In The Presence Of Fate - Part 3 - completed 23/11/06, p9
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#1: In The Presence Of Fate - Part 3 - completed 23/11/06, p9 Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 9:37 am
In The Presence Of Fate - Part One
In The Presence Of Fate - Part Two

Sybil was twenty-one in March, and I sent a card, along with a letter telling her all my latest news, to her at the Sydney flat into which she, Josette, Kevin, Kester and Lady Russell had moved after the medical conference in Adelaide had finished. The flat belonged to a Mr and Mrs Hope, who lived just outside Sydney with their daughter Emerence - who’d been at the Chalet School until the summer before last and was Margot Maynard’s best friend. There seemed to be Chalet School connections in every corner of the world now – and it had all started back home in Briesau.

Soon afterwards I received a long letter in reply. Sybil apologised for not having written for a while, but explained that a lot had been going on in the Russell family. Sir James’s tour of inspection of sanatoria in Australia and New Zealand had been considerably extended, making it unlikely that they’d be coming home before the end of the year at the earliest - despite all their previous promises to Josette that they’d be back in Britain in time for her to start her course at the London School of Economics in September.

Josette had been furious and very upset, understandably: but, after Sybil had told her what I’d said about making the best of things and not letting bitterness cloud your life, she’d spoken to several people at Sydney University and managed to get herself on a similar course there. Her parents had, after a lot of arguing, agreed to it on condition that she continue to live at the Hopes’ flat rather than in student accommodation; and she’d started the course at the end of January and was thoroughly enjoying it.

She’d also started seeing a young man, the elder brother of a friend of hers from university. “I say “young” man,” Sybil wrote, “but he’s nine years older than her and I get the feeling that he wants to get married and settle down sooner rather than later, and that Josette’s rather getting swept along with it all. He’s nice enough, don’t get me wrong; but Josette’s only eighteen and I hope she knows what she’s doing.”

Kevin and Kester had started at a small private school not far from the flat, and seemed to be settling in well there. That left just Sybil to keep Lady Russell company for much of the time, and she wrote that it wasn’t always easy, but that she was keeping herself busy with her art needlework and resolutely refusing to let her mother dictate what she should do all the time.

She’d half-hoped that Emerence Hope, who was only two years younger than she was, might have introduced her to some other young people in and around Sydney; but they hadn’t really seen very much of each other, and when they had met up they hadn’t really found much to talk about. Emerence had spent most of the spring and summer surfing and hanging around on the beach at Manly, where she lived; and, as Sybil said, whilst it sounded wonderful in the short term it wasn’t really a very worthwhile way of spending your life in the longer term - but Emerence didn’t seem to be interested in very much else.

Mr Hope and Emerence would be visiting Europe later in the year, though, and bringing Margot Maynard back with them to stay for the best part of two months during the Chalet School summer holidays. I’d always thought of Margot as being a spoilt brat, but from what Sybil said it sounded as if she’d grown up a lot recently: she was working extremely hard because she was hoping, when she left school, to become a doctor.

There’d been some talk about Sybil, Josette, Margot and Emerence all meeting up and going to various places together during Margot’s visit, Sybil said; but she wasn’t sure how much chance she’d get to join the others - because there was someone else whom she was hoping to be spending most of July and August with instead. “I’ve saved this particular bit of news until last!” she wrote. “During the conference, we had to go to all sorts of boring lunches and dinners with the other doctors and their wives, but one evening one of the Sydney doctors brought his son along with him … and we just hit it off straight away.

“We got on really well, and we managed to see quite a lot of each other over the next few days, before he had to go back to his ship – he’s in the Australian Navy. We’ve been writing to each other ever since, and he’s on leave all through July and August and we’ll both be in Sydney then, so … well, we’ll see how it goes; but I do really, really like him, so watch this space! And how’s it going with you and Will? Has he managed to introduce you to his parents yet? And I hope he took you out somewhere nice, just the two of you, to make up for not going to your birthday lunch!”

After that, she’d just added that she hoped all my family were well, and then signed her name with her usual flourish. I read the letter a second time, and then folded it over and put it back in its envelope, so many thoughts racing through my head that I didn’t know which of them to think about first.

Last edited by Alison H on Thu Nov 23, 2006 7:48 am; edited 17 times in total

#2: In the presence of fate Author: Fiona McLocation: Bendigo, Australia PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 10:27 am
Love the friendship between Gretchen and Sybil and it's great Sybil can really talk to her about what she really thinks.

Last edited by Fiona Mc on Sun Nov 05, 2006 11:26 am; edited 1 time in total

#3:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 10:37 am
Good to hear that Sybil is enjoying herself - despite her mother! Glad she was able to pass on Gretchen's words to Josette.

Thanks Alison.

#4:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 12:43 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm sorry that Sybil hasn't really had a chance to meet up with the others.

#5:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 2:35 pm
But that doesn't make Josette's 'young' man sound very nice! In fact he seems like another Reg Entwhistle! I hope Sybil's is nicer.

#6:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 3:08 pm
I love the relationship Gretchen and Sybil have, which only seems to be strengthened by the distance between them. Hope Sybil can find some happiness with her new man!

#7:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 3:08 pm
Thanks Alison, I'm definitely very wary of Will. I hope Gretchen won't end up getting too hurt.

#8:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Sun Nov 05, 2006 8:04 pm
Very interesting!

Gretchen is maturing nicely -- but I don't know about that Will. Maybe he's just trying to minimize her crossing paths with the nasty mother, but that wouldn't explain his not trying to cultivate Grechen's parents.

Imagine a trip to Australia being so boring. Shocked Hope Sybil's new friend is as promising as he sounds.

#9:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 7:44 am
I couldn’t imagine Josette having a serious boyfriend. Or maybe “man”friend would be a better description in this case! She was very young, and less than a year out of the Chalet School where the girls had virtually no contact with young men at all. Then again, I was hardly in a position to comment on other people’s ability to deal with relationships. I’d gone to mixed schools, been a working woman for over six years and been on dates with plenty of lads, and yet now that I had a steady boyfriend I didn’t seem to be making much of a success of things with him at all.

Sybil’s question about whether or not he’d taken me to meet his parents yet had struck a raw nerve; because of course he hadn’t. In fact, I didn’t think that he’d told them anything about me at all: I often saw his mum in the shop and she showed no sign whatsoever of being aware that her son’s girlfriend worked there. I knew that some people didn’t like their parents knowing everything that was going on in their lives; but we’d been seeing each other for months now, and it was becoming more than a bit obvious that he wanted to keep me in some sort of separate compartment of his life, away from not only his family but also his friends and his work. And that, surely, wasn’t normal. As for her remark about him taking me out somewhere special to make up for missing my birthday lunch, he’d done nothing of the sort – and, without wishing to sound ungrateful, I couldn’t help thinking that a box of chocolates as a twenty-first birthday present was hardly something into which very much thought could have gone.

Or was I was expecting too much? Or at least too much too soon? Handsome princes and cottages with roses round the door didn’t come along too often in the real world, and Will and I did always get on well when we saw each other. Still, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy about it all; and I resolved to say something to him if the situation didn’t show signs of improvement soon. By contrast, it sounded as if Sybil and her young man were thoroughly smitten with each other; and I could see that she might well end up settling in Australia for good. I hoped that they would indeed be able to see plenty of each other during his leave, and that Lady Russell wouldn’t try to insist that she spend her time with Josette and Margot and Emerence instead.

I didn’t know Margot all that well and I’d never met Emerence Hope, but I pondered what she’d said about the two of them and their contrasting plans for the next few years for some time. Emerence didn’t seem to intend doing very much at all other than having fun, whereas Margot was planning to go into medicine - arguably the most worthwhile field of work of all. And I seemed to fall somewhere in between the two, I thought to myself. I had a job, and I was doing my college course, and I worked hard at both … but was working in a shop, selling clothes which very few people could afford, for employers who were expecting us to work longer and longer hours because they wouldn’t pay for the extra staff we needed, really what I wanted to do in the long term? I wanted to do more than that, to give more than that.

Sybil’s letter had certainly given me an awful lot to think about.

But not as much as what was to happen less than two months later was going to do.

Although this seems to keep on getting longer and longer Rolling Eyes , this is the last post on this actual thread as it's now got to 25 pages and Pim/Helen can't archive the beginning of it at present due to problems with computer access. So - provided that I manage to remember! - tomorrow's post will be on a new thread Very Happy . Thanks for reading this - I will finish it eventually!

#10: In the presence of fate Author: Fiona McLocation: Bendigo, Australia PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 9:57 am
Alison!!! Am really enjoying this and please don't dare tell us Gretchen falls pregnant! Am hoping she finds her life calling cos that is a hard thing to do and quick questions will you still be posting under the same title or will it be called something different?

#11: Re: In the presence of fate Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 9:59 am
Fiona Mc wrote:
Alison!!! Am really enjoying this and please don't dare tell us Gretchen falls pregnant! Am hoping she finds her life calling cos that is a hard thing to do and quick questions will you still be posting under the same title or will it be called something different?

I promise she won't get pregnant - she hasn't let Will get that near to her Wink !

It'll be the same title with "Part II" attached - it's just that the Board apparently gets upset if things get much over 25 pages.

#12:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 10:32 am
Thanks Alison, a nice little cliff to leave us on there!

#13:  Author: AliceLocation: London, England PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 11:26 am
Thanks Alison. I wonder what it could be...

#14:  Author: MiaLocation: London PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 12:54 pm
What a horrid but fab cliff! Smile

#15:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 1:11 pm
Cliffs are bad - I want to know!!

#16:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 3:58 pm
Oohh, am also eager to find out what's going to happen. As for the length, I think epics are fab, Alison!

#17:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 5:38 pm
Nice cliff!

Thanks Alison

#18:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 6:26 pm
Thanks, Alison. I wonder what will happen in 2 months.

#19:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 10:40 pm
It's good to see her so focussed on her college course, and also to see her gaining awaareness of the world around her and wanting to give something to it.

Will? Hmm...

#20:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 7:32 am
Sorry if this isn't very dramatic after all that!

On May 15th, more than a decade after the proclamation of Victory in Europe, the State Treaty for the Re-establishment of an Independent and Democratic Austria was signed; and Austria was reunited, independent and free for the first time in over seventeen years. It wasn’t something that merited much coverage in the British press, but for me and for the rest of our family it was a truly significant and deeply emotional occasion.

I went to the Russells’ house for my evening meal that day: Mum and Auntie Rosa served a series of traditional Tyrolean dishes, and after we’d finished eating I helped them with the clearing away and washing up, and the three of us talked over old times at the Tiernsee and cried a little. I might not have gone to church every Sunday any more, but childhood habits died hard and before I went to bed that evening I got down on my knees and prayed that Austria might now at last be entering upon a new era, one of peace and prosperity.

For the past three years I’d been trying to save as much as I could; and I’d long had it in mind that maybe, if I carried on saving for long enough, eventually I’d be able to afford a trip back home to Tyrol. I was due to take my exams towards the end of June and, if I passed, I’d be due a pay rise, which would enable me to save considerably more quickly than I was doing at present. I hadn’t really looked into it all yet, but I decided now that, if I did pass the exams, I’d see about getting an up-to-date passport and make some enquiries into prices and timetables. I’d been away for far, far too long.

“I was beginning to think that things in Austria were never going to get sorted out!” I said to Will when I saw him a few days later. “I don’t think that everyone’s convinced about this assurance of permanent neutrality that’s included in the State Treaty, because they think it’ll mean that Austria’ll never have any real power or status again, but I think that there’s a lot to be said for it – look at Switzerland. Of course, it’s ridiculous that it’s taken over ten years to get to this stage, but really things could have turned out much worse – Hungary and Czechoslovakia and so many other countries are dominated by the Soviet Union, and it looks as if Germany’s going to be split into two parts permanently.

“I suppose I can see why some older people might find it all strange, though. I mean, even when people of Mum and Dad’s age were born the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the most powerful countries in the world. In Tyrol a lot of people still can’t accept that South Tyrol’s legally part of Italy instead of part of Austria, even after all this time. And … Will, are you listening to me?”

“What? Oh, yeah, of course I am,” he said, looking up from the pile of beer mats which he’d been arranging on top of his glass. “The Austro-Hungarian Empire? Well, things change, don’t they? First you get the southern part of Ireland being given its independence, and then twenty years later it’s India, and now this mad fellow in Egypt’s saying he wants British troops out of the Suez Canal Zone. D’you want another drink?”

“No I don’t want another drink!” I snapped. “And I wasn’t talking about Ireland, or India, or the flaming Suez Canal; and I wasn’t really talking about the Austro-Hungarian Empire either for that matter. I was talking about the idea of permanent neutrality for Austria.”

“Stop shouting: people’ll stare at us!” he hissed. “I don’t know why you’re so bothered about what’s going on in Austria anyway: I know you were born there, but you left when you were a little kid and you’ve never been back once. I’m surprised you can even remember anything about the place. You’ve lived here for, what, fifteen years, and you were in Guernsey for two years before that. You were lucky to get out of Central Europe when you did, so stop worrying about it. Now, are you having another drink or what?”

#21:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 9:36 am
What a thoroughly unpleasant man he is.

Thanks Alison, Gretchen deserves much better.

#22:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 9:52 am
Her point of view is obviously soooo important to him...oaf!

Thanks Alison.

#23:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 12:25 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm sorry that Will wasn't at all supportive.

#24:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 1:06 pm
I don't like Will at all.

#25:  Author: JustJenLocation: sitting on the steps PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 1:26 pm
smacks Will with a dead trout. What a moron.

#26:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 2:12 pm
Gretchen, do yourself a big favour, give Will the elbow, now!

#27:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 2:35 pm
I'm hoping that she's going to give him a real earful in return for that!

#28:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 5:37 pm
Gretchen - when you get that drink tip it over his head, would you? What a pillock. Rolling Eyes

Thanks Alison.

#29:  Author: PatLocation: Doncaster PostPosted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 8:06 pm
Dump him love.

#30:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:42 am
I got up and stormed out at that point. Will came running after me, saying that he hadn’t meant to upset me; but I told him to leave me alone and took myself straight home. However, much as I found the manner in which he’d spoken to me difficult to forgive, once I’d calmed down I realised that he’d quite genuinely been wholly unable to grasp why I was so concerned about the provisions of the State Treaty. How could he understand how I felt about my far-off home country, when he’d been born and bred and lived his entire life in the same place, as had his parents and grandparents before him? Even Susan, who knew me far better than he did, sometimes seemed to find it difficult to understand that I still thought of myself as being Austrian even though I’d spent most of my life in Britain.

Sometimes I felt so, so isolated - even from my own brothers and sister, two of whom had never set foot in Austria and the other of whom had almost no memory of it at all. It wasn’t even as if we had Austrian friends and acquaintances living locally to share things like that celebratory meal with. There were plenty of Irish, Italian, Chinese, Polish and other communities across Britain; but I wasn’t sure that there was an “Austrian community” anywhere in the country, and there most certainly wasn’t one in the Armiford area.

Sometimes people I met looked awkward or even hostile when they heard the word “Austria” mentioned: anti-German feeling still ran high in many quarters and for some people that extended to Austrians too. And most people of my own age had no idea what I was talking about if I unthinkingly used the odd German word in conversation: although German was being taught in many schools again now, a lot of schools - even the Chalet School - had removed it from the syllabus during the 1940s.

If I stayed in Armiford, in this beautiful English cathedral city, then if I ever married it would almost certainly be to an Englishman. Would I want only ever to speak English in my own home? Would I want my children, if I ever had any, to grow up without speaking my own native language? Might those children even resent the fact that I came from a different background and culture to that of their friends’ parents? Will’s thoughtless remarks had brought all these concerns right to the forefront of my mind; and I just didn’t know what to do about them.

I thought about speaking to my parents or to Auntie Rosa about it all, but I decided not to. For one thing I didn’t feel comfortable about telling them what Will had said, knowing very well that none of them liked him anyway; and for another thing it was different for them: none of them were living and working in a world in which they were the only Austrian, and usually they even spoke in German to the Russells when they were at home. In the end, I wrote to Auntie Karen, telling her everything that was worrying me and hoping that somehow she’d be able to help.

When she wrote back, she told me all about the “British community” at the Gornetz Platz, who lived in their own little self-enclosed world and had very little contact with the local Swiss population. She also told me how much happier she’d been since moving back to Tyrol, how she felt at home and at ease there in a way that she’d never done in Guernsey, in England, in Wales or in Switzerland. Finally, she told me about friends of her husband, people he'd met when he lived in Massachusetts, who’d moved there from many different countries but now considered themselves to be wholly American. And, at the end of it all, she said that she’d always be there for me but that she couldn’t give me the answer to my problems, because it was something that everyone who moved from one country to another had to work out for themselves. And I knew that she was right.

She also added that, although she accepted that it would be very difficult for Will to understand how I felt about all this, it didn’t sound as if he treated me as I deserved in general and that she was quite sure that I could do far better. Those last two comments echoed remarks that Susan had made about Will several times, and I couldn’t help feeling that maybe they both had a point.

So I had even more to think about than I’d done before. But, with my exams coming up, I knew that I had to try to focus on my revision, and so I just let everything else carry on as it was as May gave way to June. I didn’t see much of Will, or for that matter of anyone else outside the shop or the house, in the last weeks leading up to the exams, as I spent evening after evening with my nose buried in my text books. These were crucial times for me, and every other aspect of my life was just going to have to wait until the exams were over and I’d got the results and knew where I was up to.

#31:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 9:56 am
I'm impressed by Gretchen's dedication to accountancy exams...

Thanks Alison, I hope Gretchen listens to what Karen says!

#32:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 1:30 pm
Hope Gretchen does well in her exams and that she can solve her other problems, too.

#33:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 1:49 pm
KathrynW wrote:
I'm impressed by Gretchen's dedication to accountancy exams...

She's only doing some (fictitious course!) bookkeeping/secretarial exams Very Happy . I did 14 accountancy exams in 3 years and would not wish them on Gretchen!! Good luck with yours though, Kathryn Very Happy .

#34:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 3:53 pm
I hope she's really successful in her exams - does Karen's husband need an accountant at the hotel?

#35:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:53 pm
That's a really good idea, Becky - the only problem is, after being away for so long - would she fit in back in Austria?

Thanks Alison

#36:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 6:21 pm
Thanks, Alison. I hope the exams go well.

#37:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 6:36 pm
Thanks, Alison. that would be the ideal, working for her family in Austria.

#38:  Author: Sarah_LLocation: Leeds PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 8:18 pm
Alison H wrote:
KathrynW wrote:
I'm impressed by Gretchen's dedication to accountancy exams...

She's only doing some (fictitious course!) bookkeeping/secretarial exams Very Happy . I did 14 accountancy exams in 3 years and would not wish them on Gretchen!! Good luck with yours though, Kathryn Very Happy .

I've only just finished (as at half past one today) my ACA exams. I can understand Gretchen needing to study so hard, I've done nothing else but for the past eight weeks!

#39:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 9:09 pm
Good for Gretchen! *pokes Will*
And Karen's advice seems nicely balanced.

I rather like Fatima's idea. Smile

#40:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:48 am
Hope the exams went well, Sarah.

It was the end of August before I got my exam results. I was horribly nervous beforehand; but I was overjoyed to find out that I’d passed the lot, and with much higher marks than I’d ever dared to expect. My family and Susan and her mum were all delighted for me, and Will bought me a bunch of flowers and treated me to a celebratory meal at a lovely little restaurant out in the countryside.

So, after two years of studying and going to evening classes, my free time was my own again. That was going to take some getting used to! And now I had the qualifications I’d worked so hard for; and, once I got my pay rise, hopefully I’d soon be able to afford my longed-for trip home.

On a different note, now that the worry of the exams and the results was out of the way I was determined to have a serious talk with Will. Some major changes in our relationship were needed if we were to carry on seeing each other. At the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking that he wasn’t really “the one” for me, and I suppose I knew that he wasn’t really serious about me anyway; but we’d been seeing each other for over a year and I felt that I should at least try to resolve things rather than just admitting that it was never going to work out between us.

But, as I’d so often found in the past, things have a habit of not turning out the way that they’re supposed to. The first thing that went wrong was that, after I’d told Mr and Mrs Langley that I’d passed my exams, although they both congratulated me the subject of my pay rise just wasn’t mentioned. I waited another couple of weeks but still nothing was said about it, and I started to worry. Had they just forgotten about it, or were they trying to get away with carrying on paying me the same amount that I’d been receiving when they’d been paying my college fees as well? I felt extremely awkward at the thought of raising the subject with them, but eventually I decided that I had no choice.

They reacted with shock – or at least that was evidently the impression that they wanted to give. “I have to say that I’m rather surprised at your attitude, Miss Monier,” Mrs Langley said. “This business has paid for you to attend a college course for two full years, which we were most assuredly under no obligation to do - and now it seems that your idea of repaying us is to demand an increase in your salary. Well, really!”

“But it’s always been understood that I was being paid less than I would have been otherwise because you were paying my college fees, and that once I’d finished college you’d start paying me the normal rate,” I stammered. “You said that yourselves when I started college, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“The normal rate?” Mr Langley boomed. “So now you’re saying that we’re underpaying you, Miss Monier! I have to say that I’m really very surprised and disappointed indeed by your ingratitude, after everything that my wife and I have done for you. And I would ask you to bear in mind that if you’re not satisfied with your position here then there are plenty of other young women who would be. Now, in the interests of harmony I’m prepared to forget that this conversation ever took place, but I trust that neither my wife nor I will hear this matter referred to again. I suggest that you get about your work now, Miss Monier, and not waste any more of our time. Good day.” Mrs Langley wagged her head in agreement.

There was so much that I wanted to say at that point. I wanted to say, again, that all along it had been understood that, as soon as they were no longer paying my college fees, they’d put my wages up. They’d said so. And it was on the tip of my tongue to say that, yes, they flaming well were overworking me – not only me but everyone else in the shop as well. I was grateful that they’d sent me to college, I really was; but it did not give them the right to treat me like this. And I longed to tell them all of that. After all, hadn’t I always vowed that I would never, ever let an employer make a mug of me?

But it wasn’t just that easy, was it? Not in the real world. If I told them what I thought of them, and either told them where to shove their job and walked out of my own accord or waited for them to sack me for being rude to the bosses, I’d be out on my ear with no job, no reference, and no money coming in. And even if I found another job I’d forego my annual Christmas bonus, and I wouldn’t get much of one anywhere else if I’d only been there a few months when December came. I’d earned that extra money – and I was depending on it to buy Christmas presents for my family and friends with. So I wouldn’t really be able to do anything until January at the earliest.

Oh, why could life not, just for once, have gone as it’d been meant to? I’d been walking on air after finding out that I’d passed my exams; and now I’d been brought crashing right back down to earth again.

#41:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:43 am
That's exploitation, pure and simple. I hope she finds a new job as soon as she can after Christmas, and then tells them where to go!

Thanks Alison.

#42:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:47 am
Poor Gretchen, that's such terrible behaviour.

Thanks Alison

PS Well done Sarah!

#43:  Author: JustJenLocation: sitting on the steps PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 1:30 pm
Poor poor Gretchen.

#44:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 1:40 pm
I'm shocked at their attitude! After all, Gretchen must be much more productive now and that's benefitting them. It's only fair she gets some reward for all her hard work.

#45:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:34 pm
What a disappointment for her. I'm glad she's going to have a word with Will, though. Thanks Alison.

#46:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 3:29 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm sorry that she didn't get a pay rise. I have to admit that I had a horrible feeling they were going to do that to Gretchen.

#47:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 5:54 pm
Look for another job, Gretchen, as soon as possible - don't allow then to win.

Thanks Alison

#48:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 2:34 am
*pokes evil exploitative employers*

#49:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 7:56 am
Thanks for the comments Very Happy .

I was so angry and upset about what had happened with the Langleys that it was another couple of weeks before I felt up to tackling the other issue that needed addressing – my relationship with Will. I tried to work out what I was going to say to him beforehand, but it was very difficult without knowing how he was going to respond, so I ended up deciding that I’d just have to play it by ear. I’d asked him if we could go somewhere quiet, so we met in a small café not far from where I lived. I didn’t go in there very often – its customers were usually older people – but I didn’t fancy trying to have a serious conversation either in the corner of a dance hall with music blaring out or else in a noisy pub.

“Will, there are a few things that I really think we need to talk about,” I began awkwardly.

“Actually, I’ve got something that I need to talk to you about, so I was quite glad when you said you wanted to come somewhere quiet tonight,” he said.

“Oh!” I was rather taken aback. Was he finally going to say that he wanted me to meet his family and friends and become a proper part of his life? Or was he going to say that he wanted to stop seeing me altogether? I had absolutely no idea which of the two it was more likely to be … and that was rather worrying in itself. “What is it?”

“I wanted to tell you that I won’t be around for the next few months,” he said. “Dad and I are going to be working on a big case in London and it won’t be practical for us to be running backwards and forwards between London and Armiford all the time. We’re renting a flat there, and Mum’s coming as well. We’ll be staying down there to spend Christmas with my aunt and her family in Surrey and then - assuming that everything’s finished by then, which it should be - coming back early January. I will try to write, but I’m not the world’s best letter writer, so … well, I’ll see you in January, I suppose.”

Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just tell him where to go there and then! “I’ll see you in January, I suppose” – hah! Was there some law saying that he wasn’t allowed to come up to Armiford at weekends, or to invite me down to see him in London? Not to mention the fact that he must have known about all this for weeks beforehand and hadn’t bothered to say a word about it until now, just before he was about to go.

I just looked at him in disbelief and shook my head. “Yeah,” I said. “I suppose.”

So off Will went to London. He didn’t offer to give me the address of where he was staying, and I didn’t ask him for it. And I carried on working at the shop, counting the days until Christmas. The minute Christmas and New Year were over, I vowed, I’d start looking for a new job. And, as soon as Will got back, I’d break it off with him. I’d had it up to here with his thoughtlessness and the way messed me around, and quite honestly I was beginning to wonder what I’d ever seen in him in the first place. So much for romance, I thought to myself ruefully!

So much for romance in my case, anyway. Other people were faring much better! Just after Will left for London, I received a letter from Sybil, saying that Josette was engaged. I hoped that she’d made the right decision – she was very young, after all – but it did sound as if her fiancé was a nice man and that they were happy together, so I was genuinely pleased for her and wished her all the best. And I was overjoyed when, in December, Sybil wrote to say that she was engaged too, and hoping to be married in the spring.

“I’m so, so happy for you,” I wrote back. “I only wish that you were getting married here, and going to be living here, rather than in Australia. But I expect to hear all about your plans for the big day, and I’ll be there watching in spirit! And just think – you never wanted to go to Australia at all! Fate really did take a hand there, didn’t it?”

Well, little did I know it, but fate was about to take a hand in my life too.

#50:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 8:29 am
I can't believe she didn't dump Will then and there! He's not a nice man!
I hope Josette will be happy, as I still don't really like the sound of her man either.
Thanks Alison.

#51:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:42 am
Oooh...what is fate going to do now?!

*pokes Will*

#52:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 1:28 pm
I hope fate is kind to her.

#53:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:44 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm sorry that Gretchen didn't dump Will there and then.

#54:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2006 6:39 pm
Gretchen deserves better than her current job and definitely better than Will - what a creep.

Thanks Alison.

#55:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 8:17 am
Long post because I want to get on to the next bit! I will finish this eventually ...

I quite enjoyed Christmas despite everything; and joint top of my New Year’s Resolutions list were finding a new job and finishing with Will! I couldn’t do much about Will until he got back from London, but I was determined to do something about the job as soon as possible. Especially seeing as at the beginning of January the shop was even worse than usual: several people were off with a winter flu bug that was doing the rounds, and those of us who were in were run ragged trying to do their work as well as ours because the Langleys wouldn’t pay for any temporary staff

The shop stayed opened an hour later than usual on Mondays (one of the Langleys’ innovations), staffed by the manager and by two of the girls who were desperate for the extra money. When one of the two girls came down with the flu bug, I agreed to cover for her, in the hope that not too many people would want to stay in town late in the present cold weather and that therefore I’d get chance to catch up on my paperwork.

I seemed to be in luck at first: not many people came in at all. But, just as I’d almost got the cash book up to date, the manager rapped sharply on the door. “Miss Monier, would you come out and give us a hand, please?” she called. “Both Miss Markland and myself are with customers, and a lady’s just come in who requires some assistance in choosing two hats.”

I groaned. “Coming!” I called. I didn’t know why the Langleys had decided to start selling hats anyway: the milliner down the road was very upset about it. And now I’d lost count halfway down the page I was on and I was going to have to start adding it up from the beginning when I got back to it. Oh well, it wasn’t the customer’s fault that we were short-staffed! Nor the manager’s, for that matter. I closed the cash book, locked it away in its drawer, walked into the main part of the shop and looked around for my customer.

Instead, I saw a man standing there – a man whom I hadn’t seen for over three months.

“Will!” I gasped. “When did you get back from London? And how did you know I’d be here at this time? I’ll be with you in five minutes: I’ve just got to help a lady choose some hats. Actually,” – I consulted my watch – “we’ll be closing in about twenty minutes, if you don’t mind waiting.” Well, when I’d got up this morning I hadn’t exactly been expecting today to be the day I ended my unsuccessful romance, but it had to be done and there was no time like the present … although it had been rather sweet – unexpectedly so – of him to come to the shop to find me. Now, if I could just sort out this customer and her hats …

Then, belatedly, I realised that Will hadn’t come looking for me at all. He was in the shop for a wholly different reason. Standing by the display of hats, and glaring at me impatiently, was his mother.

“I didn’t realise you’d be here tonight,” he muttered. “I thought you didn’t work the extra hour. Mother was in town and asked if I’d come here with her after work to help her carry the hat boxes. We got back last week: I was going to tell you but I haven’t had chance. And, look, I haven’t actually told Mother and Father about you yet - don’t like them knowing all my business, you know how it is - so would you mind just pretending that…well, you know?”

“What, that we’ve never clapped eyes on one another before?” I asked sarcastically. He had the grace to look embarrassed but, before he could say any more, his mother came marching over.

“What on earth is going on here?” she demanded. “I’ve been waiting a good five minutes for a member of staff to assist me! William, do you know this young woman? ” She peered at the name badge on my blouse. “Miss … Monier? What sort of a name’s that? French?”

“Austrian,” I said. I saw the look of disdain cross her face at exactly the same time as I heard Will say “Not really”, and I laughed bitterly. “Your son can’t understand why I worry about what’s going on in Austria, though,” I added. “Can you, Will? Oh, sorry, I’m supposed to be pretending that we don’t know each other. Never mind, eh? We know each other rather well, as a matter of fact: we’ve been seeing each other for… how long has it been now? Must be over eighteen months. He’s met my parents, of course, but oddly enough he’s never got round to introducing me to his. Still, better late than never. Delighted to meet you. How do you do?”

“Gretchen, shut up,” Will muttered. “This is hardly the time or the place, is it?”

“Don’t you dare tell me to shut up!” I yelled at him. “Who on earth do you think you are?”

“Who do I think I am? Who do you think you are, more like? Making a scene in public and being rude to my mother! And for a shop assistant you’re not doing much assisting, are you? Couldn’t you just have helped Mother to choose her hats instead of all this carrying on?”

“I haven’t been rude to anyone!” I snapped back. “And I haven’t lied to anyone either. Just when exactly were you going to tell me that you were back? As for your mother, you never had any intention of telling either her or your father about me, did you?”

“No, I doubt very much that he did,” came his mother’s voice. “But I think I’ve got a fairly good idea of what’s been going on here. Honestly, William – I know that you boys must sow your wild oats, but did you have to choose someone from a shop that you know very well that I patronise? What if someone had found out? And such a forward little madam at that: I’m surprised at you, I really am! And, to cap it all, a … a Hun.”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he muttered. “I’ve been very discreet about it, though. No-one we know’s seen me with her.”

“You bastard!” I yelled. “I was going to finish it with you anyway, but I was going to try to be nice about it – although why I was worried about your so-called feelings I’ve no idea. Well, you know where you can go, don’t you?”

With all my strength, I slapped him right across the face. Just, it turned out, as the manager came over to see what was happening. I shook my head and laughed out loud. “Well, it looks like I’ve just killed two birds with one stone,” I said. “I've been wanting for weeks to tell the Langleys where they could go. Nothing against you: I know you’re as overworked as the rest of us. And I’ll save you the trouble of having to give them a full report on what’s happened and letting them give me the sack. I resign!”

#56:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 8:30 am
Good for Grechen! I'm so glad she got the chance to have a good go at Will and in front of his obnoxious mother, too!

#57:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 8:56 am
Well done Gretchen! Bet she felt really good about that - as for Will - he deserves his unpleasant bigot of a mother.

Thanks Alison

#58:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 9:30 am
Well done Gretchen - I bet that felt really satisfying.

I can't wait to see what life has in hold for her next Very Happy

#59:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 10:02 am
Well, he deserved both the slap and a few home truths. It's a pity she's lost her job so abruptly, although I rather think she might have had problems getting a decent reference from the Langleys when she tried to make a move.

#60:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 3:16 pm
Thanks, Alison. Such restraint, just slapping him, he really deserved the knee brought up sharply into a tender spot.

#61:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 5:06 pm
I bet Gretchen felt a lot better getting that out of her system, but I wonder what she'll do now?

#62:  Author: Ruth BLocation: Oxford, UK PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 5:30 pm
Huzzah! *Applauds Gretchen*

#63:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Sat Nov 11, 2006 5:57 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm glad that Gretchen told Will exactly what she thought of him!

#64:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 12:59 am
Good for Gretchen. She's been taken advantage of too long....

I should think the instructors on her course would provide an exemplary reference, well backed up with exam results.

#65:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 10:03 am
Just for a moment, I wondered why my room seemed to be moving and why I’d gone to bed fully clothed. Then I remembered where I was - on an overnight train puffing its way south-eastwards across Germany. West Germany, we had to say now, I reminded myself. What time was it? I glanced at my watch. Half past seven – was it really as late as that? I’d slept for around seven hours, then, after being convinced that I’d never get to sleep at all; and it was only another hour and a half before we were due to arrive in Munchen.

Well, I’d really gone and done it this time, hadn’t I? What a mess I’d made of things! I didn’t regret slapping Will – he’d well and truly deserved it – but I did rather wish that I’d done so in private, instead of shouting and swearing like that in front of everyone in the shop. Doubtless I’d be the talk of the place for weeks afterwards; and Will’s mother was probably thinking all sorts about me. I didn’t really care what either she or he thought, but I couldn’t help wishing that I hadn’t made such a show of myself. And, as soon as I’d walked out of the shop with the small amount of dignity I’d been able to muster, it had hit me like a blast of the icy cold Armiford evening air that I now had no job and, on the assumption that most prospective employers would want a reference from the Langleys, precious little hope of getting another one any time soon.

On the bus home, thoughts had whirled through my mind until my head had started to ache with them all. Why had I been so blind and so stupid as to spend eighteen months going out with someone who’d evidently regarded me as nothing more than a bit of a diversion? Why did people like Will’s mother think that it was all right to say the things she’d said about me? What was I going to do about finding a new job? Was I destined never to do anything any more worthwhile than working for people like the Langleys? How was I going to tell my parents what had happened? Would I ever really feel at home in Armiford? Did I ever even want to feel at home in Armiford?

I’d just wanted to get a long, long way away from it all, and to go somewhere where I thought I’d find peace of mind and a true sense of belonging. Briesau. I knew how to get there all right: in that heady first week after learning that I’d passed my exams, I’d done as I’d promised myself I would - sent off my passport application, and looked into the best way of getting from Armiford to the Tiernsee in minute detail. And, in the state I’d been in after what had happened in the shop, it hadn’t really occurred to me to stop and think about what I’d do when I got there. I’d just wanted to get going.

I’d told Susan and her mum that I’d be leaving earlier than usual in the morning and would try to go out quietly so as not to wake them; and, knowing how stressed I’d been lately about the shop’s bookkeeping getting behind, they hadn’t thought it odd at all. And they’d still been asleep when I’d slipped out with my suitcase, my passport and all the money I had, leaving a note on the table explaining that I’d broken up with Will and left my job and was going away for a few days to think about things. I’d posted a similar note to Mum and Dad on my way to the train station.

That had been the start of a long journey – and it wasn’t over yet. How ridiculous that there were no direct trains from Armiford to London! I’d had to get one train to Newport, near Cardiff, and then another train from there to London Paddington. I’d always wanted to go to London, but all I’d seen of it had been the inside of several packed out stations as, lugging my suitcase behind me, I’d made my way on the Underground from Paddington to Charing Cross, to continue my journey by getting a train to Dover.

It had been the first time I’d seen the English Channel since the journey from Guernsey nearly sixteen years ago, and the first time I’d ever seen the famous White Cliffs, but I’d been too cold and tired and hungry to take much notice of either of them until I’d managed to find somewhere serving coffee and hot food. I’d felt better then, but January wasn’t the best time of year to be crossing the Channel and I’d been very relieved to see the Port of Calais and know that from now on I’d only be travelling by land.

Paris was another place which I’d always wanted to see, but I hadn’t seen much more of the French capital than I’d done of the English capital. But how I’d silently blessed Frau Doktor Maynard, Frau Doktor Sheppard – as Fraulein Grizel had recently become – and Fraulein Rosalie for starting to teach me French all those years ago at Bonne Maison! With that head start, it had always been one of my best subjects; and I’d been able to make my way from the Gare du Nord, where my train from Calais came in, to the Gare de l’Est, from where my next train left, find a bureau de change that was still open at that time in the evening, and get myself something to eat and drink with very little trouble.

By the time I’d settled myself wearily in my seat on the overnight train from Paris to Munchen, I’d been on the go for hours and hours and I was absolutely exhausted and ready for a long sleep. But then, as the train had chugged slowly out of the station, I’d suddenly been overwhelmed by a rising tide of sheer panic.

#66:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 10:32 am
Poor Gretchen, to feel she couldn't go to her parents. So is she (hopefully) going to Karen?

Thanks Alison

#67:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 11:01 am
I can understand why she decided to do this, and she has coped admirably with the journey, but now she has nothing to do but sit there and think - and panic.

#68:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 12:53 pm
Thanks, Alison. I hope that things will work out for Gretchen.

#69:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 1:58 pm
I'm hoping that her parents aren't going to be too upset with her; hopefully Karen can smooth any ruffled feathers. I hope she finds the Tiernsee everything that she hopes it will be.

#70:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 2:45 pm
I hope they give her a job as well.

#71:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 8:46 pm
I hope she's not disappointed with Briesau when she gets back.

#72:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 7:45 am
What on earth was I going to do when I got to Briesau, I’d suddenly asked myself. Amid all the worry of catching trains, getting on ferries and changing money, I honestly hadn’t given a second thought to what I was going to do when I actually got there. Turn up on my grandparents’ doorstep? I’d never doubted for a moment that they’d take me in, nor that they’d be delighted to see me; but what would I say to them? Explain that I’d packed in my job after having a public row with my now ex-boyfriend, and taken myself off at crack of dawn the next morning without telling a soul where I was going?

What on earth would they say to all that? And then what? Plus I hadn’t got very much money left. And Mum and everyone else would probably be frantic by now, not having any idea where I’d gone. Oh dear: I really hadn’t thought this through properly at all, had I? I’d just got myself so worked up that all I’d been able to think about had been getting away – and going home.

Thinking that was the last thing I remembered: I must have fallen asleep then. Where would we be by now? I glanced out of the window, but all I could see were fields. Fields which were covered in snow: it must be pretty cold out there. Presumably we were somewhere in Bavaria, but I didn’t know whereabouts exactly. I shivered slightly then, and not just because of the cold. The war had been over for ten and a half years, but so many places in Bavaria had had such strong Nazi connections and it was hard not to think about that fact, even though all I could see was peaceful countryside. All of a sudden I was four years old again, and Nazi officers were hammering on the door of Die Rosen. I still had nightmares about those days sometimes. What if that was what I thought of when I saw Briesau again?

Stop being so silly, I chided myself. It would be wonderful to see Briesau again. Hadn’t I been dreaming about it all these years? And look how much Sybil had enjoyed going back there, and she didn’t even have family there like I did! I calmed myself down, and went in search of a wash basin and the restaurant car. I really wanted something to eat, but bearing in mind that I didn’t have very much money left I made myself make do with a drink. The coffee on the train wasn’t very nice, but the train for Tyrol was due to leave Munchen only thirty-five minutes after this train arrived there, so I wasn’t going to have time to do anything much at the station.

When we got to the station, there was a long queue at passport control and another one at Customs, so I ended up having to run like mad to make the Munchen-Innsbruck train, wishing in vain that I had time for a bath and to change into some warmer clothes. Well, this was it, I thought as the train pulled out. When I got off this train, I’d be in Tyrol! My ticket took me as far as a place called Jenbach: when I got there, I’d have to buy a ticket to Seespitz. And then … well, the steamers wouldn’t be running at this time of year, but there’d be buses running from Seespitz to Briesau. Or I could always walk.

But then what would I do? Oh, what had possessed me to come haring halfway across Europe without thinking it through first. After all these years of dreaming about coming home, I couldn’t go to Briesau like this: not today: not whilst I was in such a state. But there was somewhere that I could go. I’d probably get thoroughly told off for showing such a complete lack of sense, but I deserved that. And I was sure that there I’d be able to explain everything that had happened, and get the help and advice that I needed.

I stepped off the train at Jenbach and, once I’d shown my passport and repeated yet again that I had nothing to declare, I walked to the ticket desk and asked the man there for the directions I needed.

“Mayrhofen?” he said. “Loads of trains heading up there this time of year – just watch out that you don’t trip over any of those skis people’ll be taking on the train with them! You want the Zillertalbahn line. Takes about an hour from here.”

And so it did – although it seemed like much less than an hour, as I gazed out of the window, entranced by the sight of the snow-covered valleys and mountains. Armiford never got snow like this, never looked like a winter wonderland like this. Surely nowhere but Tyrol could ever look as beautiful like this, I thought to myself! In fact, I was so lost in my thoughts that it wasn’t until we reached Mayrhofen itself, bustling with people lucky enough to be able to take a winter sports holiday, that it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea whereabouts in this lovely resort Auntie Karen’s hotel was.

Luckily there were a couple of porters waiting to meet the train, eager to see if anyone needed assistance with their ski equipment and travel bags. I asked one of them if he knew where the hotel was and was very relieved when he smiled, nodded, and explained the best way of getting there. “Mind you don’t slip in this snow now!” he added. “You’ve done very well to get in there at this time of year. Extremely popular place, that one. The owners are a very nice couple from the Tiernsee, with two little kids. Food’s supposed to be excellent: even people staying at other hotels eat in there sometimes.”

I laughed for the first time since walking out of the shop in Armiford. “That’ll be the place!” I said. “Thank you very much for your help.”

His directions proved to be spot on: I found the hotel easily. It was an attractive-looking, typically Tyrolean building – and the sight of an enormous snowman standing guard on one side of it made me laugh again. But then I composed myself, took a deep breath, pushed open the door and walked over to the reception desk.

“Is Frau Braun in, please?” I asked.

#73:  Author: kerenLocation: Israel PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 8:45 am
Somehow I had assumed that she would be going there
Isn't it lucky that in the previous story you wrote her such a sensible aunt and a nice husband, I am sure they will help her

#74:  Author: Ruth BLocation: Oxford, UK PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 9:47 am
Thank you Alison!

I'm sure Karen will give her a piece of her mind for worrying everyone, but after that will be completely sympathetic.

#75:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 12:10 pm
I hope Karen does tell her off for being so thoughtless, but I'm sure she'll also be able to help Gretchen.

#76:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 12:17 pm
I was a bit perturbed at Gretchen's very public breakup with the awful Will and abandonment of her job, but it was the only thing which would have got her into such a state that she actually hared off into the blue yonder! I'm sure Karen will swiftly sort her out - and I do hope the return to Briesau will be a happy homecoming and not a source of disappointment or remembered fear.

Thanks, Alison.

#77:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 2:37 pm
I hope Karen's at home, not out shopping or something. Grechen really needs to see her straight away. And I'm confident that Karen will give her a strict talking to before coming to her rescue!
Thanks Alison.

#78:  Author: ibarhisLocation: London and Hemel Hempstead PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 2:39 pm
I hope Karen gives her a big hug, a cup of good coffee and breakfast before saying anything at all!

#79:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 5:48 pm
ibarhis wrote:
I hope Karen gives her a big hug, a cup of good coffee and breakfast before saying anything at all!

Ditto - I think Karen will save the lectures until Gretchen is fit to take them!

Thanks Alison.

#80:  Author: PatLocation: Doncaster PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 6:59 pm
I think Karen will be very understanding too, and get the priorities right with regard to food and drink and a good long sleep.

#81:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 7:37 pm
Thanks Alison, going to Karen is a very wise idea me thinks Very Happy

#82:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 10:06 pm
Karen will be very understanding, and it's good to see that Gretchen has been able to see that her parents and friends will be worried about her.

#83:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Mon Nov 13, 2006 10:26 pm
Thanks, Alison. I hope that Karen will be there.

#84:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 7:46 am
“She’s not, I’m afraid,” the young man at the reception desk said. “Can anyone else help?” Then he noticed my suitcase and smiled apologetically. “We’re fully booked at the moment, I’m afraid. But there are some hotels nearby which have rooms vacant: they’ll have “Zimmer frei” notices in their front windows.”

“Oh no, I’m not looking for a room!” I said. “Auntie Karen, Frau Braun I mean, is my godmother. I’m just … er, I was in the area so I thought I’d call in and see her.” It hadn’t occurred to me that she might not be in. I supposed that I could go and walk around for a while and then come back … but my case was heavy and I wasn’t really dressed for walking about in the snow; and anyway I’d probably end up getting lost.

The man must have seen my face fall, because he gave me a reassuring smile. “She won’t be long. The mother of one of the girls who works here hasn’t been well lately, so Frau Braun’s just gone to see how she is and to take her some food. And Herr Braun’s in, and I’m sure he won’t mind if you go through to their sitting room to wait. He’s working in there at the moment, because he’s looking after the children and there’s not much room for them to play in his office.”

“I haven’t seen the children yet,” I said wistfully. “I haven’t seen Auntie Karen for years either.”

“They’re good kids.” He grinned. “Very lively and never quiet for long, but then I suppose most two-year-olds are like that! I’ll let Herr Braun know you’re here.”

Unfortunately, at that moment the phone started to ring. “Sorry, I’ll have to get that,” he said, reaching for the receiver. “Listen, if you go to the end of that corridor on your right, turn left, go through the second set of double doors and then turn left again, you’ll be there. Just knock if the door’s shut.”

When I got there, the door was open. I hesitated for a moment, feeling a little shy. I’d never met this man before, after all; and here I was about to walk into his private sitting room, unannounced and uninvited. I peered round the door timidly, and then I smiled. The tall, fair-haired man I recognised from Auntie Karen’s photos was crawling about on the floor at the far side of the room, with a little girl sitting on his back, giggling happily and clinging to his shirt collar, and a little boy leading him about by his hair.

“All right, Anneliese, down you come now,” I heard him say, his voice full of laughter. “You’ve both had two turns and I think that that’s more than enough for Daddy’s back to take for one day! Anyway, I’m afraid that Daddy has to get on with his work now.” He glanced ruefully at a large pile of invoices and various other papers lying scattered all over a big table near the window. “Actually, Daddy had better tidy up the table before he does anything else, or Mummy will not be very happy when she sees it! Now, the paper and crayons are out ready, so why don’t you two each draw a nice picture to show Mummy when she gets home; and then I promise that I’ll read you a story later. All right?” He carefully lifted Anneliese down, and then turned to Alexander, who was tugging at his shirt. “What’s the matter, son?”

The little boy had obviously seen me: he was pointing in my direction and saying something. Herr Braun turned round, then gently ushered the twins towards the settee and walked over to where I was standing. “I do apologise,” he said. “I didn’t realise that there was anyone there, I’m afraid. I hope you haven’t been waiting long? I’m the hotel manager: how do you do? May I help you?”

“Er, I’m Gretchen,” I blurted out, not sure what to say. What on earth was he going to think of a complete stranger just turning up at his home like this? “Gretchen Monier.”

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Karen’s goddaughter. I should have realised who you were straight away: I’ve seen photos of you, and anyway you’re the image of your grandmother! Come in and sit down! Karen’s out at the moment, but she won’t be long. Is she expecting you? I don’t remember her mentioning it, sorry.”

“No … she doesn’t know I’m coming,” I said awkwardly. “I … well, it was all a bit last minute.”

A worried look crossed his face. “Is anything wrong? Are your grandparents all right? We only saw them last week and they seemed very well then … but has something happened?”

“Oh no: they’re fine, honestly,” I said quickly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you. I …” Much to my embarrassment, I felt tears coming into my eyes. I’d got myself into such a mess, and I was cold and hungry and on my own in a strange place. “I … oh everything’s such a mess. I’ve left my job and I’ve split up with my boyfriend and I didn’t know what to do and I just wanted … I just wanted to come home. I’m sorry. None of this is your problem. I shouldn’t have come here.”

#85:  Author: Ruth BLocation: Oxford, UK PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 7:50 am
I just wanted to come home.

Poor Gretchen, that is what is at the root of so much of her troubles.

#86:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 7:56 am
Oh poor Gretchen. All that way and that's what she's looking for - a home.

#87:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:37 am
Thanks, Alison. It's good that they haven't gone away on holiday.

#88:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 12:40 pm
Poor Gretchen. I hope Karen and her husband can help her to sort through her problems.

#89:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 6:21 pm

I'm sure that Karen and her husband (Name totally escapes me! Embarassed) will look after her.

Thanks Alison

#90:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 7:12 pm
Thanks Alison, I hope they will make Gretchen feel at home.

#91:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 7:28 pm
Lesley wrote:

I'm sure that Karen and her husband (Name totally escapes me! Embarassed) will look after her.

Thanks Alison

I have to admit I had the same problem. Embarassed I thought it might be Rudi.

#92:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 7:47 pm
Pleased I'm not the only one, Chair - think you might be right. Laughing

#93:  Author: PatLocation: Doncaster PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 8:26 pm
I'm thinking *heaps of invoices and Gretchens shiny new qualification*.

#94:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 8:59 pm
*pats Gretchen gently*
Poor love, what a pickle she's got herself in. But hopefully a shiny new job and home may come out of it for her...
*crosses fingers*

Thanks Alison. Very Happy

#95:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:18 pm
Chair wrote:

I have to admit I had the same problem. Embarassed I thought it might be Rudi.

Yes, it is Very Happy . Sorry for not mentioning it - I've spent too much time in this particular universe this year Wink !!

#96:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 7:43 am
“Hey, of course you should,” he said gently. “If you needed somewhere to come to then you were right to come here. Karen often talks about you. She’ll be back soon, and she’ll be pleased to see you whatever the reason. Is that your suitcase? I’ll take it to the spare room for you. And then I’ll get you a nice hot cup of coffee. You look as if you could do with one, if you don’t mind my saying so!”

“Thank you so much,” I said shyly. “I’m sorry just to turn up here like this.”

“I’ve told you: it’s fine! Milk and sugar?”

“Milk but no sugar, please,” I said gratefully. Then my stomach rumbled loudly and I felt my face burning red with embarrassment - and I got the feeling from the look on Herr Braun’s face that he knew very well that the reason I hadn’t eaten was that I was running short of money.

“How about some food to go with that coffee? I assume you haven’t had chance to have Mittagessen yet, if you’ve been rushing around changing trains,” he said tactfully. “One thing that there always is in this place is plenty to eat! Shall I see about getting you something? There should be some cold meat and salad going. Or would you prefer something hot?”

“Oh, cold meat and salad would be wonderful, thanks,” I said. “Thank you again.”

He smiled. “Cold meat and salad it is, then. And coffee with milk but no sugar. No problem! But first may I introduce you to the rest of the family?” He turned to the children, who’d settled themselves down with their paper and crayons and were scribbling away happily. “Come over here and say hello, you two!”

The twins came running over and stood one on either side of their father, who put an arm round each of them. “This is Anneliese and this is Alexander,” he said proudly. “And this is Fraulein Monier. She’s your Auntie Anna’s cousin, and she’s come to stay with us.”

Anneliese and Alexander both looked up at me with big blue eyes. “Gruss Gott,” they chorused.

“Gruss Gott!” I said in delight, almost forgetting my problems for a moment as I looked down at their little faces. I wanted to hug them both, but I wasn’t sure how they’d react to a hug from someone they’d never met before. Instead, I squatted down so that my face was at the same level as theirs. “Please call me Gretchen,” I said. “And I’m so pleased to meet you both at last!”

“Would you mind keeping an eye on them whilst I take your suitcase to your room and then go and see about getting you something to eat and drink?” Herr Braun asked, as he hastily shuffled the pile of papers on the table into a reasonably neat pile. “They’re both fairly good as a general rule, but they do have a tendency to squabble over the crayons sometimes!”

“Oh, of course I will,” I exclaimed. “You don’t know how much I’ve been wanting to meet them: I’ve heard so much about them both! And … and thank you, thank you so much for being so kind. I do know that it’s a cheek me coming here without even asking first.”

He shook his head. “Of course it isn’t,” he said simply. “And I’m sorry that life hasn’t been treating you well lately; but things aren’t always as bad as they seem and they do have a way of sorting themselves out sometimes. Now, I won’t be long. Anneliese and Alexander, be good for our guest!”

I felt rather guilty for distracting from his work, especially seeing as he’d been so nice; so once I’d had a cup of hot Tyrolean coffee and some of Auntie Karen’s delicious food I offered to sit with the twins so that he could give the pile of papers on the table his full attention. After ten minutes or so, Anneliese decided that she wanted a drink, so the two of them escorted me to the kitchen to find one, Alexander solemnly informing me that they weren’t allowed in there without a grown-up.

The building seemed like a maze to me, but the children were obviously completely familiar both with its layout and with every single person who worked there! The hotel was very busy, but there didn’t seem to be any major problems anywhere and I got the impression that everything generally ran very smoothly. It was clear to me that, whilst Herr Braun might have had his papers in a mess all over the table, he was an extremely capable hotel manager who knew exactly what he was doing; and equally clear that Auntie Karen made sure that the domestic side of things ran as much like clockwork as possible.

When we got to the kitchen, Anneliese had her drink, then they each had a biscuit which they coaxed out of one of the women working in there. Afterwards, I wiped their sticky little fingers and mouths, and then we headed back towards the sitting room. We were almost there when I heard a door open and a familiar voice speak.

“Mummy home!” Anneliese shouted. She ran off down the corridor, with Alexander hot on her heels: I started to run after them but then paused, not sure exactly what I was going to say. Then I took a deep breath and walked into the sitting room - just in time to see them both running straight into Auntie Karen’s outstretched arms. Herr Braun put his arms round all three of them and for a moment I felt as if I were intruding; but then I heard him say quietly “We’ve got a visitor,” and Auntie Karen looked up and saw me.

#97: In the presence of fate Author: Fiona McLocation: Bendigo, Australia PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 9:17 am
Alison!!! This is great. Hope Gretchen gets to stay for awhile and gets things sorted out and I hope Karen is okay with Gretchen about everything

#98:  Author: Ruth BLocation: Oxford, UK PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 9:33 am
Thank you Alison! The kiddies sound adorable!

#99:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 10:36 am
So glad Gretchen's been made to feel welcome. They sound like a lovely family. Maybe Gretchen could help Herr Braun with all that paperwork...

#100:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 10:52 am
Rudi is very welcoming and the twins are delightful!

Thank you Alison.

#101:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 2:41 pm
Thanks Alison!
The twins are so cute, and Rudi is lovely!

#102:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 7:09 pm
Lovely Rudi - now what's Karen going to say?

Thanks Alison

#103:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 9:10 pm
Oh quick, Karen, Gretchen just needs the biggest hug ever!

What a delightful family, and how welcoming they've been.
I have my eye on that pile of papers, too - surely they need some help?? Wink

#104:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2006 10:55 pm
Thanks, Alison. I wonder how Karen will react.

#105:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 7:51 am
“Dear Lord – Gretchen!” She looked suddenly afraid as she walked towards me. “Is anything wrong? Your grandparents…?”

“They’re fine,” Herr Braun said, putting a reassuring arm round her shoulders. “No-one’s ill: don’t worry.”

Relief spread over her face. “Thank goodness for that. How wonderful to see you! But why on earth didn’t you let us know you were coming? And how did you even know where to find the hotel?”

“I asked for directions at the station.” At least that question was easy to answer. “I like the big snowman outside,” I added irrelevantly.

“Daddy made it,” Alexander, who’d been listening intently, said, beaming at his father. “We helped though.”

Auntie Karen looked at her husband with an expression of wry amusement on her face. “These two saw a snowman and decided that they wanted one, so Mr Responsible Hotel Manager here decided that he was going to build the biggest snowman in Mayrhofen during his lunch hour yesterday. Of course, it took ages; and it ended up with some of the staff and even some of the guests helping him, and the children getting covered in snow, and me taking hot drinks outside for them all. And I don’t know what on earth people must think when they walk past and see it!”

“I’ve told you: having a snowman with a nice smile like that standing outside the hotel’ll attract business!” Herr Braun said, grinning. The twins both giggled and Auntie Karen started to laugh as well. “I doubt it!” she said. “Anyway, we’re full up at the moment, and booked up for the rest of the month as well. The winter sports season here seems to get busier every year!”

“Not all the hotels are full, though,” I said shyly. “The man at the train station said that your hotel was very popular.”

“That’s because people know that my wonderful wife’s the best cook in Tyrol,” Herr Braun said, kissing Auntie Karen on the forehead. She blushed deeply and muttered “Get away with your flattery,” but I could tell that she was pleased by the compliment. Looking at her, I thought how different she looked from the last time I’d seen her, when she’d looked pale and tired after her parents’ deaths; and how much her life had changed since those days – back then she seemed to have settled for spending the rest of her days making school dinners. It was lovely to see her so happy. And it just went to show that people’s lives could and did turn around, I thought, starting to feel a little more optimistic.

The clock chimed at that moment. Herr Braun exclaimed at the time and excused himself to go back to his office and get on with his work, and Auntie Karen took the twins off to their bedrooms. “We can’t eat till late because of having to see to Abendessen for the guests, so the children always have a sleep in the afternoon,” she explained when she came back. “Now, it’s not that I’m not delighted to see you, but I assume that you wouldn’t just have turned up here without prior warning unless there was some sort of problem. Do you want to tell me about it?”

“It’s just everything,” I said miserably. “You know Will, the lad I was seeing? It turned out that he was just stringing me along, and his mother was really rude to me, and they came into the shop and we had a big argument, and I ended up telling the manager that I was resigning, and I’d been going to look for another job anyway because they never gave me the pay rise they’d promised me when I passed my exams, and I didn’t really like working there anyway, and I’ve never really got used to living in Armishire, and…”

I paused for breath, and blew my nose, and Auntie Karen put her arms round me. “All right, all right,” she said. “I get the picture. I think the full story might be better waiting until you’re feeling a bit calmer, don’t you? In the meantime, how about a hot bath and then a lie down? And I’ll put those clothes – I assume that you’ve had them on since yesterday morning? – in my next wash for you.”

I nodded gratefully. “Thank you,” I whispered. “I feel so grubby, and I did sleep on the train but I was up at the crack of dawn yesterday and I’m so tired. Having a hot bath and a lie down sounds like heaven! But first … I left notes saying that I was going away for a bit, but I didn’t say where: no-one at home even knows that I’m not in England. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not me you should be apologising to!” she exclaimed. “Marie and Andreas must be frantic, not knowing where you are! Honestly, Gretchen: dear me! Very well, I‘ll ring them, and tell them that you’re safe with Rudi and me, and ask them to let the people you live with know as well. They’ll probably take it better coming from me. Now, I’ll show you where the bathroom is!”

After my bath, I put my nightie on and climbed into the comfortable bed in the spare room. When I woke up, I assumed at first that it must be some time in the evening, but then I realised that it was actually half past six in the morning: I’d been asleep for over twelve hours! I didn’t want to move in case I woke anyone, but then I realised that Auntie Karen and Herr Braun would be up already: people would want their breakfasts early if they were off for a day’s ski-ing. I got ready as quietly as possible, so as not to wake the twins, and then went into the sitting room.

Auntie Karen came in a little while later. “I was just coming to see if you were up yet,” she said. “I decided not to wake you for Abendessen last night: you were dead to the world and you looked as if you needed a good sleep! Fruhstuck seems to be running smoothly, and I’ve got next week’s staff rosters to sort out but they can wait for a little while; so why I don’t get you some breakfast, and then you can tell me what’s been going on?”

After I’d eaten, I took a deep breath; and then I told her everything.

“Well, why you couldn’t have told your parents all this I don’t know, but I can understand you feeling that you wanted to get away: we’ve all had times when we’ve felt like that,” she said when I’d finished. “Sounds to me like that young man of yours got what he deserved, though. And I wouldn’t feel too silly about it: you’re not the first girl to be taken in by someone like that and you won’t be the last, and there’s no real harm done. You’ll meet someone better sooner or later. As for the job, it was hardly the ideal way to leave but it sounds as if you’re well out of there; and if they won’t give you a reference then I’m sure your college tutors will. Or, failing that, I’m sure that Lady Russell’d send one over from Australia: her word probably carries a lot of weight in Armishire."

She looked at me doubtfully. "You are planning to go back to Armishire eventually, I assume? Or are you? You don’t sound too sure.”

“I’m not,” I said. “I really, really don’t know what I want to do.”

#106: In the presence of fate Author: Fiona McLocation: Bendigo, Australia PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 11:17 am
Poor Gretchen. It's hard knowing what you want to do, but it's understandable especially when she had worked so hard with her exams. She sounds like she could do with a holiday before she has to make any decisions. This is great Alison

#107:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 11:54 am
Karen was very wise - she let her talk, took her seriously, looked after her, but also pointed out that she shouldn't have rushed off like that.

Thank you Alison.

#108:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 12:10 pm
Karen was absolutely wonderful - and it's so nice to see her so happy Very Happy

Thanks Alison!

#109:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 1:22 pm
Karen handled the situation brilliantly. I hope she can help Gretchen make some decisions.

#110:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 3:21 pm
Karen and Rudi are just so lovely. I hope they can find some sort of job for Grechen, even if it's just for a while.

Thanks Alison.

#111:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 5:43 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm glad that Karen is helping Gretchen to talk things through.

#112:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:39 pm
Well done Karen - just what she needed - now, could Gretchen start sorting out all those account....

Thanks Alison

#113:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 12:53 am
*cheers Karen & Rudi*
*applauds the snowman* Very Happy
*gives Gretchen a few days to recuperate*
(if she'll take them)

#114:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 7:14 am
Hopefully I will finally get this finished next week Very Happy !

I knew that Auntie Karen and Rudi (he’d asked me to use his first name) would be very offended if I offered to pay them for my bed and board, and I didn’t have much money left anyway; but I felt that the least I could do to thank them for being so welcoming was to ask if there was anything I could do for them, either helping in the hotel or looking after Anneliese and Alexander. After Mittagessen, Auntie Karen said that I could come out and do some food shopping with her if I didn’t mind, and I agreed readily: it was nice to get some fresh air and to see a bit more of Mayrhofen. The children came with us, chattering away happily in their buggy. Several people stopped us along the way to exchange greetings, and I noticed that Auntie Karen was obviously on friendly terms with every one of the people she bought food from. She’d evidentlly settled back into Tyrolean village life very well after all those years away.

Later on, back at the hotel, I sat with Anneliese and Alexander after they’d had their afternoon sleep, and then, after Auntie Karen had seen that all was going well with Abendessen in the hotel, I set the table for our own meal. We three adults sat along one side of the table, with the twins sitting opposite us in high chairs. Anneliese banged her spoon against her plate a few times but stopped when Auntie Karen frowned at her, and Alexander didn’t want to eat his vegetables but finished them quickly enough when Rudi said that if he was too full to finish his main course then he was obviously too full to have any cake. Other than that, they were really very well behaved considering that they were only two and a quarter.

After the children had been bathed and put to bed, I finally plucked up the courage to ask Auntie Karen how Mum had reacted to the news that I was in Mayrhofen.

“She was too glad that you were safe and well to be too annoyed that you hadn’t told anyone where you were going, and quite honestly she didn’t seem that surprised that you were in Tyrol,” she said. “She thought you might have gone to Briesau, but she didn’t want to try to contact your grandparents because if she’d told them you’d gone off somewhere and you hadn’t turned up there then they’d have been worrying as well. You are going to go and see your grandparents some time over the next few days, aren’t you, Gretchen? They always talk about you: they miss you all so much.”

“I miss them too,” I said sadly. “And I miss Briesau. I’ve never stopped missing it. I thought that we’d go back as soon as the war was over but we didn’t. And then I thought that the Russells would eventually move the San and Chalet School back there and that they and we would all move back there too, but that’s not going to happen now. But yesterday, on the train, when I realised how close I was to being back there at last, I panicked.

“I started thinking about when the Nazis came to Die Rosen, and I was frightened about how I’d feel when I saw the Sonnalpe again. I still have nightmares about all that sometimes. But it wasn’t only that. And all this time I’ve been remembering going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and seeing all the rest of the family, and walking round Briesau with everyone knowing who we were, and how beautiful the lake was, and all of us going to church together on Christmas Eve, and … well, I suppose I’ve built it up in my mind into some sort of ideal world. When I was younger, whenever things weren’t going well I used to think that everything’d be all right if I was in Briesau instead of in Guernsey or Armishire or Wales. And I suppose that now I’m frightened that it won’t be like that at all. Does that sound really stupid?”

“No, of course it doesn’t,” Auntie Karen said, putting her hand on my shoulder. “I can sort of empathise: for a long time I didn’t want to go back to Briesau, because of the memories it held for me, although in my case a lot of them were sad ones. But I did go back – and, when I did, I found that all the good memories came flooding back as well as the bad ones. If you go there expecting to find some sort of idyll, Gretchen, then you’re going to be disappointed, because nowhere’s like that. And if you go there expecting it to be exactly as you remember it, even if your memories are accurate, then you’re going to be disappointed too, because everywhere changes over time.

“But it’d be very sad if you never went back there at all because you didn’t want to shatter an image in your mind. It’s where you were born and where your family are from, just as it is for both Rudi and me; and that makes it special for you just as it does for each of us. And it might not be paradise but it’s as beautiful as it’s always been, and in essence it’s still the small friendly community that it was before the war. And, besides, surely you’re not going to come all this way and then not go to see your family? For your sake and for theirs.”

“You might even find that seeing Die Rosen again helps to exorcise a few ghosts,” Rudi said gently. “I had nightmares for a long time after the war in Spain, so I do understand. I organise conferences at the Schloss Wertheim, as you know; and, when I’m trying to attract business from abroad by writing all about Austria as a land of lakes and mountains, and music and waltzes, and beautiful architecture, and coffee and pastries, I always know that there are people who won’t even consider coming here because they just think of Austria as the country that voted for union with Nazi Germany. And I pray that nothing like the horrors of the Nazi era will ever happen again: I pray that the twins will know nothing but peace in their lifetimes. But there’s nothing but good up on the Sonnalpe these days. I’ve met the present Head of the San, who lives at Die Rosen now: he’s a good fellow, and they do wonderful work up there.”

“It’s up to you, though, Gretchen,” Auntie Karen said carefully. “It’s your decision.”

“I do want to go back,” I said hesitantly. “I want to see Grandma and Grandpa and everyone else so much, and of course I wouldn’t dream of being this close and not going to see them. And I can’t not go back to Briesau: I need to go back to Briesau. I’m just a bit nervous, I suppose.” I looked at Auntie Karen. I knew that I was being silly, but I wanted to ask her if she’d come with me. But I knew that I couldn’t, not when the hotel was so busy.

She knew me too well, though. She looked at me thoughtfully, and then she nodded slowly. “If you want me to take you, then I will do. In fact, we could even go tomorrow, if that’s not too soon for you. I won’t be able to leave until Fruhstuck’s over, and I’ll have to be back in time to see about Abendessen, but most people stay out on the ski slopes during the day so – although I’ll have to check with the people who’re working the day shift tomorrow that it’ll be all right – I’m sure that it’ll be all right if I’m not here for Mittagessen and Kaffee und Kuchen for once, and hopefully there won’t be any crises in the laundry room or anything. They might even be glad of a day away from me!”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” I asked gratefully. “What about the children?”

“They’ll be fine here,” Rudi said. “Or maybe they could go with you and stay with my parents for a few hours. We could ring later this evening and ask if it’d be all right, but I’m sure that it will be. They love going to Briesau – probably because everyone at the Kron Prinz Karl always makes a fuss of them!”

“I always loved going to Briesau when I was their age,” I said. “Even though we lived up on the Sonnalpe, I thought of Briesau as home. And I always have done.”

#115:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 10:02 am
So glad that Gretchen is getting the chance to go back to Briesau. Looking forward to seeing her reaction to all the changes that will have taken place there. I hope she can use the experience to allow her to move forward with her life.

#116:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 10:06 am
Thanks Alison, I can't wait to see her reaction to being back there Very Happy

#117:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 3:30 pm
Thanks, Alison. I hope that everything goes ok when she goes to see her Grandparents.

#118:  Author: MiaLocation: London PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 4:31 pm
Oh this just gets better and better! 4 lovely pages to catch up on

Thanks Alison Very Happy

#119:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 7:17 pm
Karen is so lovely here - hope the trip to Briesau is all that Gretchen hopes.

Thanks Alison

#120:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 9:15 pm
Thanks Alison.
*crosses fingers that Gretchen's memories aren't about to be shattered!*

#121:  Author: DawnLocation: Leeds, West Yorks PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2006 9:22 pm
Wow - I've just done a mega catch up on this and I've really really enjoyed it all - thankyou

#122:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 12:36 am
So glad Gretchen is on the point of fulfulling her dream. And how wise Karen is in all she says.

#123:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 8:36 am
The next morning, I got Alexander and Anneliese ready, whilst Auntie Karen was attending to Fruhstuck in the hotel restaurant and Rudi was dealing with the paperwork for one of his conferences. Alexander gave me a big smile when I announced that we were going to Briesau for the day, and Anneliese started bouncing about in her high chair. “See Grandma and Grandpa!” she said happily.

“You certainly will be doing!” I said. “And I’ll be seeing mine too … although they don’t know it yet.” When Auntie Karen had rung the Kron Prinz Karl the previous evening, she’d asked if someone there would let my grandparents – who weren’t on the phone - know that she’d be in Briesau the following day and ask them if it'd be all right for her to call round; and she’d had a phone call back to say that they’d said that any time would be fine. But we’d both known that, if they’d been told that I was in Mayrhofen, they’d have been up all night worrying about why I’d turned up in Austria unannounced, and I hadn’t wanted to start giving long explanations over the phone to someone at the Kron Prinz Karl; so we’d decided that it was best not to tell them that I’d be coming too. I hoped fervently that we’d made the right decision.

Auntie Karen joined us as soon as she could. I’d assumed that we’d be going by train, so I was quite taken aback when she ushered us all out to Rudi’s car. “I didn’t know you could drive!” I said.

She smiled. “Rudi taught me. We nearly throttled each other in the process, but we got there in the end! It made life a lot easier, especially when these two were babies. We’ll have to take it slowly, though, because there can be icy patches on the roads sometimes.”

I didn’t really notice how long it took us to get from Mayrhofen to Briesau, and I was vaguely aware of the twins’ excited chatter but I didn’t really take in any of what they were saying: I was too lost in my own thoughts. I wasn’t sure quite how I felt – nervous, scared, excited? I tried at first to focus on the practical, less emotional, aspects of what I might find there. The lake itself: I knew that there’d been changes, that a dam had been built at one end; but would the water be the dazzling blue that I thought I remembered, or would I find that that had just been how it had seemed through a child’s eyes and that the water was really murky brown as it was in so many lakes and rivers? And the mountains around the lakeside – would we be really able to see their snow-covered peaks on a clear day like this, or would that prove to have been a figment of my imagination too? Would any of it be as I’d been picturing it all these years?

But, no matter how hard I tried to keep it at bay, one uneasy question kept pushing itself to the forefront of my mind. How would being back there feel? When Auntie Karen parked the car I hesitated for a moment, but then I took a deep breath, opened the door and got out. Then I turned and gazed at the Tiernsee, and my eyes filled with tears – because my memory hadn’t lied after all. The pictures in my mind were real – because there they were, in front of me.

The water was shimmering in the winter sunshine, not brown but a glorious, deep blue; and reflected in it were the mountains, their caps clearly visible against the backdrop of the blue sky. I turned first to the left and then to the right, looking both down into the lake and up into the mountains, wanting to take in all of it, not to miss a single tiny part of it. “I’m back,” I whispered. “Hello Briesau. Hello Tiernsee. Hello mountains. I’m back at last.”

“Gretchen?” Auntie Karen’s voice broke gently into my reverie. “Are you all right?”

“I think so,” I said shakily. “Yes, I am. It’s all right: it’s all right. I think.”

She put her hand on my shoulder. “I know. It’s an emotional experience coming back after a long time away, isn’t it? Come on, let’s get Anneliese and Alexander settled, and then, when you feel ready, we can go and see your grandparents. This is the Kron Prinz Karl, Rudi’s parents’ hotel.”

Once we entered the hotel foyer, Auntie Karen let go of the children’s hands, which she’d been holding firmly whilst we’d been outside near the lake. Obviously well used to being here, they both rushed straight over to a porter who was standing by the reception desk –someone who, even after all this time, was as familiar to me as he evidently was to them. Somehow, with everything that had happened, it had completely slipped my mind that this was where he worked.

So often, when we went out together, Susan would bump into a relative or an old family friend. Usually they’d exclaim at how much she’d grown up since they’d last seen her, and afterwards I’d tease her about it; but all the time I’d be wishing that, just once, it would happen to me. But it never did, because I had no relatives or old family friends in Armishire. And now here, in the very first building we’d walked into in Briesau, was my Uncle Eigen.

“Hey, here comes double trouble,” he laughed, ruffling their hair. “Are you just calling in to say hello, or are you here for the morning?”

“Here all day!” Alexander said. Uncle Eigen pretended to look horrified, and the twins both giggled. He smiled as Auntie Karen followed them at a more sedate pace, whilst I walked close behind her, hiding from view a little, not sure what I should say or do. “So you’re abandoning them here for the day, are you, Karen?” he asked, laughing.

“I’m afraid so! I’m going to see your mum and dad, as it so happens. And I’ve brought a visitor for them.” She turned round and gently pushed me forward. “D’you not recognise your own niece, Eigen Pfeifen? This is Marie’s Gretchen.”

I needn’t have been nervous at all. His exclamation of delight was enough for me, and, much to the twins’ delighted bemusement, I flung my arms round him, there in the middle of the hotel foyer. Then I burst into tears. When I’d recovered myself, and Uncle Eigen had made me promise that I’d come back to visit many more times whilst I was in Mayrhofen, preferably on days when he wasn’t working, Auntie Karen introduced me to her mother-in-law and father-in-law. I knew that she hadn’t always got on well with them, but they seemed on good enough terms with each other now; and it was clear that the two of them and the two children adored each other.

Even they, who were no relation to me at all, both assured me that they remembered seeing me as a small child, and asked after my parents and Auntie Rosa by name. This was what I’d never had and never would have in Armishire – a feeling of belonging.

But we didn’t stay there long. Slowly and quietly, we walked the short distance from the Kron Prinz Karl to Wald Villa. Auntie Karen rang the doorbell. A few moments later, we heard the sound of footsteps approaching, and then the door swung open and there, standing smiling inside the doorway, was my Grandma.

#124:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 9:07 am
Oh lovely - so glad that it's all good memories so far. Looking forward to her reunion with her grandparents.

Thanks Alison.

#125:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 9:37 am
Oh that was lovely, to see her coming back to Briesau and rcognising it...
This was what I’d never had and never would have in Armishire – a feeling of belonging

Oh yes, that sense of permanent dislocation and uneasy awareness that "this is not my place".

Thank you Alison.

#126:  Author: wheelchairprincessLocation: Oxfordshire, UK PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 11:39 am
Alison H wrote:
Auntie Karen rang the doorbell. A few moments later, we heard the sound of footsteps approaching, and then the door swung open and there, standing smiling inside the doorway, was my Grandma.

So nice for Gretchen that she has had nothing but good memories so far. And the feeling of belonging is powerful and touching too. But that last line made me want to cry with the emotion of it - I lost the last of my Grandparents a few months ago and so I could understand the emotion of the moment.

#127:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 12:12 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm sitting in an internet cafe, but it didn't bother me that I got a bit emotional reading the latest post. I'm glad that Gretchen has been reunited with Eigen.

#128:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 2:17 pm
Thanks, Alison, that was great.

#129:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 2:39 pm
How lovely for Gretchen!

#130:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 7:35 pm
Thank you Alison! That was BEAUTIFUL!
And I hope the next post will be just as lovely. *crosses fingers*

#131:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Sat Nov 18, 2006 7:47 pm
Thank you Alison, that was a really lovely scene.

#132:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 12:16 am
That feeling of belonging and of coming home was so moving. Can't wait for the reunion with the grandparents.

#133:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 8:35 am
Thanks for the comments. These updates seem to be getting very long Rolling Eyes but I'm hoping to finish this next week Very Happy . I seem to've been writing it for ages!

I wasn’t sure whether or not she’d know me. Seeing someone in photographs is never quite the same as seeing someone in person; and the last time she’d seen me in person I’d been four years old. But I’d have known her anywhere. Her hair was grey now, and her face a little lined, but other than that she’d hardly changed at all. Even the way she dressed hadn’t changed: she was wearing traditional Tyrolean attire just as she’d always done. I stood behind Auntie Karen, a little nervous again now. What if we didn’t know what to say to one another after all these years?

She didn’t see me at first. “Karen!” she exclaimed in obvious delight. “It’s so lovely to see you! Come on in out of this cold weather: I’ll get us both a coffee and you can tell me all the latest news from Mayrhofen.” She looked around. “Oh - are the little ones not with you?” She sounded slightly disappointed, and just for a moment I couldn’t help feeling a little bit jealous. I’d missed out on so much over the years. And so, I realised, had she and Grandpa: they’d missed watching four grandchildren grow up; not to mention being separated from two of the daughters they’d brought up and a son-in-law who’d once been almost as close to them as their own sons.

“They’re at the Kron Prinz Karl for the day,” Auntie Karen explained. “But … I have brought someone to see you.” She stood back; and I moved forward, and looked at Grandma tremulously. Would she realise who I was?

Her hand went to her throat and her eyes filled with tears. “Gretchen?” she whispered. “Gretchen … Gretchen, is it really you?”

I nodded. “It’s me all right.” I said, through the tears that were now pouring down my face as well as hers. “It’s me, Grandma. I’ve come home.” Then she held her arms out and I ran into them as if I’d been no older than one of the twins.

“Who’s at the door?” a man’s voice called. I heard footsteps approaching and I looked up. His hair was grey now as well, and receding a little, but an incredulous smile lit up his weatherbeaten face as he looked at me as if he could hardly believe what he was seeing. “Oh Grandpa,” I said tearfully as I threw my arms round him. “I’ve come home!”

I’m not sure how long we stood by the door for; but eventually Grandma, half-laughing and half-crying, led us all through to the kitchen, where we sat down at the table. “I’ll make some coffee,” she said. “I hope that’s all right: I haven’t got any tea, I’m afraid. And would you like something to eat? I made some apple strudel yesterday: it used to be your favourite when you were a little girl, but I don’t know if …”

“It still is!” I said. “Mum makes it using your recipe, and every time I go to the Russells’ she sends me back to Susan’s with a big tin of it. I’d love some, please. And I don’t drink much tea: I much prefer coffee, although since I’ve been back in Austria I’ve realised that the English stuff isn’t a patch on the coffee here!”

Although Grandma and Grandpa hadn’t changed much, apart from the inevitable changes wrought by age, Wald Villa wasn’t how I remembered it at all. That wasn’t because my memory had been playing tricks on me, though: it was just that, although lakes and mountains don’t change, houses do. The décor was different: all the colours had changed. And that picture on the wall near the door looked new, and I didn’t remember the lights in the hall being so bright.

But the kitchen was exactly as I remembered it, right down to the smell of baking which I always associated with visits to my grandparents. I sniffed the air happily, then laughed when I saw everyone looking at me oddly. “I love the smell of baking!” I said, as Grandma placed a large plate in front of me. “Ooh, wonderful – Grandma’s apple strudel. My favourite!”

The apple strudel was just as delicious as I remembered it being, too! But one thing certainly wasn’t as I remembered. It was so quiet! I’d known that there wouldn’t be too many guests there at this time of year - although the winter sports resorts were always busy in January, lakeside resorts such as Briesau usually received most of their visitors during the spring and summer - but when I’d been little there’d been members of the family coming and going there all the time. That had been a long time ago, though, I reminded myself. All my aunts and uncles now either had homes of their own or, like Uncle Eigen, live-in jobs. Apart from Marta, the youngest of them, whom I’d never called “Auntie” because she was so close to me in age that it would have seemed silly; but she’d be out at work at this time of day - she worked at the hydro-electric plant which occupied the Chalet School’s old buildings.

“Oh dear, I can’t seem to stop crying,” Grandma said, mopping her eyes. “We’re very lucky people, I know. All our children came through the war safely, thank God; and I’ve got most of my children and grandchildren living nearby which is more than a lot of people have: so many young people moved away to look for work in the ‘30s. Hansi and Kurt and their families come over from Innsbruck as often as they can, and Gitterl usually comes here when she’s got a few days off from the hotel in Kitzbuhel; and we’ve got Luise and Fritzl and Theresa and their families nearby, Karl only in Spartz, and Marta still living with us, and Eigen back from Wien and working at the Kron Prinz Karl. But how we miss those of you we don’t see! There are days when I find myself ruing the day that the Bettanys ever came here – but I know that I’m wrong to think like that, because I know that you have to let your children grow up and go away from home and do what they feel is right for them. But why on earth didn’t you let us know that you were coming to Tyrol? You never said a word when you wrote to me at Christmas, and neither did your mother!”

I gave her and Grandpa a slightly edited version of recent events in Armiford, saying that I’d ended my relationship with Will and left my job because I’d felt that neither of them were going anywhere, but omitting to mention the incident in the shop which I felt rather silly about.

“Well, I’m sure that you’ll find a better job soon, liebling,” Grandpa said. “We’re both very proud of you for passing those exams, you know.”

“And you’ll meet a better young man too,” Grandma added. “I was never convinced about that Will, from what you said about him. You’re young yet: you’ve plenty of time to find someone who really deserves you!”

We talked for hours. About all sorts – Mum and Dad, Jakob and Josefa and Andy, all the family in Tyrol, the Russells, Wald Villa, old times; and, Grandma insisted, how I must come again very soon, for a few days if I liked, and she and Grandpa would try to get as many other members of the family as possible there at the same time. The only question that they didn’t ask was the obvious one. How long was I going to be in Tyrol for?

#134:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 10:52 am
How lovely for her to be so warmly welcomed and obviously wanted.

Thank you Alison.

#135:  Author: wheelchairprincessLocation: Oxfordshire, UK PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 12:58 pm
What a wonderful reunion!

But, uh, how long is she going to be in Tyrol for? And will we get to see it?! Laughing

#136:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 1:17 pm
So heartwarming that her grandparents love her so much.

#137:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 1:33 pm
Wonderful. So pleased her grandparents have welcomed her with open arms.

Thanks Alison

#138:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 1:43 pm
Thank you Alison, another lovely scene Very Happy

#139:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 2:26 pm
Lovely to see how warmly she's been welcomed. I guess her grandparents have missed her as much as she has missed them.

#140:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 5:13 pm
Thanks you Alison!
*dashes tears away*

#141:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 5:58 pm
What a wonderful homecoming!

#142:  Author: MaryRLocation: Cheshire PostPosted: Sun Nov 19, 2006 8:41 pm
Does Gretchen know herself how long she wants to say - or is just forever? Wink

Thanks, Alison

#143:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 12:24 am
Lovely, lovely - and a little sad:
She sounded slightly disappointed, and just for a moment I couldn’t help feeling a little bit jealous. I’d missed out on so much over the years. And so, I realised, had she and Grandpa
Such a waste caused by the war. But at least it's all over, and they're together again for the moment.

#144:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 7:48 am
Auntie Karen had eaten Mittagessen with us, but then she’d excused herself to go to visit her aunt and uncle who lived nearby, saying that they’d be offended if they found out that she’d been in Briesau but hadn’t called in on them. I’d realised that what she was really doing was leaving us on our own, and I’d smiled at her gratefully. When she came back and I realised that it was time to leave, I wished that I could stay longer; but I knew that Grandma had to get Kaffee und Kuchen ready for her guests and that Auntie Karen needed to be back in Mayrhofen in plenty of time to prepare Abendessen for hers, and so I said my goodbyes, put my hat and coat on, and set off with Auntie Karen back towards the Kron Prinz Karl.

“Everything all right?” she asked quietly as I paused for another long look at the lake and the mountains.

I nodded.

“Good,” she said. She didn’t ask any more, but I knew she realised that it had gone well and was pleased both for me and for my grandparents, and I gave her a hug. “Thank you so much for bringing me here,” I said. “I’ve waited a long time for today.”

“I know.” She paused for a moment; then she looked straight at me. “Gretchen, we still have a little time before we need to go back. Do you … would you like to go and see Die Rosen?”

I didn’t answer her for a minute. I stood there, biting my lip. Did I want to see Die Rosen? What if all it did was made me think of the bad times, and spoilt this perfect day? But if I was going to come back to Briesau as I’d promised Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Eigen I would then I’d have to see it some time, or else the thought of would start hanging over me and making me feel uncomfortable. I nodded slowly. “Yes,” I said eventually. “Yes; yes I would. Have we definitely got enough time?”

“We have if we go by car. Which we’ll have to anyway: I’m not climbing up the mountainside - it’s too slippery and I’m not wearing the right shoes for it! Come on – if you’re sure that you want to go, let’s get back to the car and I’ll drive us up there.”

I started to feel very apprehensive indeed as I got into the car. In fact, I think I half-expected to find the place covered over by some sort of forest of thorn bushes, like an evil castle in a fairytale. But, when we got there, I found that Rudi had been right: it was quiet and peaceful up on the Sonnalpe now. A young woman wearing a nurse’s uniform smiled at us and wished us “Gruss Gott” as she walked past, obviously on her way to the San which Sir James had founded. I wondered if anyone there now even knew his name, and how much the place had changed since he’d had to sell up and leave.

But it was the house that I’d come to see; and, despite my nervousness, when I looked at it I didn’t get so much as a goose bump. All I could think was that this was where I’d been born, and where I’d spent my first four years, and of those innocent childhood days - before the Nazis had come and ruined them. But the Nazis had gone now, and I didn’t feel any sense of unease at all. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The bad memories would always be there at the back of my mind, but I didn’t have to be frightened of this place. In fact, I was sorry that we didn’t have more time to spend here, and I said as much to Auntie Karen. “I’ll come back next time I’m here,” I said. “I might even try the climb up the mountain – hopefully it’ll seem easier than it used to when I was four!”

She laughed. “There’s a bus between here and the village now, you know – you wouldn’t have to walk! But, if you want a bit more time to look round, I can go and collect the twins and then drive back up here to meet you. I’ll see you by that big tree over there.”

I agreed readily, and she went back to the car and drove off. I walked over to the garden, wishing that I could go inside the house. I noticed a child’s bicycle by the door: it must belong to one of the children of the present Head of the San, I thought to myself. Then I frowned. That couldn’t be right. Sybil had met him when she’d come here during her final year at school, and she’d said that he was a bachelor in his fifties. But hadn’t Auntie Karen said something about seeing children here, when she’d come to Briesau that Easter four years ago? Maybe the doctor had nieces and nephews who came to visit him regularly, I thought. Then I saw a woman looking out of the kitchen window, and realised with embarrassment that I must look very suspicious, standing staring at someone else’s house and garden.

She came outside, but luckily she seemed more concerned than annoyed. “Are you lost, dear?” she asked. “Is it the Sanatorium you’re looking for?”

“Oh – no, I’m just waiting for someone to collect me: she’ll be here soon,” I said. “I was just … er, admiring the house.”

“Oh, that’s all right then.” She laughed. “I automatically assume that anyone I see up here and don’t recognise must be looking for the Sanatorium, I’m afraid. Comes from working for the doctor who’s in charge of it! I’m his housekeeper. This is his house, but my husband – he’s a porter at the San – and my children and I all live here too.”

“Oh, but that was us!” I exclaimed. Then, realising how absurd that must have sounded, I hastened to explain what I meant. “When the San first opened, the doctor who founded it, whose name was Russell, used to live here. My mum was the housekeeper for him and his wife, and my dad worked for them too; and we lived here as well. I was born here. That’s why I was looking at the house so hard! We moved away from here in 1938, and this is the first time I’ve been back here since then.”

“Oh!” She smiled. “You must be the granddaughter of Herr and Frau Pfeifen at Wald Villa, then.”

“That’s right!” I said. “How did you know that, Frau … sorry, I don’t know your name?”

“Frau Kohler. Brigitta Kohler. I was Brigitta Steindal when the Russells were here. When we were children, my sister Gredel was brought up here, in a very bad way, and Herr Doktor Russell saved her life. So I’ve never forgotten him, you see; and I remember Marie Monier, Marie Pfeifen as was, being his housekeeper. Marie was several years older than me, but her sister Gitterl was more my age and we used to play together, and that’s how I knew Marie. So you’re her daughter, then?”

“I am,” I said. “My name’s Gretchen Monier. It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too. Call by if you’re in the area again and you’re not waiting to be collected! You could come and have a look round your old house if you liked.”

“Thank you!” I said. “I’d like that.”

#145:  Author: kerenLocation: Israel PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 9:11 am
This is such a nice story,
'sorry never commented before

#146:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 10:29 am
Thanks Alison, it's so nice that she now has happy memories of her home.

#147:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 10:53 am
I'm glad she realised she had to go to Die Rosen and that it turned out so well for her.

#148:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 1:27 pm
Glad this visit is going so well for her.

#149:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 6:50 pm
So pleased for her - nice that the housekeeper remembered her, or at least her parents.

Thanks Alison

#150:  Author: PatLocation: Doncaster PostPosted: Mon Nov 20, 2006 9:21 pm
That's laid the ghost well and truly. Now she can settle down and be happy. Can't she?

#151:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 12:08 am
She has to come back, doesn't she. It is where she belongs.

#152:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 12:50 am
Thanks, Alison. I'm glad that she got a chance to see her old home and that things went well with her Grandparents.

#153:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 7:50 am
Nearly finished Very Happy .

When we got back to Mayrhofen, I asked Auntie Karen for some paper and envelopes. I wrote a brief note to the manager of the shop in Armiford, apologising for my behaviour and for not giving notice, but saying that I felt that I’d been treated unfairly and had indeed intended to leave anyway. Then I wrote two longer letters, one to Mum and Dad and the other to Susan and her mum, apologising profusely for my disappearing act.

I knew that I ought to say something about when I’d be going back – although I’d paid Susan’s mum up to the end of the month so at least she wouldn’t be out of pocket – but I honestly didn’t know what to say. I knew that Auntie Karen and Rudi would lend me the money for the return journey if I asked them to; and I also knew that, much as they’d made me welcome in their lovely home and never once made me feel that I was imposing on them, I couldn’t stay with them for ever. But Armiford – the English and Welsh voices which still sounded foreign to me, the crowded buses making their way through the rush hour traffic, the busy city streets, Will’s mother and all the other snooty customers like her, and the miserable January weather – had very quickly come to seem like part of another world.

On the following day, Saturday, I found plenty that there was plenty to occupy my time and prevent me from being alone with my thoughts about what I ought to do with myself. There was a wedding reception being held at the hotel that evening, and so I spent the day helping to get the function room ready and keeping the twins well away from the box in which the wedding cake was being kept. Auntie Karen explained the Tyrolean wedding customs to me, and I thought they were lovely. I had a lot to learn about Tyrolean life, I realised - a little sadly and a little resentfully - but I was learning fast.

On Sunday morning, I slept later than usual and arrived in the sitting room to find Auntie Karen, Rudi and the children in their best clothes, about to set off for church. It had been long time since I’d been to church on any occasion other than Christmas or Easter, but I asked shyly if I could accompany them and so the five of us walked there together, Auntie Karen and Rudi each holding one of the children by the hand as they exchanged pleasantries with friends and acquaintances along the way. Almost every seat in the church was occupied, and everyone there seemed to know each other. It was certainly never like that in the tiny Catholic church in Armiford, I thought. And there wasn’t a Catholic church any closer to the Russells’ house than the one in Armiford: the village in which the house stood had only an Anglican church and a Methodist chapel.

Rudi had to go into Innsbruck in business on the Monday, and offered to take me with him in the car so that I could have a look round the Tyrolean capital whilst he went to his meeting. I had a wonderful day, looking round all the major historic sights of the city. My only regret was that I’d never learnt more about Tyrolean history, and I resolved to find out if the library in Mayrhofen contained any books on the subject. I avoided going into too many of the shops as I didn’t have much money; but I had a look in the windows of some of the smart shops on the Mariatheresien Strasse, and enjoyed a coffee in the café of the large department store owned by the Hamel family. It was nice in there, but I was glad that I was only there as a customer. I didn’t want to work in a shop again.

I found the librarian at the small library in Mayrhofen very helpful, and spent a fair bit of Tuesday and Wednesday with my nose stuck in a series of books, in between helping out at the hotel reception and making up stories for the children. She even found me a small pamphlet on the history of Briesau, written recently by a local author; and I was interested to find that it included a chapter on the Sanatorium, even mentioning Sir James Russell by name. I’d have to tell Sybil about that, I thought! The San today, the pamphlet said, continued the wonderful work that its founder had done in the treatment of and research into tuberculosis, had recently expanded its operations to treat other illnesses as well, and was held in high regard by everyone in the world of medicine in Austria and beyond.

On Thursday, I got a message from Grandma, asking if I’d be able to come for Abendessen on Sunday. I could stay overnight if that was all right, she said, rather than try to get back to Mayrhofen on my own late at night. Auntie Karen offered to drive me there, but I didn’t want to put her to any additional trouble so I said that I’d go on the train. I left for Briesau straight after church on Sunday, partly because I was always wary of Sunday train services but mostly because I wanted the chance to have a long, leisurely walk right round the lake. And how the memories came flooding back to me as I did so!

Those were the old Chalet School buildings, of course - where Mum, Auntie Luise, Uncle Hansi and Uncle Eigen had all once worked, and where Mum and Dad had first met. Over there was where Rix had nearly accidentally knocked David into the lake when they’d been messing around: Auntie Rosa had sent them both to bed early after that! By that tree was where Sybil had had a tantrum because the wind had blown her hat off, and that thorny bush had been responsible for ripping a hole in one of Bride’s favourite frocks. And now I was passing Die Blumen, the Russells’ old summer house which was now the Maynards’ holiday home. Oh, had I really been away for fifteen and a half years?

And was I only back here on a nostalgic visit, or was it more than that? Maybe some sign would appear which would tell me the answer to that question, because I certainly wasn’t having much luck in working it out for myself.

I’d known that Grandma had invited some of the rest of the family for Abendessen, but I shrieked with surprise and delight when I found out just how many of them were coming! Auntie Luise and Uncle Johann and their children, including Sabine whom I’d last seen as a tiny baby but who was now was in her late teens; Uncle Fritzl, Uncle Hansi and Uncle Kurt with their wives and children; Auntie Theresa with her husband and two little ones; Auntie Gitterl and her fiancé; Uncle Eigen; Uncle Karl; and Marta. Plus Uncle August - Grandpa’s brother - and his wife, Aunt Elisabeth.

I don’t know how we all fitted in the place! It was a good job that we started our meal early, because everyone was laughing and talking so much that it took us ages to finish eating all Grandma’s delicious food, and it was pretty late by the time those who didn’t live nearby and had to get going set off. Oh, this was what I remembered – a whole load of us, all together! And now there were new faces for me to get to know as well: I had a lot of catching up to do, but I made a good start on it that evening!

I helped Grandma and Grandpa to clear up before going to bed, and then in the morning I gave Grandma a hand with Fruhstuck. She worked hard for someone her age, and seeing that made me feel increasingly guilty about the fact that I hadn’t got a job and hadn’t even thought properly about finding one. I hugged and kissed both her and Grandpa goodbye, and promised to visit them again very soon. Then I set off for Seespitz, where the train station was. There was no need to rush: Auntie Karen wasn’t expecting me back at any particular time. I walked along without really looking where I was going, thinking about both last night’s family gathering and my lack of a job; and I didn’t notice the woman walking the other way until we walked straight into each other.

#154: In the presence of fate Author: Fiona McLocation: Bendigo, Australia PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 8:06 am
Thanks Alsion. This was a nice surprise. I was checking out updates and saw you hadn't so checked out the other houses, when I finished that, what should I see but your name as the last update for St Terese. This is great. It sounds like Gretchen is starting to get her life together and working out what she wants with her life, even if it's only working out what she dosen't want. Wonder who the mystery lady is

#155:  Author: kerenLocation: Israel PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 8:13 am
who do you think it is,
maybe Joey???
they have a house in that area don't they!

#156:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 10:00 am
Oooh...a mystery lady!

Thanks Alison Very Happy

#157:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 10:13 am
Thanks, Alison. I'm glad that she was reunited with more of her family. I wonder who the lady is.

#158:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 10:43 am
It's lovely that Gretchen is having such a wonderful reunion with her family. I'm so glad it's living up to her expectations.

I also wonder who the woman is!

#159:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 10:52 am
Gretchen has been very fortunate in the welcome that she's received from the cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents and it's lovely to see her so much at home.

#160:  Author: alicatLocation: Wiltshire PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 11:27 am
Alison this is so beautifully written, you get a real insight into gretchen's character and also into how hard it was for everyone else - it shows how much she has grown-up that she can think of others' feelings now.

#161:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 6:05 pm
So pleased that Gretchen was welcomed by all her family. She feels at home here, doesn't she? Far more so than in Armiford.

Thanks Alison.

#162:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 9:22 pm
Thanks Alison, that was a gorgeous family scene there. Lovely!

#163:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Tue Nov 21, 2006 11:46 pm
Really lovely family reunion. Dying to know what will happen to Gretchen - and who the mystery lady is.

#164:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 1:11 am
It sounds so right. Hope there's a felicitous way to make this more than a visit. Very Happy

#165:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 7:46 am
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed. “Are you all right?”

“Please don’t apologise: it was entirely my fault for not looking where I was going,” the woman insisted, sounding rather flustered. Then she looked at me more closely and smiled. “Oh - it’s Fraulein Monier, isn’t it? We met last week.”

“Frau Kohler!” I recognised her now. “Gruss Gott! I’ve just been visiting my grandparents. You’ve been out shopping early!” She was carrying a large paper bag.

“I’ve been getting some apples to make an Apfeltorte with: it’s Herr Doktor Maier’s favourite. He needs a bit of spoiling just now: he’s having a few problems at the San. I’m just on my way to the bus stop to get the bus back up to the Sonnalpe.” She smiled at me. “I don’t suppose you'd fancy coming up for a coffee, would you? I get quite lonely being in there by myself all day, and you did say that you’d like to see round the house.”

“Actually, I would,” I said. It’d be interesting to see the inside of Die Rosen again. “That would be lovely. Thank you.”

It was certainly a lot easier getting up to Die Rosen by bus than it used to be on foot! And it was fascinating looking round the inside of the house which held so many memories for me. “I used to sleep in here!” I said in delight. “And this was the nursery: there used to be nine of us in here during the day at one time! I can’t believe I’m back here after all these years: thank you so much for showing me round, Frau Kohler.”

She didn’t seem to be in any hurry for me to leave, so I accepted a cup of coffee and sat in the kitchen chatting to her as she prepared Mittagessen – meat and potatoes and vegetables, as well as the Apfeltorte. “I don’t normally go to all this trouble for the midday meal – normally it’s just salad or sandwiches,” she said, “but the poor man needs cheering up at the moment: he’s been ever so harassed since Herr Schmidt left. Herr Schmidt was the man who used to do the books and deal with a lot of the administrative work at the San, but he after got married in the autumn he left to take a job in Innsbruck. His new wife didn’t like it up here – she said it upset her seeing so many sick people about.”

“Oh!” I said. “What a strange way of looking at things, when they do so much good work at the San.” Having said which, I supposed I could understand why Frau Schmidt might have felt like that: I’d often heard people remark that they found the San in Wales a depressing place. But, maybe because I’d spent so much of my life living in a doctor’s household and knew how much the doctors cared about their patients, I’d always thought of the San in Wales, and indeed the San here, as places where people could either be cured and sent home from restored to health; or, if sadly their conditions proved to be beyond the powers of medicine to successfully treat, at least be made as comfortable as possible in their last days.

Frau Kohler seemed to agree with me. “I know,” she said. “When my sister Gredel was brought up here I was terrified: I thought that they were taking her away to die in some strange place. But we were able to come and visit her as often as we could, on the special children’s ward where she was being treated, and in time she came back to us recovered. And most people in the area are very proud of the work that’s done at the San and there’s a lot of respect for the people who work there - but I suppose that a lot of people just don’t feel able to spend their days in that sort of environment. The Herr Doktor’s having all sorts of problems finding someone to take over Herr Schmidt’s job, and that seems to be the main reason why.”

We chatted for a while longer, and then I heard the sound of a key turning in the door. Frau Kohler exclaimed in horror. “It can’t be that time of day already, surely! Mittagessen’s nowhere near ready yet and I haven’t finished the cleaning!”

“It’s only half past eleven,” I said, looking at the clock. Before Frau Kohler could answer, a big man - perhaps about Dad’s age, with a bushy moustache but friendly twinkling eyes - came striding into the kitchen. “Hope I haven’t given you a fright turning up early, Brigitta!” he said, grinning as he saw the look on her face. “I’ve done my rounds for this morning, so I thought I’d bring some of this dratted paperwork home and see if I got on with it any better here than I’ve been doing at the San. How Schmidt ever made sense of these wretched figures I can’t even begin to imagine: the whole lot’s just all Greek to me! Oh – sorry, I didn’t realise you had company. How do you do, Fraulein?”

“Oh – er, Herr Doktor Maier, this is Fraulein Gretchen Monier,” Frau Kohler said, recovering her composure. “Fraulein Monier’s mother was the first ever housekeeper here, Herr Doktor, in Herr Doktor Russell’s day. She’s here visiting her grandparents in Briesau, so I said I’d show her round the house.”

“Guten Tag, Herr Doktor,” I said - hoping that he didn’t mind finding a complete stranger in his kitchen, especially one who was chatting to his housekeeper whilst she was supposed to be working! “I’ve so enjoyed seeing the house again: Frau Kohler’s been very kind. I hope you don’t mind my being here.”

“Not at all!” he said jovially. “So you were here in Russell’s day, were you? Sir James Russell he is now, Brigitta! I met him briefly around eighteen months ago, whilst he was staying over at Buchau: his brother-in-law’s got a place there, I believe. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Fraulein Monier; but if you’ll excuse me I really must go and see if I can’t make some sense of all this lot. Don’t know anything about figures do you, by any happy chance?” He laughed as if the very idea of a young woman like me knowing anything about bookkeeping or administrative work was incredibly amusing, and I was rather annoyed by it.

“I do, as a matter of fact,” I said. “Actually, I’ve recently completed a two year course in bookkeeping and administrative and secretarial work: I passed my exams in August.” There, that’d show him!

He seemed to realise that the joke was on him, and he had the grace to laugh. “Well, that told me!” he said. “I don’t suppose you fancy having a quick look at this bit here, do you? I can’t get it to add up for love nor money, and every time I try I seem to get a different figure.”

He opened his books on the kitchen table, despite Frau Kohler’s raised eyebrows, and ruefully showed me the figures he was struggling with. I had a quick look down the page and soon saw what the problem was: it was a mistake I’d made often enough myself when I’d first been doing the shop’s books. “You’ve got your opening balance on the wrong side,” I said. It’s a debit balance, so it goes on the left, like this. There, it should work now: let’s just add it up … yes, there you go!”

“I’m impressed!” he said. “You know about administrative work as well, you say? I don’t suppose by any remarkable chance you’re looking for a job at the moment, are you?”

Afterwards, I had no idea whether I’d meant to say it or not. Certainly I had no recollection of thinking about it. In fact, I couldn’t have thought about it, because there wouldn’t have been time: I started speaking almost as soon as he stopped. The words just seemed to come out of my mouth of their own accord, as if they’d been waiting there for some sort of signal and one had just been given. “Actually,” I heard myself say. “I am.”

#166:  Author: kerenLocation: Israel PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 8:41 am
I am first again
I often check to see an update, just to see, and I often see the story befeo anyone else has commented!

Anyway, how serendipitous

#167:  Author: Ruth BLocation: Oxford, UK PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 9:28 am
Hurrah hurrah hurrah! [insert mexican wave smiley here]

BTW is Gredel the girl Eustacia and Joey have a bust up over?

#168:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 9:42 am
Oh how splendidly fortuitous!!

#169:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:41 am

#170:  Author: AliceLocation: London, England PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 2:12 pm
Wonderful! What a lovely coincidence.

#171:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 3:10 pm
I can't remember if the doctor is also married?! Wink

I'm so glad Grechen's got the chance to stay in Austria, it's all been so lovely for her, being back where she belongs.

Thanks Alison.

#172:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 5:48 pm
Thanks, Alison. It would be great if she was able to stay on in the area.

#173:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 6:01 pm
Finally caught up with this - Thanks Alison, it's fab! Very Happy

#174:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 6:06 pm
Excellent - just right for her. Laughing

Thanks Alison

#175:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 7:44 pm
Oh, what a lovely opening for her.

#176:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:13 pm
Ruth B wrote:

BTW is Gredel the girl Eustacia and Joey have a bust up over?

Yes - I was trying to think of someone from the village who'd have a particular reason for thinking the San was wonderful!

Fatima wrote:
I can't remember if the doctor is also married?! Wink

He isn't, according to Coming of Age, but I think he's a bit old for Gretchen. I'm sure - although I'm not writing that far - she'll meet plenty of young single doctors though Wink!

#177:  Author: TaraLocation: Malvern, Worcestershire PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:49 pm
Yay!!!! *Smiles broadly*

Don't care a fig about single young doctors, but the job offer is fantastic!!

#178:  Author: macyroseLocation: Great White North (Canada) PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2006 11:50 pm
I've been reading this from the beginning and enjoying it very much. I've had a feeling from the last few installments that Gretchen's fate would lie in Austria!

#179:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 7:43 am
Finally made it to the end! Thanks for all your lovely comments Very Happy .

Given that I was only supposed to be in Tyrol for a visit, I thoroughly expected Auntie Karen to have forty fits when I got back to Mayrhofen and explained that I’d got a week’s trial at the Sonnalpe Sanatorium, starting on Wednesday, with a view to taking over the position of bookkeeper and head of administration there permanently.

“I know it’s all a bit quick, but I haven’t rushed into it without thinking it all through properly; honestly” I assured her. “There’s a sort of hostel up there where some of the nurses live, and I’ll be able to stay there for the week, and if I get the job then I’ll be able to have a room there for as long as I like. And Herr Doktor Maier’s housekeeper said that I could come and ask her if I needed anything: she’s ever so nice, and she knows Mum. And of course Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie Luise and everyone are only a bus ride away.” I looked at her doubtfully. “Why aren’t you saying anything? Have I really shocked you?”

“Quite the opposite,” she said calmly. “I had a feeling that you’d end up staying. I know you: I’ve known you since before you were born, remember! Right from the day you turned up here you didn’t sound as if you saw yourself spending the rest of your life in Armiford; and I saw how you were in Briesau, and how you’ve been this past week getting to know Tyrol again. And as for this job at the San, I hope that it works out because it sounds as if it’s just what you need. You’ve said a few times that you wanted to do something more meaningful than selling clothes that most people couldn’t afford – well, what could be more meaningful than working somewhere like that?” She smiled at me. “Tell me something. Did you make an active decision to stay in Tyrol, or did it just happen?”

“It just happened,” I confessed. “I happened to meet Frau Kohler as she was walking to the bus stop, and the Herr Doktor happened to come home for Mittagessen early, and there happened to be a job going … and I just found myself saying that I was looking for a job. It sounds mad, doesn’t it? But it’s as if it was fated.”

“Life often is,” she said softly. “If I hadn’t bumped into the Countess von und zu Wertheim by the Tiernsee that day, and she hadn’t needed someone to cook for her party, then I’d never have met Rudi again. And if Frau Doktor Russell hadn’t decided to set up her school in Briesau, of all the places she’d ever been to, then all our lives would have been very different.” She looked at me intently. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to think very carefully before making big decisions, though, Gretchen. See how things go during the week you’re at the Sonnalpe, and then decide whether or not staying in Tyrol and working at the San’s right for you.” She smiled. “I’ve got a feeling that it will be, though.”

“So have I. If they want me, that is, anyway!” I flung my arms round her impulsively. “Thank you: thank you and Rudi and Anneliese and Alexander for everything. You’ve made me so welcome here. I don’t know what I’d have done without you. I didn’t know whether or not I was right to come here, but you’ve been wonderful.”

“Of course you were right to come here: I’m always here for you,” she said firmly. “Remember that when you’re at the Sonnalpe. Rudi and I will only be a phone call or a short journey away.”

“I know,” I said. “And if there’s anything I can do for you, either this coming week, or any time in the future if I do end up staying, then just ask. I won’t be far away.” I bit my lip. “But I will be far away from Mum and Dad, won’t I? And Jakob and Josefa and Andy, and Auntie Rosa, and Susan and the others. I don’t even know how I’m going to tell them, never mind how I’m going to cope.”

She put her arm round me and sighed. “Sometimes life’s full of difficult choices, Gretchen. The ones we make ourselves, and the ones that other people make that affect us. You know that and I know that. And Marie and Andreas probably know that better than anyone.”

I thought about what she’d said over and over again the following week, when I came back to Mayrhofen after a tough but challenging and interesting week at the San, with the offer of a job provided that the Russells would send a character reference for me. The Russells did owe me that, I thought: I’d helped out in their house often enough! And I knew that Sybil would see to it that the reference was dealt with.

I missed Sybil; but I knew that, just as my life lay in Austria now, hers lay in Australia. And I knew that we’d always stay in touch, just as Mum and Auntie Karen did. I knew too that I was going to miss Susan even more, and that she’d be upset when I told her the news; but I also knew that she’d be happy for me, and that we’d stay in touch, and that travel and communications were becoming easier all the time and that we’d see each other many, many times in the future.

Susan would have our other friends in Armiford. And I’d have Marta and Sabine here, one only a little older than me and one only a little younger, and I’d meet new people too. Wasn’t I used to moving to new places and meeting new people, after all? Although this time it would, hopefully, be easier, because it wasn’t a “new” place: most people in Briesau seemed to be connected to me by blood ties or family friendship one way and another anyway! And Auntie Karen and Rudi and Anneliese and Alexander would only be thirty miles or so away. Maybe in time I’d even meet someone with whom I could be as happy as Auntie Karen was with her lovely husband, someone who’d share my life and let me share his as Will had never done.

The thought of leaving Mum and Dad and my brothers and sister and Auntie Rosa behind was the most difficult thing. I was talking about separating myself, and my children if I ever had any at some far-off point in the future, from them just as we’d been separated from Grandma and Grandpa and my aunts and uncles and cousins. It was going to be hard enough to bear it myself, and harder still to know that I was going to be causing distress to them too.

But our lives had never been going to be straightforward, from the moment that we’d left Briesau seventeen and a half years earlier, and maybe even before that; and I thought about Grandma’s words about having to let your children make their own decisions and Auntie Karen’s words about life being full of difficult choices and I knew that, somehow, my family would understand why I had to do this. And it wouldn’t be the almost total separation that it had been when we’d left Briesau in 1938. The Russells would come back to Tyrol, to stay at Die Blumen, all the more so now that three of their children had left home; and my family would come with them, especially as Grandma and Grandpa grew older. And I’d be earning far more at the San than I’d ever done at home, and the cost of living was cheaper here: I’d get holidays, and I’d be able to go back to visit them all.

And so I made my decision. When I went back to Britain, and I told everyone what I was going to do, I found that there were a lot of tears but that no-one really seemed all that surprised. Two weeks later, Mum and Dad drove me to Dover and we stood and waved to each other as the ferry pulled away; and, when I got to Jenbach, Auntie Karen and Rudi were on the platform to meet me and to load my luggage into the car, and Alexander and Anneliese were there to be lifted up and cuddled and to make me promise that I’d come and see them very soon. Grandma and Grandpa were at the Sonnalpe when we arrived, to inspect the place where I was going to be living and to pronounce - luckily not within anyone else’s earshot! - that they considered it quite acceptable – and Sabine and Marta both came to visit soon afterwards and to promise that they’d show me round and introduce me to their friends.

And so, at the age of twenty-two, I found myself, after seventeen and a half years away, starting my new life within sight of the house where I’d been born. Fate can be funny like that sometimes. But, as I stood by the window and looked out at the Tiernsee, I knew that this had always been where I’d been going to come back to. This was home.

#180:  Author: ibarhisLocation: London and Hemel Hempstead PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 7:51 am
How very satisfactory! Thank you...

#181:  Author: Ruth BLocation: Oxford, UK PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 8:47 am
This was a lovely drabble Alison. Thank you!

#182:  Author: LottieLocation: Humphrey's Corner PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 9:17 am
I'm so glad Gretchen was able to find just the right job waiting for her in the Tyrol. I had the feeling that earlier disappointments were meant, somehow, and that things would turn out for the best in the end.

Thank you, Alison.

#183:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 9:49 am
Hurrah! A lovely ending to a fab drabble!

Thanks, Alison Very Happy

#184:  Author: KathrynWLocation: London PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 10:03 am
That was lovely, and such a beautiful ending. Thanks Alison

#185:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 10:06 am
Thank you Alison; that ended beautifully. She realises what she's been offered, and also what she will be giving up, and can make a mature decision. And as she says;
I knew that this had always been where I’d been going to come back to. This was home.

#186:  Author: alicatLocation: Wiltshire PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 12:40 pm
Oh how wonderful

This has been a superb story to read, congratulations.

I really enjoyed seeing gretchen grow up and realise how everything that has happened to her has happened because people were doing what they thought was the best thing at the time - just as she has now decided. I'm sure in making her decision to live away from her parents she will have thought 'this is how my mum and dad felt when they decided to go with the russells all those years ago?'

#187:  Author: AliceLocation: London, England PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 12:40 pm
I'm glad Gretchen has got what she always wanted. Thank you Alison. I hope you'll write another drabble again soon, I will miss this one.

#188:  Author: MiaLocation: London PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 12:52 pm
What a lovely ending, thanks Alison. Very Happy I've enjoyed this.

#189:  Author: janemLocation: Ash, Surrey PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 12:59 pm
I have so enjoyed this Alison. Thank you.

#190:  Author: wheelchairprincessLocation: Oxfordshire, UK PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 1:02 pm
This was a wonderful drabble thank you! I hope you will write another one soon as you write really well and your stories are gripping. Even, dare I say it, a sequel?

#191:  Author: leahbelleLocation: Kilmarnock PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 1:37 pm
This has been great, Alison. I'm really sorry to see it finished, but it was a fitting ending to Gretchen's story.

Looking forward to reading your next drabble! Very Happy

#192:  Author: RroseSelavyLocation: Oxford, UK PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 3:57 pm
Thanks, Alison Very Happy That was a lovely drabble about a character we were told very little of in the books.

#193:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 4:02 pm
Thanks, Alison. I'm glad that everyone was so supportive and I hope that everything will work out. Thank you so much for such a wonderful drabble.

#194:  Author: JustJenLocation: sitting on the steps PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 6:22 pm
Many thanks for the lovely story Alison.

#195:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 7:30 pm
Lovely story, Alison and a very satisfying ending. So pleased Gretchen is back where she belongs.

Thank you.

#196:  Author: PatLocation: Doncaster PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 7:50 pm
That was great Alison. I've loved every minute. Thank you.

#197:  Author: DawnLocation: Leeds, West Yorks PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2006 9:32 pm
Heaves a very happy sigh - but sad that this is finished

but of course you could continue to write about her new life and who she meets and .........

please? Wink

#198:  Author: FatimaLocation: Sunny Qatar PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 10:49 am
That was such a lovely ending to a wonderful story! Thanks Alison.

#199:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 3:15 pm
Thank you Alison, that was SUCH a lovely drabble!

#200:  Author: JennieLocation: Cambridgeshire PostPosted: Fri Nov 24, 2006 3:38 pm
Thanks, Alison. That was so satisfying, such a good ending, with Gretchen being given the chance to live in the place that has always been her home in her heart.

#201:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2006 2:46 am
I hoped she'd stay, but hadn't predicted this position. Perfect!

Thank you, Alison. Very Happy

#202: In the presence of fate Author: Fiona McLocation: Bendigo, Australia PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2006 4:43 am
Thanks Alison, This has been fabulous. I've really loved reading it. So when's the next drabble?! (Remember no rest for the wicked!! Laughing)

The CBB -> Ste Therese's House

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