She was imagining how hopeless Marie must have felt, when she suddenly collided with someone walking round the lake path in the other direction.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she began, looking up. In front of her was a tall, fair-haired man, smiling at her apologetically.
“Oh, it was my fault entirely,” he said, rather untruthfully, Carey suspected. “Oh – are you English?”
“Yes, of course.” She laughed. “Sorry, for a moment, I forgot I was in Austria!”
“That’s quite a challenge,” said the man, still smiling as he swept an expansive arm around to include the lake and mountains. “Are you on holiday?” Carey nodded.
“More or less,” she replied, wondering how best to categorise her visit. “I’m visiting relatives – sort of.”
“Sort of relatives? Sounds interesting!” said the man. “My name’s Peter, by the way. I’m on holiday, myself.” He nodded his head towards one of the hotels on the other side of the lake. “I’m staying over there.”
“I’m Carey. I’m staying with… with family, in the chalet near the church. Well, I’d better get on, I think. It was nice to meet you.”
“And it was nice to meet you, too.” They continued on their separate ways, then a call halted her progress.
“Carey!” It was Peter, jogging back to her. “Look, I know this is a bit sudden but, well, would you like to have dinner with me?”
“Yeah. The hotel restaurant isn’t bad. And I promise I’m not a crazy axe murderer or anything! Will you?” Carey hesitated. She’d never been asked out before, not ever. And she didn’t know him. But then another voice said, ‘Why not?’, and the new Carey decided that she had to start somewhere.
“OK,” she said, rather defiantly, though what she was defying, she wasn’t sure about. Peter grinned at her.
“All right,” he said. “Look, it’s only five now. I’ll meet you on the other side of the lake at,” he scratched his chin, trying to remember what the lake steamer timetable was like, “about half seven. OK?”
“Fine,” said Carey, still defiant. “I’ll see you then!” and she walked on, with a quick wave, wondering whatever had possessed her.
Con was reassuring. “Oh, that should be nice!”
“Don’t you think he might be a bit of a weirdo?” Con laughed.
“What, for asking you out? Don’t be silly! Look, nothing can happen, not in Briesau! It’s tiny. As long as you don’t go off to his hotel room – well, obviously, if you wanted to, but, oh, you know what I mean! Just having dinner in a hotel restaurant isn’t going to hurt. Where’s he staying, the Kron Prinz Karl?”
“Mmm. Oh, I know I’m being silly. It’s just that, well, this is sort of a first for me.”
“Picking up men in hotel resorts?” said Con with a wicked grin. Con grinned back, unable to stop herself.
“Hardly! I meant the whole thing.” At Con’s blank look, she clarified, “Dating, you know! I’ve never…”
“What, ever?” Carey flushed at the patent surprise in Con’s voice.
“I know, it’s ridiculous. Here I am, nearly thirty, never gone out with a man…”
“Sorry! I didn’t mean to sound so… so. Well, to be honest, I haven’t exactly ‘dated’ much myself. A couple of dinners when I was a student, that was about it.”
“Didn’t you and your husband…”
“Roger? No, hardly at all. He’s another one, you know. One of the Maynard collection. We came across him and Roddy and Ruey – his brother and sister – when we were on holiday here once. His father was quite mad, and planning to go into space - well before it was a feasible object,” she added, seeing Carey’s face. “He really was potty, I’m afraid. With the slightest encouragement he dumped the Rs on Mamma and Papa, and went off to build his rocket. Ruey came to school with us, and the boys came back for the hols.” She stood up and walked to the window, and pointed out the Chalet School on the other side of the lake. “You see where the school is, right at the edge of hamlet, where the path leads to Seespitz? That’s the new site. It was built there back in, oh, about 1970 or so, when the school board reinstated the Austrian branch. The old school - it closed down in 1938, obviously – was further in, there, where that patch of trees is. You see? That belongs to the water board now. Well, they took over back in the late fifties. Roger wanted to be an engineer, and managed to get a job down here when he graduated. I came out in the long vac to help him sort out his digs, and the rest is history. Didn’t really leave much scope for dates. We married straight after I graduated, and came to live out here.”
“It’s so beautiful – you must have loved it.” Con shrugged.
“Oh, it changed. Got more touristy, I’m afraid. By the time Jenny finished at the school here, we’d decided to go to England – Roger had a very good job offer. I do miss it, of course, but, well, ‘home is where the heart is’ and all that. Anyway, you’d better get ready if you want to catch the steamer in time! Off you go!”