Main Characters: The Triplets, Grizel Cochrane, Beth Chester, Simone Lecoutier, The Doctor.
Word count: 14,377
part one <--------
part two <--------
4. (i and vi)
“So how are we going to do this?” Len asked. “Con – we can’t ask you to do all the writing.”
“You can,” Con replied with a sly smile, “but – ow!”
“Auntie Hilda isn’t here,” Margot grumbled, removing the pillow she’d used to hit her sister. “No grammar quips, please! Len’s right though – it wouldn’t be fair for you to write everything. We two might not be as good as you, but we I think it would be nice for Mother if we all do some of the writing.”
“So how do we decide who writes what?” Con demanded. “Just sort of – divvy them out?”
“Why don’t we just bags a story each, and then when we’re done start on another? We could make a note as we go, so we don’t do the same one twice.”
Con and Margot agreed that was the best way – “As long as I get to write about Mother’s impromptu bath in the Tiernsee,” Margot said. “I feel particularly fond of it after – you know,
Con and Len giggled, and then Len handed each of her sisters a stack of the paper she’d remembered to bring with her. Margot glanced down at it, then gave a yelp as she realised that she’d forgotten her pen. She flew out of the room, and Con shook her head at Len. “I can see you thinking it, older sister of mine.”
Len flushed. “I wasn’t going to say anything! What – which of Mamma’s stories are you going to take?”
Con produced her own pen and sucked the end thoughtfully. “Margot’s got the right idea – we should start in
“Chronologically. I’ll start with the train crash when Auntie Madge met Uncle Jem, then.” The colour was still high in Len’s cheeks, but Con decided to take her own advice and didn’t comment on it.
“Rufus for me, then!”
The girls got stuck into their task, and each worked diligently, in their own way – Len, writing slowly with great care to her handwriting, while Margot wrote in fit and starts, hammering out a paragraph before stopping to suck thoughtfully on her pencil; Con wrote quickly, but with much crossing-out as she searched for the perfect words to use. It was a good thing, she reflected, that they had decided to write drafts first.
The morning flew by, and it wasn’t until they heard a knock on the bedroom door that Con glanced up and realised how dark it was getting. “If it’s Mamma tell her to go away!” Margot called as Con opened the door a crack to see who it was. It was Tante Simone, come upstairs to warn them of the incoming storm. “I know it’s a little cheeky of me to ask when your mother doesn’t know,” she added with a smile, “But what exactly are you doing up here?”
A crash of thunder interrupted Len as she tried to explain; but after that false start she managed to say, “It’s for Mamma’s birthday – a collection of all the stories she’s always told us. Mostly about the school, of course, but some of the imaginary stories, too. Would you like to see?”
The thunder boomed again, obscuring Tante Simone’s answer; but Margot offered her the pile of papers anyway, and she took it. She screwed up her eyes once or twice at first, probably at Margot’s writing, but soon she was chuckling softly at remembered exploits. Con went to the window. She hated watching people read her work, even if she was only really transcribing Mamma’s stories. The sky was black outside. The storm was almost right on top of them, Con realised suddenly. The next roll of thunder was almost deafening, and she thought she saw a flash from the sky that was impossibly close to the house. That couldn’t be right, surely – she turned from the window to speak to the others, but never even had the chance to open her mouth. The next thing she knew she felt like she was being thrown through the air – blasted by the lightning, she thought hazily – and when she opened her eyes, she was lying in a patch of snow.
“I must have been flung quite far up the mountain,” she said out loud. Perhaps she needn’t have, but her ears were ringing and her head was spinning, and hearing her own voice made her feel more – level. “Most of the snow on the Platz has been gone for a month, at least.” She was wearing her inside clothes, and it was chilly. Best to make her way home as quickly as possible, then, and reassure everyone else – and herself – that she was alright.
She hadn’t gone far when she realised she wasn’t that far up the mountainside at all. There were no houses near here, but she knew the area very well – they often came this way on school rambles. She couldn’t be more than a twenty minute walk from Freudesheim. She picked up her pace.
It was funny, she thought as she walked, about that snow. She’d been here just yesterday, out for a stroll with Dad, and she hadn’t noticed any then. Perhaps it had fallen with that storm. True, it didn’t exactly seem to be fresh-fallen, but – well, it had been a bit of an odd storm.
As she approached the school, she thought she could hear to familiar voices in the distance. As she drew closer, she could make out the words.
“…ly a month. We have to face facts, Margot. She’s not coming.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” came the stubborn reply. Con frowned. It sounded like Margot, but – her voice was deeper than usual. It was Margot’s intonation, though. She’d know that anywhere. “I waited for you, Len. Not as long, perhaps – but I waited. I’m not going to stop waiting for Con, either.”
“But Margot – what if she came, and we missed her? Last winter, when the snows were so bad – or on the island, dumped out at sea… She’d be dead, and we’d never even know.”
“I’m not dead!” Con called. “I’m OK – I must have got thrown out of the window by that…”
The two women arguing were not Margot and Len at all. Con’s face flushed, embarrassed.
“Oh, Con,” said the taller of the two, a white-haired woman with steely blue eyes. “You always were lagging behind in a dream.” The words were tart, but there was a sob in her voice.
Con stared at her in horror, then took in the short, chestnut curls of the other woman. Visions of Rip Van Winkle danced before her eyes. “Mary and Jesus,” she breathed, more in fear than sin. “How long have I been gone for?
Simone's visit was a delight, as Joey had expected. She had plenty of friends living nearby, of course, but none of them meant quite as much to her as the other members of 'the Quartet' of her school days. With most of the small fry off visiting Winnie Embury, and the boys seconded to the
“You can send up Tante Simone, if you like,” Len had told her sternly. “Or Dad, if he’s home. But you’re not allowed in, on pain of-” She paused.
“Death,” Margot suggested with a grin.
“No pudding for a week.” That was from Con. “We’ll talk Anna round, Mamma.”
Joey was sure they would, too, so she had given up at that point and agreed not to disturb the girls, although she inwardly admitted she was wild with curiosity to know what they were up to. Simone’s arrival had quickly taken her mind off their plots and ploys, though, and the two old friends had passed the morning out in Joey’s rose garden, talking children and husbands and indulging in a little light gossip. In fact, the time had passed so easily that it wasn’t until she heard the hall clock striking thirteen o’clock that she realised that it was time for dinner.
“Anna will not be pleased if the girls are late,” she said to Simone apologetically. “Do you mind…?”
Simone didn’t mind, and Jo headed to the nearest bathroom to brush herself up before the meal. As she headed towards the dining room, she paused. Bruno was staring intently at the front door, as if expecting someone to be there. Frowning - she hadn't heard a knock - Joey pulled the door open, half expecting to see the boys home early and demanding food – although why they wouldn’t just come storming in was beyond her. But there was no one there at all.
She knelt down besides Bruno and gently stroked his head. “You OK, old fella?” He whined again, but more softly this time, and then sat back on his haunches, tongue lolling out as he relaxed. “Just this storm unsettling you, is it?” his mistress asked, sympathetically, and Bruno darted his head forward to lick her face.
There was a clatter of feet as the triplets and Simone descended the stairs. “Mamma, Margot’s going to be a doctor,” Con called.
“Right now?” Joey asked facetiously. “Or is she going to finish school first?” Then, seeing Margot’s face, she quickly said. “Sorry, my lamb. I didn’t mean to be glib. I thought you were thinking of going in to teaching – when did you change your mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Margot said vaguely. “I’ve just been thinking that it might be nice to look after sick people.”
“Rather you than me,” Len told her. “I’m sticking with teaching, just so long as I don’t have to look after KG kids-”
Simone burst out laughing. “And what if you have your own children, Len? Then you will have to look after them no matter what their age.” She glanced at Joey. “And they will run you so ragged you will feel like you’re 70 when you have only just passed 40…”
“Speak for yourself!” Joey retorted. “I don’t feel a day over twenty. And this lot has done their honest best to run me ragged-”
The triplets gave a cry at that, and Joey, grinning, fled to the kitchen to see if Anna needed a hand bring out the plates. The triplets and Simone were left to seat themselves at the table in their own time.
Elise sighed as she trudged back up the road towards her little apartment. She detested it, really – it was cramped, and ugly. But it was all that she could afford, and she knew that the money she saved by living here was always gratefully received by her cousin’s family. And now that
She would continue to work hard, of course. That much was a given. It would be easier if the girls she taught wanted to learn! The English never did want to learn new languages, except to ‘swank’. Perhaps she should look for a private posting again. There was more money in it, and by the sounds of things the little Renée was really very gifted. She’d be wanting to go to the Conservertoire one day-
The voice was unfamiliar. Elise turned to see a stranger; a young man – not much more than a boy, really – in a suit that could only be described as eccentric. But then, the English so often were.
“Can I help you?” she asked politely.
“Yes! Well, no. I just wanted to… to give you this. It was down the road, the postman must have dropped it…” He must have been English, because why else would he be here? And yet he spoke Elise’s own language without a trace of an accent.
“Thank you.” She took the envelope from his hand and glanced at the address at the front. It was for her, alright. But the return address was
She turned the envelope over to open it, and then Elise paused, aware that the young man was looking at her very intently. Did he want something more from her? She turned to look at him with a teacher’s glare, but found that he was smiling, a smile so happy that she found herself returning it almost automatically.
“I better get going,” he told her apologetically. “I’ve got to get back to my… friends.” He turned away, his smile not faltering for a moment; then he turned back. “Don’t worry, Elise. Better things are heading your way.”
Then her was gone, leaving Elise staring after him like a fool. What an odd boy! And yet… she turned the envelope over in her hands, thoughtfully. When he’d smiled at her – when she smiled back – she had felt like she was standing on the edge of something, something joyeux.
She continued her walk back to the house, but this time there was a lightness in her step that had not been there a moment before.
The story, as it began, was completely different than how it finished. I started off planning an alternate universe where the
The Doctor made an appearance very late in the show. I was trying to work out exactly how the storm had sent the girls back in time, and exactly how they were going to work out how to get back, which, I know one would generally figure out fairly early in the piece, but I consider such things too much like homework and leave it until the very last moment possible.
It was always going to be a storm that sent them off. The octarine light is an explanation, if you like, but I tend to think of it more as an homage. Night Watch, in which Commander Vimes is sent back in time and ends up taking the place of his own mentor - OK, so I borrowed more than just the lightning - is very much my favourite Discworld novel. But while Vimes' mentor's life was tragically cut short, Elise was saved. You can blame that on the Doctor. He insisted on saving everyone.
Ultimately, if I’d had more time (and procrastinated less) I’d have liked to have told more of the stories I’ve only just touched on – Margot dealing with her mother and becoming a Matron instead of a nun, Simone stepping in to help Betty and Thekla before it was too late. Len dealing with her feelings for Reg, in another time and place. The mysterious disappearance of André. Maybe some day I will.
Maybe, in another reality, I already have…