The two French girls were momentarily stunned into silence. The girl was a little younger than even Coralie, but she could speak French as well as Basilie could English.
Coralie was the first to recover her breath. “As a matter of fact I live in England half the time anyway, so I can speak that as well as French,” she said, dropping into the girl’s home language. “We’re sisters – Élodie, Basilie and me – Coralie.”
“What delicious names! Are they French? Are you French at all, come to that?”
“We’re half-French. Dad is English, though, and I live with him in England in term-time,” Coralie said. “The other two go to school in France. Well Élodie just finished school, but anyway!”
“How old are you?” Blaise addressed the question to Basilie, who had been silent and vigilant while our old friend Blaise made her bold introductions.
“I am fourteen years old,” Basilie managed in stilted English.
“She can’t tell English from Dutch,” explained Coralie. “And she’s only nearly fourteen. Well, I’m ten and Élodie is eighteen. We’re here with Dad, who has business in Jenbach. So we’re staying in a holiday cottage for a month or so on our own, and he comes up a couple of times a week to check on us.”
“We’re here for a glorious two months because my sister Dee had pneumonia in May and she still isn’t especially well. There are ten of us here,” Blaise said proudly. “But there’s only us six going to Jenbach today, including Apollo, our dog, who’s always included. The others went by car.”
“Nine brothers and sisters?” said Coralie incredulously. “That’s a huge family.”
“Oh no,” Blaise said. “There’s only six of us in that respect, except Geoff, who died before I was born. But I’m with Dad and Lindy and Serena and Aoife, of course. I couldn’t forget her.”
“Is she your Mum?” Coralie asked curiously as Basilie, not following the conversation, turned to Élodie.
“No. Mum died three years ago,” Blaise said, a slight shadow framing her mobile face. “We came here six years ago because she was ill like Dee, and it prolonged her life three more years, Dad says. I guess that’s why we had to come here. Aoife explained it all to me last night.”
“We don’t have Maman, either,” Coralie said. “She died when I was born from various complications. I don’t know what. But she wanted the other two to go to school in France, but as Daddy’s job is in England, he took me when I was four as being the youngest, leaving the other two with Tante Amélie to be schooled in France. We like to talk to each other in French and at home, though, because it was Maman’s language. Of course, Élodie remembers her most.”
“Same with Aoife. I think she isn’t twenty till November. That’s quite old, actually. I never realised she was that old.”
The pair lapsed into companionable silence. They were the same age, as like as not, and both were motherless. In those few moments a bond began to form between the two similar girls. They gazed at the moving landscape as the model train began to descend down the mountain, slowly and with a scattering of soot-clouds. The train soon pulled into the station, and dispatched its passengers. Blaise and Coralie exchanged notes.
“I’m sure we’ll see each other again,” said Blaise. “It’s a small world up there.”
“Do you like boating? We love boating, and we have a boat ourselves, called Ophélie, after Maman. Perhaps we can take you on the lake.”
“Dan knows a bit about boats, but the rest of us have hardly been on a ferry,” Blaise replied cheerfully. “Sorry, Coralie. We don’t know a thing about boats, and no mistake. We’d probably capsize the thing. I’ll see you. Maybe when we do meet I can introduce the rest of my lengthy family to you. You’ll like Aoife. She’s the best.”
With this parting shot, the English party, Apollo faithfully at their heels, vanished into the station crowds, and the three sisters were left alone.
“Butter and apples?” suggested Élodie.
“Yes. We might need some water too. It’s a good idea to get it while we can.”
“Can we see Daddy?”
“He’ll be working at this time, Coralie. Besides, he’s coming for dinner tomorrow,” Élodie said gently. “Are you ready yet, Basilie?”
They made an attractive group, walking three-abreast on the pavement. They were very alike for girls of different ages, with long dark hair, straight but by no means flat, startling violet-coloured eyes and tall figures. Indeed, Élodie and Coralie were a little on the plump side, but this was natural and not unbecoming. They were obviously sisters, and more than one person cast questioning looks at the three pretty half-French girls as they ran their errands.