Miss Squeenie McPimpalot (chaletian) wrote,
Miss Squeenie McPimpalot
chaletian

The Parcel

That evening, Carey pored over the school’s prospectus. The glossy pictures, of an endless variety of girls enjoying so many activities, made her yearn for a childhood that she’d never had; but eventually she put the brochure away. It was silly to torment herself that way, when she’d had a perfectly good education; no worse than anyone else’s. An imp told her that her education had probably been a good deal worse than young Ceridwen’s, for example, but she disregarded it.

After being shown round the school, she had had a brief and rather uncomfortable meeting with Miss Trevor, the Head, who had been a small, brisk lady with fair, greying hair, and whose piercing eyes seemed to see straight though Carey’s pretence of a niece. She had come away as quickly as she could, pausing only to beg the prospectus from one of the school’s reception staff. She had not had the nerve to ask about the chalet in the photograph, but now, insulated by time and dinner, she went down to the hotel reception, and showed it to the girl there.

She’d never seen it, the girl said, and she’d lived in the area all her life. She didn’t think it was one that might have been pulled down, not around Briesau, anyway. Besides, it didn’t even look Austrian. Frau Howard had been visiting the school, hadn’t she? She should have asked there; they had more of the school in Switzerland; that might be where the chalet was.

Carey nodded her thanks, and asked whether there was a computer with an internet connection she could use. The receptionist pointed her towards an alcove in the lobby, and gave her a plastic chip to put in it. Half-an-hour later, Carey had booked a train ticket to Switzerland.

The next morning, a Saturday, she decided to walk around the Tiernsee; her train wasn’t until Monday, and the lake was too beautiful to miss. She was halfway to Tiernkirche when she turned a corner in the path, having scrambled out of something that oddly resembled the BBC quarry, and came across Ceridwen Lytton and another girl, sitting on a bench eating sandwiches. Carey smiled hesitantly, then more widely as Ceridwen grinned at her.

They’d decided to go for a walk, Ceridwen said. She made the introductions, and Carey learnt that the other girl, whose fair-haired beauty seemed to typify the Germanic ideal, was called Liddy von Eschenau.

“D’you want a sandwich?” offered Ceridwen suddenly, and Carey was taken aback.

“Um… I don’t… that is…”

“We have loads,” encouraged Liddy, “honestly, we do. They always give us stacks when we go off for walks.”

“In case we get lost, probably,” added Ceridwen, with a wry smile. “The fact that we’ve both been here for years, and could probably do this walk blindfold is neither here nor there!”

“Well, you know how schools are,” said Liddy, making room for Carey on the bench, “desperately scared of getting sued, even though if we *did* get lost it would probably be our own fault, and serve us right, too.”

“You have very good English,” said Carey, then put her hand over her mouth, aghast at having made such a personal comment to a stranger. But Liddy took in her stride, and smiled.

“Don’t let the name fool you, Miss Howard! I’m as English as the next person. My grandparents were Austrian, of course, but my father moved to England years ago, before I was born. My mother’s English.”

“Oh. I see,” replied Carey, absently biting into a sandwich that Ceridwen had handed her. “Are you mostly English at the school?” Liddy shook her head.

“Not at the Austrian branch,” she said. “It’s mostly Austrian and German girls, and some Italian and French. There are a fair number of English girls, of course. But mostly they go to the Swiss branch – there are more French girls there, as well, and Dutch and Norwegian and those sort of countries. My parents sent me here because of the family being Austrian.”

“And *mine*,” continued Ceridwen, as she flung an apple core into the trees, “sent me here for no good reason, except that they liked the idea of being able to visit me by the lake. The Swiss branch is halfway up a big fu- I mean, a big mountain. My mother wasn’t quite so keen on that.”

“Have you been there?” asked Carey with interest. The two girls nodded.

“There’s a regular half-term-y exchange thing,” replied Liddy. “It’s great, actually, cuz in the winter, we get to go over there for skiing and stuff, which is better over there than here, and in the summer they can come and use the lake – they have to go down to Lake Thun usually, and it’s a bit of a trek. Plus I suppose it gives the mistresses a bit of a change. We do Guides and Rangers and that sort of thing as well, if people like, and we have a camp every summer, turn and turn about, with the Platz people and Glendower House. So we’ve been to Platz quite a lot, really.”

Carey fished in her pocket and pulled out the photograph of the chalet. “Does this look familiar?” she asked, trying to hide the tension in her voice. If it *was* from the Swiss branch, surely these two would recognise it? But they both looked unsure.

“I don’t *think* so,” said Liddy eventually. “But I can’t say it looked unfamiliar, exactly, so maybe I have seen it somewhere. What about you, Kerry?” Ceridwen took it from Carey, and stared intently, then flipped it over and read the date on the back.

“It’s not part of the school,” she said slowly, raising her eyes to meet Carey’s, “and that’s what you meant, isn’t it? But Lid’s right, it looks familiar. Not the building itself, actually, but the landscape. I wonder if… what about that place that used to be next door? The house where Dr Lewis used to live before it all went pear-shaped and they had to knock it down?” Liddy was nodding.

“That’s it! I knew I’d seen it somewhere! That is, I don’t really remember Dr Lewis there, because they knocked it down practically our first year here, but I’ve seen loads of pictures of it. It was called F…Freudesheim, that was it! One of my grandmother’s friends used to own it, back in the day.” Ceridwen groaned.

“God, yes! Mrs M, n’est-ce pas?” Liddy grinned and rolled her eyes in turn.

“The very same! I’d forgotten your grandmother knew her as well.”

“’The Perfect Chalet School Girl.’ Trademarked,” said Ceridwen, waving the photo at Carey. She was the School’s First Pupil – also trademarked – though only because her sister founded it.”

“Miss Bettany,” said Carey, unthinkingly, and the two girls turned to her in surprise.

“How on earth did you know?” demanded Ceridwen. And Carey, who had somehow never had anyone to talk to as she had with these two girls, told them everything: the box file, and the mining company, and Taverton, and lying to Miss Trevor. She showed them the photo of the girl as well, but neither of them recognised her.
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