademoiselle,” Ruhanna replied soberly. Before she had seemed confused, bewildered – now she just seemed glum. Her parents hadn’t told her, Grizel realized. Term started in two days, and Ruhanna’s parents hadn’t got around to telling her yet that she was going to be joining them – she hadn’t even known there was a school in the area. Grizel was not an imaginative girl, but she knew what it was like to have parents making decisions that weren’t going to effect them, but were going to effect you – for a long time to come. The friendly smile she gave Ruhanna was full of fellow feeling.

“Hello!” Jo was the first to speak. “I’m Jo Bettany – this is Simone Lecoutier, and this is the Robin. You already know Grizel, of course.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Ruhanna said faintly. Her eyes darted nervously to Jo for a moment, then back to Mademoiselle, who nodded at her encouragingly.

“If you take a seat, one of the others will fetch you a plate from the kitchen – ah, thank you ma petite,” as the Robin jumped up from her seat. She came back shortly, importantly bearing a basket of bread, and followed by a maid bearing a tray with soup, meat vegetables. Lisa, the Austrian cook, adored the school’s ‘baby’, but she was not about to entrust her with anything that might spill! Mademoiselle thanked her, and with one last reassuring look at Ruhannah she left to join the other staff members who were eating – at their own table. As Miss Nalder said, they were going to have had more than enough of the girls by the end of the term – they might as well enjoy their last night of freedom!

There was silence at the girls’ table for a little while. Grizel was unsure what to say to the new girl, while Simone and Jo were still finishing their meals. Ruhanna, for her part, kept glancing at Jo – who was yet to notice – and absently stirring her soup. It was the Robin who broke the silence.

“Are you not hungry?” she asked in her pretty French. Ruhanna, apparently noticing her for the first time, gave a start, and then smiled.

“Not that hungry, no. Although the soup does smell miraculous.”

“The soup smells – what?”

Ruhanna reddened. “I – oh. At school – that is, at my last school – we were always being told off for slang. My s- some of the girls spent one afternoon with a thesaurus looking up synonyms for us to use, and ‘miraculous’ rather stuck.”

“You’re better of than most new girls, then,” Grizel informed her. “Madame – our former Headmistress, you know, who started the school – is awfully down on slang. In all three languages, by the way! Do you speak German as well as French?”

“Fluently,” Ruhanna told her. “I was at the Ch- at school in Switzerland.”

“You won’t have any problems with German, then,” Grizel said thoughtfully. “Although I think Swiss-German is a little different than what we speak here. Was it an English school?”

“The Head was English, but we spoke High German,” Ruhanna told her. “And French – I expect I’ll get on alright.”

“You are lucky,” Simone told her in her usual sombre tones. “When I started school here I had not been before, and everything was strange to me – but so strange!”

“For me too,” Grizel said. “I’d been to the High near my father’s house, before I came here, but I’d never boarded. It was a little difficult at first.” She didn’t say that the difficulties had mostly been on her end – that was not the thing for a Head Girl to tell a new student!

“Tell us about your school, Ruhanna,” Joey suggested. “Did you play English games?”

Ruhanna seemed to relax a little as she talked about Games at her school, which sounded decent – and much bigger than the Chalet School, which this term boasted just over 60 students! – and proved to be keen on cricket and lacrosse in equal measures.

“We don’t have lax here,” Grizel informed her. “Cricket and tennis though, in the summer. We’ll have winter sports as long as the snow holds out, too, and hockey and netball when we have the chance.”

“Couldn’t we have lacrosse?” Joey asked unexpectedly. “They were just starting up a team at the High when we left – do you remember, Grizel? That American girl was putting them together. Rosalie and Mary are bound to have played a little.”

“It’s a good idea,” Grizel said, “but I don’t know, Jo. It couldn’t be this term, anyway – and we’d need someone to teach us. I don’t know if Miss Nalder knows it. I’ll mention it to Mademoiselle, though,” she added, seeing the look on Jo’s face.

“Smashing!” Simone said – not, Grizel was sure, that she had any interest in the sport for her own sake, but she was likely to follow Jo into whatever she wanted to do. Hopefully Mademoiselle would say yes, or she’d never hear the end of it. Luckily, the Robin turned the conversation by asking whether she was old enough to play netball or not yet, and the question of lacrosse was left alone for the moment. Ruhanna fell silent again, but this time she actually attended to her meal.

When Ruhanna was finished Grizel ordered the girls collect their dishes and tumblers up and return them to the kitchen, and then did the same for the mistresses. Then Miss Maynard collected the Robin to take her over to Le Petit Chalet, and Simone shyly asked her cousin if she would look over her embroidery; and Matron beckoned Ruhanna to go and see about a cubey for her. Grizel and Jo were left alone.

“The others start arriving tomorrow,” Jo said as they left the Hall. “And then school will start again! D’you suppose this term will be as quiet as the last one?”

“With you around?” Grizel teased. “I wouldn’t mind a quiet term - but then, you can’t expect Middles to be quiet, can you? And they say that lightning never strikes in the same place twice, but there’s always the chance of a flood-”

“Or an earthquake,” Jo said unexpectedly. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about that, and you’re more than match for the Middles.” They had reached the library by this stage, and she paused. “I’d better go,” she said. “I promised the Robin I’d give her a song before she went to bed, and I’m not sure what I did with my overcoat. Don’t worry, Grizel,” she added. “I mean, about – you know. No one knows except us, and we won’t tell. And I know I’m not a prefect or anything, but I’ll jolly well back you up as much as I can.” The ferocity with which this last part was said was almost comical, but Grizel was touched, and she remained perfectly serious as she thanked the younger girl.

“It means a lot to me, Jo,” she told her, and then, since that was about as much as she could manage, she told her to shoo to see the Robin. But she found that she felt more settled than she had after dinner. Even without Jo’s reassurances, her trip to see the Falls of Rhine no longer weighed quite as heavily on her thoughts as it had that morning.

The rest of the school arrived the next day, and then school begun in earnest. The first week was never as full-on as it would be later, but for the Sixth, some of whom planned to go on to university, work was never to be treated lightly. Ruhanna, although a good two years younger than Vanna diRicci, who was almost 19, joined their class, and quickly proved herself to be what Rosalie Dene termed “an infant prodigy.” Ruhanna had heard this, and flushed.

“I’m not,” she said, “honestly. I used to muck around in class more than I worked – I’ve got a lot to catch up on still.” She did seem nervy in class, that was for sure – and she also seemed very uncomfortable when people asked her anything about her home. She was happy to talk about her school, but she never wanted to say anything about her family – once more making Grizel wonder whether her home life had been unhappy. She quickly squashed any indiscreet murmurings the others had, hoping that they would follow her example and that, in time, Ruhanna would feel more comfortable. She certainly seemed more at ease during winter gaming – she refused to toboggan, but was easily expert at skiing. “Do you skate as well?” Mary Burnett asked her, when the two of them had raced and Mary had won – just barely.

“No! I always wanted to try, but we – I – never had a chance.”

“Then there is at least something left for the rest of us to excel us,” Lisa had put in laughingly. This time Ruhanna did not look embarrassed at all, but simply took the compliments as her due. She was an odd girl, that much was for certain.

Events shortly conspired to make Grizel forget about Ruhanna’s strangeness altogether. She had her first prefects’ meeting. In all her worries about becoming Head Girl, she’d thought of numerous ways that she could fail. When she’d first become Games Pree she’d lorded it over the others rather, and they had reacted badly, understandably. What if she did the same thing now? What if she handled the Middles wrong and put their backs up? What if they just ignored her completely? What if she went off half-cocked again and the little idiots followed her example? But she’d never thought for a second that she’d have a problem with any of the other prefects, not from the very first meeting.

She wondered if Deira had always disliked her. They’d seemed to get along alright, and Grizel wasn’t given to introspection when it came to her friendships – she was friendly with people or she wasn’t, and it hadn’t bothered her particularly either way. But she saw now that Deira’s feelings ran deeper than that and that – at some time, surely – she must have done something to hurt the other girl. So in return she’d take exception to Grizel’s decisions and now – well.

Mademoiselle saw that something was wrong almost straight away. She’d interviewed both girls, separately, and pointed out to both of them that their disagreement had the potential to disrupt the whole school. The rest of the Seniors, at any rate, could already tell that something was wrong; Deira was being left to herself almost entirely by the other prefects, and Grizel was far quieter and more serious than she usually was. But while Grizel did everything she could to make amends, Deira did not seem to care at all. “I don’t know what to do at all,” Grizel told her headmistress anxiously during her interview. “I’ve tried to apologise, and I’ve tried to just treat her normally – what else can I do?”

Mademoiselle shook her head. “I think you would say, the ball is in Deira’s court now. If she will not accept your apology, nor apologise herself, then there is nothing more you can do; she is enjoying herself too much.”

Grizel sat up. “Enjoying herself? But she can’t be having any fun, Mademoiselle.”

“No, she is not happy,” the headmistress agreed. “But you wronged her, Grizelle, and she wants to feel wronged. Next time, I hope you will not allow this to happen; but you have done everything within your power to make it up to Deira.” To Grizel’s surprise, she smiled at her. “You have learned some hard lessons, Grizelle! You have made a mistake, but you have owned it. I know that your blame in this matter is very small.” And Grizel went away much cheered by Mademoiselle comments, even if she could not shake the knowledge that the situation was partially her own fault.

The interview with Deira went less well. Mademoiselle tried both reason and emotion, but Deira remained obstinate. At last, Mademoiselle sighed, and looked sadly at her student. “Deira, I have no doubt that if this continues, you will find yourself in trouble – much deeper trouble than any punishment I could mete out. I hope, for your sake, that you will triumph over your silly pride before this happens.” Deira looked troubled, at this pronouncement; but she still said nothing. Mademoiselle dismissed her, not looking untroubled herself.

This state of affairs continued until Mrs Russell – Madame, as the girls still called her – came to the school for a visit. Her former pupils were always happy to see her, and those who were new since her time were eager to see if she lived up to the others’ admiration. Mrs Russell laughingly agreed to teach her old classes, and the atmosphere in the school lightened significantly. Only Deira remained unchanged.

When she heard what had transpired, Mrs Russell was thoughtful. “If even you haven’t managed to get through to her, Thérèse, I don’t see what else can be done.”

“You could always demote her,” Miss Maynard suggested. “A shock is bound to cure her of her temper.”

“Or only serve to put her back up further,” Mademoiselle pointed out. “I think, unless things deteriorate further, Deira needs to be left to herself.” The other mistresses conceded, and Mrs Russell suggested that, after that previous night’s snowfall, they might have a snow fight. “It might clear the air a little,” she added. “And – well, I did mentioned it to Jo this morning. I’m afraid it will be halfway around the school by now.”

Miss Maynard laughed, and Mademoiselle smiled. “I do hope the children are not too excited,” she said. “But – yes, chérie, I suppose we must have the snowfight.”

The sides were picked, and the forts built, and the girls were enjoying themselves fully when Grizel suddenly gave a little cry and fell back into the snow. At first, it seemed as though she was playing a joke; but after a moment her stillness and whiteness brought the fight to a standstill, and Mademoiselle and Mrs Russell both to her side. Grizel was hastily borne off to the san, where Matron advised that a doctor be sent for at once; Mrs Russell stayed with her, while Mademoiselle had the mistresses and her other pupils back inside for cups of hot, milky coffee. As the Sixth Formers streamed past her to their tables, Mademoiselle caught Ruhanna by the arm. “I need your help,” she said in low tones. “Step outside with me for a moment, and listen.”

Ruhanna did so. Her expression, drawn tight by worry over the accident, changed to one of wonder. “And you think I could do that?” she asked.

“I know you can. You are, after all, your mother’s daughter! Go to her, my dear; she needs someone, and I think it had best be you.” Ruhanna opened her mouth to argue, and then reluctantly nodded her head, and shortly found Deira, not in the Hall with the others, but sitting on a settee outside the Head’s office, looking almost as pale as Grizel herself.

For a moment Ruhanna hesitated, steeling herself; then she perched herself on the settee’s armrest, in cool defiance of the usual rules, and gave Deira a hard look. “What did you do?” she asked brusquely. Deira started.

“Did you – did you see?” Deira made a little choking sound. “If Grizel dies – I’ll be a murderess!”

“Nonsense,” Ruhanna replied. “Mademoiselle told me Grizel’s going to be fine. It’s just a concussion, that’s all.”

Deira reached out and grasped the other girl’s hands. “Truly? But – she was bleeding-”

“Looked worst than it was,” Ruhanna replied promptly. “Now won’t you tell me what you mean by this murder business?” Haltingly, Deira recounted Grizel’s snowball hitting her, and her own hasty reaction. Ruhanna’s expression softened, and she slid down to sit next to the older girl. Deira wondered if it was pity driving her actions, but when Ruhanna opened her mouth what came out was the last thing Deira had expected.

“I nearly killed someone last term. One of my friends. I lost my temper and threw a bookend at her.” Her tone was blunt; Deira stared at her. Ruhanna clearly meant every word she was saying. “It wasn’t even like you and Grizel. We weren’t arguing or anything. I was just in a bad mood and she said the wrong thing and – I thought I had killed her.”

“Is that- is that why you left your last school? Were you – expelled?” To Deira’s mind, at that moment, there was a no more fitting consequence for what she herself had done.

“I wasn’t expelled. But – maybe that’s why I left. I don’t know.” Ruhanna gave a short laugh, but there was no humour in it. “It seems like a punishment, sometimes. Most of the time. But that wasn’t even the worst of what I did. Last year I was so eaten up with jealousy that I tried to blackmail another girl out of being friends with my sister.” She stared ahead, eyes unseeing. “Sometimes I wonder if I can ever forgive myself for that. My sister forgave me, and Ted and Betty, but…” she trailed off, and Deira found herself giving the younger girl a tentative smile.

“’Tis tempers we both have, then, and selfishness. I thought it was my pride that I was protecting, but I know that Grizel has been unhappy – and the others, too – and I just didn’t care,” she shook her head. “But now – I thought it was too late to say I was sorry. I am sorry, Hanna! I truly am. And- if- if Grizel doesn’t die-”

“She won’t,” Ruhanna said firmly.

“Then I’ll tell her so myself. And I- do you think Mademoiselle will see me now?”

Mademoiselle did, and Deira emerged from her office some time later, tearful but a good deal happier. She found that Ruhanna was still waiting for her outside, and sat down next to her. “You mentioned your sister,” Deira said. “You’ve never talked about her before.” Ruhanna glanced away, a pained look on her face.

“She’s… not around anymore. There’s just me, now.”

“That’s not true,” Deira told her. “Maybe you’ve got no one at home, but – as long as we’re both at school, you’ve got me.” She gave her a tentative smile. “It seems like we’ve got one or two things in common.”

Ruhanna looked at her, surprise written on her face; then she gave her own, slow smile. “We do, don’t we?” she asked, wonderingly. “I’d like to be friends, Deira.” The temperamental Deira clasped her hand, and said, “Mademoiselle said that I can be first in to see Grizel, as soon as she is allowed visitors. And – I was nearly forgetting. Mademoiselle asked to see you. Shall I wait for you?”

Ruhanna shook her head. “No – you better go down and ask Lisa for some coffee, since you missed yours. I’ll see you in class later.”

Mademoiselle was waiting for her patiently inside. “You did a tremendous thing today, Margot.”

Ruhanna – Margot Maynard – flushed. “I didn’t really. Deira just needed someone to talk to. It’s funny,” she added, “But no one’s really how I imagined they were as kids. Not even Mamma. All the aunts always talked about how helpful she was, but she just seems – I don’t know, ordinary. Kind of dreamy, like Con. And Aunt Grizel always seems a little bit frightening, but Grizel is a smashing Head Girl.”

 “But everyone is exactly as I remember them – almost. I try to make things stay the same, but I don’t really know everything that went on here – not even when I was a teacher myself! I didn’t know until I saw her today today that Deira threw a rock at Grizel; I had always thought it was an accident, that Grizel had been hit by a chunk of ice.”

Margot shrugged. “ Then isn’t it pointless, trying to keep everything the same? I mean when you were at school, I wasn’t here…” Then abruptly, “Tante Simone, what about Len and Con? Do you think I’ll ever see them again?”

“I don’t think so,” Simone said, “I am sure of it. You and I were both sent back in time; I am sure the others were too.”

There was conviction in her voice. Margot clenched her fists. Tante Simone was so sure – and she needed it to be true. She needed to know that her sisters would appear, one day, any day, soon, tomorrow… That they would come to the school, the same way that Tante Simone and she had.

“I have to stay here,” she said. Her voice cracked slightly as she spoke. “I have to… when they come, I have to be here to see them.”

“Of course,” Tante Simone said. Her grip on Margot’s arm tightened.

 

--------> part two