This week’s discussion thread is The New Chalet School, first published in 1938. For the first time since Princess/Head Girl we have a gap in the series, with a full undocumented term passing between 0Jo Returns and New, and big changes are afoot for the school.
The book opens with a staff meeting taking place at the end of the Easter holidays. Miss Annersley bears several pieces of news: she has been offered the post of Headmistress since Mademoiselle Lepâttre’s condition has deteriorated and her teaching days are definitely over; and Miss Browne of St Scholastika’s has come into an inheritance, so she has sold her school to Madge and Mademoiselle “for a mere nothing” so that she can retire back to England, enlarging the CS by over forty girls. A fourth chalet is to be built, and there will also be changes to the setup next term in that the Houses will no longer be split into Juniors, Middles and Seniors, but will all have a mix of each.
The girls arrive back at the Tiernsee for the new term, and Anne Seymour and several former St Scholastika Seniors discuss life at the Chalet. They later meet up with Gillian Linton, who informs them that Jem has bought the old St Scholastika’s building as a summer home, so that Madge and Jo will be down at the lake for the term.
Madge and Jo meet the girls at Seespitz to welcome them, then walk along to their new summer home, which they have come down to assess and measure. We learn that Captain Humphries and Bette’s husband, Dr di Bersetti, were killed in a climbing accident that January.
Madge, Jo and Robin dine at a newly built hotel on the lakeside, the Seehaus, and Madge and Jo are each hit with a pellet from a catapult. Jo, scanning the guests, spots a pair of children, clearly twins, who give themselves away with their mannerisms. Later, as they are walking round to Seespitz, they encounter them again, and after Jo snaps the boy’s catapult and makes some scathing remarks about Italian royalty, they run away, swearing revenge. Madge reveals that they are the children of the Prince and Princess Balbini, the latter of whom is dying at the Sonnalpe.
After arriving and seeing their dormitories, the Seniors congregate in the common room for Kaffee and to discuss the various happenings. Outside, the twins sprinkle snuff into the room and cause everyone to have a sneezing fit.
On the first morning, the girls separate for walks after Frühstuck. The Seniors, on the way back, decide to inspect the games shed and find the lock and the lower half of the door covered in chewing gum. The twins, listening nearby, are delighted to hear their disgusted remarks.
The prefects hold a meeting, and Jo drops by. They tell her about the snuff and the chewing gum, and also about a box of frogs which had been sent to Mademoiselle Lachenais the day before. Everyone in the school denies any knowledge of the incidents. Jo guesses that the twins are behind it, and warns the prefects to be on their guard. She also reveals that the half-term trip for Madge’s birthday this year will be to Salzburg, much to everyone’s delight. Their joy is interrupted by a series of stink bombs thrown into the school.
The next prank victim is Jem, who falls foul of Mario’s catapult while walking along the lake path. He catches Mario and gives him a sound whipping. The Prince and Maria come along and spot them, and the Prince backs Jem up. Maria, hearing the story later from one of the other hotel children who was hiding with Mario, is furious and rushes out to warn Jem they will have their revenge. He scornfully takes the wind out of her sails with remarks about vulgarity and ill-breeding, and walks off.
One wet day the twins and their hotel friends, the Mystic M gang, are spotted hanging around outside the school, and Miss Annersley insists on them coming in out of the rain. She takes them round the school, and the boys, left alone in the hall for a few minutes, remove the fuses from the fuse box and cut several wires, leaving Ste Therese in darkness for the night. Miss Annersley is furious, and rings up the Seehaus to complain to the Prince.
The next day, Gillian reveals to the other prefects that the Princess Balbini is not likely to survive the week. They spot the Prince marching the twins into the school to apologise to Miss Annersley for what they did to the fuse box. He begs her to accept Maria at the school, and she reluctantly agrees to take her next term. She also urges him to warn the twins about their mother’s impending death, citing her own unhappy experience as a girl.
One particularly hot day, Jem rings up the summer house to ask Madge to search around the lake for the twins, as their mother is about to die and has asked to see them one last time. At the same moment Jo, sent to fetch Jackie and Sybil in from the garden, bursts in with the news that Maria Balbini has kidnapped Sybil. A mass search is begun, but they are nowhere to be found, and at sixteen o’clock Jem rings up again to say that the Princess has passed away.
Madge tells Jem about Sybil, and he comes down at once with Rufus to join the hunt. They track them as far as Maurach, and learn that there is a smallpox outbreak at the Gasthaus there. Jem then goes for the mountain train to head back to the Tiernsee, and spots Herr Anserl with the truants and Sybil, having caught them in Spärtz.
Back at the summer house, Jem informs the twins that their mother had asked for them but has now died. Maria faints with the shock, and she and Mario are put to bed. Later that night, Jo hears Maria sobbing and comforts her.
More smallpox cases are reported in the valley, and the Sonnalpe doctors come round to the school to vaccinate everyone, but the Staff are still on edge. Louise and Gillian, having spent a lot of time at the Sonnalpe with their relatives, have guessed that Mademoiselle will not be returning, and the prefects are sobered at the thought. Meanwhile, Ida Reaveley informs them that she has heard some of the Middles out on the roof garden of St Clare’s at night, and they concoct a plan to catch them in the act.
Louise, Paula, Ida and Gillian camp out in Miss Wilson’s study to catch the Middles, and Jo, looking for a bed at the school for the night, drops in on them unexpectedly. They go up to the roof garden and catch a large group of Middles staging a midnight play. The next day, the prefects hold a meeting to discuss the punishment, and Nancy Wilmot suggests they be made to hold the play in front of the entire school, or else receive a Head’s Report each.
Fuming, the Middles elect to hold the play, which was written by Elizabeth Arnett. She is most indignant that the tragedy she had written is received by the audience as a comedy.
Half term arrives, and while most of the school go to hotels in Salzburg, Jo, Robin, Irma and Paula go to stay with Wanda, where they discover that the Balbinis are cousins of hers, and that the twins are staying with her for the present. They and the rest of the school spend a glorious time sight-seeing in Salzburg.
On the way back, one of the charabancs is trapped on the road by torrential rain, and its occupants are forced to spend an exciting if uncomfortable night in it.
The end of term garden party is held, and the girls make a Guides show of it. Jo shows Louise a copy of Cecily Holds the Fort, which has just arrived. Anne, ironing some signalling flags, is distracted and leaves the iron switched on and face down, with the result that Hall catches fire. It is extinguished without much damage, but Louise dives into Hall to try and save Jo’s book and has to be dragged out by Hilary, and both of them are scolded for losing their heads in such a manner.
So, what did you think of this book? Do you agree with EBD giving the Headship to Miss Annersley? What do you think of the merge with St Scholastika’s? Thoughts on the Mystic M and their deeds, and their tragic conclusion? Did you like the trip to Salzburg?
'Sometimes... I wish someone would come along and just give me a big, long hug.' - Kel'Thuzad