The phone rang. Philip ignored it. It was not his job to answer the phone. Ring. He moved on to the next file. Ring. The phone kept ringing. Ring. There was no one here to answer it. Ring. Everyone was out on a teambuilding trip. Ring. Maybe it had rung before and there had been no one there to answer it either, but now he was here. He sighed and leaned over. If he did not answer they might get a bad name.
The person on the other side of the line did not seem to care what he had said about being in the school's Financial Department. She went right ahead with her story after introducing herself nearly breathlessly as Princess Anna of something or other. "You will already be aware that my son Frederick is starting at your school this summer. I need to talk to you about him."
He had never heard of Princess Anna. He vaguely knew her homeland to be a small country in Europe somewhere, but he did not know who ruled it. The only thing he knew was that they indeed had a prince coming, who would pay full tuition, no discount or scholarship, but he had not registered where this boy was coming from. Such things were of little importance in the Financial Department. Only money mattered. "But I am -"
"My son will be going to your school because his current school is not a good environment for him," the princess continued. She had a slight accent. "I would like to discuss this with someone at your school, because all the information we have received seems positive in this regard. However, because he is a bit fragile you will need to keep a close eye on him."
Philip assumed she was not speaking to him personally. Most people who phoned the school did not realise they could not immediately start telling their story. Only a handful were not put out if they turned out to be speaking to someone who could not help them out directly. He and other staff had been lectured to listen politely and then put them through to the person they needed. He rarely answered the phone, but he had remembered this much.
"It's not that difficult. You will need to check if he is being treated well by his classmates and teachers. How the environment is. Is it positive and nurturing? Stimulating intellectually and emotionally? And sometimes you will just need to talk to him to see how he is feeling."
Philip liked numbers. He liked facts, too. And accounts, from which only one conclusion could be drawn. Feelings and ambiguity were not quite his thing. The more this woman continued, the more he felt ill at ease. "But I am -" he tried again.
"My son is a prince. Not everyone treats him nicely because he is a prince. At his current school some children are giving him a hard time because of who he is. They are jealous of his title and I don't know of what else. They want to prove they are better, or stronger, or whatever regardless. Their parents are probably behind this. I need someone at your school to act as a mentor. And of course to make sure that the other boys treat him normally - and the teachers too."
Treat him normally? Philip was a little bemused. He was well on his way to thinking of this fragile little prince as a spoilt brat, but the child needed to be treated normally?
"He's very clever, but he doesn't always know it. You see, at his current school his classmates were telling him that he only got good marks because he was a prince, but he's actually good at a lot of things. But he's a very shy boy with glasses and braces and he hit the other boys only once."
Philip listened patiently, waiting for an opening. So the little prince had hit back, but he was so sweet. He was sure the teachers at this school had heard such stories numerous times before. Most likely the boy had been expelled - or been advised to seek another school. When the princess paused to take a breath, he tried again. "But I am -"
"May I have your name?"
"Philip...Smith. I work in -"
"Philip Smith. I am noting this down," the princess continued. Obviously she needed only a little air between speeches. "I will call you regularly to see how Frederick is doing. He really is a sweet boy and -"
Check, he said to himself. Sweet.
"--you will find he is really no trouble, but I am very worried about him. I can't see him in a public role, to be honest, not yet. Certainly not if this continues. He will be so far away now. Oh! And he doesn't speak any English that I know of. He will be taking your summer language course before he starts the regular classes. But he may still perform well below his abilities when school starts. I think you will find that if you let him take an intelligence test he would score pretty high. Are intelligence tests standard procedure in your school? They were not in his old school, but they should have been, because it would have prevented a lot of nuisance."
"I am sure they will be employed when required," she spoke on. "Such as before pupils are admitted, but you don't have to tell me that. I know how it works. However, my son is not admitted on the basis of his academic achievements, but on the basis of his title. This means you should not fall into the trap of underestimating him, but he must receive the proper mentorship and guidance."
It went on for some time. Philip was slightly bewildered when he hung up.
"A woman to see you. Asks specifically for you?" Karen's expression was intrigued. "A princess."
"A princess? Princess who?" he asked if it was a daily occurrence that princesses showed up here for him.
"A Princess Anna."
He frowned. She had said she would call, which he had not been worried about, because when everyone else was back at work there was no way they would pass such a call to him. Parents calling about pupils would be connected to people actually dealing with pupils. But he had not expected her to come in person. "Here? Why?"
"Who is she?"
"It's the mother of one of our new pupils. I happened to answer the phone when she called, because everyone was out."
"What does she want with you? She can't pay the tuition fee?"
"I think she wants to talk about her son. I tried to tell her where I worked and that had nothing to do with pupils, but I couldn't get a word in."
"And she calls you Philip Smith, why?"
"Because I called myself so. Not unclear, is it, given that you knew it was me."
"I'll ask them to take her here." Karen wanted to see her too, that was clear.
The appearance of Princess Anna was surprising to say the least. A bit young. The prince's second wife? It was possible. She glided regally into the office he shared with Johnny. "Can he leave us alone?"
Johnny took it as an order and went to gossip with Karen. Johnny never took anything as an order, not even orders.
"Your Royal Highness," Philip tried. Perhaps if he took the initiative he would get a few words in and he would be able to direct her to one of the houses. There was very little he could do. This was the Financial Department. They dealt with money.
"Mr Smith. I came to see you about my son Frederick. Over the phone I didn't feel as though you really understood."
"But you sounded nice."
He had barely said a word, so this amazed him.
"My son is very unhappy about having to go away so far," she said, leaning forward. "All the way to England. Do you know how far away that is? This may be the first good school off the ferry, but it's still a long drive. I think maybe five hours. He needs a friendly face in this foreign land and no one cares about it except me. That's why I'm here. What is your subject?"
"What do you teach?"
"I don't actually teach," he answered. "I am only filling in for -"
"But which subject?"
"Economics." He remembered he did more, sometimes. It was no use keeping it from her. She would find out. "Swimming. Rowing."
"But you don't actually teach." She raised her eyebrows, as if his answer was contradictory to what he had said earlier.
Philip thought it was not. "I'm an accountant."
"Then why do you teach?"
"They wouldn't want me to tell you that."
"But I do." Clearly Princess Anna would wait for an answer, even if he did not want to give one. She crossed her arms expectantly.
"The school is not actually doing all that well financially," he revealed. He knew he should not have said that, but he also knew she would not have accepted anything but the truth. Telling her this secret could get him into trouble, though. He looked a bit worried.
"So they let the accountant teach, instead of letting him do the accounting."
"I do both. It saves money."
"The school must then be really happy to have a real prince."
"I suppose so."
"They would want him to stay for a few years, make his time as pleasant as could be."
He slowly shook his head. She wanted to force him to make that boy's time as pleasant as could be. Of course, the boy's parents were paying the full tuition sum and they were royals, which might attract other wealthy customers. "That's blackmail."
"I wouldn't dare," Princess Anna said sweetly. "By the way, you have girls here?"
"We have day girls."
"Servants?" She looked confused.
"Day girls are servants where I live."
Philip blinked. "They are pupils who don't board."
"You need to do something about this degrading and sexist terminology," she decided.
"Me?" He looked perplexed.
"Will Frederick be in contact with these girls?"
"I cannot say. It's possible, I suppose." The girls did not take separate classes, but he had no idea how many there were in each year and which classes they were taking. He expected her to tell him to look it all up.
"He needs to watch out for girls. He will be the king one day."
The connection between the two things escaped him, perhaps because he was already wondering how to look things up. "So?"
"There are a lot of girls who want to be princesses or queens, you know," she explained patiently, although with a slightly exasperated air. "But they don't know what it really entails. Not everyone is suitable. I think he's not interested in girls yet, but they may be in him. How will he keep them away? Someone needs to advise him in this matter."
"Me?" Philip looked perplexed again. He did not think he was the best candidate for that.
"Good, it's nice to have that sorted," she said, standing up. "I must introduce you to him now. I told him to wait downstairs."
"I think I must introduce you to the appropriate persons. But I think all the summer pupils are due tomorrow?" he remembered. The appropriate persons might not be at work until tomorrow morning. What was he to do with her?
"Yes, that is why we came today. I fear he will feel lost if there are so many new things at once. This is quite a different environment for him."
The poor boy might actually be glad to be rid of the constant close attention, he thought, like so many other boys before him. He rolled his eyes at the wall, because it would certainly not be appreciated by a princess.
Outside the room, Karen and Johnny were lurking, of course. He ignored them. He did not have to ask the princess where the boy was, because she seemed to know the way. He merely followed.
The large entrance hall seemed empty. Only after a good look around could he make out the figure of a boy sitting hunched on the floor.
"Frederick?" called the princess and the boy reluctantly stood up. She talked to him in a language he did not understand and the boy quickly looked towards him and then back to the floor.
"I must ask which house he's in," said Philip, eager to leave them to someone else. He did not understand why he was not simply leaving them alone, but he suspected he would be reprimanded by his superiors if he did that to a princess. "But I don't know if that houseparent is in today, really."
The princess did not seem to care about houseparents. "You must show us around. Frederick will feel better if he has been shown around."
"Does he understand what we are saying?" He looked at the boy, who was taller than he had imagined and not at all physically fragile, but who so far appeared to be as plagued by shyness, braces and glasses as the princess had implied. However, there was no way he was her biological son. She was too young, yet there was a surprising physical resemblance.
He had reason to doubt that, based on a slight movement the boy made. "I think some of our houseparents may speak French."
"Oh god, you insular ignoramuses," the princess said with a guffaw.
He would look continually perplexed if he spent more time in her company. "I beg your pardon, Your Royal Highness?"
"Our being from the Continent doesn't mean we speak French at home."
The boy's eyes lit up upon seeing the sports facilities, even though they looked less grand than in the brochure. The paint of the boatshed was peeling, but he did not seem to notice.
The princess did, however. "The mathematics teacher will be painting it this summer, I assume? It saves money."
"I'll make the suggestion."
The boy said something to his mother. She translated it. "He asks what can be done on the lake and if it's for all pupils."
"There are rowing boats and canoes, but he can also swim. If he knows how, that is." Again he noticed a reaction in the boy. He was now fairly sure that little Frederick at least understood English, even if he might not know enough or be confident enough to speak it.
They moved on to the playing fields and Philip explained which sports could be played there. He was almost afraid to show the tennis courts, because the nets were in a state of disrepair, but again the boy did not seem to care. "We have ordered new nets," he said for Princess Anna's benefit.
"Excellent," she replied. "Do I need to send him his tennis racket?"
"I have no idea."
"I've never been to the tennis courts before. I've only been working here for a few months. In the Financial Department," he repeated, in case the previous attempt to let her know had not succeeded. "Not as a tennis instructor."
"Surely they showed you around."
"The equipment store rooms weren't considered relevant. I was also not shown around in the houses or inside any of the classrooms."
"They were in a hurry, were they," the princess commented. "Are you implying you won't be able to show us around?"
"I can show you where the rooms are, but I may not know enough about them."
"Oh. Well. I'm sure that's more than enough for him today."
When he returned to his office, Karen and Johnny were chatting. Karen was even sitting on his desk. "Well, well," she said. "Who was that?"
"A princess, apparently. You've already asked me that."
"Yeah, I know, but since when are you acquainted with princesses?"
"Since Reception was out on that teambuilding thing and they didn't answer the phone." He shrugged and gestured for her to get off his desk.
"But now that Reception is back, she still asks for you?" Karen raised her eyebrows at Johnny, who smirked.
"Apparently. Are you upset she didn't ask for you?"
"So you showed her around, eh."
"The boy. It was about the boy." And, he wanted to say, she was married. But he did not say it, because he did not know if they were hinting at anything.
"It's always about a boy."
"Get back to work," he advised her. "Have the tennis nets come in yet?"
The next day the summer students would arrive. Most arrived in the course of the day, but Frederick, who had stayed in a hotel nearby, was dropped off early by his sister. Philip's office looked out over the drive and he did not miss their arrival. He would not say he had been waiting for it, but he had enough time to look.
The boy walked with more confidence today. Having been shown around might have helped. Surprisingly no one phoned his office or asked for him. They handled it all downstairs. He wondered if she was going to tell Frederick's houseparent that he had been ordered to keep an eye on the boy. It would look less strange if they were actually acquainted, since he supposed it happened with boys who were related to the staff, but in his case it might be rather odd.
Of course the princess might not seriously contact him. She might simply have said so, but now that they had had their tour and the boy seemed comfortable she might no longer think it necessary. Philip thought that if he ran into the boy by accident this week he could ask which house he was in - assuming the boy acknowledged the fact that they had met - and maybe how he was doing.
In the afternoon Philip was called by the Headmaster. He assumed it was something to do with finances, since the head of his department had gone on holiday and he was now in charge. He would otherwise not be needed. But that was not it.
"Sit down, Mr Hartington-Smith," the Headmaster said invitingly. "I heard you've spoken to a Princess Anna? Could you tell me something about that?"
He wondered if Karen had been to see him, or if someone else knew. "She phoned when there was no one else to answer the phone and she sort of latched on to me. I couldn't get rid of her. Not that I think that you'd appreciate it if I had tried to get rid of her? A princess?"
The Headmaster did not confirm or deny that.
Philip shrugged. "When she came here in person, she asked me to show her son around, so I did, and then they went away." He did not understand why the Headmaster needed to know all this or why it was at all interesting.
The Headmaster thoughtfully picked up a file. He showed Philip a photograph. "This boy?"
"That's a relief. Although anyone with glasses and braces might be made to look like him. Are you sure?"
Philip dutifully looked again. "Yes, sir." He did not know why anyone would want to impersonate the boy or why the Headmaster was afraid of it.
"There's still a problem, though."
"You cannot imagine what the problem is?"
"The lady who was with him cannot have been Princess Anna."
"I've just spent an hour leafing through my wife's tabloids, Mr Hartington-Smith," said the Headmaster, patting the pile of magazines on his desk. There were a few still in front of him with yellow page markers. "It was very interesting. I am now doubting whether to call the family's contact number."
"May I ask why?"
"You do not see? No, evidently you do not. Reception told me what she looked like. That was intriguing, because Princess Anna is Prince Frederick's mother. She looks -" The Headmaster picked up a magazine and showed Philip a photograph. "--like this."
Philip studied the photograph, taken at some royal wedding somewhere, of Prince Henri and Princess Anna. Although the woman in the picture could be related to the Princess Anna he had met because they were both tall blondes, they were definitely not one and the same. This one was older. "Oh."
Philip handed back the magazine. "So...whom did I speak to?"
The Headmaster folded his hands. "I was hoping you would be able to tell me that."
"I realised she could not be his mother, but since I don't have a wife who reads tabloids, I don't know any of these people. I thought she might be his stepmother. But she did say she was his mother. Oh." She could not be his stepmother if Prince Henri was still married to Princess Anna. He did not know what to make of it.
"But sir, what does it really matter? She did not kidnap the boy. She's only passing herself off as his mother."
"And why would she do so?"
"She said no one cared about it except her?" Philip recalled. "About the boy going away so far and being shy and everything. And I have to say she was really concerned about him."
"How did he behave towards her?"
"As if he was glad she was there? She had to translate for him. Oh, and they might be related. They do look a little alike."
"Related. Hmm." The Headmaster picked up another tabloid with a page marker. He passed it to Philip.
"Yeah!" he said in surprise. "That's her."
"It never occurred to you?"
"No! I don't know these people." He looked at the photograph. Princess Isabelle, attending Wimbledon with boyfriend Oscar. "All right. But who is she? In the family tree, I mean?"
"It says the king's granddaughter, so presumably she's his sister."
"Oh well," he said in relief. "That's at least legitimate. And now what?" It seemed the Headmaster had already solved the mystery on his own, so he supposed he was no longer needed.
"I don't know," said the Headmaster. "As soon as I heard Princess Anna was here, I tried to find her, but she could not be found. She had only dropped Prince Frederick - whom we should call Frederick, I've been told - off here and then left. Which struck me as odd, until I heard she had had received a full tour yesterday from you, of all people."
"Well, I don't know why she chose me, of all people," Philip answered. "Unless it was because on that one day I happened to answer the phone. I thought of not answering it, but I thought I'd get in trouble if I didn't, in case it was a parent."
"I've only spoken to Prince Henri's secretary over the phone," said the Headmaster. "Which was a little strange, though perhaps it was their way of doing it, but I had at the very least expected one or both of the parents here this week. Do you know if they're coming?"
Philip frowned. "Did he let his secretary pick a school?"
"I cannot say, but he let his secretary phone. Did the princess tell you if - no, she cannot have. She could hardly say she was Princess Anna and that another Princess Anna would be arriving the next day," the Headmaster said, thinking out loud. "What did she tell you?"
"She talked about her son - I mean, brother. What he is like and how he was not treated well at his old school and how we should treat him and how someone should check regularly how he was feeling. And because I was the first person to answer the phone, she appointed me in that position. But sir, I'm only in the Financial Department. I'm not qualified to - "
The Headmaster interrupted. "You are nevertheless the only one who's been in contact with the family."
"Against my will."
"The young lady did not ask to see me."
"I'm sorry, sir." He had not prevented her from doing so.
"Don't be. If every parent demanded to see me, I wouldn't have time to do my job."
Same here, Philip wanted to shout.
"Of course the young lady would have known that I would have realised she was not whom she said she was," the Headmaster reflected. "And as such her behaviour would have been atypical. But the boy worries me."
"I'm in the Financial Department. I'm not qualified to discuss pupils."
"So will she contact you when she needs information?"
Philip sighed. "When she came here in person she asked for me. I don't know what she thinks I could do. I don't even know if it's necessary. The boy didn't seem too odd. I think he'll be fine."
"Which sports are you involved in after school?"
"Rowing and swimming."
"Is he likely to take to one of them?"
"Yes." The boy had definitely displayed some interest.
"Excellent. Now since we don't really know the family's position in this matter, we need to take some care."
"Surely you don't think the boy's father told his sister to pose as his mother?" With this new information, he had to conclude that the boy's father had no idea, but the sister's actions did not really make sense to him.
"No, definitely not. But I don't think that informing the father that his daughter posed as his wife will be a good idea."
"She seems to be doing what they're neglecting to do. Would the father like to hear that? I doubt it. It wouldn't be a good idea. Neither for us nor for the boy. So, the boy is here and he'll need some special attention."
"Actually, sir, she said he needed to be treated normally."
"I meant, keeping in mind that he doesn't seem to have parents who'd care to see him off on his first day of school in a foreign country," said the Headmaster, who had children of his own. "Of course we treat all our pupils normally. Keep an eye on him, answer his sister's questions and then we'll see."
"Can I not refer her to you?" Philip asked with a hopeful look.
"If she had wanted to be referred to me, she would have told you immediately. I have enough experience with parents to know that. For some reasons she's intent on dealing with you."
Philip was still in the dark as to why that was a good idea. "I'm not a therapist."
"You probably speak and look like a trustworthy young man."
He wrinkled his nose. "But if it's an important matter, why leave it to me? I mean she might not understand my position in this school, but you should."
"It must not be so important then. It's very probably only a concerned sister - and we cannot really thwart a princess. I give you permission to talk to her. If it gets out of hand, or if you sense there are serious problems, come to me. But she's overseas. She's hardly going to come here every week. Once in a while she's going to phone you and you're going to tell her that her brother is fine and then she'll hang up."
"Ha ha," said Philip.
"I hope you came to work at this school because we have our pupils' best interests at heart and not their parents' bank accounts."
"I'm in the Financial Department."
"Yet you volunteered to help out in other places," the Headmaster pointed out. "Instead of simply depriving the pupils of their lessons because we didn't have the money to continue them."
Philip looked away. "But sir, it's this family's bank account that's motivating you."
"In a sense," the Headmaster admitted readily. "If we can keep him on board, we might in a few years be able to offer more and better facilities that all pupils will benefit from. In the meantime, the boy should have a good time here."
"Well, I suppose it would do the boy little good to be sent to yet another school if we antagonise the family..."
"Precisely." He looked at the file. "He's only twelve years old."
"He shouldn't suffer from his sister's being off her rocker, is what you're saying."
"Precisely. Although I've not met the young lady personally and I've only heard stories. Did she strike you as crazy?"
"No," he admitted. "Only determined to get the best for her brother and making use of her title to get it."
The Headmaster had been right. The princess did not come every week. After the first summer course was over, however, she came again, in spite of the fact that her brother was staying here all through the summer. Philip, who was not due to go on holiday until the last two weeks of the summer break, was in his office. Johnny was away in Spain, so Karen had moved to Johnny's desk. They were just discussing something on the radio, when they had a visitor.
"Good afternoon," she said.
Karen did not recognise her at first, Philip noticed. He did. "Good afternoon," he responded guardedly. "Your Royal Highness." He was not sure if he needed to say that, but if he had said it once he might be all set for the rest of the conversation. She was arrogant, but in a different way.
"I thought that as an act of charity, I should paint your boatshed. I thought I could donate, or link my name to a good cause, or I could actually do something."
Philip was no less surprised than Karen, who switched off the radio. "Oh," he said. The princess was not dressed for it, although he supposed she would not start immediately. He could not imagine her in work clothes, however.
"I phoned your Headmaster to announce the idea, but I was told he's on holiday." She said it as if it was ridiculous for a headmaster to be on holiday.
"Yes, he is."
"You see, I need things. A ladder. I could buy a ladder, but I thought the school might have one."
"Are you serious?"
"Yes. It would be a good way to keep an eye on my son as well."
"Er..." Philip began. He decided he should make this clear before she invented more things. "I don't know what he is, but he's not your son."
"Oh, you found out," Princess Isabelle said without missing a beat. "Oh well. Little brother. I still want to keep an eye on him. How is he doing?"
"I have no idea," he said untruthfully. He did not want to let her think he obeyed her, but for the boy's sake he had sought him out and asked if he was all right - in very rusty and basic French, which had been understood, despite the princess' annoyance about people simply assuming they all spoke it over on the Continent.
"I asked you to keep an eye on him," she said sharply.
"Where are your parents?"
"First of all, I'm not a child. It's no business of theirs where I am. And to satisfy your curiosity, they are on a grand tour of Japan with my grandparents, invited by the emperor. Second, I asked you to keep an eye on my brother. Have you seen him at all?"
"Yes, I have. They are free to do sports after their English classes and I've seen him do rowing twice."
"Did you talk to him?"
"You told me he doesn't speak any English."
"He's been here for days!"
So she expected the boy to be conversant in a foreign language in a few days? "I didn't know he was a genius."
"I told you he was. So you didn't speak to him?"
"I did. He seemed to be fine. He was with two Germans." Because in addition to French and a little English, he seemed to speak fluent German. Perhaps the boy was indeed a genius.
"I have no idea. When are you thinking of painting?"
"Once I have the materials, so probably next week. I am only here for the weekend to keep Frederick company. I'm taking him to London to visit a few museums."
"That's nice," he said.
"I knew you could not be a mother," said Karen. "But then you're not really a princess either, I suppose."
"Why not?" asked the princess after a withering stare.
"Where's your entourage?"
"Mr Smith, please join me for a walk." The princess decided Karen was too stupid for words.
Philip had work to do, actually, but he supposed he could stay half an hour longer today to make up for this break. He followed obediently.
"Do you think I'm not really a princess?" asked the princess when they walked down the stairs.
The woman at the reception desk stared at them and Philip tried to look the other way. "No, I don't. The Headmaster showed me pictures of you in a magazine."
"You were at Wimbledon, or something."
"Oh, that. I suppose it said that I was Princess Isabelle?"
"Oh, that's how you know. Why did the Headmaster think of looking me up?"
"Because you avoided meeting him and parents never do. And presumably because Reception reported that you were only between fifteen and twenty-five." He hoped that estimation was not insulting.
"Oh," she said pensively, stepping out of the front doors. "Girls of fifteen don't drive." She sat down on the front steps in the shade.
Philip followed suit. "Eighteen then."
"At the very least. Do you smoke?"
"Why did the Headmaster want to meet me? Because my 'son' is a prince and I'm a very important parent?"
"I didn't want to push my luck."
"Why didn't your parents come?"
"They're busy. It's very important. It might yield business contracts for our national industries," she said, but her tone was too hard. "But they could have left two days later and taken Freddie here."
He had no insight into the options that were available to princes and princesses. "Are you his only sister?"
"Yes, I am. When you first saw me, did you think I was thirty-five or something, or at least old enough to have a son of twelve?"
"No. I thought you might be his stepmother or something. I'm bad at guessing, but I never thought you were thirty-five."
She studied him. "I think you are speaking the truth there."
"I wouldn't say it if I wasn't. What would be the point? But where is your entourage?"
"I employ it selectively," she said mysteriously. "But if you want to get things done, it's often better not to use an intermediary. What time does Frederick finish?"
"I think around three o'clock."
"Do you live with your parents?"
"No. They're just a bit too far away for a comfortable commute. I rent a room in the village."
"Why a room?"
"So I can save for a house?" He did not know why else.
"Why didn't your parents buy you a house?"
"They have four children. And what would we learn?"
Princess Isabelle considered that very seriously. "I see. They want you to learn how to save money and depend on yourself."
"Yes. Although it's more practical than idealistic. They couldn't afford to buy us all a house."
"It might be a good idea to do it this way with my children," she mused.
"You must still have male primogeniture," he said, remembering she had said her brother would be the king one day.
"Your brother gets to be king."
"Oh, that. Sorry, I didn't know the English words. Yes. I am third in line until he has a child. My children will have to get jobs."
"I'm a nurse."
Philip found it hard to imagine.
"At the moment," she said. "As soon as I've worked in a few different specialisations I want to try something else. Before the summer I spent a few weeks in the army."
"I can only see you as a general."
"That's why I now have plenty of time off."
The Headmaster, having returned from a week in Portugal, summoned Philip again. He expected it to be about his work, but again it was not.
"Your royal friend," the Headmaster began, "has not been idle."
Philip assumed he was referring to her intention to paint the boatshed, because he had no idea what else she had been up to that could interest the Headmaster. It could not be the visit to London, because she had dropped Frederick off at school afterwards. "I suppose not."
The Headmaster tapped a thick envelope with foreign stamps on it. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
"Because she wants to paint?"
"Paint?" The Headmaster frowned. "Paint? Christ, there's more? No, I'm referring to this...er...masterpiece here."
"I'm not following, sir. Do you mean the envelope? Are those receipts for paint and brushes?" He had thought she would pay for those herself.
"Paint? Tell me later. No." He took out some typed sheets that were neatly bound together, the cheap and simple way university theses were. "I mean this."
"What is it?"
"It is..." The Headmaster picked it up and read it. "A Protocol for Intellectually Stimulating the Intelligent Foreign Student."
Philip gaped. He did not know what to say.
"A commanding piece of work," said the Headmaster, leaving it unclear whether he meant Philip's royal friend or the manuscript.
"What is it about?"
"It's a directive. It's what we must do. The envelope contained several directives, but I'll spare you the rest."
"Are you saying Princess Isabelle sent you that?"
"I'm saying she wrote it."
Philip was mystified. "Why?"
"Clearly she hasn't got enough to do. Doesn't she have a job? Or is this what she does all day?"
"Ah well, she's already announced that she'll be painting our boatshed starting tomorrow." That would give her something to do.
"Painting our boatshed? Does it need painting?"
"To the critical eye it does."
"And who's going to pay for it?"
"She is?" he guessed.
"In that case, can she do the entire school? But seriously, when had she thought of asking my permission? For all we know she might make it pink with purple dots!"
Philip did not hear from Princess Isabelle that week. He did see Frederick when he instructed a handful of boys and girls in rowing after their language lessons. "Are you OK?" he asked when Frederick was near.
Despite that very brief answer, the boy did not seem to mind being spoken to. Philip ventured another question. "Do you like the school?"
"Is it too easy?"
If it was too easy, he could say more sophisticated things. "But you are in the second course now. It should be more difficult." The third course was for advanced students, but it only followed after this one.
"Girls in the class are stupid."
"Because they are girls?"
"Because they are stupid. They ask...everything...six times." Frederick looked quite frustrated.
"I hate such girls," Philip commiserated. "But you could read a book in class or I could give you a textbook from one of next year's classes that you could try to read." In about a month the boy would have all of his classes in English. It might be good for him to have a look already now that he had plenty of time to look up words he did not know.
"You ask her."
"Ask who? One of the stupid girls?"
"OK. I'll see if I can do that. Do you miss your family?"
"My mother phoned."
"That's nice." He wondered if that had been from Japan or from home, but he was glad it had happened. He might have given up on these people otherwise. "Will she come to see you?"
"I don't know. I go home the last week."
"That's nice." Or maybe not. The boy seemed to be doing fine here.
On Friday evening he saw Isabelle in the village as he cycled home from the school. She was loading cans of paint into her car. He stopped. "Paint, Your Royal Highness?" he asked. "I hope it's not pink. The Headmaster wouldn't like that."
"No, it's a very neutral colour. He needn't worry."
"Are you staying here? In this village, I mean."
"No, they have no hotel here. Is this where you live?"
"They do have a hotel." In fact, he could see it from where he was standing. But it might not be what she was used to.
"They have something that has rooms. I don't call that a hotel. I don't want to sleep above a cafe. But this village has a few shops at least." She closed the boot of her car.
"You do a lot of driving back and forth."
"And I have read a lot of books on the ferry. It is only while Frederick is settling in. I won't be coming during the school year."
"Your mother phoned, he said."
There was a smile. "Yes, she did and she said he said very little. They are both not very good at phoning."
"Did you send the Headmaster something?"
She grinned now. "Yes, I did. How did he like it?"
"He was baffled."
"He was wondering why."
She did not explain that to him either. Perhaps she thought it ought to be clear. "Where are you going?"
"To my room."
"Where will you eat?"
"There's a kitchen."
"You cook your own dinner?" Isabelle looked fascinated. "And it tastes good?"
"Not always," Philip admitted honestly. "It's best not to experiment."
"Of course it's difficult to eat well in this country in the first place. My hotel is tolerable, but I've had all their dishes by now. Take your bicycle home and bring me a few books. I've run out."
"And then what?" He supposed she wanted to take his books with her.
"And then you can have dinner with me and eat a proper meal. I'll take you back before it gets dark. I hate these roads around here."
"Are you," he said cautiously, "taking me out to dinner so I can have a proper meal for a change?"
"That's what I said, yes."
"You don't think I could cook anything edible?"
"Well, I couldn't, so why should you?" she reasoned.
"I may have been taught."
"So I could fend for myself. I couldn't afford to eat in restaurants very often on my salary. It follows that I must cook my own meals."
Philip returned with two books he had read recently. He was not likely to want to read them again soon and he thought they would last her a few days.
"Thank you. That's very kind of you. You will get them back, of course. I have the school's address if it takes me too long. Now, get in."
"Do I have to address you properly all the time?" He thought she might not mind if he did not, given that she ordered him around like someone she had known forever.
"What did you think of driving on the left?" asked Philip when he realised she might have difficulties with it. Thankfully her driving on the wrong side of the road seemed fine so far.
"I don't see why you stick to it, but I survived. There is a restaurant a girl at my hotel recommended, but I did not dare go alone. They might think I'm there to pick up rich men."
He could imagine that there were few rich girls who dined alone, but would her attitude not matter? If she kept to herself nobody would think she was there for other reasons. "Do people ever think that?"
"Some men always think women are there to be picked up."
"So I'm a sort of bodyguard while you eat good food," Philip concluded.
Isabelle did not look ashamed at all.
"Just wondering, are you paying for me?" He thought he could afford a more expensive restaurant just once. He would not normally ask a girl - or anyone - if she was paying, but this was a peculiar one who might not even mind.
Again she was not embarrassed at all. "Yes."
"You don't mind? Because I could pay." In which case he would pay close attention to what he ordered.
"You are paying a man for company to prevent other men from offering to pay for your company."
"That's brilliant," she said admiringly. "And so true. Only I have noble motives too."
"To get me a decent meal for a change."
"Yes. I'm not taking you to my hotel. I'm dropping you off home before dark. Men who would want to pick me up would like to take me to their room, I suppose."
"You don't look badly fed, no." He wondered if he did.
The restaurant was not far. The car park contained several expensive-looking cars. Philip wondered if he was dressed for it. The staff addressed him at first, but Isabelle made it clear that she was the one who needed to be spoken to.
"Sexist pigs," she hissed at him when they had been led to a table by the window overlooking the car park. "Did you see that?"
"Do you feel unmanly if they don't speak to you?"
"No, but clearly you do."
"They should speak to the one in front, not the man."
"You have ideas on the subject."
"Of course. I notice it everywhere. It's in the laws, it's in the people, it's everywhere. I can't succeed my father even though I'm the eldest child. I had to study nursing because I was a girl. And now they speak to you because they assume you have the money or you will have asked me out."
"What did you want to study instead?"
"I have no idea; that's the infuriating bit," she admitted. "And nursing wasn't too bad, but some options weren't even considered because I was a girl, and not because I might not enjoy them."
"Who decided those things anyway?"
"My grandfather and my father."
"Why not you?"
"Because if you live with them and they pay for you, they decide. That's the way. It's different elsewhere, I gathered since then."
"But they let you drive to other countries on your own."
"That is not status; education is." She gave the menu closer attention. "Do you drink?"
"Not if you don't."
"And I can't. "
They had a nice conversation during dinner and on the way back. It had helped that both were curious about the other's life because they assumed it was completely different from their own. In some ways it was, but there were a lot of similarities in their thoughts and how they viewed the world. She spoke a little about Frederick and what she wanted for him and he could not disagree.
Isabelle dropped him off outside the house he lived in. "How many people live here?" she wondered, looking up at the relatively large house.
"Four. My landlady and three tenants. When will you start painting?"
"I might have a look." In fact, he was almost sure he would.
She said goodbye and he went inside. Completely effortlessly he had been dining out with a girl. Of course there was no awkward romantic angle, although when he examined himself he thought it a pity she had a boyfriend - whom she mentioned only rarely.
Philip had just been for a swim in the lake on Saturday morning when he saw Isabelle was painting. He climbed out and shook the water out of his hair and ears. "You've done quite a bit." He was surprised, because the last time he had looked she had not yet been there. She was wearing a blue coverall and she had a short ladder, as if painting was her regular job. The coverall looked for too new for that, however.
"I don't know what to do with this bit," she said, walking around the boatshed. "Could it be repaired?"
He studied the spot she pointed out. The wood seemed to have rotted away there. "Maybe it should be replaced, but I'm not a carpenter."
She stepped back onto his foot and lost her balance. He steadied her and she ended up in his arms. He did not know how it happened, but their lips brushed against each other and then they kissed and the world exploded in bright colours.
When he regained some awareness, they were lying down, limbs entangled. He saw her face close to his, looking flushed, and she had grass in her hair. He tried to figure out where his hands were. One seemed to be in her hair and she was lying on top of the other one. "What happened?"
Isabelle's mouth moved without speaking. She breathed a little heavily.
"I blacked out," he said, although to be truthful he ought to say he had brightened out. There had been nothing black about it. "How did we end up here?"
"You blacked out?" she asked in a creaking voice.
"Yes. I can't remember. Am I still wearing everything?" he asked, suddenly concerned.
Her eyes widened, as if he was surprising her. "You weren't wearing much to begin with."
"I don't know how to move my hands. Could you please check whether I'm still wearing my swimming trunks?"
"I didn't take them off."
"That's no answer. Maybe I did? I really don't remember what happened."
Since he seemed to be in some distress, she obliged. He could feel her hand sliding down his back, lifting up the waistband and letting it snap back.
Philip breathed a sigh of relief and then found he could move onto his back. She still appeared to be wearing her coveralls, neatly buttoned. Isabelle arched her back and he could retrieve his hand. "But what happened?"
"I didn't know I could make someone black out simply by kissing them," she observed, not looking quite as cool as she usually did.
"Well, it wasn't black," he explained. "It was more like yellow and orange and red and sparkly." He had always approached things rationally, but the sparkly loss of awareness was something else. Of course Isabelle herself was also something else.
"Sparkly. Are you trying to talk me out of my clothes?" She looked a little uncertain.
"No!" he exclaimed. "Keep them on. Please!"
"I had to ask. No one has ever told me this before. My boyfriend said kissing isn't satisfying him enough. He always wants more."
"And then what?"
Isabelle sighed. "I'm now not sure he'd get a sparkly blackout if we proceeded."
"Oh, you haven't tried?" Philip felt faintly uncomfortable discussing her boyfriend. He should not have kissed someone with a boyfriend and he certainly should not make inquiries about how far they had gone.
"Of course not." She sat up and began to unbutton her coverall.
"I'm sweating like a pig in this thing. I'll jump in the lake and then we'll talk, all right?" She shrugged out of the coverall. Underneath she was wearing a bikini. "I've come prepared. I expected I might feel a bit hot at the end of the day. I didn't count on you to accelerate the process."
"I'm sorry. I didn't -"
"It's all right." She studied him. "No sparkly blackouts from seeing me, I see." She lowered herself into the water and paddled around a bit.
Philip felt quite warm himself, although his swimming trunks were still wet. He jumped in.
Isabelle climbed out and returned to the boatshed. She had brought a bag and took out a towel. Then she spread this out behind the boatshed where they had already flattened the high grass. Philip followed her, bringing his own towel and clothes that he had left in the shed.
"Well," she said, stretching out on the towel so she could dry in the sun. "Do you often have blackouts when you kiss girls?"
"Now you didn't really have a blackout, of course, because I noticed no difference in you. So I'm trying to get your measure here."
He grew almost as hot again as before he had jumped in, but now from embarrassment. "I really don't know what happened." Apparently he had carried on with some fervour.
She raised herself on one elbow and studied him. "Nobody has ever lost their mind while kissing me. If anything, they were usually viewing it as a necessary evil to get to more enjoyable things. Or so I sensed. I've always had to keep my wits about me to catch straying hands."
Philip had no idea if his hands had strayed. He looked mortified.
"With them I was not afraid. With you I am."
He looked even more mortified. "Why? What did I do?"
"Nothing. I don't trust myself, that's all. But you don't remember what I did?" Isabelle looked a little anxious.
He frowned and closed his eyes, but he had a feeling he would not be able to put it into words if he did remember. "I'm not comfortable speaking about this."
"I hadn't guessed that yet," she said humorously. "I'm not really either, but I've had to think about the matter recently. I thought I wasn't made for these things, you know."
"Rolling in the grass. Being susceptible to half-naked men."
Philip did not really see what he had to do with that. "And now?"
"I don't know." She leant closer. "Let's try. Don't have a blackout. Please."
He felt her lips on his and kissed her back. Although it was not quite as thrilling as the first time, he pushed her away after a few seconds.
"Thank you," she said.
"What for?" He was confused.
"For stopping me."
For stopping her? He was still confused.
"Mr Smith..." she said. "Could I use your first name now that we've been intimate?"
"We haven't, have we? You're not keeping that from me to spare me?" They had been quite pleasurable entangled, however. At least, he had.
"In a sense we have. But could I?"
"Yes. It's Philip."
"I know that. You told me over the phone."
"Oh. I wasn't sure you'd remembered."
"Why shouldn't I? You've been most helpful. Philip. Consider me boyfriendless. I'm going to break up with him."
He looked alarmed. "Because we kissed?"
"What will you tell him?"
"That we are not suited."
"And you found this out today?"
"No, I knew it before - vaguely."
"And what will you do with me?"
"I don't know," she said, studying him. "I'm a princess. I have duties already and will have more in the future. Not everyone can handle that. Plus, I'm the sanest member of my family, but they're extremely interfering. It wouldn't be merely a question of being able to handle me. There are all those other people. But, suppose I was someone ordinary, what would you do with me?"
"I...er...suppose I would do something ordinary? Like ask you out?" If she had been someone ordinary, he would like to continue the acquaintance.
"To where? Parties at your house?"
"My landlady doesn't allow female visitors. I don't think she'd allow parties either. I've never tried. I suppose we'd go to the cinema. You seem to be picky about restaurants." He was not very imaginative in this respect.
"When would you tell your parents?"
"I have no idea. What do your parents think you're doing?" He could not imagine they knew she was painting a boatshed. It did not seem to be a very royal activity.
"That I'm visiting a friend. A girl. I didn't tell them I was going to paint."
"But they don't really care." He wondered if she lied to them if they asked, or if they simply never asked what she was up to.
"My mum might, but she's not strong enough to stop me. I'm on my own."
Isabelle had never viewed it like that. "Is it?"
"You're looking after your brother, but who's looking after you?"
"I don't need looking after."
She might have said she did not need looking after, but there was at least one person who strongly disagreed. As Philip walked back towards the school, fully dressed, with his towel in his hand, he encountered an angry-looking Frederick. "What's the matter?" he wondered, expecting there had been a conflict between some boys. Although after a few seconds he realised that a lot of summer pupils had gone home last night or this morning and that the new ones would not arrive until tomorrow.
Frederick said a lot of things in his own language. The only recognisable word was Isabelle.
"Isabelle?" asked Philip. "What about her?"
The boy's eyes shot fire. He said some more.
"I'm sorry. I don't understand you. Can you try in English?"
The boy nodded. "You kissed Isabelle and you throwed Isabelle on the ground."
Philip's eyes widened. "No! I did not throw."
"You throwed," Frederick maintained. "I can throw you."
There was no doubt he would have attempted it had he been taller, but Philip still had the advantage of height. "I did not throw, I fell." But he blushed at the idea someone had seen something.
"You falled." Frederick sounded sceptical.
"Yes, I fell."
"I hate Isabelle's boyfriend."
"He is an idiot."
Well, that was as good a reason as any, Philip supposed. He glanced back towards the lake. "She says she has no boyfriend."
She had not said she had a new one either and he had told her he needed to run off because he had things to do. Which had been true, but it might have been out of fear. He needed some time away to make sense of the situation. It was not a usual occurrence for him to find himself kissing a girl and then losing it. He did also not regularly meet princesses.
Frederick frowned at this. "No boyfriend?"
"You ask her." He repeated it in French, which was only a little better than Frederick's English.
The boy ran off.
He showered in the changing rooms for the playing fields. Then he went to the economics classrooms. Some new textbooks had arrived yesterday and he and the main teacher in the economics section were going to unpack them and replace the old books on the shelves. The classics and French sections had done it earlier that week, but unfortunately John could only come in on Saturday and Philip had not wanted to do it alone. That was really too much work for someone who did not teach much.
John had brought his two children to make the work go faster, since it was not difficult, only time-consuming. Philip did not know if it helped; the youngest was only four.
"Are you here all summer?" John wondered. "Aren't you going away?"
"For longer than a day? The last two weeks. My work goes on during the holidays, remember." He was not teaching staff. He was only doing two hours.
"Oh, right. Isn't it boring when we're all gone?"
"I've just been for a swim in the lake," Philip said with a shrug. "Just like a holiday. And there are plenty of people here over the summer." He did not mention Isabelle.
"I saw the summer kids in the village this week. They seem to get younger every year."
Some of them were very young to be abroad on their own, he agreed. "I'm not sure my youngest brother could do it and he's fifteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Something like that."
"Are you going somewhere?" asked Isabelle when she saw him unlock his bike.
"Yes, I have a train to catch."
"I have a car."
"You have to paint."
"It's going to rain."
He looked at the sky. It was. "And what do you suggest?"
"I can drive you there. Where are you going?"
"To my parents' house. Until Sunday evening. Are you staying?" He studied her coverall, open at the top, but the bikini was not visible. She would need some other clothes before she drove him there, he would say. But he did not question her wish to drive him. It was enough to be able to spend more time in her company.
"Maybe. I don't know. I'd like to see how the natives live. I'll have to get Frederick and ask him. I'll pick you up at your house."
Since that sounded like an order, he shrugged. "And clothes."
"Obviously. In half an hour."
Philip looked alarmed. "You'll drive yourself into a hedge that way."
"I'll take care."
Philip wondered what his parents would say if he brought two guests, one of whom was a girl. Frederick had agreed to come and they had picked him up in the village. He did not really know why they wanted to come or what they were going to do once they were there.
Since he had been unable to predict what his parents would say, he had given up. Bringing a female friend was hardly different from a male one and their house was always open for guests. The only thing that might really surprise him was that he had not known her for long. Or that she was a princess. He would not tell his parents if she did not.
He also wondered what Frederick had asked his sister and what he was now thinking about this trip. It was not possible to ask, because the boy understood too much English by now. Brother and sister could talk about him without him knowing, however, because he could not understand their language.
But of course that could be remedied. "Teach me some phrases in your language," he said to Frederick. Isabelle translated this for him, but he was sure it was not necessary.
He rang the bell when they got there. He now knew six new phrases he could remember, although his pronunciation still left something to be desired. He did have a key, but he always rang first to let people know someone was coming in. His mother appeared as he stepped into the hall.
"Did you bring guests as well?" she asked, seeing two people with him. "Are they staying for dinner?"
"Hello Mum," he said, a little confused by her chaotic energy. She was usually more organised. "Yes, I suppose." It would be a little unmannered to send them off before dinner, although to be honest he had no idea if the cooking here was up to Isabelle's standards.
"Anthony?" his mother called over her shoulder. "Two more. I'm sending him to the butcher's," she explained to Philip, "because everyone brought unexpected dinner guests. I thought we were six, but now we're twelve. Sorry. I had to catch him before he went."
"This is Isabelle," Philip said in response to her look. "And her brother Frederick. He's taking a summer language course at school."
"Hello. Welcome. Be prepared, it's busy here. Now I have to see how Daniel and his friend are doing with the lunch preparations. By the way," she said as she turned back to them. "I thought you'd arrive on the 12:27?"
"We came by car."
"Oh! All right." His mother disappeared through the door that led to the kitchen.
Philip looked at Isabelle, who seemed calm enough and unfazed by this chaos. "We'll go to the living room." But as he was about to open the door, he could hear a lot of noise coming from the room. One or more brothers were there. "Or maybe the garden?"
His mother popped her head around the door for a quick message. "Are your guests staying the night? Because if they are, you'll need to make their beds."
"You need to do that?" Isabelle was amazed.
"Yes, you don't think my mother is going to pump up six air mattresses, do you?" He laughed, because he could not imagine that. She was fine with her sons bringing friends, but she refused to do all of the work.
"Pump up air mattresses?" Isabelle inquired.
He decided to go upstairs first. "Come."
They followed him up the stairs. Some doors were open and in two rooms mattresses had already been inflated. His room, thankfully, was much neater than those of his brothers, probably because he no longer spent a lot of time there. "Are you staying?"
"In here?" Isabelle looked around. "We'd be sleeping nearly on top of each other. Oh my."
He thought she did not look too put off by that idea. Neither did he, to be honest. "And your brother."
"Does that mean you'll stay? Let me get the mattresses," he said.
"Huh." Isabelle sat down on the bed and studied the room.
Philip went to a cupboard outside the room and took out two more mattresses. Of course someone had used the pump and not put it back. It took him five minutes to locate it under a pile of clothes in Anthony's room. "Sorry," he said when he got back to his room. "Someone had hidden it."
"Do we have to sleep here?" Isabelle wondered. "I thought everyone had spare rooms."
"You wanted to see how the natives lived." And they would have had spare rooms if they had not had four children. As it was, all rooms were filled. He wondered if she had come because she had thought she would get her own room. It had not occurred to him to explain how it was always done in their house.
"True. I can handle it," she said after a moment.
He spread out the mattresses and began to pump.
"Can you really sleep on that?" She touched the mattress with her foot.
"Yes. We go camping on them." He wondered if she knew what camping was. "In a tent."
"I've read about it."
Philip's mother had run up to the room. "Philip? A word?"
"I can't stop. I'm pumping." He would rather put off answering the question if this was his girlfriend. He did not know. And maybe he should have thought about all of this before he went here.
"I'll have a word with your friend then." She beckoned Isabelle.
Philip was curious, but he could not stop. He was pumping. He had just said so. His mother and Isabelle were gone for several minutes until Isabelle came back, alone. "What happened?"
"Your mother had a conversation with me," she said mysteriously. "Frederick can sleep in the laundry room." She picked up one of the mattresses and dragged it away.
Philip sat down on the bed because he did not know what else to do. After some hesitation, Frederick followed his sister.
Isabelle came back alone. She closed the door. She sat down on the bed as well. "As I said, your mother had a conversation with me. She asked me a lot of questions and in the end she went to the pharmacy and got me lots of things. At least she said so. It was a door downstairs."
"My parents own the pharmacy next door. But what did she get you? Are you ill?"
"Contraceptives," Isabelle said gravely. She carefully placed a few boxes on the bed. "But that explains it. She was doing her work. I was already wondering why she was discussing it as if it was a rash or an allergy or something. She probably does this all the time to customers."
Philip dove into his pillow. His mother was being really annoying. "What for!"
"To prevent a pregnancy."
"What is she thinking!" he exclaimed.
"She gave me the choice between the laundry room or contraceptives."
"How about not interfering?" Belatedly he realised what Isabelle must have chosen. He dove into his pillow again.
"Oh, she doesn't assume we'll do anything, but when she found out my family have rather antiquated ideas on the subject, she felt she should equip me for the real world."
"You don't even sound embarrassed." It amazed him. He was embarrassed and he had not even been there.
"Other friends' parents never gave me such a personal welcome. In fact, I doubt they were even there. And, she said, she wished more young people were talked to, because accidents still happen. I said, surely you have talked to Philip a million years ago? So no accidents could happen if he was involved?"
"Argh!" was his muffled response.
"She said you might remember, but it was still important for me to be protected as well. Or maybe she considers me a really unsuitable mother for her grandchildren."
"She doesn't even know you." He wondered why it had come to discussing his mother's grandchildren.
"Exactly. Maybe she would like to know someone a little better before she has her grandchildren."
"But you can't do that with a baby."
"I don't want a baby."
"Your mother saw that right then." She sat looking at him for a while until Frederick came in.
The boy said something to his sister that Philip could not follow. He thought he heard something that sounded like Philip's mum, but he did not understand any of the other words. Then Frederick went away again.
"Where's he going?" Philip thought it odd for a shy boy to look so at ease.
"He's been asked to help with the lunch. Apparently he doesn't mind." She was silent for a few seconds. "It's amazingly good of your mother not to ask the girl for help in the kitchen, but the boy."
"But..." Philip glanced at the boxes. "Did you have to answer her nosy questions?"
"I didn't see them as nosy, exactly. I did work as a nurse."
He did not know how that affected things, but then he was not a nurse. "But did you say anything about this morning?" He felt he was blushing. But maybe it had meant very little to her and he was the only one still thinking about it. To him it had not been nothing.
"Not to your mother. Frederick asked me about it, though."
He remembered now. "What did he see?"
"Not much. The grass is high and he didn't dare to come closer. He -" She stopped to laugh. "--asked me if he should hit you. I said he didn't have to. He wasn't sure at first. I said I had liked it." She looked the other way.
Philip did not know what that meant. "So did I."
"I thought you might." She looked back at him with a small smile. "I asked him if he liked you. He wasn't sure if this episode had altered his opinion of you."
"But I said you were not doing anything I didn't like, so he was prepared to give you a try. As long as I really did dump Oscar."
"He said he was an idiot." It was perhaps dangerous territory to discuss the boyfriend who no longer knew he was the boyfriend and he did so cautiously.
"They don't like each other," she said curtly. "Oscar is well-liked by my father, though. Neither of them think Frederick is very...tough. He feels that, so he doesn't like them."
"He doesn't like his own father?"
"I think not. Not a lot, anyway. He's only twelve." Tears sprang to her eyes. "It makes me so angry. And it made me so happy to see him behave normally here. And so proud that he's talking to strange people in this house and moving around without me."
Philip was not sure what to do. She was not far away, so he hugged her. Hopefully that would help. "He's very tough. He went to school all alone, but he's made friends. He picks things up fast and he helps the other children. He was translating for a German girl, even though he thinks the girls are stupid in class because they ask too many questions." As he spoke about Frederick he felt he did like him. "He's a good boy." And she was a good girl.
Isabelle's body shook as she laughed. "See, that's what I needed someone to look at. Thank you." In a fluent and unhurried movement she raised her head and kissed him.
He responded in kind at first, but then he spoke. "You don't have to thank me that way." He would rather she did it for another reason.
"I wasn't thanking you. I was kissing you."
It was different from that morning. It should have been reversed, really, he reflected as the kiss went on. They were on a bed now and could easily fall, yet there was no blackout. It was merely sweet and addictive.
Frederick came to call them for lunch. He had not knocked, but he did not look as if he wanted to knock anyone out because of what he saw either.
Isabelle adopted a dignified manner. "You know, you could knock." She then repeated it in her own language.
Frederick gave this a puzzled shrug and went away.
"At least he didn't want to hit me," said Philip, who felt a little relieved by that. "He only looked as if it was silly. But we should lock the door next time."
They arrived downstairs looking very innocent. Apart from Frederick, no one would know. Unless he had talked, but he still lacked the vocabulary to gossip.
"Mum!" he hissed when Isabelle had excused herself to wash her hands for a minute. "What did you give her?"
His mother looked unaware of having done wrong. "Things she needs. A girl that age needs those things. What sort of family is she from? If I understood her comments correctly..."
"It's probably what you understood, yes." He was reluctant to name it. It might change the way Isabelle and Frederick were treated and he was not sure that was good, although he did not know exactly why.
"Don't tell your grandmother. But you like this girl, do you?"
"I don't know." He did not want to commit himself to anything. He was only twenty-three and he had kissed her only that morning. What would they do if he said yes? He was a little afraid of that.
"For now. But what did she tell you?"
"I asked her if she was on the pill. She said of course not. So something had to be done if she wanted to stay in your room."
"And how many girls have come to you to say I had got them pregnant?" He felt his mother did not have any faith in him at all. And he had never known there was a rule about girls having to be on the pill before they stayed in any of their rooms. Quite possibly because no one had ever brought a girl with them, although he could not be sure of that, no longer living at home. His brothers might be doing it regularly now.
"How many did you stay in one room with? Look Philip, it's not an order to do something. You don't have to. It's up to you. Both."
"But I can't believe you talked to her!" He still felt embarrassed on Isabelle's behalf. "Why not to me?"
"You were more interested in inflating her bed. Remember I did call you first."
He gave her an angry grimace.
"I was just checking," she said, "but then I discovered she was not prepared."
"It's not your business to check!" He would, if it came to that, be more than capable, he thought. But then he remembered his blackout and he frowned. He frowned some more when he reflected that his mother was incredibly interfering, but that Isabelle was as well. Maybe they thought each other perfectly normal.
"Isn't it? You have no idea how many female customers I get who were not prepared, all desperate for a magical pill to undo what they did. I thought it best to give the boy another room, though, when she did not want it." Clearly she had some thoughts about why Isabelle had not wanted it.
Since Isabelle reappeared Philip did not feel he could talk more.
The table had been stretched to accommodate twelve people. Philip's father had popped in from next door and he had politely shaken hands with new faces. Presumably Philip's mother had informed him that one was a girl when she had stepped into the pharmacy earlier, because he did not display any surprise. Philip's brothers did, including some snickering, but their friends did not care and soon distracted them.
Frederick sat at the end where the youngest boys were sitting and Philip saw that Isabelle looked pleased at how he was holding up. He even seemed to be smiling at jokes, although presumably he could only understand half.
"Did you also go to school here?" Philip's mother asked Isabelle. "Your accent is very good."
"No, I had a private English tutor. And I have some English acquaintances. My aunt lives in London too. We visited her a week ago."
"But you do not live in England?"
"I drive over sometimes. A little more often now that Frederick is at school here."
"You must do a lot of driving. All alone?"
"It's all right. Sometimes it's not, but my parents might give me a bodyguard if I told them. So I don't. I tell them I'm staying with friends, not that I'm in a hotel."
"So they don't know where you are?"
"No, not really." She did not seem concerned, but continued to smile politely.
"But if they ask your friends..."
"Oh, the one whose name I use is the partying kind. She wouldn't even know if I was there or not. She would simply say yes if my father's secretaries inquired."
"And that's a friend." Philip's mother looked doubtful. "A real friend?"
"Not really," Isabelle admitted. "I call it useful. She's nice enough during the day, but that whole crowd has no..." She thought about an appropriate description.
"Yes, that too. My friend does go to a lot of celebrity parties, so maybe she sees that as her purpose. To have achieved her main goal at twenty-one is quite something."
"What is your main goal?"
"To be a respectable representative of my family."
Philip could see his mother was not really impressed with such a stock answer. He felt she was being quite hard on a girl his age, though. Did any of them have admirable goals that were feasible as well? People his age either had no idea or they were not realistic. And they sometimes had friends without purpose.
"Not a family of your own?"
"I'm expected to. And I have to in any case. Frederick says he hates girls. It makes producing the heir a bit difficult," Isabelle said with a smile.
"He will grow out of that," said Philip's father. "Trust me. Besides, there will always be the poor cousins who have children for the fun of it."
"I don't think my grandfather would appreciate it if we left it to our cousins."
"Aren't they his grandchildren as well?"
"Yes. Theoretically it should not matter. But we are not all equal in our family. They've never counted on there not being a son, so the parts about the daughters or cousins succeeding in case there is no son are merely hypothetical. It doesn't mean they were considered to be equally important. Until my parents had only one son."
Philip had no idea if his mother, during her foray into the pharmacy, had managed to tell his father that two of their guests were a princess and prince. But so far his father seemed to think the talk about succession pretty normal. The bit about not all grandchildren being equal was at least recognisable to them all, he would say.
"So all pressure is on the little boy?" asked Philip's father.
"Yes," Isabelle said with a nod. "I'm only a last resort substitute."
"And the poor cousins?"
"My father would consider it a personal failure if he could not get us married and the poor cousins would come into view. It's his main job while my grandfather lives."
After lunch Philip's father went back to the pharmacy. His mother dealt out tasks. "Philip, dishes."
He knew the drill, but he was not sure Isabelle could be asked to assist. All the other boys disappeared, even Frederick. He was left alone with Isabelle and his mother, who began to collect the uneaten food. Isabelle did not appear to have taken the hint. She was staring after Frederick with something like awe.
"It's my turn to help," he explained.
"Yours and your guest's?"
"Primarily mine, but..."
"All right, I'll help. I have had jobs." She piled up a few plates and followed Philip's mother to the kitchen. "Where do I put the plates, Mrs Smith?" asked Isabelle, unaware of the look Philip exchanged with his mother.
"Put them here, thank you."
"Are there ever guests who refuse to help?" Isabelle wondered.
"If they did, I only saw them once," Philip's mother said dryly.
Isabelle blew out some air. "Really."
"It's different in your family?"
"We don't even bring friends to stay. But you would really refuse them access?"
"Oh no! They refuse to come if they don't like it, but I think most just sigh and get on with it. I've never been told about boys not coming back for this reason."
After loading the dishwasher and clearing the table, they had some free time. Isabelle wanted to know where Frederick was, but he was playing football in the garden with a few other boys. "Amazing," she whispered.
"What would you like to do?" asked Philip, who had no idea what he could do that did not involve more sitting on his bed.
"I don't know. What do you usually do?"
"I watch TV or go to my room or do the crossword or go shopping or play football. But you're not dressed to play football," he observed, frowning as he realised that he felt fifteen and not as adult and educated as he was supposed to be. What did you do with a female guest? The same things as with a male guest?
"Should I be?" she asked, misinterpreting his frown.
"No," he said hurriedly. He could not imagine her joining in a game. "I was merely critical of my not being more creative than a boy of fifteen. And I'm realising I don't even know how old you are."
She raised her eyebrows. "Is that important? I'm twenty-two. Could I use your parents' phone? I'll pay. I'd like to tell Oscar we're over. I just want to have that behind me."
"It's in the hall. I'm sure you won't have to pay." He might even pay her to do that. It would otherwise feel as if he was forcing her to cheat on a boyfriend.
"Overseas calls are expensive. It always costs me so many coins."
Philip left her in the hall and went to the sitting room where his mother had started to read a book. "Isabelle is using the phone, is that all right? She said she would pay."
"That's considerate, but I'm sure it won't be necessary."
He picked up the newspaper and started on the crossword. Someone had already started it, which made it a little easier. He half expected his mother to start questioning him, but she did not. Of course she might save that for when it was no longer quiet enough to read her book. These quiet moments had to be savoured indeed.
Isabelle returned after a very long time. "I put a few pounds by the phone," she said. "But I have no idea if that covered it."
"You don't have to pay for the phone," said Philip's mother.
"I insist. I had to make so many calls to reach people."
"You don't look relieved." Philip did not know what he had been expecting.
"Well," she began slowly, apparently not minding that his mother could hear. "It turned out to be complicated. First he would not accept what I said. So I was firm and I also phoned my mother to say what had happened. I mean, to say I had broken up with Oscar, but that he seemed reluctant to believe it. I didn't say I was here."
Philip's mother lowered her book.
"My mother seemed pleased I had done that, but she warned me that it had somehow come to my father's attention that I was not at Estella Edgerley's house and that he was about to send a delegation to England..."
"You said they would not care." Philip ignored his mother dropping her book into her lap at the mention of that name.
"That's what I thought," Isabelle said with a grimace. "But apparently Oscar went to Estella's and found out I hadn't been there at all and he contacted my father..."
"I should consider it a huge pro not to have been at Estella Edgerley's house," Philip's mother remarked dryly.
"Ah, you've read about her."
"Your father has not?"
"Her parents are acquaintances of my aunt Suzanne's..." She gave that a shrug. "But I asked my mother to tell my father to call off the search, because I'm safe. I suppose, though, that when I get back they will confiscate my car, so that I won't be able to go anywhere anymore." She rubbed at her eyes. "But who would come here to see Frederick?"
"You're twenty-two." He was now glad he had asked that earlier. "They cannot do that."
Philip's mother put her book away carefully, under the couch. Things were apparently not safe on the couch in a house full of boys. "Are you serious? You will be punished because you were not at this friend's house? Or because you lied about where you were?"
"I don't know if I lied, because I have every right to change my mind while I'm driving." She spoke as if nobody could argue with that. "And if my parents are not home, why should I inform them that I've changed my mind?"
"But why would you?"
"Mum!" Philip tried.
"They would somehow not say anything if I went to visit Estella, but if I said I went to England to see Frederick, my father would not approve. It would make Frederick a sissy." Her voice choked.
"And what of this man you mentioned?"
"Oscar. I was sort of seeing him before I went here."
"I was never really - and now I knew. So."
Philip wondered if his mother could make sense of that cryptic explanation.
"Perhaps my father liked him more than I did," Isabelle continued. "For reasons that had nothing to do with me. But Oscar was looking forward to being important, I think, so he didn't like it when I said we would never get anywhere. It seemed as if he did not understand I was serious."
"Why would he be important if he stayed with you?"
"My grandfather is important. By the time my father succeeds him, I'll have a significant share of the duties. I'll be important."
"I see. Can you give me your mother's phone number?" asked Philip's mother.
"I could, but it would be useless. My father walks all over her. I tried, but I don't think she'll manage to convince him."
"It's still written on the notepad. I copied it from my address book." She looked too miserable to care. "I forgot to tear off the note."
"Good. Now why don't you two go for a walk?"
Philip would much rather be out of the house than hear his mother make the phone call, although he had heard nothing when Isabelle had been on the phone. He stood up.
"But...what will you tell her?" Isabelle looked concerned. "Not that I have to sleep on the floor, or with a boy, or..."
"I'll see how the conversation turns out. I might not even get through."
They walked side by side in silence for a while. When Philip thought he might no longer see many people who knew him, he cleared his throat. "Why didn't this Oscar want to accept it?"
"His ego? I have no idea." She was quiet for a few moments. "In terms of age he is the most likely candidate to marry me within the country. In terms of birth there would be one or two more, but they're too old for me."
"Do you have to choose from those three or do you have some freedom?" He thought the net was not cast very wide. Whoever cast it - her father? - was not likely to include him in it.
"I think...because I'm not expected to be near the top of the succession line for long, because they assume Frederick will marry, that I'm allowed some freedom. But not enough to marry an illiterate stable boy, of course. If Frederick fails to develop any interest in girls - or just one girl! - my husband needs to be someone who should be able to sustain a somewhat meaningful conversation with important people. And even if Frederick does do his duty I'll need to do my part."
Isabelle turned towards him in surprise. "Why!"
"Because if you'd been a man, all your wife would have needed to do was look pretty."
"Oh, that's true," she said thoughtfully. "That's all my mother needs to do. And husbands are even less important, because they can be made insiders to a lesser extent."
"It's a bizarre way of seeing things."
"I didn't say it was my way. A male version of my mother would drive me up the wall."
"Why, is your mother not nice?"
"My mother is very nice. She is too nice, in fact. But, I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong about her. I thought she thought everyone nice, but she seemed happy I had dumped Oscar, so apparently she didn't think him all that nice."
"Is your mother popular?"
"I suppose. She smiles sweetly, she visits sick children in the hospital and she never does anything scandalous."
"She did not meet your father behind a boatshed," Philip deduced.
"Oh god, are you serious? Of course not! Did your parents?"
"They met each other at university, so they might have." Or in a location similar to a boatshed, naturally. He had no idea if there had been any water there.
"And her preoccupation with preventing 'accidents' is professional in nature, or did you happen by accident in the back of the lecture hall?"
Philip opened his mouth and closed it.
"Don't take me literally. I only meant, were you an accident because they weren't careful? But now I don't think so, because if you have an accident with an awful fellow student you don't go on to have three more just for the fun of it."
"They got married because they liked each other and they had three more children because they liked you."
"I hope. It's not raining," he noticed. She could have stayed at the school to paint.
"It was raining earlier," she pointed out. "It would have been tedious to paint, hide in the shed, paint, hide in the shed, and so forth."
"True. How much time did you set aside for it?" In other words, when would she return home?
"Oh, until Tuesday or so. There's a gala dinner I have to attend on Thursday."
"Because that's what we do. We attend, we smile, we talk a bit. It's not that difficult." She paused for a bit. "Of course people write about us, they comment on what we wear, but we don't have to read that. And of course I wasn't planning to sneak away from official occasions to roll in the grass with anyone, so nobody could ever have anything to criticise in my behaviour."
For some reason Philip believed her.
When they got back, Philip found his mother calmly reading her book in the sitting room. He did not know if it was his place to ask about it first because it was his mother who had made the call, or Isabelle's because her mother had been the one called.
"I phoned your mother," said Philip's mother, putting her book aside. "It's all right now."
Isabelle sat down, looking both perplexed and worried. "It is?"
"I said you and Frederick were here."
"And she thought that was all right?"
"She might not be telling your father that Philip is working at the school and not one of Frederick's fellow students. If she doesn't, it all sounds very innocent."
"It's all very innocent in any case," he protested.
"But you did tell my mother about Philip?" Isabelle clearly did not know if that would be good or bad.
"Yes, I did."
Isabelle hid her face behind her hands. "And I can stay here now?"
"Of course you can stay here."
Isabelle had more questions, but she did not ask them. Philip did not ask them either. He was reflecting on the fact that apparently she wanted to stay here. He still did not completely understand why.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" asked his mother.
"Yes, please," they both said.
Philip turned on the TV. When they had gone home with him he had not counted on having to spend a long afternoon wondering what to do. He watched TV. He did not really know what he was watching, but he could not talk while his mother was still reading.
Ten minutes later, however, a boy came in. "I'm going to get something to drink. All right?"
"All right. No, wait!" said Philip's mother, getting up. "Don't just take it out of the fridge."
"Now what?" asked Philip when his mother had left the room to supervise that the right drinks were drunk first.
"What will my mother be thinking?"
"Knowing my mother she told your mother not to worry because she gave us a box of -"
Isabelle gasped. "Does my mother even know what they are?"
"If she didn't, she will now." Antiquated ideas, his mother had said, but not antiquated information. "But anyway, it doesn't mean they will be used. In fact, this is probably the cleverest way to ensure they won't get used," he realised.
"I'd like to use the toilet, if I may," said Isabelle.
"Of course. It's in the hall." Philip went to look for his mother in the meantime, so he could ask her some questions in private that he would not ask in Isabelle's presence. He found her in the pantry. "What did her mother say?"
"I knew you'd want to know. Her mother sounded very sweet, I think. She already knew Isabelle was not with Estella but with Frederick."
"Oh, right. She phoned him."
"And what about her being here?" That question really contained more questions, naturally. Some were about himself, but he felt too embarrassed to voice them.
Philip's mother carried a few bottles to the kitchen. "That is fine. Her mother is satisfied she will come to no harm."
"You told her what you gave her." He was appalled.
"Of course. If I'd had a girl I'd have wanted someone to look out for her as well."
"What did she say?" Not only was it a subject she should not discuss, but discussing it implied that Isabelle's mother had failed somehow. If his mother had said a girl Isabelle's age needed to be protected against pregnancy, she would be criticising the fact that apparently Isabelle's mother had not considered this necessary. He could not be the only one thinking that.
"She thanked me."
"You're making that up," he decided.
"Why wasn't she offended?"
"Should she be?"
"You were in fact criticising her for not equipping her daughter with the right things."
"She was not offended."
"And what did you say about me? Was she even interested in where her daughter was and with whom?" Isabelle had not given him a favourable impression of her parents. They did not seem to care much.
"She is used to Isabelle floating from one whim to another, she said, but her being in a safe and stable place was a relief. She did ask me about you," she said teasingly. "And about my impression of your relationship."
"What did you say to that?" He did not even know what he would say himself. There was no relationship, but he did not know what it was instead.
"I said I didn't know. Her background might be a problem."
Philip did not know how he would deal with that either. Here, he was in his own environment, but hers would be completely different. It was disheartening, because he did not know anything about it. Maybe he should not let this go too far. Suppose he wanted to see how she lived and he was not allowed?
Isabelle returned, unaware of his sudden gloom. "We haven't finished our tea yet."
He followed her to the sitting room.
"What's the matter?" she asked when she noticed something.
"I'm just - I don't know." He looked helpless. "I don't even know how you live." And there were many other things he did not know.
"Come home with me then when I leave."
"I can't. I have to go to work." He had not even fully processed her comment yet. "But would you take me there?"
"Yes. No problem."
"But what would your family say? If you say they would take away your car for lying, they would probably lock you into a dungeon for having illicit relations with unsuitable men."
Isabelle was fascinated by this description. "The worst that would happen is that we'd sleep in different wings."
"But you said you never bring friends home."
"You never seem to have brought girls home either and yet here I am."
"You sound very optimistic."
His tone made her doubt. "Hopefully I'm right, although my mother always says I should act before I think."
Philip's mother returned and picked up her book again from under the couch.
"Your mother says..." Philip began after a little pause during which he assessed his mother's objectives. "Are you sure? You should act before you think?" It was more or less what she did, he reflected, but he did not think someone had told her to do it. He would have expected them to tell her the opposite.
Isabelle frowned. "Hmm. She says I should think before I act, because she thinks I act before I think. I don't! I feel, I act upon it. My mother doesn't understand this. She doesn't feel or act, she only thinks, so she doesn't understand people who feel or act."
"You felt you had to accompany Frederick, so you did," said Philip.
She looked pleased he understood. "And I did think, because I had planned where to stay and what to say."
"How to pass yourself off as your mother," he nodded. But she had not given much thought to the consequences.
"You don't have to tell your mother everything," she said, looking a little embarrassed.
Philip's mother would never get anywhere with her book. "You passed yourself off as your mother?"
"I used my mother's name and my grandmother's behaviour. Because I did think! I thought they would take a mother more seriously. And I felt I had to do something. Poor little Frederick was all alone and my parents were in Japan."
"Did anyone take you seriously?"
His mother guffawed. "Of course."
"What? Of course?" he asked, turning red. "I was the only one in the school. It wasn't as if no one believed it except me. Come, let's go upstairs." He practically ran.
"Your mother thinks I'm silly," Isabelle observed when she closed his bedroom door behind her. "Let's lock this."
"I'm sure she doesn't think that." He watched her lock the door and wondered if she was going to do something that required privacy.
"My mother does. But she doesn't feel. She doesn't understand." She pulled Philip's shirt from his trousers.
Philip felt her hands on his skin. As nice as this was, he nevertheless wondered what she was up to. "What are you doing?"
"I want to feel you."
"I feel I have little say in the matter." The question was whether he wanted a say in it or whether he was content to let it happen.
"You can undergo or join in," she suggested.
"But you won't stop."
Isabelle looked surprised, as if that option had not occurred to her. "Only if you really mind."
Who could really mind? "I don't, really, but I don't know where it's going and if I need to stop you again."
"I didn't sleep well last night after we had dinner," she admitted. "I was thinking so much. See? I do think. I just want to lie down, but not fully dressed. Wrinkles."
"And what does undressing me have to do with your not lying down fully dressed?"
"My mother would love the fact that you think before you feel."
"Before I act," he corrected. It was impossible not to feel in these circumstances. "I don't think any friend of mine would interpret you correctly here. As soon as you started to undress them, they would take over and..."
Isabelle pondered this. "Yes, I suppose. But that's why I don't undress them, but you."
That was irrefutable logic. He did not even try.
Philip carefully removed himself from the bed when she was asleep. Simply lying there was a bit boring. It was a bit difficult to do so without disturbing her, because she had decreed they must lie in his bed and not on the air mattress. He picked up his trousers and shirt and pulled them on, unlocked the door and left the room.
"Where's your friend?" asked his father, who had finished work for the day.
"I don't know."
"I heard she's King Albert's granddaughter."
"I've never heard of King Albert," said Philip.
"Which doesn't mean she isn't his granddaughter."
"If you say so." She did not seem to think them beneath her, so why should they think he above them? It might be as simple as that. He went into the garden to find the other boys. Anything was better than being questioned.
His brothers were no better, however. "Where's your girlfriend?" asked one.
"Reading a book," he said, having gauged that answering she was resting would only lead to more questions.
"A book? Why?"
"There's lipstick on your shirt," said Anthony.
Philip suppressed the urge to check. There could not be lipstick anywhere, least of all on his shirt. He had not seen Isabelle wear lipstick.
Dinner was not awkward. Isabelle did not mind speaking to his parents and she did so with ease. She had turned the tables and she was now the one asking the questions. Other young guests rarely kept an elaborate conversation going. Philip wondered if it was her age or her upbringing. She might have been trained to converse with anyone. He did not know if he could hold such conversations with her parents if it ever came to that.
The youngest boys were sent to bed first. He found that Frederick was no longer sleeping alone in the laundry room, but that he had moved into the room of his youngest brother, who was older but the same height. That was nice. Isabelle would not have to worry about him. And he was proud of his own little brother, who might have been acting on his mother's orders. But still.
All rooms had a washbasin, which reduced stress on the single bathroom. Philip's mother nevertheless found it necessary to warn Isabelle that the bathroom was shared and that people sneaking about during the night were probably going there or coming back from it.
His parents retired at ten after locking the doors and windows. There were still boys watching TV, which was fine as long as they switched everything off when they went to bed and they did not make any noise. Philip thought of outstaying them, but he could not manage.
"What a silly show. Let's go upstairs," said Isabelle.
He changed into his pyjamas and brushed his teeth, trying not to look at what she was doing. "You can take the bed," he offered in a gentlemanly manner. "I'll take the mattress."
"By this you imply there's a clear difference. But I'm not spoilt," she said indignantly.
"But you're not used to it."
"Fine." She brushed her teeth as well, but she also needed to do other things such as brush her hair and remove her earrings.
"Where would your guests sleep?" As he spoke, Philip cringed. He did not mean to invite himself.
"In a bed in a guestroom. If I got a house or apartment for myself it would be different, because then I should decide where."
"But your parents' house has wings."
"My parents have an apartment in a very big building with wings." She dropped her business-like confidence. "I liked when we shared this afternoon. Did you? You left."
"I did, but I got bored."
The next morning Philip was surprised to find it was so late when he woke up. Isabelle was still not stirring. He had been a little apprehensive about sharing and especially about her taking the initiative, but she was not as bold as she initially appeared. They had whispered a lot.
Isabelle moved, but she did not seem ready to get up. "What time is it?"
She uttered something very unroyal.
"I suppose we went to sleep late," he said. He was glad they had woken up late as well, or he would have been exhausted.
"What will your parents think?"
"That we went to sleep late, I suppose." He wondered why she had seemed to be indifferent before. She had even talked to his mother about the subject.
"I should finish painting today. Do you think they would appreciate it if I first slept in and then left early?"
"Of course. You're not here to entertain them."
She rolled around so she could look at him. "Can you get me a job at your school?"
That was the last thing he could ever have expected her to say. "Are you serious?"
"Anything. I don't mind."
"You don't mind. But why?"
"I think it would be fun. And then we could meet a lot."
He focused on the easiest thing first. "What would your mum say?" He could imagine something about whims and not thinking. She seemed to have come up with this idea on the spot. She did not even know what sort of job she might want.
"Do you think there are jobs at my school?" He wondered what kind of job she had in mind, considering that she seemed to have been trained as a nurse.
"I could paint. Oh, I could teach German too."
"Are you," he began carefully, "used to jobs being created for you?" That was the impression he was getting now. She approached these things far too confidently.
"Created? I don't know."
"But you have never had to apply and write letters." He suspected she had never checked the newspapers for ads, spent hours on a letter and then got rejected. This ignorance was due to her background, but it could improve. Someone simply had to inform her. The annoying thing was that it would probably never work for her that way. He could tell her about writing letters and applying properly, but she might never have to do it.
"No. I could, though," she said. "Do you think I should write a letter to your headmaster?"
Philip snorted. After the other thing she had written the Headmaster might scream if he received another manuscript. She might not keep it brief. "I think he knows you can write. But why this sudden idea?"
"If I said I had a job, I wouldn't have to tell my father I was seeing a guy and I could be there for Frederick."
"You first offered to take me home. How were you going to hide me then?"
She had to think about that. "I see your point. It does sound a bit illogical. But you implied there might not be a job."
"Well, if you offer to teach German, you'd need students." And it would need to fit in the schedule and other such mundane concerns.
"It sounds better, if I tell it at home, than handywoman. Is your headmaster in today?"
"No, I think not."
"Then I'll speak to him tomorrow."
Philip really wondered how that would go and if he should perhaps offer a common sense opinion, but who was he? Of course he was in part the reason she wanted the job, although he could not really wrap his head around that. "Do you realise that he might say no?" He could actually not think where the Headmaster could create a job out of nothing.
"But why should he? I could be useful."
"The school may not have the money for another salary." In fact, he could answer that question himself. Most of the specialised sports coaches were volunteers, for example. They were at the head of the queue if there was any money to spare, he would think.
"Who says I need a salary? I need work experience."
He would agree with that. Work experience never hurt anyone, especially someone a little unworldly. "And er...you said you would see me?" That was a difficult thing to bring up, but he had to. He also felt he had little control over what would happen.
"If you want to."
"It would be easier if you weren't a princess."
"On the contrary. I wouldn't have enough time and money to see you."
"But I don't have that."
"You know more things, I suppose. That's useful. And you are a brilliant kisser."
Philip was a little taken aback by this news. "Oh. Your standards were probably very low." It was not as if he practised every week.
"Not exactly a compliment," said Isabelle, but she did not seem to mind. "But I do like modest guys who are not so full of themselves without ever having achieved anything on their own. I'd like to achieve things on my own, but I'm never really allowed to, so I'm not all that impressed by someone who doesn't want to."
"Your future husband won't be allowed to either."
"That's in public. But yes, again you are right." She looked at him admiringly. "I'll do something about that."
"About my being right?"
"About my future husband. I'll see to it that he has something to do."
"If you can't even do something about your own position, how can you do something about his?"
"Again..." she said. "But it's slow work. I'd like to make changes, but it won't happen fast. I have to move carefully, which I'm not sure I'm always doing."
"So...suppose the Headmaster gives you something to do, what will your steps be? Will you stay in your hotel?"
"I'd like a house better. I'd have to go home and get more clothes and then I'd find a house."
He wanted to say houses were not that easy to come by, but it would be useless. She would probably find one in five minutes. "Will your family let you?"
"I hope so. I still have to decide whether telling them first or doing it first is best."
"I don't know them." Philip did not want to advise her the wrong thing. He did not know her family. He only had an impression of them from what she had said. "But I suppose they would care enough to want to know you were not doing anything foolish."
"You think I'm already doing something foolish and they're still not coming for me - not really, anyway - so they wouldn't care if I had to live under a bridge."
"I admit that my parents know more about what their children are up to."
"And you actively contribute by taking people home so they can meet them."
"You asked to." Or rather, she had more or less invited herself.
"You could have said no."
Philip blinked. "I never get the impression I can say no to you."
Isabelle was amused by that. "Of course you can say no. But maybe you think I always have really good ideas. And you do say no, except it does not sound like no. It sounds like are you serious?"
Maybe it did.
"And," she went on earnestly. "We are physically compatible."
"Which is?" He could not begin to imagine. Or rather he could, but he did not know which of the options he could think of was the one she meant.
"We both fit in this bed without discomfort. Which is good. You need to get used to it, so you won't faint if we -"
"I never fainted," Philip said a little indignantly. "I had a sort of blackout."
"Yes, you need to get used to it so you won't have another sort of blackout. I nearly had one when you moved your hands last night," Isabelle confessed.
He saw in her eyes that it was a good thing. Upon hearing it he had at first not been sure. He would have tempted to try it again, but he could not remember where he had moved his hands to and from where.
"You look funny," she observed.
"Well, yes," he answered. "I would do it again if I knew where."
Isabelle exhaled noisily. "Oh no. Just when I was determined to think ahead. But I already messed up by mentioning what it did to me, didn't I? Never do that when there are a dozen people sitting at breakfast discussing you."
The advantage of waking late was that the bathroom was free. Nearly everyone had also finished breakfast as well. Only Frederick was holding a halting conversation with Philip's father.
"Morning," said Philip. He had nicely waited until Isabelle had finished washing and dressing, and he had no idea how long that had taken.
"I hope there's something left for you to eat."
"Enough." Philip did not want to complain and set himself up for comments about his lateness. Anyway, lateness was never a problem here. It was probably the fact that a girl was now involved that made it different.
"Did you sleep well?" Isabelle said to Frederick, repeating it in her own language. She was of course very well-mannered and did not want to exclude anybody from the conversation.
He gave a nod and asked her something.
"Yes, thank you," she said.
"Can you ask him," Philip asked, "if he minds going back to school after lunch?"
She asked him and reported that the answer was no. "Also, the new pupils are arriving for the third summer course. He would like to see them arrive."
After some deliberation Philip had decided to go with them if his laundry was done. They arrived back at his house shortly after noon. His mother must have realised he had not bought any food, because she had given him several containers he could microwave.
"That was a foreign car," said his landlady, who was working in the garden. Although the rooms she rented out had independent facilities, she still felt she should keep an eye out. And like some others in the village she looked rather suspiciously upon all the foreigners coming to the summer school.
"From Europe," said Philip, who knew she would prefer that over Asia or Africa.
"I could see she was a blonde. Have you got a girlfriend?"
"I don't know." He had not kissed her goodbye, but he did have plans to see her later.
He cycled to the boathouse. Isabelle was in her coveralls, working on the second side. It was one of the long sides of the rectangle and he wondered if she could get it done today. It did not look likely to him, although she did work fast. Time would tell if she had been sloppy or not, going at that speed.
"Have you got two brushes?" he asked.
"Want to help? What about your clothes?"
"I didn't plan to paint them." He trusted he would be able to keep them clean.
"Do you think I won't get it done on my own?"
He looked for the second brush. "Not today."
"I'll come back. The front already looks better. It may need another coat of paint, but so far it already looks fresher."
He found a second brush in a plastic bag and decided to start at the opposite end so they would not be in each other's way until the end. "Where is Frederick?" he asked after ten minutes.
"He's waiting to see who they put in his room. Maybe he also needs to recover from your family."
Philip stopped painting to look at her. "Are they that bad?"
"No, but there are a lot of them if they all bring friends. Frederick can handle it, but he likes to be on his own. He has a double room, not one for four or six, because of that."
Philip had never been inside the houses and he had never cared to inquire about such particulars. "Oh. I didn't know there were different rooms."
"He will need to move again in two weeks. That will then his house for this year. But he will get a double room there too. I've asked. Did you go to boarding school?"
"No, did you?"
"Two summers. I would not have wanted to leave Frederick alone for more. Why did you apply here?"
"Because they had a job and I was qualified."
He worked on for an hour or two but then he was bored. Although he did not object to physical exercise this was very monotonous. Isabelle did not seem to feel the same, because she continued on without ever going slower. He wondered if she wanted to finish it all tonight.
Just when he was contemplating jumping into the lake - without having a towel to dry off - a small group of people came down the path that led from the school. He saw two adults and a few children. They came to look at the facilities while dropping off one or more children at the summer school, he guessed. Isabelle stoically painted on, but he paused to watch them. He could now not undress.
The family stood to watch the lake and peered into the boatshed. Other than a few nearly decrepit rowing boats there was nothing to see there. They spoke to each other, but he did not understand them.
It turned out that Isabelle did. She stepped closer to him when the family had moved away. "The paint is making a good impression on them; the boats not so much."
"They're fairly old. But they still do the job," he defended them.
"Those people were here because of Frederick," she said. "Interesting."
"They must have read that he was going here, so they signed their own children up as well."
"It could be nice to have children from his own country here."
"It could be," she agreed, but she did not sound entirely convinced.
"They mentioned him."
"They too might like their children to have another child nearby who speaks the same language," Philip suggested.
"Really? I hadn't thought of that, but it could be." She studied her coverall. "At least they didn't know who I was."
"What would have happened?"
"I don't know."
"Are you famous?"
"I don't know. I assume most people know I exist, but I don't know if they could recognise me everywhere. My grandfather always tried to make use believe that the people love and revere us and that they have his photograph in every house, but I'm really not sure about that."
"We don't have a photograph of our queen in our house either. I think it's somewhere in the school, though, but I don't remember where. It could be the Headmaster's office."
"I'll check that tomorrow when I go to see him."
"Oh, you're still determined to get a job."
Isabelle looked a little offended by that comment. "Did you think I was not serious?"
"No, I didn't think that."
"Just because I didn't already know exactly what doesn't mean I could not know that I wanted to do something."
"Of course. But for some jobs you need qualifications."
Isabelle looked as if she wanted to whip him with her paintbrush. "Really? What a surprise. And do you think I don't have any qualifications?"
"Not for every job in this school."
"Oh, don't be silly. I could even be a headmistress."
He dipped his brush in the paint again to avoid having to give a reaction. He would wish her luck speaking to the Headmaster in that case.
Philip had gone home at the end of the day to heat up some dinner. Alone. Isabelle had gone to visit Frederick and maybe eat with him. She had not known yet.
The next morning he arrived at school at the normal time. His normal time, that was. Johnny always started later. His boss was back from his holidays and called him in first to discuss what had happened in his absence. There were still some bills coming in for the previous academic year and already some payments had been made for the upcoming year. Philip thought he had it well under control, however.
The summer school was showing a slight increase in pupils this summer. The school had not yet decided whether to use the income from the summer school fees to improve next year's course, or whether to use it for the regular school year. Philip had not been consulted in this matter before because he had not worked there long enough and in any case he had preferred to know a little more about the school to give his opinion. And not even his boss had any real power here, he thought. They could only advise.
Today his boss asked what he thought. "Er...I don't know," he answered, caught off-guard by the question. "I have heard there are things that could be improved, but it's not my field of expertise." He wondered if he could suggest he knew someone who could look into this matter, but he decided it was too bold. He did not even know if she was capable.
When he was back in his office, he wondered if Isabelle had gone to see the Headmaster yet. It was on the same floor, but that did not mean he was aware of everything that went on.
There were people with more menial tasks who were, however. Karen came to see them just before lunch. "That posh blonde has been with the Headmaster for an hour. Philip, you seemed to be acquainted with her. What's she doing?"
"I don't know any posh blondes."
"Oh, come off it. You're posh yourself. Of course you know posh blondes. She came here once and took you away."
"Oh, that one."
"Yes. See, you know hundreds. But what's she doing with the Headmaster? I thought she was after you?"
"She's after a job," he said gravely.
"A job." Karen looked nonplussed. "A job? Here?"
"If you don't do yours, he might think of replacing you," he suggested.
She happened to spot something outside. "Oh my goodness! Who is that hot thing?"
Philip - and Johnny, who had been listening as well - went to the window. A young man had just parked a convertible and came out, crushing a cigarette under his foot. Then he stood looking up at the building for a few seconds, rearranging his hair. The car had foreign plates, but this summer a lot of them did.
"Nice car," Johnny whistled.
"Not a pupil," Karen decided. "They don't drive. Is that my new assistant? Oh, please!"
Philip decided he knew the type and turned back to his desk. It was probably someone else's older brother. And Daddy had financed this car, not the young man himself.
Johnny enthusiastically began listing all kinds of things about the car that neither Karen nor Philip were interested in.
Philip returned to his computer screen and gave the order to print. The noise from the printer would at least drown out all that silly chatter.
Philip had not paid any more attention to the young man outside. He had continued working. Johnny had kept looking at the car, however, and had eventually gone outside for a closer look. He stayed away rather long.
When Philip looked outside to see what was happening, the Headmaster was talking to the chap, but whatever the Headmaster said did not seem to go down well.
Johnny returned. "Apparently his father is a millionaire and he came to talk to the prince, but that's against school rules."
"The one whose mother or sister needed to speak to you. It's not as if we've got a whole bunch of princes these days."
"Oh." It dawned on him who the young man with the car might be and he frowned. Isabelle had been with the Headmaster, Karen had said, but the Headmaster was now outside, so where was she? If this was Isabelle's former boyfriend, he would be here to ask why he had been dumped. And he would want to speak to Frederick because he had no idea where Isabelle herself was. Philip did not think she was out there. But if she had been with the Headmaster she would be aware of the situation.
He got up. First he would check the Headmaster's office and if she was not there he would go downstairs. He was not sure why, other than to satisfy his own curiosity. He did not think she would take this fellow back.
She was not in the office, so he went downstairs. He found her behind the reception, which was nothing but a counter with a bell with a small office behind it. It was not the best place to hide from a visitor, because it was the first place a visitor went to.
If the visitor was allowed in, that was.
For some reason the young man was not inside and perhaps he had not even attempted it. Presumably his purpose had become apparent before he could have gone inside. Philip was a little baffled by it all.
He rested an elbow on the counter. "Is this your new job?" he inquired of Isabelle.
"We had not got that far yet," she replied, keeping her eyes on the door. "We were disturbed."
"Are you going to duck when he comes in?"
"No. How do you know who that is?"
"Johnny said he wanted to see Frederick, so who else could it be? You don't have a brother and because of the number plates it can't be any of your English friends."
She shook her head. "This is really annoying."
"Why don't you go out and tell him to...whatever." He did not know how long she had been standing here. It would certainly go a lot faster if she personally told this fellow to shove off.
"I should, shouldn't I?" she said reluctantly. She walked around the counter and went outside.
He followed as far as the door.
"Isabelle!" the young man exclaimed. From this small distance he looked even more fashionable. The rest of what he said could not be understood, but it sounded angry and frustrated.
The Headmaster moved back a bit and turned to Philip. "Any idea what this is about?"
"I think that is the fellow she broke up with." He watched, but the young man he presumed to be Oscar was still speaking. Isabelle had not yet said a word.
"He doesn't seem to know that yet."
"He doesn't accept it, perhaps."
"He insisted on speaking to Prince Frederick. Got rather upset when I said I'd have to phone the family first, because it's against school rules to let strangers in. He claimed he wasn't a stranger, but practically family."
Isabelle crossed her arms. "I'm not going to marry you at all."
Oscar replied something, but he was not speaking English.
"It's bad manners to speak a language not everyone understand," she said calmly. "I told you on Saturday that I'm no longer going out with you."
Oscar looked angry. He refused to answer in English and consequently nobody understood him except Isabelle.
"I don't care what my father thinks," she answered. "I am the one who ultimately decides. Besides, you don't like me; you like the status."
He spat out some words.
"I didn't know you thought monogamy was the thing," she remarked.
"Interesting," the Headmaster said to Philip in a low voice. "Are we supposed to hear all this? I'm hesitant to leave, because he could simply shove her aside and come into the building."
"I've told my mother about it," said Isabelle. "She will have told my father."
He said something. It sounded like a question, aggressively posed.
"That is none of your business."
Oscar asked another question.
"I've always known that was the only thing you cared about. Really. Everything was always done with only one goal in mind. I'm sorry it was so futile. But you do taste like an ashtray."
Oscar had something to say about that as well. Sometimes Philip could make out a few words he said. Those were fairly international words and they made him blush. The Headmaster picked them up as well, he noticed.
Isabelle did not flinch. "All the money in the world cannot buy you class."
Philip started when Oscar moved. He was afraid the young man was going to hit Isabelle.
She did not seem to be afraid of that herself, or maybe she was a good actress. "Go away," she said. "There's nothing you can do about it. It's over. Yes, do talk to my father. It won't help. If I tell him which words you used..."
Oscar nearly exploded.
"Not suitable," she said and turned.
Philip gasped when Oscar followed her, but at precisely the right moment she turned and kicked him in the groin. "Ouch," he mumbled, although he really did not care for Oscar's pain.
"Go away," she said calmly, as if she had not just caused him to double over in pain. "Or we'll have to call the police." She went inside.
The Headmaster closed the door behind Philip and himself and locked it. Philip did not know if that was really necessary. Oscar would be stupid to try any more - but Frederick did think he was an idiot.
"Well," said the Headmaster to Isabelle, who was leaning against the reception counter. "Will we have to call the police?"
"I doubt it. But his ego seems somewhat bruised. Rejection is obviously not a word in his vocabulary. I had not heard him use such language before. He might do something we cannot imagine." She looked a little surprised at it herself.
"And you broke up with this person, I heard."
"Nice kick, by the way."
"Nice reflection in the glass doors," she responded with a modest smile. "It was easy to time."
"And he came here to do what?"
"Obviously, to ask how could I dump him? I suppose nobody has ever told him no. Now if he can't marry me he will have to find something to do with his life."
"How long were you involved?" asked the Headmaster. "You seem pretty cool."
"Oh, very long, he said, whereas I would say a few parties. I did not see him unsupervised in between. I had things to do."
"Unsupervised?" Philip inquired. He wondered if she was supposed to be supervised. It would be a bit useless to supervise her only at home, if they let her run free everywhere else.
"I mean I saw him when his family visited us, but we were not alone."
"You went to Wimbledon with this person. I read that." The Headmaster did not mention why he had scanned the tabloids.
"Yes, I stayed with my aunt and he picked me up there. He would have liked to take a hotel, but I said sleeping over was absolutely out of the question until I was married."
Philip felt his cheeks burn. She was looking very innocent, but if someone were to ask him a question right now he would be completely unable to speak.
"And now he thinks - I can hardly say what he thinks. It was so stupid. When I phoned him he was only thinking I had lost my mind, but now he was also convinced someone had got there before him," she said with a grimace, "or instead of him, as if I was somehow his property. I thought it best not to say anything about that, because he might try to find out who."
"Luckily I have no idea," said the Headmaster, but it sounded just a little too fake. "But I am going to phone your father's secretary to report this incident. In the meantime, Mr Hartington-Smith, could you take the young lady to the staff room and give her a cup of tea?"
"No wonder you go by Philip if your name is odd like that," said Isabelle. "But your brothers all have normal names, which is even odder."
The Headmaster blinked. "Staff room," he said eventually.
Philip walked rather mechanically for a minute. "I don't know what you mean. Normal names?"
"Hartington or something like that. It's kind of daft to name your baby that. Is it your mother's maiden name? If so it's still daft and I'm glad you go by Philip."
"It's also kind of daft to address someone as Mr and then first and last name, don't you think?"
"I've never heard it, but I'm not English. Who knows what you do when I'm not there."
"When you asked for my name, I didn't really want to give it." He still moved mechanically and stood staring at the tea kettle in the staff room, as if he could not figure out what to do with it.
Isabelle did not know either. "The Headmaster ordered you to make me some tea. When English females are upset you give them tea, I suppose. Well, let's see if that works on me as well."
"Upset?" He did not think she looked upset.
"Disturbed. Unsettled. I don't know. Why didn't you want to give me your name?"
"I didn't know what you'd do with it. Parents can claim you said something in their favour when you didn't. Or so the others say."
"So I gave you only half." He finally figured out how the kettle worked, which was silly, given that he filled it a few times a week.
"And the other half is Philip?"
"No, actually it's a third," he realised. "Philip is a third and Smith is a third."
"And who was it going to fool only giving me two-thirds?"
"No, not really, because everyone knew you even by two-thirds."
"Then I have no idea." He sat down and waited for the kettle.
Isabelle seemed cool, but she spilled her tea when Philip gave it to her. He cleaned the table with a cloth. "Are you all right?" he asked. She was not the clumsy type. Her hands ought to be steady.
He sat beside her and wondered what to do. He thought she was a little affected by the incident, more than she let on, but how did he find out and what could he do to make her feel better?
"You don't know what he said," she said.
"Maybe I should be glad, but the terms I did pick up, I didn't agree with."
She leant against his shoulder. "Did you understand them?"
"Swearing in English is a sign of sophistication."
"Swearing - but I suppose that is your point. Nobody ever did that to me." She still looked a little surprised by it.
"You stayed very calm."
"I kicked him."
And even that had been fairly calm - a very controlled kick. "It looked as if he was going to do something to you."
"Would you have interfered?"
"I'm not very experienced at that sort of thing," Philip admitted. "But I suppose it would be difficult to stand by and do nothing, although I do not know what I would have done." But he hoped it would never come to that. He was not trained to deal out well-placed kicks. She must have taken a course some time.
"That's a very civilised reaction," Isabelle said appreciatively.
The Headmaster returned and sat down with a very serious expression on his face. "Well..." he began.
"I spoke to your father's secretary, who by the way is a very sensible man -"
"What does that mean?" Isabelle exclaimed. "Oh, I am sorry. I should not interrupt you. But I tend to be afraid that someone's being sensible means that I am not. As in: be sensible for a change."
"I simply meant that Mr Michel is rather realistic about what could be expected. I explained the situation to him and first asked what should be done with regard to your brother. He said it was unlikely that Mr Schwarz would bother Frederick if he only wanted to talk to you. There's not much Frederick could do for him. I am, however, to give Frederick specific instructions in case he comes back."
"Of course no sane man would think that kidnapping or hurting my brother would make me marry him," Isabelle commented.
"My second question was whether your parents knew you had ended your relationship with this young man and he replied that he did not know, but he would ask."
"My mother certainly knows, because I told her."
"My third question was whether your parents knew you were trying to get a job here."
Isabelle looked as if he was a terrible spoilsport.
"Sorry. I could hardly not mention that bit, because it was the reason you were here today. In any case, I agreed with Mr Michel that you should be under some sort of supervision in the next few days and -"
Isabelle gasped. "He's not sending bodyguards, is he?"
"No. But maybe you could stay with Philip?"
Philip cleared his throat. "My landlady does not allow visitors of the opposite sex." He hoped he did not sound too regretful about that. And he was not prepared to ask his landlady for a relaxation of the rules, as much as he would like it.
"That's a bit unfortunate. Maybe you could stay at school for a day or two until the disgruntled lover has been sorted out."
"Who is going to sort him out?"
"Mr Michel would take care of that. He did not say how."
"And what do you mean, stay at school?" Isabelle asked.
"There are rooms left on the girls' floor in the house where the summer school pupils are staying. The advanced English course is not full. You can stay there for a few days if you'd rather not stay at your hotel."
"He's bound to find out which hotel, because there is only one in the area. He might even be staying there himself."
"Are you afraid of him?"
"I think not. I hadn't expected him to be so offended. I think he might try to talk to me again, but I don't know what that could accomplish. Who would want someone who changed her mind under pressure?" she asked. "It would mean he doesn't want me, but the doors I could open."
"I reported that he used some undesirable language."
"Can Philip stay at school with me?"
Philip thought it best to look the other way. He did not want to look too eager. He did not even know if he was eager.
"On the girls' floor?" The Headmaster raised his eyebrows. "I think not."
"I'll go to the boys' floor."
"What exactly do you need him for?"
She opened her eyes wide. "Sensible conversation, of course."
Philip tried to keep looking the other way. The conversation they had had in his room had been far from sensible - unless they had different definitions of that word.
"Oh, well, in that case..."
"Did you also report that I know Philip?"
"I reported that you and Frederick had gone to his house this weekend, yes."
"How do you know that?"
"It's my job to stay aware of where your brother goes. You told his houseparent, who told me. Obviously. Even if it's you who takes him out, I need to know."
"Check out of your hotel."
"Right now? I was going to continue painting."
"I have never seen a painter dressed like that." He studied her dress and high-heeled shoes.
She looked as if she doubted his intelligence. "I take that off, obviously, and wear a coverall."
"Check out of your hotel. I am going with you. I just cannot see Mr Hartington-Smith knock any assailants to the ground."
Philip did not know if he ought to feel insulted by that remark. He did not know of what he was capable, but perhaps indeed not that. "Would the parents like it if you did, sir?"
"Your parents and her parents would thank me. I think that while we're not certain where this hothead is hiding, someone needs to accompany her. Do you think, Mr Hartington-Smith, that this young man is more likely to view you as the competition or me? And what do you think he will feel upon seeing the competition?"
"I hadn't thought of that," Isabelle mused. "But he did assume there was someone else."
Philip strolled back to his office with his tea. He was wondering how it would go, but the Headmaster did have a point. Seeing Isabelle with a young man - if she was seen at all - might trigger a jealous reaction. He could not really come up with these things himself, he reflected, but they made sense if he was told. Suppose he had gone with her and something had happened? He would have been taken by surprise and he might not have reacted adequately. He doubted he would kick someone, at any rate.
Philip had worked the rest of the time and although his boss had asked what all the fuss was about the answer had apparently been satisfactory. He worked until fifteen minutes before he was due to supervise a swimming session and then he went out.
He could not see Isabelle from the pool, but he expected she had been painting. After the swimming session he saw her.
"I've got a room," she said. "It's got two beds."
"On the boys' floor, of course. I said you'd join me. Will you?"
"If you want," he said guardedly. She asked it, so she must want it.
"I'll have to pick up my pyjamas."
He hurried and was back just in time for dinner. None of the foreign students except Frederick gave them funny looks and only Frederick came to their room after the meal.
"I can hit idiots too," he said to Philip, installing himself on a dangerously creaking bed.
"I've never hit an idiot." Philip wondered if girls preferred boys who immediately offered to protect them physically, or if they could also see something positive in boys who were not at all sure if they could do so.
"Then I will do it."
"Why would you want to hit an idiot?" Philip watched Isabelle look through one of her many bags. He wondered if she was going to unpack things for the one or two days she was going to stay here. At any rate she did not appear to be listening to them, but he knew she was.
"Isabelle has you here so you can hit the idiot."
"Maybe." Philip found it difficult to ascertain what Frederick really wanted. Or how much he had been told.
"Isabelle told me not to do things with girls because I am going to be king."
"Er..." That was an unexpected twist. Or perhaps not, because he was here and he might be doing things with a girl. "Perhaps it was because you are twelve." He kept his eyes on Isabelle, who merely smirked at her bag.
"But when I am king, I am going to make Isabelle king. So she should not do things with boys too."
"Are you here to hit the idiot, or to prevent Isabelle from doing things with boys?" He wondered how Frederick could make Isabelle king - queen, he assumed - but he doubted that the boy meant he would marry her. He would somehow pass the throne to her.
Frederick gave that question some serious consideration. "I am here to ask."
"Why she can do things with boys."
Isabelle dropped the things she had taken out of her bag and sighed. "Frederick, go to bed. You're too young for this."
"I am not too young," he protested.
"You are too young to do things with girls. I am not too young to do things with boys."
Frederick seemed to think that his best bet was to work on Philip. "She said it was because I was king, not because I was young. But I don't want to be king, so she must be king, and then it's logic."
Philip wondered if their summer course was truly excellent, or if the boy had already known much more English before he came here than he had let on at home. Not all of the pupils here this week were this good, but then Frederick was in his fifth consecutive week already.
"I am not going to say it all again," said Isabelle, picking up a hairbrush and leaving the room.
"What she said was not logic?" Philip wondered.
"It was logic first. Now - she is not married. This is sexist."
"Different rules for boys is sexist."
"True," Philip had to admit. He had no sisters; he had no idea if they generally got different rules. He did know younger brothers got those, however. "But do you want to do something?" He could not imagine with whom and when, so it must be a matter of principle.
"I think it's your age. You are twelve; she is twenty-two."
Frederick shook his head vehemently. "No, never. She said it."
"But do you think you will still listen to her when you are twenty-two?"
This was a good point. Frederick looked surprised. "I don't know."
"Do you think it's stupid to do things with me?" Philip wondered. Perhaps a little reassurance would be in order.
"She said it was - before she knew you."
Philip rather sympathised with that quandary. "That must be frustrating. Do you even know which things?"
"No, I can't know. I'm twelve. I don't have to know. Blergh. But I want to know the logic."
Philip decided to take Frederick out for a walk. There was no need for Isabelle to hear their conversation. Very likely it would not be exactly what she would say anyway and it was always easier to talk to a boy about these things than to a girl. As he took the path to the lake he wondered briefly if he should stay close to the school in case anything happened, but nobody would look for her there, so it was probably all right.
"I can understand why she said to you that you shouldn't do anything with girls," he began. "But not quite why it was Isabelle who said so and not your parents."
"I want to know why she can do things with boys," Frederick maintained stubbornly.
Philip was cautious. "I don't think she can."
"Yes, but she would get into a lot of trouble if she got pregnant, don't you think?"
"Baby? Pregnant is when you will have a baby."
"You have a baby when you do things with..." Frederick paused to decide from whose perspective he was speaking.
"But I can't have a baby. I'm a boy."
Philip sighed. "No. But some silly girl could - and then what?"
Frederick gave that a shrug. "Why a silly girl?"
"I know you do not like silly girls, but it might happen. A silly girl might get you to kiss her and then you may like it and then you may do other things and the silly girl may have a baby. And your father will be very angry."
"Don't speak so slow. I am not stupid. I do not like kissing silly girls."
"You don't know that. You've never kissed any girls. Probably. But stop arguing about everything I say. Just listen. If you get older and you get caught kissing a girl, it will be all over the newspapers. Because you're a prince. And the newspapers will write this is your girlfriend and when will you marry? Or they will say it's a silly girl and you're stupid. I think it will be much more difficult to get rid of a girl in your position. Or to get to know one slowly. And if she gets pregnant you will be forced to marry. Or maybe you will even be forced to marry after you've kissed. I don't know how strict your parents are."
Frederick did not miss a trick. "Is Isabelle now forced to marry you?"
"We're not talking about Isabelle. Yet." Undoubtedly she would be brought up.
"But I am."
"You saw what happened to Isabelle and her boyfriend. Everyone thought they were half engaged when they had not even done much. This can happen to you, with a girl version." He looked aside to see if Frederick had understood all the words. "Especially because you will be the king. People are interested."
"I do not want that."
"The people don't know. They are still interested."
"The people are interested in Isabelle too."
"Yes, so she must be careful. But she is now in England." Until the press found out where she was, she would have some freedom. He did not think she would get away with all of this at home.
"So we can do things in England?"
"No, she must still be careful. You can get just as pregnant in England as anywhere else."
"I can't. I'm a boy."
Philip was exasperated. "Isabelle."
"So she can't do things with boys," Frederick said triumphantly.
"Now, there are two differences between her situation and yours. Maybe more."
"She makes own rules for herself."
"Er, maybe that as well," Philip said with some amusement. "But I was going to say she is twenty-two and wiser than you." He ignored the guttural sound of disagreement that the boy made. "And she's a girl, in control of her own -" He wondered about the right term, something that would make sense to Frederick. "--body."
"Explain. Please," Frederick added after a second. "Why not I in control?"
"Because you are not a girl. Girls can take pills. But they may lie to you about it too."
"A girl takes that pill so she doesn't get pregnant," Philip explained. "But if she wants to marry Prince Frederick she may lie. She may say she does when she doesn't. Don't your parents have friends with daughters who like you?"
"So if they want to marry you, they may say: Frederick, you can do things with me, I'm on the pill, and then they get pregnant because they're not on the pill at all and say you must marry them. Do you understand that?" It was a modified version of what his mother had once told him. He was of course not a prince and there would not be a queue of young ladies trying to get him into bed. He had never noticed it, anyway.
Frederick frowned as he processed the information. "But why?"
"Why? Because they want to be a princess. Or queen."
"And if I want to marry them?"
"None of it applies in that case, but I should advise you to wait until you've reached a sensible age."
"Use easy words," the boy requested.
"You must be old enough."
"How old are you?"
"And are you old enough?"
"My mother says no."
Frederick looked amazed. "Why?"
"Because I have not worked for long. I do not have enough money yet." He did not want to wonder if he was grown up enough.
"Isabelle does. But your mother says no you can't have a baby, but yes you can do things with Isabelle? That is not logic at all."
"Did she say that?" He hoped his mother had not spoken to Frederick about this at all. But he had to admit it was more or less what it came down to.
"No, it's logic that it's not logic. At your house, you did things with Isabelle. But your mother said no? Why did she put me in another room and not Isabelle in another room? Or she thinks you listen to her?"
"Of course I listen to her."
"Some people do."
"So will Isabelle have a baby? Or did you not do things? Or things do not make babies?"
"Frederick, you give me a headache. Seriously."
"You and Isabelle give me headache too. But you are old. How does your mother say you must be? Forty?" In his eyes forty was absolutely ancient.
"From your perspective I might be old, but last year I was still studying."
"But why can Isabelle do things with you? And why can I not do things?"
"For the last time, it's because you're twelve - and because you don't even want to!"
"Not the last time! I was almost at the logic."
After two walks around the tennis courts and the playing field, Frederick's curiosity had been satisfied. He was now convinced it all made some sense. Philip was relieved that sense was all he had been after - there was no judgement. He should be glad to have found that he at least was not considered an idiot and that he was free to do whatever he pleased with Isabelle as long as she approved of it herself.
Frederick bore a triumphant smile when they returned. His sister looked at him suspiciously. "What happened?"
"He's not happy with things that don't make sense," Philip explained. "So now it all makes sense to him."
"I hope that doesn't make him do stupid things."
"Of course not," Frederick said indignantly. "I always think well. I'm going to play football. Good night."
"Did you explain everything to him?"
"Oh, not at all. Only everything I know, which is probably not all there is to know. I blamed all knowledge on my mother, not on personal experiences. He was not even interested in those, so don't worry. Let's go and play tennis or something." There was very little to do here in this room that would not add to those personal experiences, after all.
"Tennis. I must change."
"Other shoes. You probably didn't bring a tennis outfit." Even so he looked doubtingly at her collection of clothes. He would not need that much in a year and she had brought this for a stay of only a few days.
"Frederick is not," she said as she wriggled out of her skirt, "going to nag me about getting married?"
"Not Frederick," he said carefully. "But I don't know how strict your parents are."
"Maybe you wouldn't even want to."
He thought he was too young to have an informed opinion on what it involved precisely. "My father always said that if you survive a camping trip in a tent together it's probably going to be all right."
"So people who refuse to get into a tent will never get married?" Isabelle wondered, getting into stylishly comfortable trousers.
"For tent read any small space, I think."
"Your parents have funny ideas."
"Yes. And they think their ideas work, too." He waited until she had got her shoes on and then they left the room. He would rather play tennis than wonder if his parents' ideas had any merit.
Frederick seemed to like having them nearby, because he accompanied them to breakfast like a puppy, telling them what he usually ate.
Isabelle had planned to eat breakfast and then go to the Headmaster to continue discussing what job she might be able to do, because the day before the discussion had been cut short.
Philip had mixed feelings about it. He had been taught to finish what he started and he was not sure she was going to stay if something else came along. On the other hand he understood that she was still searching for something to do and that she was in a different position from ordinary girls when it came to possibilities. "For how long would you be doing this job?" he wondered.
"I don't know. I don't know what's available."
"Teaching would likely be a full school year." He did not know what she could teach other than a language. She might know a little something of other subjects, but probably not enough to teach. Even if he was of the opinion that anybody could teach history and things like that.
"That's rather a lot," she agreed.
"You cannot abandon the pupils - and the school - after a month."
"I think you might be better off tackling a smaller project with a smaller timespan." Although it would be good to stick with something long for a change, but he could not tell what exactly she was motivated for if any job would do.
"I don't know!" he exclaimed. "It's you who wants to do something."
"I like if Isabelle stays," Frederick offered, as if that mattered.
"What is she good at?" Philip asked.
"Good at?" Frederick thought about this for a minute. "Everything?"
That was not exactly helpful, although it made Isabelle look smug for a second until her expression betrayed that she knew it could not be.
After breakfast he went to his office and Isabelle joined him for part of the way. He was sure she was no closer to knowing what she wanted to do, but she was still insistent. The Headmaster seemed to think it a good joke, however, and was probably going to help her out. And then she would have her way again. It was amazing how easy it was for some people.
The caretaker had already unlocked the pupils' entrance at the back, although no pupils were coming this way yet. They were all back at their rooms brushing their teeth. Philip walked through the empty hallways. Only one classroom was in use this week, although there might be people cleaning or redecorating the others.
He chose the main staircase because that would be easiest for Isabelle. They were not the only ones going up. There were other non-teaching staff just arriving. Philip could not help glancing out of the front doors to see if there was no strange car there, but he saw nothing. Perhaps the ex-boyfriend had really taken the hint.
At the top of the stairs he had to go left and Isabelle right. He pointed - superfluously, he was sure. She had been there before.
"Oh, ****," Isabelle muttered.
"I beg your pardon?" He was slightly shocked.
She pointed too now. "I know that man."
He had seen a man, but since it was not the ex-boyfriend he had not cared. There were often visitors in this wing. They could be parents or salesmen or other people with business here. "Not...another..."
"Bodyguard," she said through clenched teeth. "I am so out of here."
He could only just grab her when she turned to go back downstairs. "Wait." At the same time he glanced at the supposed bodyguard, who was only staring and not making any move to intercept her. "Are you sure he's here for you?" Somehow he doubted it. The man seemed to be waiting - and not for them.
"What else?" She wriggled to get free.
Even now the bodyguard left them alone. Philip doubted he had come here for Isabelle. He managed to get a better hold of her and dragged her towards the man, who merely looked impassive. "Ask him."
She said something to the man, who replied.
"Translate, please," Philip requested.
"It's even worse. It's my mum."
"That's worse? That's not better?" He looked around, but he did not see her mother. She must be with the Headmaster. And she must have arrived very early. He relaxed his grip slightly, but she immediately threatened to run away. "Stay put. You need to speak to your mother, because I don't think she came all this way to see Frederick."
Isabelle raised her chin. "I don't need to be seen."
Their voices must have been heard, because the Headmaster's door opened and he came out with a woman who looked like Isabelle. It had to be the real Princess Anna. Contrary to Isabelle she did look old enough to be Frederick's mother, although clothing and hairstyle were similar.
"Isa," said the woman. "Was machst du denn hier?"
Philip could follow that. He let go of Isabelle's arm, trusting that she would now no longer run away. If she did, he would go after her.
Isabelle glared. "I don't think it's well-mannered of you to speak German in foreign company, Mum."
"I'm going to my office," Philip said to no one in particular.
"What? No!" Isabelle grabbed him back. "You can tell my mum I don't need to be watched."
"I spoke to his mother, yes?"
"I think so," he said cautiously. He wondered if he needed to address Princess Anna in a particular manner, but since neither of her children cared about that and he thought of her primarily as Isabelle's mother, the realisation came too late.
Isabelle's mother shook her head wearily. "If they are past twenty we think they are adults, but they are not." She had a clear accent, but she appeared to be fluent.
"I don't need to be watched," said Isabelle.
"Shall we go back into my office, all of us?" the Headmaster said invitingly. "This might be a long talk. You should sit down."
"It won't be long," Isabelle assured him. "Is my father here?"
"Not yet," answered her mother. "He wanted to fly."
"But he's on his way?" She slowly moved into the office, looking afraid.
Philip tried to move slowly towards his own office, but he did not rate his chances of succeeding very high. He did not want to flee the scene, especially if Isabelle was afraid of her father, but he did not want to intrude either.
"Philip, you must tell her I don't need watching."
"She doesn't -"
"I need to speak to you," said Isabelle's mother. "She listens to you."
"I have work to do." He looked pleadingly at his boss. He was sure he was not the only one Isabelle listened to. It made her sound unmanageable and she was not.
"This is better than my wife's soaps," said the Headmaster. "You talk to them. I'll get you some tea."
Philip followed Isabelle into the office, but very reluctantly. Her mother did not seem to have anything bad in store, as far as he could tell, but what did he know? Isabelle sat next to him, but at least she did not yet physically involve him. He would blush.
"Isa..." said her mother. "I heard Oscar came here."
"Did he come again?"
"I don't know. Why do you want to know? I'm not going to take him back." Isabelle crossed her arms and looked like a child. "Was he ever my own choice, really?"
"I've been told you were intimately involved with Gloria's cousin's son."
"Who's Gloria? Who's her cousin? Who's her son? What is intimately involved with someone I don't know? What sort of nonsense is that?"
Philip had heard of Gloria, but he kept his mouth shut. He tried to look the other way too, but Isabelle's mother was looking at him. He thought she believed Isabelle's cluelessness.
"Your father does not understand it," Isabelle's mother went on, not asking about Gloria any more.
"He should take my side, not the side of someone I don't want."
"I didn't say he is not taking your side. He simply thinks this all is not very elegant."
"I don't know how you could elegantly dump someone who thinks he shouldn't be dumped," said Isabelle. "And before you say I shouldn't have dumped him -"
"No, that was good."
The Headmaster returned with a tray and set it on his desk. He left the room again to leave them to talk in private.
"So is Papa coming to take me home?" Isabelle asked.
"I don't know. It depends on what he finds."
"But you came first. Why?"
"I think I have more confidence in the matter, because I spoke to his mother." She studied Philip. "And you listen to him. But I came to see. When your father is here I can no longer see. He would not have taken me anyway. And now, the school director says you want to work here?"
"It would be nice to stay close to Frederick. He's all alone."
"Frederick," said her mother sceptically. "Or..." She gave Philip a sideways glance as she picked up a tea cup.
"That too. And I really want to do something."
"This week. But next week?"
Isabelle looked offended. "Do you think I change my mind too often?"
"Yes. You go from one thing to the other. This is not what you came here for, for example."
"Things happen," Isabelle said with a blush.
"But you have something to say, I know," said Isabelle's mother to Philip.
He was not particularly eloquent to a real princess in her forties, although by now he managed well with the princess in her twenties. He did not think he had much to say, but if Isabelle was not managing to set her mother's mind at ease, perhaps he should try. "I think it was very good of her to help her brother."
It soon became clear that Isabelle's father was concerned that Oscar would create scenes or trouble Isabelle, which might then all leak out to the national press. What her mother's precise motives were remained vague. Isabelle had indignantly said she would never encourage any scenes because she was the essence of calmness.
"He did come after you," Philip felt compelled to say, although really he would rather not interfere at all.
"And I kicked him."
Princess Anna looked worried. "Come after you? What for?"
"I didn't ask," said her daughter. "Not before, not after."
"But..." Isabelle's mother looked at Philip.
"I don't know what I'm doing here," he agreed before it could be said. He really did not know why he should be allowed to sit in. If they insisted, he would, but he would not say more than this.
"Last night she stayed with you?"
"Sort of. We stayed with the summer pupils."
"In the same room?"
"As the summer pupils?"
"As each other," she said with some emphasis.
"Yes," he said reluctantly. He did not know how she was going to react to that - with disapproval? More questions?
He wondered what she was thanking him for. For answering? For staying with Isabelle? He could not make out what she was like at all - not that he was ever trying to do that with many people. Either he liked them or he did not, but in this case he had no idea. Of course, she looked like Isabelle, but they did not seem to be particularly alike in character.
"What is my father coming to do?" asked Isabelle.
"Talk to you."
"For not being a good representative of the family, I suppose."
"I don't know exactly. I think maybe you should not kick, but if it was self-defence..." Her mother looked doubtful.
"I don't know what he was planning to do."
"Your grandfather spoke to his parents, I heard. They wished you would reconsider."
"Yeah, of course!" Isabelle said sarcastically. "As the parents-in-law of a princess you are special. It almost makes up for not being a baron or something. And now they will have nothing except money and fewer invitations. Does Papa want me to reconsider?"
"I think not. I think the fact that Oscar might have dared to do something to you was not a good point."
"Because of Isabelle the daughter or Isabelle the princess?"
"The result is the same."
"No, it is not. Grandpa does not see us as people. I don't know if Papa does, but if Grandpa does not, it's likely he wouldn't want to disagree with him anyway. They don't even know Frederick is a person. They would have sent him here all alone with an official - who might well be of more use than family!" She was still not losing her temper, however. She spoke quietly.
"Yes, some would be of more use," her mother calmly agreed. "Unfortunately I was forced to go to Japan -"
"Nonsense. If I ever have children I am going back for them. I will not marry such an idiot who forces me to go to Japan."
"Of course not, Isa."
"I swear, if someone is going to force me to marry an idiot, I am going to run away before it happens and secretly marry someone else."
"Does the someone else get a say in the matter?" wondered Princess Anna.
"I would rather he did not get a say than that I did not. At least I'd know my intentions were good. He would be able to trust me."
"Of course, Isa."
"You agree with everyone." Isabelle looked dissatisfied. "But you can tell Papa that I am going to stay here. Without protection."
"You should get that job then." Isabelle's mother stood up and walked to the door. "Where is the Headmaster?"
He turned out to be outside the room and was brought in quickly enough.
"My daughter wants a job," said Princess Anna. "Can this be arranged?"
He sat down, still looking intrigued. "Of course. We had begun to discuss this already. Is she still determined, then?"
The Headmaster looked around the room. "You look a bit surprised, Mr Hartington-Smith."
"Well," said Philip, colouring. "I had to write a letter and do an interview. And compete against people." He assumed, at least, that there had been others to compete against. There had also been a job.
"She's done the interview. I'm convinced she's got more abilities than she requires in her current life."
"I would like to see Frederick," said Princess Anna. "While you discuss it. Perhaps you could take me there?" she asked Philip.
"I'm the accountant." There was accounting to do, which no one seemed to care about, but at this point it was really all he wanted to do.
"But you too have more abilities than you require in your current job," said the Headmaster, who was still treating it like a good joke.
Philip sighed and led Isabelle's mother out of the office. He had no choice, it seemed. "He will be in a lesson, Your Royal Highness."
"I can watch, but I can't leave without seeing him."
"No," he agreed. The boy would be hurt. Still, he would not be the one interrupting the lesson. If she wanted that, she would have to do it herself.
"Did he have problems?"
"He had his sister." He could not tell if Frederick had suffered from his parents' not being there when he was sent away. Frederick would have kept any disappointment predominantly to himself.
"Yes, that was lovely of her. I am not free to do what I like. Not always. The king, he decides. My husband must do as he says - and I must do as he says."
"My mother would never agree," was the first thing that came to his mind.
"I might not do it again either."
"Isabelle will not agree either."
"So we find out now."
"Will her father be angry?"
"It's possible. If you now want nothing to do with her and her strange family I'd understand. But I shall not be like my mother-in-law, who really dislikes Germans. Still, the men, they always like to tell you what to do."
"She likes that too." But from what he gathered her father and grandfather were far worse. It was not entirely the same, although it explained where she had got it from.
"But you don't have to go along with it. I'm trying not to, sometimes."
Philip wondered how much success she was having. She was here without their knowledge, for a start. "I don't know if it matters, in my case. She and I are merely friends." He did not want to pretend they were more. Maybe she would disagree.
"That's good. And you sleep in the same room. Your mother approves."
He wondered if she was automatically going to approve if his mother did. It was not even unlikely. Isabelle had said she agreed with everyone.
"And what do you like about her?"
Philip was sure he would not be able to come up with an impressive answer. "She's very pretty. And she's a good person," he added when she seemed to be waiting. "But we are only friends. I wouldn't know what she likes about me. Maybe that I do as she says."
Isabelle's mother gave him a long look. "Oh yes, of course. But I have the opinions of your mother and your boss, which might be more reliable."
"They talked about me?" he exclaimed.
"You sound surprised," she noted with some surprise of her own. "But if you had children you might understand you should like to know with whom your child jumps into bed."
"Oh!" He could not begin to express how he had never even come close to jumping. And neither had Isabelle. Or had they? They had sort of fallen. He frowned.
"Which counted for your mother as well."
"She would like to know, of course, if my daughter did this regularly. So yes, we discussed our children. She told me what you were like."
That it had happened in some detail had never occurred to him. "Well, I can see why my mother might have said something, but the Headmaster?"
"He had to, of course. He allowed my daughter to fool around with his staff, so he had to explain why he let that happen."
Philip had arrived at the classrooms on the lower floor. "He's in one of those rooms," he pointed.
"Thank you. I'll be fine. You can go back to work."
He smiled gratefully and fled.
Philip worked for a good two hours, having ignored Karen and Johnny's initial questions. He was glad to be working with numbers and not people. When lunchtime came around he remembered he had not brought any lunch from home, because he had stayed in the Houses. That meant he would have buy something in the dining hall. He wondered how long it would last him. He also had no snacks.
"Posh chap in posh car arrived," Karen reported when Johnny and he came out of their room. "But I figured you weren't interested."
"I'm not interested in chaps, posh or not," he replied.
"I like posh cars," said Johnny. "But how would you know? You're on the other side."
"Because he parked on the other side. You two going for lunch?" She quickly grabbed her bag.
"Was it the same car as the other day?" Johnny asked.
"How would I know?" Karen had no interest in cars. "It was another posh man, older, with a driver."
Philip supposed it might be Isabelle's father, but he had just said he had no interest. He did not ask anything.
In the dining hall he noticed that Frederick was sitting with his mother, nearly in her lap, and looking very happy. He was chatting non-stop. Isabelle was not in sight and neither was her father. He admitted to being a little worried, but there was not much he could do except eat his lunch. He was not part of the family.
Frederick waved at him. "My mother is here," he called.
"I saw," he said, coming closer. "Have you shown her around?"
"Yes. I still have to show the lake and the boats."
His mother said something Philip could not understand, but it made Frederick glow proudly. Philip smiled. "Enjoy your lunch."
Philip had not known what Isabelle and her family had done after lunch. After work he automatically went to find his bicycle, but just before he unlocked it he remembered he was staying in the dormitories. He would have to see if that was still necessary or if Isabelle's family had taken her away. Her father should have come by now. Philip was more reluctant than curious, so he had stayed out of sight.
He now walked back to the West House. The children had all finished their English lessons. Some were in the common room, but a good many of them seemed to be outside. He climbed the stairs to the bedrooms, although he certainly was not planning to go to bed at this hour. He merely wanted to see if Isabelle was still there and what the plan for that evening was. If she was gone he might go home.
There were voices coming from the room he had slept in and a man in a suit stopped him. "You can't go in there," said the man.
"Yes, I can. " For some reason it annoyed him. "That's my room." He wondered if the man was going to stop him, but all the man did was follow very closely behind. Inside the room he found Isabelle and her mother sitting on one of the beds and a couple of men standing. There was hardly enough room for them all.
"And you are..." said the most prominent-looking of the men.
"I slept here." He indicated his bag. "I need my shorts. If you could just move aside please, sir? Thank you."
It surprised him that all the men moved at his request, so he picked up his shorts and another shirt and left for the common bathrooms. He changed into his summer clothes and walked back barefoot. It appeared they were waiting for him. They moved aside so he could place his folded clothes on the bed. He ignored them. Not because he felt so cool and unaffected, but because he did not know what to do about them.
"Philip, it's my father," said Isabelle as if he could not guess.
"All three of them?" he wondered, thinking it was a stupid thing to say. But then, none of the men had introduced themselves and he could not possibly know who they were.
"Only me," said one man.
"Then why..." he gestured uncomprehendingly at the others. Then he walked to the door. He had better escape before he was charged with offending a prince. Perhaps he should not reveal that he knew it was a prince. Princes should be addressed in another manner. He knew that, but he found it impossible to manage.
"You are right, young man. We need to talk."
"About what, sir?" He did not actually want to talk at all. So far he managed to feign indifference to their presence.
"I do not talk about Isabelle. I may talk with Isabelle, though." He still moved to the door, although he was not sure where he was going. It was still some time until dinner and he had no books with him. He caught the eye of one of the other men and was surprised to see him smirk. That was astonishing, but it gave him some confidence that at least one of them would not be in favour of arresting him. Or whatever they could do.
"Is there a room where we could talk?"
Philip was not too familiar with the House, but he thought not. All common areas would be occupied by relaxing pupils. "Outside? But why do you have to talk to me?"
"I insist." He stopped just outside the door, to give Isabelle the opportunity to join them. He was not going to talk about her if she was not there. Of course he might not be able to talk about her in front of her either, but at least it would feel more honest.
"She would only interrupt."
"And she would have every right to." He went downstairs and outside, where there were two picnic tables. He did not check to see who were following, but he was determined not to discuss Isabelle unless she was present.
Only Isabelle's father sat down with him. Two other men kept a distance. Neither Isabelle nor her mother had come out. Philip wondered if perhaps Isabelle was afraid of her father, although she had never struck him as the type. But he had never seen them together, of course.
"My father is the king," said Isabelle's father.
Philip considered this for a moment. He had known it, but he now viewed it in a different light. Isabelle's father was no one, really, except the son of the king. "My father is a pharmacist, but I'm an accountant," he replied. It might be impertinent, but he was really not amused that he was going to be interrogated - for no reason at all. He supposed he would have dared less if he did not feel they were being unfair to Isabelle.
"So, you shared a room with my daughter."
The fact that he did not name her did not mean it was all right to discuss her. "I will not talk about her behind her back," Philip reminded him.
"We cannot discuss this subject in front of her."
"She is the subject."
"I am talking, of course, about the subject that we cannot discuss with ladies."
Philip did not know and he did not want to know. He managed to look blank. He had never heard of subjects that could not be discussed with ladies.
"I am sure you can guess what it is."
Philip stood up. "I suppose we are done then, sir."
The prince looked astonished at being abandoned.
"If there is anything to discuss, I'll talk to your wife."
"She does not mind including Isabelle in the conversation." And she had not struck him as someone who deserved such complete incredulity. He went back to the door. One of the men was outside it, but the other turned out to be inside. He ignored them.
The second one, however, did not ignore him. "Very good," the man said in a low voice.
Philip frowned at him and stopped. "I beg your pardon?"
"Don't talk without her."
"Why wasn't she coming?"
"He must realise it himself."
"Did she say that?" Philip glanced over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. Not yet.
"Her mother said that."
"I'm not even sure what we need to talk about!" he confessed to this apparently normal man. "This subject we cannot discuss with ladies."
"Well, I have some idea." The man also kept an eye on the door. "But I'm not in a position to discuss it with you. What I can say, however..."
Philip waited as the man first checked if no one was coming in.
"It may be wiser to confess to something, truthfully or not, if you want to continue seeing your friend."
"It's nobody's business," said Philip.
"Of course not, but that is how they think. That is, the key members of the family. If she is in trouble, it will have to be solved. If she's not, she will have to be saved."
"My parents act before there's trouble, not after."
"Yes, there's that," the man conceded. "So would mine."
He went back upstairs to find Isabelle and her mother were arguing. Or rather, Isabelle was arguing. She was the only one who raised her voice a little bit. They stopped when he returned, although he had not understood a word they had been saying.
"So..." said Isabelle breathlessly.
"He said he cannot discuss it in front of you. I said I can only discuss it in front of you." He sat down on his bed and looked for shoes.
"Then I'll go with you. What was it he wanted to discuss?"
"Something we cannot discuss with ladies, but I can't think of anything that might qualify."
"And you said no to him?" Isabelle's mother looked a little impressed.
"And what did he say?"
"He merely looked surprised when I left."
"See Mama, you should do that," said Isabelle.
"And what now?" Her mother looked undecided.
"I'm going to wait for dinner." He gave up looking for shoes and pulled his legs up onto the bed. He was reluctant to go back. He might start to wonder about etiquette. "And then I'll see what you're going to do. Or what they're going to do about you. Maybe they won't let you stay."
Isabelle stood up. "I'll talk to my father. He can't decide these things for me. I'm twenty-two. You can talk to my mother."
She was gone before he could object. He looked uncomfortably at Isabelle's mother. What was he supposed to discuss with her? He wondered what, despite having told Isabelle's father he would discuss it with his wife if he needed to.
"Your mother said you were related to the girl Isabelle was supposed to be staying with," said Princess Anna.
"Distantly," he answered. "But I didn't tell her about it. We're not in touch with them much, because they're very different people. My parents wouldn't like it if I associated with them."
"We know the Edgerleys. From skiing. They do not have much control over their children. But..." she said slowly. "Do we? Could we even criticise them? Isabelle went to England without us knowing. She did not go to a party, but she could have."
"She's too sensible."
"And you think she will work?"
"Yes. For a while. I do think..." he said, wondering if he could say it. "I do think it was always easy for her to get her way. Try out this job, try out that job..."
"Yes, not everything is suitable."
"Normal people cannot simply walk up to the Headmaster here and get a job." He did not know if she had ever worked. She looked young enough to have got married straight out of school.
"But there are disadvantages."
"Yes, I suppose."
"I was not born into such a family. Or even into that country. I don't know. They always say I have no idea about anything."
One of the man knocked on the open door. It was the man who had spoken to Philip. "Your Royal Highness, sir," he said with a nod. "Princess Isabelle has asked you to come outside."
"Is it bad?" her mother asked fearfully.
"I think not," the man said encouragingly. He held out a hand to help her off the bed. "Not yet, anyway."
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