When part of the Chalet School fails to escape from Guernsey on time, members of the French Resistance help them to disguise the fact that it is a British School. But of course there is a price to be paid, by way of hiding British airmen, working in Cafe Rene and getting involved in ridiculous plots to hide Van Klomp's painting...
St Clare's House Characters:
Hilda Annersley, Jem Russell, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Madge (Bettany) Russell, Robin Humphries
Alternate Universe, Crossover, Humour, War
Allo Allo, This is Night Auk Calling
01 Dec 2011 Updated:
15 Jan 2012
With apologies to any readers from Guernsey - this isn't intended to trivialise the occupation! It seemed a more likely scenario that the school didn't get out of Guernsey in time than that it was based in Nouvion and the Austria years didn't happen.
1. Chapter 1 - Leesten Vairy Cairfully by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
2. Chapter 2 - The Fallen Madonna by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
3. Chapter 3 - There may be trouble ahead by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
4. Chapter 4 - 6th Form Rebellion by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
5. Chapter 5 - No More Engelkind by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
6. Chapter 6 - There's A War On by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
7. Chapter 7 - A Need To Know Basis by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
8. Chapter 8 - The Sixth Form Revolt by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
9. Chapter 9 - The best laid plans..... by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
10. Chapter 10 - Herr Flick Needs Help by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
11. Chapter 11 - Matey and the Rescue by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
12. Chapter 12 - It's Christmas Day in the Schoolhouse by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
13. Chapter 13 - The Return of the Matey by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
14. Chapter 14 - A Spanner in the Works by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
15. Chapter 15 - New Year's Eve by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
16. Chapter 16 - Trouble with Sausages by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
17. Chapter 17 - Hilda In Control by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
18. Chapter 18 - The Painting by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
19. Chapter 19 - Leopards and Spots by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
20. Chapter 20 - Rescuing the Madonna by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
21. Chapter 21 - Resisting the Resistance by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
22. Chapter 22 - A Woman of Many Talents by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Chapter 1 - Leesten Vairy Cairfully by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
late June 1940, Chalet School in Guernsey………
‘I told you we should have started evacuating sooner,’ Madge said to Jem as the bus containing all the Juniors left for the harbour. ‘We’ll be lucky if we get the rest of the girls and ourselves off Guernsey before the Germans arrive.’
‘My dear girl,’ said Jem, who was invariably patronising when he was in the wrong. ‘No-one imagined that the Germans would look twice at the Channel Islands. It’s only because they’re British Crown dependencies and so near France that he would think of occupying them. I still think it’s all scaremongering. There’s no chance of the Germans coming here.’
‘Most of the local children have been evacuated,’ Joey pointed out. ‘The only ones still here are those whose parents didn’t want to part with them.’
‘It’s nearly the end of term,’ Jem said. ‘As you women are fussing so, we’ll make arrangements to get the Middles and the Seniors out of here in the next couple of days. The Government is laying on plenty of ships.’
They turned and walked back into the school, heading to the staff room for coffee and cakes. Madge was just about to ring for one of the servants when a young woman, little more than a girl, appeared through the low window which had been standing open. Madge, Joey and Jem gaped in astonishment.
‘Good afternoon, old chaps,’ said the girl who was clearly from the French Resistance. Despite the warmth of the afternoon, she was dressed in a raincoat and beret and wore white ankle socks and flat shoes.
‘We all speak French fluently,’ Jem told her. ‘Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be resisting the Nazis in France?’
‘Leesten vairy cairfully, I shall say zees only wance,’ said the girl. ‘I am Michelle of the Rey-zees-tance.’
‘We can tell where you’re from,’ Jem said. ‘You don’t need to talk to us like English people who can’t speak French. I’ve told you, we’re all fluent. What are you doing here? There’s nothing to resist. The Germans aren’t occupying Guernsey.’
‘They are on their way,’ Michelle told him. ‘I have been sent here to prepare to resist. My family was from Guernsey and I speak the local patois. I also have some associates with me and they are settling into the village.’
‘My dear girl….’ Jem started but was cut off.
‘I am Michelle of the French Resistance. You cannot talk to me like you speak to your womenfolk. If you do, I will shoot you with my gun.’ She produced a gun from her raincoat pocket and pointed it at Jem.
‘That’s going a bit far,’ Joey burst out. ‘I know he could patronise for Britain but there’s no need to shoot him.’
‘There is no time for small talk,’ Michelle said, moving the gun to point at Joey. ‘I am in charge here and your safety depends on me. You will not get off the island now so we have to make plans.’
Madge paled. ‘Can we really not get off the island? If we go now….’
‘Too late,’ Michelle told her. ‘We will get the little children you have just sent off on to the ship but then no more. And in any case I need your help.’
Joey was about to tell Michelle where she could stick her need for help when she remembered the gun. ‘What do you want from us?’
‘Well first, I need you to hide two British airmen in your school.’
‘This is a girl’s school,’ Madge said, scandalised. ‘We can’t have young men here!’
‘This is wartime,’ said Michelle. ‘You have to co-operate. And the Germans must think this is a French school. If they know you are British they will shoot you.’
‘They’ll certainly shoot us if they find us harbouring British airmen,’ Joey pointed out, Jem having been struck dumb at the sight of the gun.
Michelle shrugged in Gallic fashion. ‘Take your choice. If you don’t help, I will shoot you.’
‘What else do you want?’ Madge asked, resigned to being shot one way or another. ‘May as well be shot for a sheep as a lamb.’
‘You all speak German. We need one of your girls to work in the new café to eavesdrop and tell us what the Germans are saying.’
‘It’s too dangerous for the young girls,’ Joey said. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘You are not pretty enough,’ Michelle said contemptuously. ‘You would not fit into Café René at all.’
Offended, Joey relapsed into silence. With both of the others in the huff, Madge was left to sort everything out herself.
‘What do we do now, Michelle?’
‘Those of you who live in big posh houses need to move into the school,’ Michelle said. ‘There will be plenty of room with the younger children gone. And gather all the children and the staff in the Hall. They need instructions.’
‘Jem, go home and pack up our things,’ Madge instructed.
‘Jem, I know you’re far too important a doctor to ever do a hand’s turn in the house,’ Madge told him with feeling. ‘But this is an emergency. The servants will help you. And don’t forget to bring them with you. And don’t forget the children!’
‘Servants, children, clothes, food,’ Jem muttered as he went out.
‘God help us,’ Madge said, tucking her arm through Michelle’s and leading her towards the Hall. ‘Where did you get that raincoat, it’s so stylish….’
Chapter 2 - The Fallen Madonna by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Thanks for the reviews! The scene now moves to Cafe Rene.....
Early July 1940, Café René
‘You see, in me, a very troubled man,’ René announced to an invisible audience in his empty café. ‘I did not wish to move my café to Guernsey, but Michelle is such a bossy-boots. It might have been bearable if I could have left my wife, Madame Edith, at home and brought Yvette and Maria but no, Michelle was having none of it.’
The café door opened and two German officers came in.
‘Ah, Coll-on-ell Von Strohm,’ René said, advancing from behind the counter, rubbing his hands together subserviently. ‘Always good to see you. And Captain Geering. How kind of you to honour my humble establishment.’
‘You can kut out the flattery, René,’ the Colonel said in German-accented French. ‘Ve need your help.’
‘And if I do not help?’ René asked, suspecting he knew the answer.
‘I vill have you shott!’
‘Very well, what can I do for you, Coll-on-ell?’
The captain began to unfasten his trousers. At that moment Robin, in a short black dress, fishnet stockings and a frilly apron, came into the café from the kitchen. René shooed her back through the door.
‘This is not a suitable sight for you, child. Go and see if you can help Madame Edith.’
‘She is practising her songs for tonight,’ Robin told him.
‘Oh my poor child,’ René said, pulling her into his arms and holding her head against his chest for a moment. ‘Then you had better stay here. The Captain with no trousers will be less horrific for you than Madame Edith’s singing.’
He turned back to his customers. ‘Captain, please behave yourself. If you want Yvette or Maria I will arrange it. But little Maria Cecile here is but a child.’
‘It is all right, René,’ Captain Geering said, pulling a long roll of canvas from his trousers and refastening them. ‘This is vot ve need your help vith.’
The Colonel took over. ‘It is a painting of the fallen Madonna vith the big boobies by Von Klomp. Our insurance policy for after the vor. Ve cannot hide it at head-qvarters because of Herr Flick. If he finds out ve have stolen it he vill be very cross.’
René nodded. ‘I see. And you want me to hide it here.’ He turned to Robin. ‘Marie Cecile, take the painting and put it under the bed of Madame Fanee.’
Robin turned up her nose. ‘Me, I do not like to go in the bedroom of the Madame Fanee. It smells.’
‘Nobody likes to go in the bedroom of Madame Fanee, child. But there is a war on. And you have been trained to instant obedience. So obey!’
Madame Edith was coming downstairs as Robin was going up. ‘Why the long face, child?’
‘I have to hide this in the bedroom of the Madame Fanee. It is a painting of the Fallen Madonna with the big boobies by Van Klomp. The Germans have stolen it and they insist Monsieur René hides it for them or they will have him shot. Is that not very naughty of them, Madame Edith?’
‘Another normal day at Café René,’ Madame Edith murmured philosophically. ‘I do not think it a good idea to hide the painting in the bedroom of Mamma. Take it back to the school with you tonight. The Gestapo will not look for it there.’
‘Very well, Madame,’ Robin said, instantly obedient. ‘May I go back to school now?’
‘Yes, child. You had better get home before the curfew.’
Robin changed out of her maid’s uniform before cycling back to school. Madame Edith had strapped the painting to her back which was very uncomfortable.
Matey met her at the door. ‘Robin, what have you got there?’ She unfastened the painting while Robin explained.
‘This is too much excitement for you, Robin. I think you need two days in bed.’
Robin stamped her foot. ‘I am doing war work, Matey. There is no time for me to be put to bed every time I have a sore finger.’ She snatched the painting from Matron. ‘I’m going to see Miss Annersley with this so just butt out.’
Matey watched her go, muttering to herself. ‘I’ll give her a dose of something before she goes to bed. And she’ll spend the next day off from the café hemming sheets to calm her down.’
Robin meanwhile had arrived at Miss Annersley’s study. Miss Annersley looked up in annoyance as Robin knocked and entered. ‘Robin, I give up specific time to the girls every evening. From after Kaffee und Kuchen, though now we have to call it Café et Gateaux, until Abendessen or Dejeuner. Now it’s my gin and tonic time. So this better be urgent.’
‘It is, Miss Annersley.’ Robin made the regulation curtsey. ‘The Germans have stolen a picture by Von Klomp and they wanted René to hide it. He said I should put it under the bed of the Madame Fanee but Madame Edith said to bring it to school.’
The Headmistress went pale. ‘But what about the Gestapo? If they come here and find it we are in dead lumber.’
‘No slang please, Miss Annersley,’ Robin said severely. ‘I am sure Madame Edith realises that it’s a hot potato and wants to palm it off on to us. She may not be able to carry a tune in a bucket but she’s very brainy.’
‘So what are we going to do?’
‘I thought we could hide it in Matey’s cupboard,’ Robin said. ‘The Gestapo would never get through all those sides-to-middle sheets to find it. And if they did, only Matron would get shot.’
‘Well that would certainly put paid to her infernal bottles of disgusting-tasting medicine,’ the Headmistress pointed out. ‘I’ll distract her, Robin, while you go and hide the painting.’
Chapter 3 - There may be trouble ahead by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
The Germans visit the Chalet School. Over at Cafe Rene, Robin's education is being advanced, though not in ways her guardians would approve of.
The following day
‘Listen very carefully, I will say this only once.’
Madge jumped and looked up quickly to see her sister grinning at her. ‘Joey, stop imitating Michelle! You gave me a real fright.’
‘She is pretty menacing, isn’t she?’ Joey agreed, helping herself to a piece of cake. ‘Still, you have to admit that she got the school’s cover story sorted with the locals in no time.’
‘We can only hope the Middles remember to speak French all the time,’ Madge said, turning back to her paperwork. ‘Now run along Joey and aggravate the triplets. They should be awake by now and I’m busy.’
Madge went back to rewriting the records of the girls to give them fake French backgrounds. Although it had been Michelle’s idea that the school should be French, it was Madge herself who had worked out all the details. She and Michelle made a formidable partnership, Madge thought complacently, starting on the last record. Jem was about as much use as a wet lettuce. He had gone completely to pieces and was scarcely even fit to look after his patients. Madge was thinking of finding him a job doing the garden, though there was a fair chance he’d mess that up in his present state.
‘Listen very carefully, I will say this only once.’
‘Joey, for Pete’s sake stop messing about and go and see to the trips,’ Madge said impatiently.
Madge looked up to see Michelle staring at her.
‘Where has Joey gone?’ Michelle asked. ‘She cannot go on any trips. It is too dangerous. And you should be speaking French.’
‘Sorry, Michelle. I wasn’t paying attention.’
‘Listen very carefully, I will say this only once.’
‘Yes, you’ve told me that already. What is it?’
‘The Germans are going to make a visit to the school this afternoon. They want to see the girls and check the register to see you are not harbouring any Jews.’
‘Well we don’t have any Jewish girls. They usually go to their own schools. But some of the girls don’t look very French, especially the blonde girls with fair skin.’
Michelle thought for a moment. ‘Do a folk-dancing lesson. You could dress the girls as peasants with shawls over their hair. And if the Germans comment on some of them being fair, tell them they are from the Loire Valley and are throwbacks to the Danish invasion of 1852.’
‘I didn’t know the Danes had invaded France,’ Madge said.
‘They didn’t. At least not as far as I know. But the Germans won’t know that either.’
Madge smiled. Here was a woman after her own heart. The years of being subservient to Jem faded away in an instant and she visualised a glorious future as the saviour of her school and a valuable contributor to the resistance movement, alongside her new friend. She wondered if she would be able to get a raincoat like Michelle’s.
When the Germans arrived, Madge made a creditable attempt at looking surprised and flustered. The girls were all in the Hall, making a truly terrible din folk-dancing. Captain Geering looked in and returned shuddering.
‘They are doing some peasant dance vith shawls round their heads,’ he reported. ‘Ve do not vant to go in there. The noise is terrible.’
‘Show me the school register,’ Herr Flick demanded. ‘I vish to see who is in the school.’
Madge handed over the register and the girls’ records. Robin had been omitted from the register and sent off to Café René in case she was recognised. She had been told to say there until the coast was clear.
‘I hope she’ll be all right,’ Joey had said to Madge earlier. ‘There sound to be some strange goings-on down there. She asked me what the maids would need a flying helmet and wet celery for when they go into rooms with the Germans.’
‘I hope you didn’t tell her!’ Madge said.
‘I didn’t know!’ Joe protested indignantly. ‘It’s not the sort of thing Chalet School girls know about.’
Madge smirked. ‘Good thing I was never a Chalet School girl. Jem loves the flying helmet and the wet celery. He may be no use in a crisis but he’s hot stuff in the bedroom….’
Over at Café René, Robin was peeping through the keyhole of the broom cupboard where René and Maria were going at it like rabbits. Robin carefully memorised some of Maria’s phrases for later use. She could hear Madame Edith’s heavy tread approaching and she rattled at the broom cupboard door urgently.
‘Quick, Madame Edith is coming,’ she hissed through the keyhole.
Robin thought she heard René saying ‘So am I’ but she realised that she must have been mistaken as he was already in the broom cupboard. They were never going to get out of the cupboard looking respectable in time so she charged along the passageway and cannoned into Madame Edith.
‘Oh, I am so sorry, Madame,’ Robin said, feigning penitence. ‘I saw a mouse and I was running to find Monsieur René.’
‘He would be no use, child,’ Edith said with contempt. ‘I do all the difficult jobs around here. Now where is it?’
‘In the café, Madame,’ Robin said, hustling Madame Edith along the corridor and into the front of the building.
Before they could start hunting for the supposed mouse, the café door opened and a local child came in.
‘A letter for Madame Edith from the school,’ he announced.
‘This will be to say you can go back to school, Maria Cecile,’ Madame Edith said, opening the letter. Robin hoped not. It was much more fun here and she had learned a lot in a short time.
René reappeared, now tidy but with a satisfied smile on his face.
‘Oh René,’ Madame Edith said, clutching the letter. ‘Madame Russell says that Herr Flick has insisted on putting two of his officers into the school as teachers. But what about the painting? It is in the cupboard of the Matey. I do not think it is safe enough there.’
‘No problem, Madame Edith,’ Robin put in. ‘Matey can get two of the naughty girls to hem the painting between two sheets. It is just a different version of sides-to-middle.’
‘Suppose no girls are naughty today?’ Madame Edith asked. ‘Could not the Matey do it?’
Robin shrugged. ‘There are always naughty Middles. It’s in the job description. And Matey can’t sew. That’s why she always gets naughty girls to do her sewing.’
‘Michelle will have to get the message to the school,’ Madame Edith told René. ‘Madame Russell writes that we must keep little Maria Cecile here in case she is recognised.’
A satisfied smile crossed Robin’s face. She could stay here! With René who owed her a favour. And she knew precisely how she was going to exact payment.
Chapter 4 - 6th Form Rebellion by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
The war is having its effect at the school..........
Thanks for all the reviews - glad you're enjoying the story!
Health warning: Please park your illusions about the Chalet School and its pupils/staff here or alternatively don't read on!
Lieutenant Gruber was not enjoying his part-time teaching at the Chalet School. The Middles didn’t worry him too much as they were still very young but being anywhere near the Seniors terrified him. The older girls knew this and took every opportunity to terrorise him by hitching up their skirts to produce handkerchiefs from their stockings, getting close to him when he was marking their work and asking embarrassing questions in class.
When he tried to discipline them by sending them to Miss Annersley, she pretended to give them order marks but fed them coffee and cakes as a reward. Consequently the whole of the Sixth Form was becoming rather plump.
Helga was supposed to be teaching them physical education and she pretended to take them out on cross country runs twice a week. As soon as they were out of sight of the school, they sat round sun-bathing with Helga telling them how to attract men and teaching them to put on make-up. She had soon discovered that they spoke German but she had agreed not to let Herr Flick know, in exchange for them not letting on that she couldn’t be bothered to teach them physical education or indoctrinate them about the supremacy of the Vaterland.
Maria Mariani wasn’t allowed to go into Helga’s class, as her father’s death meant that she couldn’t even pretend to tolerate anyone in Hitler’s service. Miss Annersley found her other things to do on the two lessons a week which Helga had with Maria’s form. Maria did attend Lieutenant Gruber’s lessons. As she pointed out to Miss Annersley, “Lieutenant Gruber couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding. Anything less like an enemy soldier I can’t imagine. Toy soldier is more like it.’
One afternoon when Helga and some of the Sixth Form were lying about in a meadow playing Dirty Scrabble in German – Helga was teaching them new words – the girls spotted the British airmen in the woods. They tried to divert Helga’s attention but she had spotted them.
‘Is that the British airmen you’re hiding?’ Helga asked.
The girls gaped. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘It’s okay, I won’t tell Herr Flick,’ Helga assured them. ‘I don’t tell him anything important, he’d only keep me here longer. I quite enjoy the two days a week with you girls but it means I see less of Herr Flick.’
‘Do you actually like him, Helga?’ Yvette Mercier asked, voicing what several of them were thinking.
‘Power is a great aphrodisiac, as you’ll find out when you’re a bit older,’ Helga told them. ‘And he may seem like a cold fish to you but the sex is wild when I can get him to forget all this secret police nonsense.’
Unnoticed they had been joined by a newcomer. ‘I don’t think Miss Annersley would approve of this conversation.’
‘Oh sod off, Joey, you’re not Head Girl now.’ Cornelia Flower told her.
‘You’re Games Prefect, Cornelia,’ Joey pointed out. ‘You should be more concerned with physical education classes than lazing around.’
‘None of your business what we do,’ Cornelia retorted. ‘What do you want anyway?’
‘I was just out for a walk and I thought you’d like to see the triplets,’ Joey said huffily. ‘But if you’re too busy I’ll go back to the school.’
‘Good idea, Joey.’ Polly Heriot said. ‘We don’t want to be bothered with squalling babies. Helga is telling us about her sex life.’
‘Really!’ Joey exclaimed. ‘I don’t know what this school is coming to! I’m going to see Miss Annersley.’
‘She always was a meddler,’ Violet Allison said as Joey stalked off. ‘But it’s probably an empty threat. Go on, Helga. Tell us about the underwear you got in Berlin.’
The Sixth Form all agreed it was one of the most fun afternoons they had ever spent at the Chalet School. ‘To think we used to get excited by going skiing and having the Sale,’ Polly exclaimed. ‘What innocent babes we were!’ But the fun was about to turn sour. They tumbled into the school to be met by Miss Annersley at her most forbidding. ‘You are late for Café et Gateaux. Go along to the Splashery now and tidy yourselves. You are a disgrace to the Chalet School. Then straight to the Salle a Manger please. And no talking! You will sit in silence at your table and I will see you all afterwards in my office.’
The girls looked at each other, dismayed. ‘That beast Joey has grassed us up,’ Cornelia said. ‘As if she was such an angel.’
‘Not when she was a Middle. But she turned into a real prig by the time she got to the Sixth Form,’ Violet pointed out. ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan. Let me do the talking when we go and see the old bat.’
It was obvious at Café et Gateaux that the Sixth Form were in trouble and the Middles sat giggling about it. Their elders gave them glares which promised revenge in due course. After the meal they duly presented themselves at Miss Annersley’s office.
‘Girls, I am very disappointed to hear from Mrs Maynard that you were skiving lessons.’
‘We weren’t skiving, Miss Annersley,’ Violet told her mendaciously, without batting an eyelid. ‘We were out cross-country running with Helga when we saw the airmen in the woods ahead of us. We had to divert Helga’s attention so I pretended to turn my ankle and then we encouraged her to talk about her work with Herr Flick. We thought we might hear something we could pass on to Robin to tell Michelle.’
The other girls looked at her in astonishment. The previously quiet Violet had turned into a first-class liar overnight! Was this what being at war did?
‘And Mrs Maynard said you were very rude to her when she tackled you about not being at lessons,’ Miss Annersley went on, apparently satisfied with Violet’s explanation.
‘That was just for Helga’s benefit,’ Violet said. ‘We’re trying to get her to think that we are undermining the traditional values of the School.’
‘You seem to be doing that in spades,’ Miss Annersley said, smiling faintly. ‘However I will have to be seen to punish you for being late for a meal, or it will be a bad example to the younger ones. You will stay in on Saturday afternoon and do extra code-breaking practice.’
As the alternative was to go to Joey’s apartment for tea and play with the trips, the Sixth was pretty pleased with this as a punishment, but they knew better than to display this to Miss Annersley. Murmuring apologies for being late for the meal – though not for anything else – the girls left, seemingly downcast by being in trouble.
‘Lying through their teeth they were,’ Miss Annersley said ungrammatically to Bill later that evening. ‘Who would have thought it? I thought they were completely brain-washed into being Chalet School girls. I wonder where I went wrong with this batch of girls.’
‘Why didn’t you get the truth out of them?’ Bill refreshed her gin and tonic and came back to lounge by the fire. ‘You’ve never had problems with prising confessions out of girls before.’
‘Didn’t have the energy,’ Hilda said. ‘And I couldn’t really blame them for being rude to Joey. She’s such a prig. I’ve got them out of going to tea with her on Saturday so they owe me a favour. Get me another G&T would you please dear?’
Bill got up and poured a gin for her colleague. ‘We’ll have to go easy on this. Not a lot left.’
‘It’s no problem,’ Hilda told her. ‘René has promised me as many bottles as I need. He gets them from the Germans by offering them unlimited access to Yvette and Maria.’
Bill was shocked. ‘And what are you able to trade for the gin?’
Hilda smirked. ‘Don’t go there, dear. But it has a lot to do with a flying helmet and wet celery.’
Chapter 5 - No More Engelkind by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Robin comes out of her shell, much to Rene's dismay. And at the Chalet School, some of the girls are looking forward to resuming lessons.
mid-July 1940, at Café René
‘You see, in me, a very tired man,’ René announced to an invisible audience in his empty café. ‘I have Yvette and Maria constantly wanting my body, which is pleasant but exhausting. Even Madame Edith sometimes wants me to tickle her fancy. And then there is Michelle appearing through windows every five minutes expecting me to send messages to the parents of those brats up at the school. The radio is not in a very convenient place, in the bedroom of the mother of my wife. And it is dangerous using the radio with the Germans in and out of the café all day, not to mention being in rooms upstairs.’
René picked up a glass and started polishing it. ‘Colonel von Strohm wants to be sure his painting is safe and Lieutenant Gruber uses this as an excuse to call in here every day that he is not at the school, as he fancies me. And then Miss Annersley insists on paying me in kind for her gin, though I have told her I will make it a gift. She is a nice lady, and quite inventive I find, but I am so very tired…..’
Robin came into the café from the back room.
‘Ah, my little Maria Cecile,’ René said in relief. ‘At least there is one person who gives me no trouble at all.’
‘Oh, R-r-r-r- René,’ Robin exclaimed, advancing on the startled café owner. ‘C-r-rush me in your arms, fasten your lips on my lips, let us hear each other’s hearts beating wildly….’
René held her away from him. ‘Maria Cecile, have you taken leave of your senses? You are a little girl from an English boarding school. Girls from expensive schools like yours do not behave like this.’
‘What makes you think that?’ Robin asked, trying to wriggle into his arms and being firmly held away from him. ‘R-r-r- René…….’
‘Madame Edith has read all the English boarding school books,’ René told her. ‘Now stop this at once Maria Cecile.’
‘If you don’t do to me what you did to Maria in the broom cupboard, I will tell Madame Edith what is going on,’ Robin told him. ‘I am not an innocent little boarding school girl any more. I am doing war work and I want to be treated as a grown-up.’
‘This is what comes of letting Michelle organise things,’ René said to no-one in particular.
He sat Robin down firmly on a café chair and retreated to the other side of the table. ‘You may not be innocent any more but you are still officially at boarding school. If you so much as hint to Madame Edith what you know, I will tell Miss Annersley about your behaviour and have her recall you to school. Permanently.’
‘How do you know Miss Annersley?’
‘Never you mind, little girls should be seen and not heard. And instantly obedient.’
‘Anyway you could not send me back to school, René,’ Robin said sulkily. ‘I would be in danger now that the Germans have seen me here.’
‘Miss Annersley can keep you in solitary confinement in the quarters of the Matey, sewing sheets,’ René told her. ‘It happens all the time in the books of Madame Edith. In any case, it is nearly the summer holidays and the Germans will not be doing lessons – you can go back until school starts again.’
The entrance door opened and Colonel von Strohm entered, in a state of agitation. ‘René, disaster has struck! Herr Flick has found out about the painting! Vhat will you do?’
‘Me? What will I do? It’s your painting, Coll-on-ell.’
‘But it is in your café, René,’ the Colonel said, clutching at René’s arm.
‘Calm yourself, Colonel,’ Robin put in. ‘It is not in the café, but in a safe hiding place.’
‘Vhat do you know about it?’ Colonel von Strohm demanded. ‘Little girls should be seen and not heard. And instantly obedient.’
‘So hop it,’ René told her. ‘Leave us to our concerns. Go and wash some dishes, even if they’re clean.’
Robin pouted. ‘You will regret sending me to the kitchen. I have an idea to get you out of the mess you’re in.’ She flounced towards the door.
‘Might as vell hear vhat the child has to say, René,’ the Colonel suggested. ‘Out of the mouths of babes and little French maids, as it says in the Bible…..’
René cast his eyes to the ceiling in despair. ‘You will regret encouraging her, Colonel.’
Robin paused for effect.
‘Get on with it, child, do. We don’t have all day,’ René said impatiently.
‘Make a forgery and give Herr Flick the forgery,’ Robin announced.
‘Brilliant!’ René said sarcastically. ‘And where are we going to find a forger?’
‘Lieutenant Gruber,’ Robin said triumphantly. ‘He is good enough to forge the painting.’
The two men stared at each other.
‘Are you sure, Maria Cecile? Lieutenant Gruber can paint to forger standard?’
In reply, Robin whisked off her underskirt and reversed it to show, carefully sewn to the waistband, a painting of a vase of yellow flowers. René and the Colonel gaped.
‘Lieutenant Gruber painted it for me while he was teaching art at the school,’ Robin announced. ‘He is supposed to be giving Nazi propaganda – er, teaching the history of the Glorious Reich – but he is better as an art teacher. Don’t tell Herr Flick as he will be cross.’
‘Great idea, Maria Cecile,’ Colonel von Strohm said, patting her on the head. ‘See to it René.’ He left.
René looked at Robin crossly. ‘It is all very well for you to come up with these brilliant ideas but then I have to execute them. It’s not as if I will get anything out of them.’
‘But you could, René. I have an even better idea.’
‘What is it?’
Robin smiled. ‘I will only tell you if you promise to fix it so I don’t have to go to stay with Joey for the summer.’
‘I will fix it if you stop coming on to me.’
‘Ok, deal,’ Robin said, shaking hands with René. ‘Get Lieutenant Gruber to do two copies, one for Herr Flick and one to give Colonel von Strohm after the war. You keep the original.’
‘You are not as green as much as you look like the chou,’ René told her. ‘But how do I keep Lieutenant Gruber from grassing me up?’
Robin sighed. ‘Cut him in on the deal of course!’
‘I can’t believe lessons start again tomorrow,’ Polly said to Violet as they strolled through the school grounds. ‘The summer holidays have just flown past. It was strange having to stay at school.’
‘I know,’ Violet agreed. ‘It’s a good thing Madame arranged to get messages to our parents that we are okay. We aren’t allowed to know where the radio is but it’s something to do with the café where Robin is working.’
‘It was strange she didn’t come back to stay with Madame or Joey for the holidays, with Lieutenant Gruber and Helga not doing lessons.’
Violet sighed. ‘I’ve really missed our physical education lessons with Helga. I’ve learned such a lot.’
‘I know. Who would have thought you could actually use an egg whisk like that?’ Polly said. ‘Still, she’s back tomorrow and we’ll learn more. I really like the German swear words she’s teaching us – they’re so expressive.’
‘It’s been great fun going to Café René when we wanted,’ Violet added. ‘It was strange seeing Robin in her maid’s uniform. I really envy her those black silk stockings.’
‘I wonder who will be Head Girl, now that Maria has left to join the Resistance?’ Polly wondered.
‘Did you see Maria in her Resistance outfit? Those ankle socks look really juvenile.’
‘I know,’ Polly agreed. ‘But they have to wear them so that members of the Resistance can recognise each other.’
‘Oh, that explains it,’ Violet said. ‘Did you hear that Madame is working with the Resistance part-time?’
‘No, really? What did Dr Russell have to say about that?’
‘Well from what I heard he wasn’t too pleased. But Madame told him it was her patriotic duty, and if it wasn’t for the children she would be doing it full-time.’
‘I can’t imagine Dr Russell liking that!’
‘He didn’t,’ Violet said. ‘But according to the person who was eaves-, I mean accidentally overheard the conversation, Madame told him if he made any more objections there would be no more egg whisk.’
‘Egg whisk? Is that some kind of Resistance code?’
‘Must be,’ Violet said, linking her arm through Polly’s as they sauntered back towards the school.
Chapter 6 - There's A War On by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
It's a busy day at Cafe Rene....
Lieutenant Gruber entered Café René and looked around furtively. To his relief, only Robin was in the café, polishing glasses.
‘I need a Schnapps, Maria Cecile,’ he said, still looking over his shoulder. ‘Oh, I forgot, you are too young to serve alcohol.’
Robin got the Schnapps bottle and poured a glass. ‘There’s a war on, Lieutenant Gruber.’
Lieutenant Gruber drained the glass in one gulp and asked for another, which Robin poured.
‘Is there something wrong, Lieutenant? You don’t usually drink as much as this in the afternoon. Well, unless Madame Edith is going to do a lunch-time spot.’
‘It’s the paintings,’ the Lieutenant whispered. ‘I’ve finished them but I don’t know where to hide the spare forgery.’
‘Don’t worry about that, I’ve got it all planned,’ Robin told him. ‘When you go back to the school, go and see Matey and ask her to get the original sewn between two white sheets, one of the forgeries sewn between the pink sheets she keeps for the staff and the other between the blue ones she gives out to the domestic staff for their rooms.’
‘I do not know if I can do that, Maria Cecile. I am scared of the Matey.’
‘Everyone’s scared of Matey, that’s what Mateys are for,’ Robin explained. ‘Just don’t look poorly when you go to see her or you’ll end up confined to the San.’
Lieutenant Gruber left, looking even more hunted and Robin went through to the back room. Maria Marani came through the window.
‘You’re not going to start that “Listen very carefully” rubbish, are you?’ Robin said. ‘I’ve heard enough of that to last a lifetime.’
‘There’s a war on, you know Robin,’ Maria said crossly. ‘Security is important.’
‘So is survival,’ Robin retorted. ‘And planning for after the war. Now I’ve got something I need you to do.’ She explained.
‘No problem, Robin,’ Maria said when Robin had finished. ‘I’ll pop over to the school now.’
Robin collected some more glasses and returned to the café. René had returned and he was looking askance at the Schnapps bottle and glass. ‘Maria Cecile, have you been drinking?’
‘No, René, though this place would drive you to drink at times. Lieutenant Gruber was in.’
‘You are too young to serve alcohol,’ René told her. ‘You could cost me my licence.’
‘There’s a war on, René. And Lieutenant Gruber isn’t going to grass us up.’
‘I am sure your Headmistress would not like to hear you being so rude nor using such slang, Maria Cecile,’ René said severely. ‘Now you may go and sweep the back room. It will teach you not to behave irresponsibly and not to answer back your elders.’
Robin, trained to instant obedience, collected the broom from the broom cupboard and went to the back room. As she entered, she saw the sleeve of a Resistance raincoat as someone was preparing to come in via the window.
‘Bloody Hell, not another one,’ Robin exclaimed.
‘Robin! Such language!’ Madge emerged through the window.
‘You’re going to have to get in and out of the window faster than that,’ Robin told her, unperturbed. ‘That is, if you want to get more work with the Resistance. And that old raincoat of Joey’s isn’t nearly as good as the ones the real Resistance girls wear.’
‘Never mind that,’ Madge said. ‘What do you mean by using such language? You are a disgrace to the Chalet School.’
‘Oh, get a life, Madge. There’s a war on. What do you want anyway?’
‘The first thing I want is you returned to school, immediately. You are becoming out of hand. A few days in solitary confinement and some sewing with Matey might put you back on the right track. Go and change out of those dreadful clothes and ask René to step in here so I can speak to him please.’
‘I’ve got to sweep the back room first,’ Robin said sulkily. ‘I have to do it because I served Lieutenant Gruber with alcohol and I cheeked René.’
‘All the more reason for you to be sent back to school. Now finish your task and then go and change.’
Robin complied and in a few minutes René entered the back room. ‘Good afternoon, Madame Russell. Maria Cecile tells me you wanted to speak to me.’
Madge explained her concerns about Robin.
‘It is true she has become very naughty lately,’ René agreed. ‘But I think a day or two back at school should be enough. She has given Michelle a lot of useful information from eavesdropping on the Germans. They might not talk so freely if there was someone new around.’
‘I will allow her to return if she behaves,’ Madge said. ‘Though I don’t intend to tell her that yet.’
Robin returned, now demurely attired as a Chalet School girl and, after insisting Robin apologise to René for her behaviour, Madge told Robin to go back to school and report to Miss Annersley.
‘You are a real nuisance,’ Madge told her. ‘I get little enough time for my Resistance work as it is. I’m not going to break into it to drag you back to school.’
Miss Annersley, when Robin reported to her, was scornful of Madge’s actions. ‘For Heaven’s sake, there’s a war on! What does some cheek and bad language matter when you’re eavesdropping on the Germans? Has Madge taken leave of her senses?’
‘I think escaping from Jem and being in the Resistance has gone to her head,’ Robin said.
‘More than likely,’ Miss Annersley agreed. ‘But she does own the school so I can’t be seen to undermine her by sending you straight back to the café. We’ll need to keep you here for a couple of days at least.’
‘It’s no problem, Miss Annersley,’ Robin assured her headmistress. ‘I’ve got some things I need to do in Matey’s quarters.’
‘You’re actually volunteering to stay with Matey?’ Hilda was incredulous.
‘I know it sounds mad, but I need to sew some sheets.’
‘You dear, brave child,’ Miss Annersley said, patting Robin on the shoulder.
Chapter 7 - A Need To Know Basis by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Many thanks for the reviews - glad you're enjoying the story!
Robin finds the complications multiplying as she tries to get the paintings safely hidden away.
Matey looked up in relief as Robin came into the San. ‘It’s lovely to see you back here, Robin. And in uniform again! Has Miss Annersley sent you to me because you’re ill?’ she asked hopefully.
‘No, Matey. I volunteered to come and sew some sheets.’
‘Volunteered? Really? Or has Miss Annersley sent you to sew sheets for being naughty?’
‘No, Matey. Well, Madge thinks I was naughty but Miss Annersley doesn’t agree.’ Robin told her tale.
‘I don’t know what’s got into Madame,’ Matey said. ‘Joining that silly Resistance movement has done her no good at all. And what a time I had letting out Joey’s old raincoat to fit her.’
That explained why the coat was such a mess, Robin realised. Matey had always been useless at sewing. Letting her loose on sewing the paintings into their nests would be far too dangerous.
‘Has Lieutenant Gruber been in?’ Robin asked.
Matey beamed. ‘Yes, such a nice boy. What a credit to his mother. I was asking him why he wasn’t married with lots of children. He’ll make a lovely daddy one day.’
Robin sighed. Sometimes Matey just didn’t get it.
‘Are the paintings in the linen cupboard, Matey? Shall I start sewing them into the sheets?’
‘Yes, dear. And they have paper labels attached to them “original”, “fake 1” and “fake 2”.’
Robin collected the painting with the label proclaiming it to be the original and settled herself with some white sheets.
‘Lieutenant Gruber told me to use the pink sheets for the original,’ Matey said.
He would, Robin thought. ‘No problem, Matey. I’ll let him know the code has changed. Robin sewed happily the whole afternoon, listening to Matey’s chat with half an ear. When she had done them all, she rolled up the one in the pink sheets and put it back in the linen cupboard.
‘That’s for Herr Flick to find when he raids the school,’ Robin told Matey.
Matey paled. ‘He’s going to raid the school! How do you know?’
‘I overheard him telling Helga in the café. They don’t know I can speak German.’
‘But that’s the fake!’ Matey protested.
‘Yes, but Herr Flick won’t know that. He’s a Philistine.’
‘That’s so clever, Robin. Of course it would normally be wrong to be so deceitful, but as it’s against the Gestapo it doesn’t matter at all.’
‘Exactly, Matey. Just what I was thinking.’
‘Where are you taking the other ones, Robin?’
‘I’m not saying. It’s on a “need to know” basis, Matey.’ Robin rolled up the other two, which she had sewn sides-to middle with the painting in between and left.
Down in the kitchen, two sausages were ready, as Robin had asked Maria Marani to arrange. Robin put the paintings into the sausages and sewed them up. She went outside and gave a piercing whistle.
Joey, passing with the triplets, stopped and stared at her adopted sister in dismay. ‘Robin, that’s not ladylike.’
‘Go and boil your head, Joey. I’ve got more important things to do that listen to you.’
Joey gasped and clutched at her heart. ‘I think I’m going to faint!’
Robin was unsympathetic. ‘Get on with it then and I’ll get Matey when I have a minute.’
Joey sank on to a nearby garden bench, breathing heavily. ‘I’m going to have an asthma attack.’
‘Fine,’ said Robin. ‘I’ll see to the trips in a minute.’
Maria Marani emerged from the woods, still in her Resistance uniform. ‘What’s up with Joey?’
‘Faking illness again. Just attention-seeking as usual. Take no notice of her.’ Robin handed Maria one of the sausages. ‘Take that to the café for Colonel von Strohm.’
‘I can’t go up to Colonel von Strohm in this outfit!’ Maria said, shocked.
‘No, dimbo,’ Robin agreed. ‘Give the sausage to René. He’ll get Yvette to pretend it’s one of her props for when she’s with the Colonel upstairs and she can get it to the Colonel that way.’
‘What are you going to do with the other one?’ Maria asked.
‘Best I don’t tell you,’ Robin said. ‘Need to know basis only.’
Robin stepped over Joey’s now-prone form and went off to secrete the final sausage. When she returned, Joey was still out cold and the trips were screaming blue murder.
‘As if I haven’t got enough to do,’ Robin muttered. She took the trips into the empty kitchen and sat them on the floor with a fairy cake each. Then she went in search of Matey.
Matey was beside herself with glee at the idea of having someone to look after. ‘Not that she’ll really be ill,’ she told Robin. ‘She always does this when she can’t get her own way. Coddled too much as a child in my opinion.’
Since Matey had been one of the chief culprits for wrapping Joey in cotton-wool, Robin thought this was a bit rich. However she didn’t want to fall out with Matey over it as she wanted to get back to the café.
Leaving Matey to deal with Joey, Robin went back to the headmistress’s study, where Hilda was enjoying a pre-supper gin and tonic.
‘I’ve sorted out all the paintings, Miss Annersley,’ Robin said, giving the regulation curtsey.
‘Good stuff, Rob,’ Miss Annersley said, slurring her words slightly. ‘Off you go back to the caff. I’ll box it off with Madge. And tell René I’ll be in to pay for the latest case of gin tomorrow.’
Robin left, seriously worried. A headmistress with a drink problem was all they needed.
The café was full when Robin, now changed into her maid’s outfit, entered from the back room.
‘Ah, Maria Cecile, thank goodness you are here,’ René exclaimed. ‘It is so busy and I have no help. Yvette is upstairs with Colonel von Strohm and Maria is with Captain Geering.’
‘I suppose that means we’re out of celery again,’ Robin said, picking up a tray and going off to collect some glasses.
Later, when the number in the café had thinned out a bit, mainly due to Madame Edith doing her singing spot, René asked Robin where she had hidden the other paintings.
‘Best not to tell you, René. Need to know basis.’
Chapter 8 - The Sixth Form Revolt by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Matey is absent, the Sixth Form are out of control and the Middles are well-behaved. Can this really be the Chalet School?
November 1940 – at the Chalet School
‘I don’t understand why the Gestapo have kept Matey in prison for so long,’ Madge said to Michelle one afternoon while they were at sabotage class. ‘It’s not as if she can tell them anything.’
‘According to what Robin overheard in the café, they are convinced there’s a painting somewhere amongst the hundreds of sheets they took from her cupboard and they’re making her unpick every one.’
‘It’s sort of poetic justice,’ Madge said. ‘Matey insisted on bringing all those sheets from Austria.’
‘At least they’re not torturing her.’
‘I doubt if Herr Flick has the nerve,’ Madge told Michelle. ‘In a straight fight, I’d back Matey any time.’
Their sabotage practice was taking place in the school grounds. Prep had just finished and all the Sixth Form left their classroom by the window and headed round the back of the building. Madge watched them, mystified.
‘Why did they leave through the window? They’re allowed out into the garden provided they put on their coats, hats, gloves and boots and carry some cold remedies. And Matey’s not here to protest.’
‘They’re playing “Resistance”,’ Michelle explained. They do time trials on getting out of the low windows. But where are they going?’
‘Off to the bike sheds for a fag,’ Madge said. ‘God only knows what they’re doing to get supplies.’
The Sixth Form were discussing an escape plan for Matey while they had their cigarette break. ‘I think it’s a jolly rotten show to leave her with the Gestapo all this time, chaps,’ Violet announced. ‘You’d think Madame would have made an effort to spring her.’
‘French please, Violet,’ Cornelia reminded her. ‘We’re supposed to be a French school.’
‘I know it won’t be very pleasant for poor Matey,’ Polly put in. ‘But it’s much nicer having Helga as our Matron.’
The others nodded vigorously. ‘Hot baths in the morning for a start,’ Cornelia responded.
‘No nasty medicine,’ Yvette said with satisfaction.
‘We don’t have to strip the beds every day and turn the mattress,’ Violet said.
‘And no sides-to-middle sheets,’ Sigrid added. ‘Helga’s form of sewing is much more fun!’
Ruth giggled. ‘Miss Annersley thought she was punishing us for being at Café René when we should have been doing prep. But Helga was teaching us to make French knickers from the parachute silk we found!’
‘She’s a real sport, isn’t she?’ Violet said. ‘I like the late-night sessions in her quarters when she tells ghost stories.’
‘Not to mention what she puts in the cocoa!’
‘It seems quite dishonourable to leave Matey to stew in prison, just because we’re having a good time with Helga though,’ Violet said. ‘We should be trying to get her out.’
‘What can we do, against the Gestapo?’ Cornelia asked. ‘We wouldn’t stand a chance.’
‘That’s true,’ Violet agreed readily. ‘Oh well, poor Matey will just have to stay where she is.’
Sigrid checked her watch. ‘We’d better go in. If we’re late for Café et Gateaux again, the Abbess will have a fit.’
Ruth nodded. ‘We don’t want her to get suspicious and start checking up on us. Helga’s going to teach us to play poker tonight.’
The staff were all in attendance at Café et Gateaux which made the Sixth Form wonder what was going on.
‘They normally leave all the supervision to us,’ Violet grumbled. ‘Lazy sods.’
‘It’s odd, they would normally have started on their G&Ts by now,’ Cornelia said. ‘Something’s up.’
At the end of the meal, Miss Annersley rose – albeit slightly unsteadily – and made an announcement.
‘As you know, our dear Matron is still in a Gestapo prison. We need to discuss how to address this distressing situation.’ She looked round at the assembled girls. ‘However I think we should excuse the Sixth Form from this discussion.’
The Sixth Formers’ jaws dropped but they rose and left without a word. Not for anything would they have argued with Miss Annersley in front of the Middles and the Fifth Form.
‘We’ll have it out with the old bag later,’ Violet muttered as they congregated in their common room. ‘How could she embarrass us like that in front of the rest of the school?’
Back in the Salle a Manger, Miss Annersley outlined her plan. ‘We need to spring Matey from prison, girls. The other staff and myself are going to take you on an outing on Saturday to Café René. It is not the type of establishment we normally like Chalet girls to frequent but needs must.’
‘What will we have do, Miss Annersley?’ Lorenz Maico asked. ‘We are not skilled in breaking into prisons and releasing people.’
‘I want you girls to create a diversion whilst some of the staff get into Gestapo headquarters. We know where Matey is being held and there will only be one or two guards on duty – Saturday is a day off for most of them.’
‘Why are the Sixth Form not to be involved?’ Elizabeth Arnett asked.
‘They are old enough to be held by the Gestapo if they were suspected of being part of the plot,’ the headmistress responded. ‘You girls are young enough not to be considered capable of being involved.’
There were a number of sceptical expressions amongst the girls but they had been taught not to answer back, though several of them considered it when they realised they were being asked to risk being shot by the Gestapo.
They were dismissed to their common rooms and Miss Annersley led her colleagues back to the staff room. ‘Stand by for an invasion by the Sixth Form,’ she warned them.
Several minutes later, the Sixth Form arrived en masse.
‘Come in, girls,’ Miss Annersley invited. ‘I know why you’re here, but my mind is made up.’
‘The Fifth have told us some cock-and-bull story about their being young enough to get away with being involved. Even the youngest of the Middles hasn’t been taken in by that!’ Violet exclaimed.
‘Well I was hardly going to tell them I couldn’t involve you because you’re completely in Helga’s pocket,’ Miss Annersley retorted.
‘That’s so not true!’ Cornelia said furiously.
‘Do you think I was born yesterday?’ her headmistress returned. ‘I know all about the doctored cocoa, the poker school and the French knickers. Now read my lips – you are not coming on the outing on Saturday. You can stay in and hem sheets – we’re completely out of sides-to-middle sheets thanks to the bloody Gestapo.’
‘And what if we refuse?’ Yvette asked.
‘Then you’ll all go to tea in Joey’s apartment every Saturday for a month.’
This was such a terrible threat, the girls paled. ‘Very well, Miss Annersley,’ Cornelia said. ‘We’ll do as you say.’
The following Saturday – Café René
Robin gaped when the café door opened and the entire Middle School and the Fifth arrived in, accompanied by the staff. She stopped her friend Lorenz who was seating herself at a table.
‘What the Hell’s going on, Lorenz?’
Lorenz explained the plan in an undertone. Robin rolled her eyes.
‘It’ll never work with that silly old bat in charge. I’m going to have to get Michelle.’
‘How will you find her?’ Lorenz asked curiously.
‘Oh, she’s always wandering in through the window of the back room. I’ll just hang around in there for a bit and she’ll appear.’
René followed Robin into the back room. ‘What are you doing, Marie Cecile? We’ll need all the help we can get to serve everyone.’
‘Michelle is on a half-day,’ René told her. ‘You’d better go up to the school and get the Sixth Form. They’ll be able to distract the soldiers on duty better than those boot-faced old hags out there.’
‘But how will we stop the staff going out when the Middles start their diversion?’ Robin asked.
‘Simple. I’ll put brandy in their coffee so they’ll get drowsy and won’t want to be bothered leaving.’
Robin was still worried. ‘It won’t work in Hilda’s coffee. She’s got the alcohol capacity of a brewery.’
‘I’ll divert her before it all kicks off,’ René reassured Robin. ‘We need to discuss payment for the last consignment of gin.’
Robin patted him on the arm. ‘Just lie back and think of la France.’
Chapter 9 - The best laid plans..... by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Matey's rescue doesn't go quite according to plan.
Later the same day
Robin cycled furiously to school to find the Sixth Formers sitting in the staff room, smoking.
‘What do you want, Robin? We’re busy,’ Cornelia asked crossly.
‘Looks like it,’ Robin retorted. ‘What happened to the sheets you’re supposed to be hemming?’
‘We’ve got the British airmen doing them for us,’ Violet explained. ‘We’re taking them some beer and cigarettes by way of payment.’
‘I need your help in the village,’ Robin said. She explained what was going on at the café. ‘So get your coats, hats, gloves, boots and cold remedies and follow me now,’ she finished.
‘We can’t go out on pain of being sent to Joey’s for a month,’ Polly told her. ‘We’re not risking it.’
‘We all have to make sacrifices in war time,’ Robin responded, losing patience. ‘This is yours. Now get a move on before the whole scheme goes tits-up.’
‘It’s not fair, we were just going to raid the gin supply,’ Ruth grumbled. ‘They’ve got enough here to keep the whole of the German army going for a month. They’d never have missed it.’
‘For goodness’ sake, what’s happened to your patriotism?’ Robin asked. ‘Do you think about nothing but fags and booze these days?’
‘No,’ Ruth answered with dignity. ‘There’s clothes, make-up and men as well.’
Robin wasted no further words on them but headed back to the café, where the Middles were singing to drown out Madame Edith whilst the Fifth Form had got the German soldiers up to dance. Even Herr Flick was dancing, after a fashion, as Biddy O’Ryan had him in a stranglehold and was forcing him to shuffle round the floor. Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering were more enthusiastic than skilful, but the girls dancing with them accepted the occasional crushed toe as the fortunes of war. The school staff were snoozing in the corner and Miss Annersley and René were nowhere to be seen. ‘Brilliant,’ Robin said to Lorenz, who was behind the bar. ‘It’s going like clockwork so far.’
The Sixth Form had arrived and Robin went back outside to tell them the diversion was under way. ‘I thought they would have started a riot, or thrown food at each other,’ Robin said. ‘However this more peaceful diversion seems to be working for the moment.’
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with Middles these days,’ Cornelia said. ‘They’ve completely forgotten how to be naughty.’
They went round the corner to Gestapo headquarters and got past the guard on the door easily with the gift of cigarettes and the promise of future sexual favours. The guards at the cells proved more difficult to crack.
‘We just want to visit Matey,’ Violet told them. ‘She’s been here a long time now and she’ll be pining for the school.’
‘I don’t think so, miss. She seems perfectly happy. But Herr Flick doesn’t allow prisoners to have visitors.’
‘He’s at the café. Couldn’t you let us in for five minutes?’ Cornelia wheedled.
‘Sorry miss. Herr Flick would have our guts for garters.’
‘I never knew it was the same expression in French,’ Ruth whispered to Polly. ‘Why do we never learn any useful French slang?’
Assuming the question to be rhetorical, Polly didn’t answer but concentrated on getting past the guards. She whispered in the ear of one, then the other. They both blushed but went along the corridor with her and disappeared into a room on the left of the corridor.
The rest of the girls watched them open-mouthed. ‘No time to worry about Polly, let’s get Matey first,’ Cornelia said.
They raced along the corridor to find Matey sitting in a cell with the door open. ‘Hello, girls. You’re all looking a bit peaky. You’d better help yourselves to a dose of medicine when you get back to school. What are you doing here?’
‘Rescuing you, Matey. Polly has distracted the guards. We need to be quick!’
Matey looked at her rescuers in surprise. ‘But I don’t want to be rescued. I’m perfectly happy here.’
‘You can’t stay in a Gestapo prison!’ Violet exclaimed. ‘They could torture you or anything!’
Matey snorted in disgust. ‘Herr Flick hasn’t got the nerve. Why do you think I’m not locked in!’
‘Look, Matey we need to get going. Polly could be in danger!’
‘Well go and rescue her then,’ Matey said. ‘I don’t want rescuing. I’m having too much fun here with all these nice guards.’
Nothing the girls could say would persuade her so they soon gave up and went back to the entrance where Polly was waiting for them, alone.
‘How did you get away from them?’
‘Where are the guards?’
‘What was all that about?’
The questions came thick and fast but Polly brushed them aside. ‘Never mind all that. Where’s Matey?’
‘She wouldn’t come with us. She wants to stay here.’
‘You mean we’ve risked getting caught breaking bounds and the silly old bag won’t move?’ Polly was incredulous. ‘Just wait till I get my hands on Robin!’
‘Let’s get back to school before the party breaks up at the café and we get caught,’ Cornelia said.
Once back at school, sitting in the San pretending to hem sheets, the others demanded an explanation from Polly. ‘How on earth did you persuade the guards to go with you?’
‘Well I don’t know why it worked, but I just whispered “wet celery” and “egg whisk” to them and they went with me. I got them into the room and then told them I’d have to go and get the celery and the whisk. They’re probably still waiting for me to return!
Miss Annersley had returned to school with a very satisfied smile on her face and she sent for the Sixth Form. They arrived at her study looking apprehensive.
‘What’s this I hear about you being in the village this afternoon?’ she asked.
‘That little beast, Robin!’ Cornelia burst out. ‘She’s for the high jump!’
‘It wasn’t Robin who told me, it was René,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘And I understand why you were there. But where’s Matey?’
The girls explained.
‘Oh really, she’s so selfish,’ Miss Annersley exclaimed. ‘She’s got all those young soldiers to herself and she won’t let anyone else have a turn!’
Chapter 10 - Herr Flick Needs Help by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Herr Flick seeks help from Miss Annersley
Hilda was enjoying her first G&T of the day, having told the Sixth Form to do private study instead of their English lesson, when a visitor was announced. Hilda hastily secreted her glass in her desk.
‘I apologise for arriving at such an early hour,’ Herr Flick said as he was shown into Hilda’s office. ‘I appreciate that 9 in the morning is not a good time for a schoolteacher but unfortunately the matter is of some urgency and I am rather busy today torturing people.’
‘It’s no problem, Herr Flick,’ Hilda said, wondering what she had done and whether she was on the torture list. ‘How can I help?’
‘It’s concerning Frau Matey,’ Herr Flick said. ‘She has unpicked all the sheets and there is nothing there.’
‘Does that mean you’ll be releasing her?’ Hilda asked, thinking of constant medicine doses, the San filled again despite no-one having needed it since Matey was taken prisoner and the inevitable tantrums from the Sixth Formers.
‘That’s the delicate part,’ Herr Flick explained. ‘The Gestapo cannot be seen to have been wrong. Like headmistresses, ve are never wrong.’
‘I see what you mean,’ Hilda sympathised. ‘Your street cred. will be shot.’
‘Exactly,’ Herr Flick agreed. ‘So ve need to find a vay to get Frau Matey back to you vithout the Gestapo looking silly.’
‘Couldn’t you let her escape?’ Hilda suggested. ‘You could blame it on a junior member of staff and we could send Matey into hiding and pretend she’s on the run.’ This would solve all the problems, Hilda reflected, as Matey would not be able to resume duties.
‘Ve haf tried that,’ Herr Flick explained. ‘But she doesn’t vant to leave. However ve can’t keep her indefinitely. Our supplies of medicine are at an all-time low.’
As were the supplies of vhisky, Hilda had no doubt, but she kept the thought to herself.
‘Could you allow me a little time to think this over, Herr Flick?’ she asked, at her most gracious. ‘I am sure I can come up with a solution which will be acceptable but I need a little thinking time.’
‘Certainly, Miss Annersley,’ Herr Flick replied, rising from his seat. ‘I apologise again for interrupting your gin and tonic hour.’
Hilda showed him out and then picked a classroom at random. The Fourth were in the middle of French with Mademoiselle when Hilda burst in.
‘May I help you, Miss Annersley?’ Mademoiselle asked, signalling the girls, who had stood politely at the arrival of their headmistress, to sit.
‘I need one of the girls to go on an errand for me,’ Hilda explained.
Mademoiselle drew Hilda into the corridor. ‘In the middle of lesson time? Is this really urgent?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ Hilda said. ‘In fact it’s a catastrophe. We’re likely to get Matey back imminently.’
‘Mon Dieu, a catastrophe indeed!’ Mademoiselle exclaimed. ‘You may have Betty Wynne-Davies. She is too docile, I fear trouble.’
‘I keep thinking the same,’ Hilda said. ‘And yet the Middles are behaving like angels. It’s the Sixth who have gone right off the rails.’
‘I will return to the classroom and send Betty to your study,’ Mademoiselle said. ‘Perhaps you should eat a mint sweet before she arrives?’
Mademoiselle entered the classroom, where the girls were studying in perfect silence. She couldn’t get rid of the uneasy feeling that the Chalet School world was tilting on its axis.
‘Betty, please could you report to Miss Annersley in her study,’ Mademoiselle said. ‘Now.’
The girls all looked up in consternation and Betty rose. ‘Please, Mademoiselle. I haven’t done anything wrong.’
‘I know, ma petite,’ Mademoiselle reassured her. ‘Miss Annersley needs you to do something for her.’
‘But what about my French lesson, Mademoiselle?’ Betty asked. ‘May I come and see you later to catch up?’
Mademoiselle, feeling rather faint from shock, promised Betty her help later. ‘Now run along. It won’t do to keep the headmistress waiting.’
Hilda had returned to her office and consumed a strong black coffee. She smiled when she saw Betty’s anxious expression as the latter bobbed her curtsy.
‘You are not in trouble, Betty. I need you to run an errand for me. Could you go to Café René and ask Robin to call in and see me as soon as she is off duty, please?’
‘Very well, Miss Annersley. But it’s maths after break. I’ll hurry but I may not get back in time.’
‘Don’t worry dear, I will sort all that out.’
‘But what about the work, Miss Annersley? Could I have my lesson after prep?’
‘I’m sure we can arrange something, Betty. Are you sure you are feeling quite well? Do you need to see Fraülein Helga?’
‘I am very well, thank you, Miss Annersley. May I set off now?’
Hilda graciously gave her permission and Betty left to collect her coat, hat, gloves, boots and cold remedy.
It was a cold day and Betty was freezing when she arrived at Café René. Robin insisted she sit down and have some hot coffee.
‘But I’m missing lessons, Robin! I need to get back as soon as possible.’
‘You’re turning into a real prig, Betty. You used to be one of the naughtiest girls in the school. Whatever happened to you?’
‘Some of us have to behave with maturity,’ Betty answered with dignity. ‘Miss Annersley is on the gin and the rest of the mistresses have gone to pieces, the Sixth are in cahoots with Helga and Matey is in prison. Even Madame is so wrapped up with the Resistance she has no time for the school and Joey is unconscious with feigned illness most of the time. The whole place would go to rack and ruin if it wasn’t for the Middles. We’re even having to feed the British airmen because no-one else remembers to do it.’
‘Who’s looking after the trips?’ Robin wanted to know.
‘Anyone who happens to be around,’ Betty said with feeling. ‘You’d better get your skates on, Robin.’
‘I’m not due off duty for ages yet,’ Robin said. ‘I’ll need to see if René will let me off. It’s a bit difficult because the Germans are in for lunch.’
Betty looked round the empty café. ‘Where are they then?’
Robin decided Betty didn’t need to know the details. ‘They are lunching in private rooms.’ She was relieved when Betty accepted this without comment. Just then, Yvette reappeared looking slightly dishevelled.
‘I might be able to get away, since Yvette has returned,’ Robin said. ‘I’ll go and find René.’
René was in the back room. Robin explained about Miss Annersley asking to see her.
‘I need you here, Maria Cecile,’ her boss said, looking worried. ‘Maria is still with Captain Geering and is likely to be some time. I don’t think you can go at the moment.’
Madame Edith’s voice could be heard in the corridor, scolding Yvette.
Robin advanced on René. ‘Oh, R-r-r- René,’ she said throatily. ‘Crush me in your arms, press your lips against my lips.’ She put her arms round René.
‘Stop that, Marie Cecile,’ René said, fending her off. ‘Madame Edith is in the corridor.’
Robin redoubled her efforts and spoke more loudly.
Madame Edith entered the back room as Robin, clinging to René like a limpet, tried to kiss him.
‘René! What are you doing with that child in your arms?’
‘You stupid woman!’ René retorted. ‘Can’t you see she is trying to blackmail me to let her off duty? We could hear your foghorn tones in the corridor and she is trying to cause trouble.’
‘Very well, René,’ Madame Edith said. ‘I shall leave you to deal with her. I must practise my songs for tonight.’ Madame Edith left.
‘You see, it failed,’ René said. ‘Now get on with your work. You may go up to the school when the lunch-time rush is over. And if you ever try that stunt again, I will set you to cleaning the café whilst Madame Edith is practising in there.’
‘Very well, René,’ Robin said, suitably crushed. She returned to the café where Betty was finishing her coffee and a large cake, bestowed on her by Madame Edith.
‘Tell the old bat I’ll be along after lunch,’ Robin told Betty. ‘Now you’d better hurry. Madame Edith is going to start practising in a minute.’
Lunch service was over early, due to Madame Edith doing her singing spot and Robin headed to the school.
Miss Annersley explained the problem. Robin thought for a while.
‘Herr Flick won’t mind Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering looking stupid. The best thing will be for him to hand her over to them. We can get the Resistance to mount a rescue after she’s out of Herr Flick’s hands.’
‘Won’t the Colonel and the Captain be cross?’
‘They’ll be so glad not to be dosed with medicine and confined to the sick bay if they sneeze, they’ll soon get over it. And I’m sure Yvette and Maria can divert them.’
‘You think of everything, Robin,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘I’ll have a word with Herr Flick and explain the plan.’
‘Best not to mention the Resistance by name though,’ Robin said. ‘He’s not supposed to know they exist.’
‘Will you be able to get the message to Michelle?’ Miss Annersley asked.
‘She’ll appear through the window of the café some time,’ Robin said. ‘But just in case I’ll let Madge know the plan and she can pass it on while they’re doing bomb-setting practice.’
Herr Flick was delighted with the plan when Hilda explained it to him later that afternoon. ‘Ve vill plan the move for 23 December vhich means that you vill haf Frau Matey back for Christmas.’
‘How will we deal with the fact that she’s supposed to be on the run?’ Hilda asked.
‘Ve vill let you know vhen ve’re going to do a spot check raid on the school,’ Herr Flick said. ‘It is not normal Gestapo practice to do this, but as you are taking Frau Matey off our hands, I think a little co-operation is in order.’
Outside the window, shivering in the chill of the afternoon, Violet listened with dismay. She hurried back to the common room, having divested herself of her coat, hat, gloves, boots and cold remedy.
‘The Gestapo are planning to let Matey go,’ she announced in gloomy tones. ‘So Helga will be going back to her normal duties.’ She explained about the plot for Matey to “escape”.
‘Could we foil the escape, do you think?’ Cornelia asked.
‘Only if no-one knew it was us,’ Violet said. ‘We’d have made enemies of the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht if we leave Matey with them. And if we knacker a Resistance exercise to rescue Matey, they’ll not be very happy with us.’
‘It’s all very well for them. They don’t have her dosing them and confining them to bed for a week when they have indigestion.’ Ruth spoke from bitter experience.
‘Why don’t we wait until the Resistance have rescued her, then kidnap her and keep her somewhere until she agrees to adopt Helga’s way of being Matron?’ Polly suggested.
‘Genius!’ Cornelia exclaimed.
Chapter 11 - Matey and the Rescue by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
It's time for Matey to be transferred to a new prison and for the Resistance to rescue her. But as with everything in CS-land and the world of Cafe Rene, it's not straightforward.
Christmas Eve 1940
Colonel von Strohm arrived at the school early in the morning and asked to see Miss Annersley.
‘I need your help, Miss Annersley,’ he said. ‘I need to borrow Frau Matey.’
‘But she is a prisoner of the Wehrmacht, Colonel,’ Miss Annersley said, playing the innocent.
‘You know that is not the case, Miss Annersley. Headmistresses of posh schools should not tell porkies.’
‘Colonel, is it not the case that Matey was released by the Gestapo into the custody of the Wehrmacht?’
‘That is true,’ the Colonel allowed. ‘But your girls vere involved in her escape.’
‘My girls were in the village carol-singing, Colonel. It is Christmas after all.’
‘I am not going to prosecute them for helping in the escape. I vill even let you have her back tomorrow. But I need her urgently.’
‘Is someone ill, Colonel? We have Dr Russell here who could help.’
‘No, no-one is ill. General von Klinkerhoffen is visiting and I need my prisoner to be in prison!’
Miss Annersley was sympathetic. ‘I would help you if I could. But Matey isn’t here and I have no idea where she was taken when she was rescued from the army truck.’
The Colonel’s shoulders slumped. ‘If the General thinks there is a lot of Resistance activity here and I am not dealing with it, he will replace me and send me to the Russian Front!’
Miss Annersley rose to usher her guest out. ‘If I do find her, I promise I will lend her to you until the General leaves.’
As soon as the Colonel left, Miss Annersley set off for the café. If anyone could sort out this mess, it was Robin.
‘It’s ok, Miss A. I’ve got it all under control,’ Robin assured her headmistress, a little while later. ‘I sent out a search party and they’ve found the Resistance girls but not Matey.’
‘What happened to the Resistance after they took Matey?’
‘It wasn’t them who took her. They were ambushed on the way here and their raincoats, berets and socks were taken!’
‘Where have they been since yesterday?’
‘They were too embarrassed to show face so they’ve been holed up at their HQ, drowning their sorrows! They didn’t know Matey had been taken after all.’
Miss Annersley looked grim. ‘We don’t need to look far for the culprits. Robin, please get a message to the school that I want the Sixth Form down here pronto.’
‘Ok, Miss A. Will do.’
Half an hour later, the Sixth Form arrived and Miss Annersley confronted them, René having lent the back room for the purpose.
‘I assume you are not going to deny responsibility for kidnapping Matey?’
‘No, we aren’t denying it,’ Violet said. ‘And we aren’t giving her back either. Not until our demands are met.’
‘What happened to all the respect for elders, honourable behaviour and consideration for others I have taught you? You girls are naughtier now than you were as Middles!’
‘Don’t start all that honour and duty stuff,’ Cornelia said. ‘It’s everyone for herself now. We’re stuck in occupied territory because you were too stupid to get us off the island when all the signs were that the Germans were going to invade.’
‘Very well. What do you want?’
‘Hot baths in the morning,’ Polly said.
‘No looking after Joey’s squalling babies,’ Violet added. ‘And Resistance lessons like Madame.’
‘No medicine,’ Ruth put in.
Miss Annersley sighed. ‘Ok. You've got it. Now will you please return Matey? Colonel von Strohm needs to borrow her. He’s got his General here.’
‘Why are we co-operating with the Colonel? He’s supposed to be the enemy.’
Hilda rolled her eyes. ‘Have you got no brains, Polly? He’s a pussy cat. If he gets sent to the Russian Front we could get someone who would object to our hiding British airmen and working with the Resistance! Now go and get Matey and take her to the army HQ please.’
‘We want the agreement in writing first,’ Cornelia said.
A little later, clutching the agreement, the Sixth Formers ran up to the attic, to Madame Fanny’s room.
‘Sorry to interrupt the chinwag, Matey, but we’ve got to lend you to Colonel von Strohm.’ The girls explained.
Matey said her farewells to Madame Fanny, promising to return soon to visit and allowed herself to be taken over to Colonel von Strohm’s office.
‘Just in the nick of time!’ he said, relieved. ‘General von Klinkerhoffen is on his way.’
One of the guards led Matey away to the cells and the girls were just about to leave, when Helga came in.
‘GENERAL VON KLINKERHOFFEN,’ she bawled.
The General strode in and looked in astonishment at the room being filled with schoolgirls.
‘Vhat are these children doing here?’ he asked the Colonel.
Colonel von Strohm floundered for an answer.
‘We came to inform the Colonel of an attempted escape,’ Violet said, stepping forward. ‘But he had already foiled the plot himself.’
‘Really?’ The General looked sceptical. ‘You obviously have hidden depths, Colonel.’ He turned back to the girls. ‘Ok, kids. Scram before I lock you up.’
‘That’s terrible slang,’ Cornelia muttered to Violet as they left. ‘He obviously didn’t go to a decent school.’
They went back to Café René, where Robin and Miss Annersley were waiting for a report.
‘Yeah, we got the old bag over there before the General arrived,’ Cornelia confirmed. ‘What I want to know is, how long have we got in peace before the Colonel gets fed up and sends her back?’
‘What I want to know is, where has she put the bloody painting?’ Miss Annersley said.
Chapter 12 - It's Christmas Day in the Schoolhouse by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Despite Matey being a captive of the Germans, Christmas festivities still have to proceed.......
Christmas Day 1940
‘It doesn’t seem right, enjoying our Christmas dinner when poor Matey is in the slammer,’ Cornelia said as she tucked into a large plateful of roast chicken.
‘Very true, Cornelia, but I’ve sent dinner over to her. I hope the guards allow her to have it,’ Miss Annersley replied from the head of the table.
‘What about the British airmen?’ Joey, restored to health in time for Christmas, enquired. ‘Len, stop spitting the chicken out! We can’t afford to waste food.’
Madge, resplendent in a new raincoat, a gift from Michelle, spoke up. ‘I arranged for their dinner to be sent out to them. They’re in the old hen hut at the far side of the woods.’
Violet appeared deep in thought and after lunch she went to find Miss Annersley in the latter’s study. She knew it was essential to speak to her headmistress before the gin bottle came out.
‘Yes, Violet dear, what can I do for you?’
‘It was the mention of the hen hut and food being precious that gave me an idea,’ Violet said, after she had bobbed the regulation curtsey. ‘The old farm on the other side of the wood belongs to this property, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, Dr Russell bought the whole property when we had to move from Austria. It’s amazing how properties magically come available when he wants them. He bought a hotel in a day in Austria when we had to move up to beside the San.’
‘Well, there’s a lot of us to feed, and no school fees coming in,’ Violet said. ‘We don’t know how long the war is going to continue. I was thinking that we could take over the farm as an educational centre. Get some of the locals to teach us farming. We’ve got the airmen as well for any heavy work.’
‘That’s a very bright idea, Violet. What I’d do without you and Robin, I can’t imagine!’
‘Matey could go over and live at the farm to look after the airmen when we get her back,’ Violet added. ‘It would get round the problem of the deal you’ve got with us. She won’t kick off about it if she doesn’t know.’
Hilda nodded thoughtfully. ‘Good thinking. Matey in a right royal paddy is a sight to behold. We could convince her she was doing her patriotic duty. But how would we manage for a Matron?’
‘I thought we could have a Matron-rota amongst the older girls. Those of us who would be leaving school soon anyway,’ Violet explained. ‘The normal post-Chalet School routes aren’t available to us. We can’t to university. Nor can we marry a doctor as all the young ones are away in the armed forces.’
‘I suppose we can’t keep you schoolgirls for ever,’ Hilda sighed. ‘And from the little news we can get, the war isn’t going to be over any time soon. Ask the other girls what they think and then we’ll discuss it further.’
Over at Café René, Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering were having their Christmas lunch with René, Madame Edith and the staff. In deference to the German guests, and because they had supplied the main ingredient, a traditional German Christmas dinner of baked goose had been prepared by Madame Edith, with help from Robin. Yvette and Maria had been busy giving the Colonel and the Captain their Christmas gifts and René had locked the window of the back room and settled down for a snooze whilst the meal was being prepared.
Robin had had one bad moment, when Madame Edith came up with the idea of adding some German sausage to the meal, but she had managed to persuade her that it should be saved for a future occasion.
After the meal, Madame Edith announced that she would sing, which had the effect of breaking up the party swiftly. ‘Ve must get back to duty,’ Captain Geering said.
‘Yes, and take some dinner for Lieutenant Gruber. What a pity he had to stay on duty,’ René said unconvincingly.
Even the Resistance had a break on Christmas Day but the next morning it was business-as-usual. Michelle sidled through the window of the back room.
‘Listen very carefully, I will say this only once.’
‘Get on with it then,’ René said impatiently. ‘I’ve got a café to run.’
‘Herr Flick is still looking for the painting. He never believed the one Colonel von Strohm gave him was genuine,’ Michelle explained. ‘We need him to find the painting soon. He’s all over the island at the moment and we can’t get on with our training.’
‘And what am I supposed to do about it?’
‘Get Maria Cecile to find out from Madame Matey where she has hidden the painting. Then we can arrange for it to be somewhere and send Herr Flick an anonymous tip-off.’
‘Why not just give Herr Flick the painting?’ René wanted to know.
‘Because he would never believe the original would be handed over willingly.’
René thought for a moment. ‘I will see what I can do.’
Michelle disappeared through the window and René went in search of Robin who was helping Madame Edith in the kitchen.
‘I don’t see her telling me,’ Robin said. ‘If she had been going to tell me where she was hiding it, she could have done so before now.’
‘What’s the best way to get round her?’ Madame Edith asked. ‘You need to get her off guard.’
‘Being ill,’ Robin said promptly. ‘She loves that. After all, it’s her raison d’ętre.’
‘Maria Cecile, you are looking very peaky,’ Madame Edith said. ‘I think we had better send you back to the school to be looked after.’
‘No good, Madame E,’ Robin pointed out. ‘Matey’s still in the pokey.’
‘I sense you sickening for something, child,’ Madame Edith said. ‘By the time Matey is released by the Germans, you will be quite ill.’
‘Very well, Madame E,’ Robin said obediently. ‘I will go and see Miss Annersley this afternoon and tell her I’m about to be ill.’
Miss Annersley greeted the news of Robin’s incipient illness with concern. ‘The problem is, Robin, that I’ve had my arm twisted up my back by those she-devils in the Sixth Form to banish Matey to the farm.’
‘She can’t go till I’m better,’ Robin insisted. ‘Leave it to me. I’ll box it off with the hell-cats.’
Miss Annersley was worried. ‘I don’t know that we want to tell them more than we can help. They’ll only use it against us. It would be better if they thought your illness was genuine.’
‘How about if Matey comes to Café René to nurse me back to health?’ Robin suggested. ‘We need to find out when General von Klinkerhoffen is leaving.’
‘I can do that,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘Colonel von Strohm will visit me here if I ask him to. Just pop down to the kitchen and get me some celery and an egg whisk, there’s a dear.’
Chapter 13 - The Return of the Matey by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Matey is released from jail just in time to look after Robin
The next day – Chalet School
Miss Annersley was looking distinctly down-in-the-mouth when Robin visited her the next day to find out if it was time to be ill yet.
‘What’s up, Miss A? You look as though you’ve lost a shilling and found a farthing.’
‘Colonel von Strohm gave me the information about the General’s departure. He’s leaving in two days’ time.’
Robin was puzzled. ‘But you wanted to know when the Gen. was slinging his hook, didn’t you?’
‘Yes,’ her headmistress answered gloomily. ‘But he didn’t take any persuading. He just gave me the information.’
Only a few months ago, Robin reflected, she would have wondered what her headmistress was talking about. And her headmistress would have been horrified at the idea of collaborating with the Germans. It showed what depths of depravity the school had sunk to. Still, this was the price of survival, Robin thought, wondering how to cheer Miss Annersley up.
‘How about I get you a nice G&T?’ she suggested.
The suggestion worked its usual magic and Miss Annersley was once more in a frame of mind to make plans.
‘I suggest you start complaining of illness tomorrow evening,’ she said. ‘Madame Edith can pretend to look after you and as soon as Matey gets back I’ll send her over. All you need to do is to get her to talk.’
‘No sweat, Miss A. She’ll be as high as a kite at having someone to boss around, it’ll knock her off her guard.’
The following evening – Café René
‘I don’t feel at all well, Madame Edith,’ Robin said.
‘You don’t look well, Maria Cecile. Perhaps you should go up to bed now.’
Maria and Yvette looked at each other in astonishment. There had been no indication of anything wrong with their youngest waitress.
Yvette followed Robin into the corridor. ‘Is this a ruse to get out of listening to Madame Edith?’
‘No, Yvette, I really don’t feel well.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Yvette hissed. ‘You knew I had an assignation arranged with René and you’re trying to ruin it by not being around to cover the café. You’re just jealous because he wouldn’t be interested in a little kid like you.’
‘Now listen here, Yvette. I don’t give a monkey’s what you and René get up to. But if you don’t back off, I’ll stop diverting Madame Edith when she’s about to discover you in the broom cupboard, the wine cellar or the hen house.’
‘The hen house was a bit of a mistake,’ Yvette acknowledged. ‘The feathers were very prickly.’
Robin went upstairs and got ready for bed. Madame Edith appeared a little later with a hot water bottle and a thermometer.
‘But my temperature will be normal, Madame Edith!’
‘Don’t you read any girls’ stories, Maria Cecile? You need to put the thermometer in the hot water bottle when your nurse isn’t looking. I brought it tonight so you can practise.’
Robin thought again that she was learning a whole new set of skills, and not ones of which Madge and Joey would approve. Still, her days being babied and conforming to their values were at an end. Now she had to survive on her own wits.
The next morning – Chalet School
Matey was personally escorted back to school by Colonel von Strohm.
‘Ever get the idea that he wants to be certain she’s off his hands?’ Miss Wilson said out of the side of her mouth to Mademoiselle Lachenais.
‘He looks like he just got out of jail,’ Mademoiselle giggled.
Matey received the news that her darling Robin was ill, with sorrow tinged with delight at having someone in her clutches. However she flatly refused to go to Café René to nurse her.
‘I will not stay in that house of ill-repute,’ she announced. ‘We must wrap Robin up and bring her here.’
It wasn’t quite what Miss Annersley had had in mind, but Matey would probably be too busy to undertake her normal duties. Letting her know about the farm could wait.
Miss Annersley organised the collection of Robin, with all the criteria about wrapping up, equipment and driving without bumping her nurseling set by Matey, then headed off to placate the Sixth Form.
‘Being a headmistress was never like this in the Tyrol,’ she muttered to herself. ‘It’s a whole new ball-game.’
Robin submitted heroically to being brought home, wrapped up like a turkey, bathed and put to bed by Matey and generally fussed over. The only point of conflict was Robin’s refusal to give up the hot water bottle bestowed on her by Madame Edith.
‘The San. is perfectly warm and your bed has been warmed too,’ Matey said firmly. ‘You don’t need a stone bottle from that terrible place.’
‘Madame Edith was very kind to me and I want to keep it,’ Robin insisted, remembering to cough part way through the sentence.
Matey seemed determined but not for nothing had Robin observed Joey’s method of getting her own way over the years. She summoned up a convincing wracking cough and then lay listlessly back on her pillows, looking melancholy.
Matey bridled. ‘I will go and refill it then, since you’re so keen to keep it. And I’ll phone for Dr Russell.’
This was an unwelcome development but Robin simply nodded listlessly. There was no way of getting a message to Miss Annersley, as Matey had banned visitors. Luckily Madge appeared, concerned at the news that her ward was apparently ill.
Robin explained the situation rapidly, while Matey was out of earshot.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll make sure Jem doesn’t say anything to Matey,’ Madge promised.
Unfortunately, Matey reappeared with Jem in tow. ‘Wasn’t that lucky? I happened to bump into Dr Russell in the corridor.’
Madge and Matey withdrew to a discreet distance whilst Jem examined Robin. Madge kept Matey in conversation about her recent incarceration so that Robin could speak to Jem.
‘It must have been a terrible experience for you, Matey,’ Madge said sympathetically. ‘Are you sure you’re fit to be on duty.’
‘Well of course I must be here when Robin needs me,’ Matey told her. ‘And actually it wasn’t so bad. I did a lot of mending for those nice boys who were guarding me, which passed the time.’
Madge dreaded to think what sort of state the guards’ clothes must be in now, after Matey’s somewhat haphazard ministrations.
Jem joined them, looking puzzled. ‘I can’t find any real signs of illness. Though Robin is complaining of headaches and being generally achy.’
‘Madame Edith said her temperature was very high yesterday,’ Madge put in.
‘That’s the odd thing….’ Jem started but stopped when he felt a kick on his ankle.
‘Hmm, high temperature, achiness – looks like being pretty serious,’ Matey said with satisfaction.
‘And yet….’ Jem tried again but stopped at another kick.
‘Perhaps we ought to leave Robin to rest now,’ Madge suggested. ‘You could look in on her again tomorrow, Jem.’
Somewhat reluctantly, Jem allowed himself to be dragged away. As Matron went off to fill the hot water bottle, Robin overheard Madge’s threat to Jem.
‘If you say a word to suggest she’s not ill, there’ll be no flying helmet for a week.’
Chapter 14 - A Spanner in the Works by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Robin's plan to get Matey talking goes awry.
29 December 1940 - the School San.
After a morning’s fussing over Robin, Matey sat down in the corner of the San. for a well-earned rest. Robin lay in bed, coughing occasionally and planning how to get Matey talking.
‘Was it very terrible, in the Gestapo jail?’ Robin asked, between coughs.
Matey smiled. ‘It was quite enjoyable actually. The food was very good and the break from school routine was very restful.’
‘Weren’t you worried that they would torture you to find out where the painting was?’
‘What do you call making me unpick all those sheets?’ Matey said indignantly. ‘That was torture. Especially when I think of the hundreds of schoolgirls who sewed those sheets sides-to-middle over the years. It was heart-breaking having to undo it all.’
‘Weren’t you worried about thumbscrews and pulling out nails?’ Robin persisted.
‘Not at all, dear. You see Herr Flick would never have dared to let them torture me.’
Robin nearly forgot to cough in her excitement. ‘Really, Matey?’
‘Haven’t you ever wondered how I’m trilingual, Robin? After all, I didn’t go to the Chalet School.’
‘I thought you’d picked it up over the years, Matey, if I thought about it at all,’ Robin admitted.
‘I was at Matron-school in Switzerland,’ Matey announced proudly. ‘It’s like finishing school but for girls who want to do something useful with their lives.’
Robin reflected that Matron would probably have snagged a doctor if she’d got the chance but with her face and figure chance would have been a fine thing. However she managed to sound fascinated, in between bouts of coughing and looking wan.
‘One of the German girls at the school became a real friend and we’ve corresponded over the years,’ Matey went on. ‘Of course we can’t write to each other now, because of the war, but I remembered that she went to be Matron at a Hitler Youth school. She used to tell me all about the children and I have a very retentive memory.’
Selective, Robin thought, but didn’t voice her opinion. Witness Matey’s convenient forgetting who had made Joey such a hypochondriac.
‘So when Herr Flick came in to see me and started all that “Ve haf vays of making you tok,” nonsense, I asked him if he still needed Snookums with him so he could sleep.’
‘A rather battered teddy bear, by all accounts,’ Matron said. ‘Herr Flick went as red as a beetroot and left abruptly.’
‘How did you manage to get away without unpicking the pink sheets I sewed the painting into?’ Robin asked.
‘It wasn’t there,’ Matron said. She seemed about to expand on this remark when the door opened and Jem came in, carrying Joey.
‘What’s the matter, Dr Russell?’ Matron asked, bustling over to the bed next to Robin’s and turning it back so he could lay Joey on it.
‘Joey’s had an asthma attack,’ Jem said. ‘We need to organise a steam tent.’
More likely Joey was jealous because I’m in the San. getting all Matron’s attention, Robin thought, so she’s made herself ill. There’s no chance of a nice cosy chat with Matron on the where-the-hell-have-you-hidden-the-painting subject now. I might as well get better quickly.
‘What about the children?’ Matey wanted to know.
‘I’ve left them playing in the nursery. Madge is on one of her Resistance days,’ Jem said. ‘If Robin is feeling better, maybe she could look after them.’
Not on your nelly, Robin thought, lying back and coughing.
‘Oh, I don’t think that will be possible for a while yet, Dr Russell,’ Matron told him. ‘Little Robin is very delicate and if we let her up too soon she could have a relapse.’
Defeated, Jem left to look after his children and Joey’s trips. He was not a happy bunny when Madge came back, full of helping to blow up a bridge needed by the Germans for transporting goods.
‘You’ll have to give up all that girly Resistance stuff until Joey’s better,’ Jem said. ‘Someone has to look after the children.’
‘They’re your children and your nieces as well, Jem,’ Madge pointed out. ‘You can look after them. I’m doing vital war work.’
‘My dear girl, I’m a doctor with important responsibilities,’ Jem retorted.
‘Responsibility for an empty Sanatorium with no doctors except you.’ Madge realised the “no nookie” approach wouldn’t work, so she played her trump card. Crossing over to the window she looked out. Michelle appeared through the window wielding her gun.
‘Madge is needed by the Resistance to help us stop the Germans in their work,’ Michelle said, pointing her gun at Jem. ‘If you do anything to stop her, I will shoot you.’
Jem sulked all evening and would not even be pacified with the offer of the flying helmet. Finally Madge lost patience. ‘Look Jem. I’m working, you’re staying at home with the brats. Grow up. Deal with it.’
Chapter 15 - New Year's Eve by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Thank you so much for all the reviews!
Robin finally corners Matey on the whereabouts of the painting. But she doesn't like what she hears....
New Year’s Eve, 1940
Sometimes Robin wondered how she had been satisfied with the peaceful life of a schoolgirl – and she knew she could never go back to that life, whatever the duration of the war. Living in occupied territory, helping to disguise the school being British, co-operating with the Resistance and dealing with forged paintings beat the Hell out of being a dutiful and obedient CS girl.
Joey was still reigning supreme in the San., but had recovered sufficiently for Madge to take her back to her own apartment for a short while to visit the trips. Madge gave Robin a wink over her shoulder as she dragged Joey out of the San. with Matey clucking protectively and issuing instructions the whole while.
Robin suggested a cup of tea, hoping Madge would be able to keep Joey for a while, or that the latter would have an uncharacteristic maternal streak and want to stay with her babies as long as she was allowed to.
When they were comfortably settled in armchairs in front of the big windows overlooking the tranquil garden, Robin gently brought Matey back round to the subject of the painting.
‘I didn’t want Herr Flick to find it in my cupboard,’ Matey said. ‘So I put it in a sausage.’
‘And where’s the sausage, Matey?’
‘Well in the pantry of course. Where else would a sausage be?’ Matey asked indignantly.
Robin jumped up and started to dress rapidly.
‘Robin, you’re still not well, you can’t go anywhere!’
‘I’m feeling a lot better and this is urgent, Matey. I need to find that sausage and get it to Herr Flick. Then he’ll stop crawling all over the island and making things difficult for everyone.’
Robin tore out of the San. and down the stairs to the kitchen. Miss Wilson passed her on the stairs.
‘Robin, no running please!’ she said sharply.
‘Go and boil your head,’ her erstwhile model pupil retorted, not halting in her stride.
There was no sausage in the pantry. Robin went cold. She ran out of the kitchen and stopped the first girl she found, who happened to be Mary Shaw.
‘Mary! Have you had sausage for supper recently?’ Robin asked, grasping her by the arm.
‘Just yesterday,’ Mary said, her mouth dropping open as Robin brushed past her and raced up the stairs.
Matey looked up in surprise as Robin burst into the San. Fortunately Joey had not yet returned. ‘There’s no sausage in the pantry,’ Robin gasped.
‘No, silly child. I meant the pantry at the café,’ Matey said. ‘Madame Edith was here for Café et Gateaux and I asked her to put it in there for me.’
‘Does she know what it contains? What if they eat it?’
‘Of course she doesn’t know what’s in it. But she knows it’s a fake sausage. I told her it contained some of my recipes in English and I didn’t want them falling into the hands of the Germans.’
Robin sighed. ‘But Matey you could have got Madame Edith and René into big trouble if that had even been true. I’m surprised Madame Edith was willing to do it.’
‘She’s a lot braver than you think,’ Matey said. ‘And as she said, why would anyone look twice at a sausage in the pantry of a café?’
The café was busy and it was a while before Robin could get René on his own so she could explain the latest development.
‘So go and get the sausage and we can think of a way of getting it to Herr Flick,’ René said. ‘He needs to believe he has discovered it or he will think it another fake. But I would rather he didn’t discover it in my café.’
‘There is a problem, René. You see I put the real painting in there in a sausage as well. I won’t be able to tell which is which without taking one apart and checking the colour of the sheet the painting is sewn into. Then it will have to be re-sewn. It will take time.’
René thought for a moment. ‘If we could get both sausages out of the pantry and up to your room, you could check them and put the one with the original back.’
Robin shook her head. ‘Too dangerous. Madame Edith could discover they are missing before morning. I need to work on them in the pantry but it means getting Madame Edith out of the way for at least two hours.’
‘She needs a distraction,’ René said, scratching his head. ‘But what?’
‘Oh no, Maria Cecile,’ René said emphatically. ‘I have had to do a lot of things for my country but that is going too far.’
‘It’s New Year’s Eve,’ Robin said. ‘What about keeping her busy with a party for the staff and some guests at midnight?’
René decided that this suggestion was more palatable and went off to organise an impromptu get-together for the staff and some of the regulars, including the Colonel, Captain Geering, Lieutenant Gruber and Helga. ‘Better they’re here where we can keep an eye on them,’ René suggested and Robin agreed.
Madame Edith was delighted at the idea of a party and, just before midnight, Robin went into the pantry with a torch, kitchen scissors and her sewing kit.
Everything was going according to plan until Madame Edith, with several glasses of white wine inside her, wondered aloud where little Marie Cecile was.
‘I sent her up to bed,’ René said. ‘She is too young for this revelry.’
‘Oh, René, you spoilsport!’ Madame Edith pouted. ‘I think we should go and get her. Follow me everyone!’
Unable to stop events, René watched helplessly as Madame Edith formed a conga line and started towards the stairs. The line twisted and turned along the corridor and up the stairs. As soon as it was out of sight, he ran downstairs past the kitchen and threw open the pantry door.
Robin nearly jumped out of her skin but relaxed when she saw it was only René.
‘We’ve got to get you out of here!’ he told her. ‘Madame Edith has started a conga line and is going to get you out of bed. There’s no time to explain.’
Swiftly they re-hung the half-completed sausage and left the pantry, just as the conga line, having found Robin’s door locked, was coming down the basement stairs.
‘René, what have you been doing with that child in the pantry?’ Madame Edith asked.
Chapter 16 - Trouble with Sausages by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Robin and Rene are still plagued by sausage
‘You stupid woman,’ René said contemptuously. ‘Can you not see that she has been hiding in there instead of going to bed as she was told? She was in a sulk because she was not allowed to join the party.’ He turned to Robin. ‘Now go to bed, Maria Cecile.’
‘Let her join the party, René,’ Madame Edith said. ‘It is New Year and she doesn’t get a lot of fun, working in a café when she should still be a little girl at school.’
‘Very well,’ René said, feigning reluctance. Madame Edith caught hold of Robin and put her at the head of the conga, which set off again and eventually snaked its way upstairs to the café.
In amongst the revelry, Robin snatched a moment to speak to René. ‘Maybe we should tell Madame Edith. She knew I was trying to get the secret from Matey.’
‘It’s as you said, Maria Cecile. A “need to know” basis. Knowing too much is dangerous at the moment. Let us leave her in blissful ignorance.’ He scratched his head. ‘Though it is odd that she believed the story of the Matey about the recipes for medicines. Edith may not be a pretty face, and she sings like a dustbin, but she is very clever.’
‘I wondered about that too,’ Robin agreed, but there was no time for more as she was swept off again, this time to dance with Captain Geering.
It was after three in the morning before the party broke up and Robin went wearily to bed, deciding that half-sewn sausages would have to wait until daytime.
Everyone was tired and irritable as they prepared to open the café for lunch. ‘Maria Cecile as you were so disobedient last night, you may go and clean and tidy the pantry,’ René said, sounding just like Miss Annersley, albeit with a deeper voice, Robin thought.
She hurried down to the pantry and retrieved the sausage, cutting the stitches open carefully. It was the one in the white sheet, so Robin stitched it up again as quickly as she could and made a small mark on the outside so she could tell which sausage was which. The other one had to be the pink sheet, and therefore the fake, so she only needed to work out how to get Herr Flick to discover it.
The café was busy but after all the customers had left, Robin had a chance to speak to René. ‘I know which is the sausage with the pink sheet in it. It’s the one I haven’t marked.’
‘Ok,’ René said. ‘Now we just have to get it to Herr Flick without him thinking it’s a plant.’
Madame Edith appeared in the café. ‘That’s a delivery from Colonel von Strohm. A thank you for last night’s party.’
‘That was good of him,’ René said absently. ‘What did he send?’
‘A case of gin, which will give us plenty for Miss A--,’ Madame Edith broke off when she remembered Robin’s presence. ‘And lots of German sausages.’
The latter comment caught René’s attention. ‘And where are the sausages now?’
‘All hung up in the pantry,’ Madame Edith said with satisfaction.
Robin excused herself and fled down to the pantry. Sausages, identical to the ones containing the paintings hung everywhere!
René followed her a moment later. ‘This is a disaster,’ he wailed. ‘How will we find the sausage with the fake painting now?’
‘It has very fine stitching in it,’ Robin said. ‘Real sausages don’t. But it will take me time to go through them all to check for stitching.’
Madame Edith’s footsteps could be heard in the corridor.
‘You naughty child,’ René said to Robin. ‘You have not cleaned this pantry properly. You will stay here until it has been done to my satisfaction.’
René left the pantry to be greeted by reproachful looks from Madame Edith. When they were out of Robin’s earshot, she said, ‘You are too harsh with that child, René. She is a good girl compared to Yvette and Maria, who spend all their time with the German officers!’
‘They have to keep the Colonel and the Captain sweet,’ René pointed out. ‘And Maria Cecile has been brought up to instant obedience. I am simply ensuring that she does not grow too wild now that she is away from school.’
Madame Edith went off, muttering. After a while, Robin reappeared and announced that she had identified the sausage and had hung both of the fake sausages along the top shelf, with all the others lower.
‘I have an idea how to get the fake painting discovered by Herr Flick,’ Robin said. ‘We could put it in a tree near the school and get Helga to discover it when she’s out with the hell-cats.’
‘Hell-cats?’ René queried.
‘It’s an English term for Sixth Formers,’ Robin explained. ‘Helga isn’t doing Matron duty any more but she still teaches PT. The Sixth Form can lead her to it when they’re supposed to be doing cross country running.’
‘Who can you trust to make sure Helga finds the painting without arousing suspicion?’ René asked.
‘For preference I wouldn’t trust any of them,’ Robin said. ‘But I’ll get Miss A to speak to Violet. Violet’s the cleverest of the lot of them and she’ll realise it’s important to get it right.’
‘We need to find a reason to send you to the school,’ René said.
‘Miss Annersley will be running out of gin,’ Robin said. ‘I could take a couple of bottles up to the school for her. That way you won’t be knackered by her paying you for them.’
‘While you are there you can report yourself to Miss Annersley for using deplorable slang and lacking in respect for your elders,’ René told her with dignity.
Robin put some bottles of gin in a rucksack and cycled over to the school. Miss Annersley greeted her arrival with relief – and a good deal of pleasure when she discovered what was in the rucksack.
‘I’m glad to see you, Robin. There’s so much happening here I can scarcely cope with it all. Joey is nearly well so I’m going to have to broach the subject of Matey going to the farm. Then I’ve got to get the farm up and running to give us a cover for hiding the airmen – it’s too cold for them to stay in the henhouse much longer. The Sixth Form are still being impossible and the Middles are so well-behaved it’s frightening. And add to all that the fact that lessons start again in a few days!’
‘No sweat, Miss A. Nothing there that can’t be sorted.’
‘And that reminds me, Robin. What’s this I hear about you using slang and showing a lack of respect for René?’
‘Bloody Hell, how did you know about that?’ Robin exclaimed. ‘It’s only just happened and he told me to report it to you. This place is leakier than a sieve!’
‘Michelle was lurking outside the window of the café,’ Miss Annersley explained. ‘She was on her way here to collect Madame for grenade-throwing classes and she popped in to let me know you would arrive soon.’
Miss Annersley took a swig of her gin and tonic to fortify herself. ‘I am prepared to tolerate a certain amount of slang, Robin, but Chalet School girls should always show respect. If I have any further reports of bad behaviour, you will go and stay with Joey for a week.’
Robin knew this was no empty threat. ‘I understand, Miss Annersley. I will apologise to René for my behaviour when I return to the café.’
‘Now then, what did you come to see me about, dear? Michelle only overheard the last part of your conversation with René.’
Robin explained about the sausages.
‘You want to put a sausage in a tree?’ Miss Annersley asked.
‘No, I’ll take it out of the sausage and roll it in something waterproof,’ Robin explained. ‘I need Helga to find it when she’s out on a run with the Sixth Formers.’
‘Leave it to me, Robin. I’ll ensure she finds it. But I don’t think I’ll use Violet. I have a much better plan, and one the Sixth Form won’t like at all!’
Chapter 17 - Hilda In Control by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Gin bottle set aside, Hilda goes into battle.
Next day, at the Chalet School
Quaking at the knees, Hilda went to beard Matey in her den. Joey had been allowed another visit to her own apartment, so the San. was empty apart from Matey herself.
They sat by the large windows and Hilda tentatively broached the subject of a move to the farm. To her surprise, Matey did not dismiss the idea out of hand.
‘Once Joey is off my hands it would be possible,’ she allowed. ‘Those poor airmen can’t stay out in the henhouse in this weather and it makes sense to use the farm to grow some of our food.’
‘It would be a huge relief to have the airmen settled in a reasonably safe place,’ Hilda said. ‘There’s no chance of getting them off the island at the moment with the Germans all over the place. And I think it would be good to give the Sixth Formers some responsibility here.’
‘Yes, it might steady them a bit,’ Matey agreed. ‘They’re worse than the Middles.’
They settled on Matey moving to the farm as soon as it had been cleaned and equipped and Hilda left to put that in place.
Now for the hell-cats, she thought. I need to be at my most headmistressy.
Much as she would have liked her morning G&T before seeing them, she knew she needed all her wits about her. She decided to summon them to her study, she would feel more confident on her home ground.
When the Sixth were all assembled, and looking curiously at her, she began. ‘I am aware, girls, that you have been unhappy with the state of affairs, particularly our being stranded in occupied territory. However we are here for the duration of the war and have to make the best of it.’
Hilda paused and looked at the row of faces. They didn’t seem terribly impressed so far. ‘I would remind you, that you are all still minors and have been entrusted to the care of the school by your parents. Despite not receiving any school fees, we still consider ourselves morally responsible for you until you reach the age of majority or the war ends.’
They had now absorbed the fact that the school could throw them out in the cold to fend for themselves, Hilda thought. After all, girls from less privileged backgrounds were leaving school and going to work at the age of fourteen.
‘In view of our continuing responsibility for you as minors, I intend that you should complete your education until your normal leaving age. However, this will be modified to allow you to learn to run the farm and to help with Matron-type duties, as Matron Lloyd will be moving to the farm in the next few days. You will therefore not have time to look after Joey’s triplets and I will inform Joey accordingly. I will also not be seeking to direct your free time to any great extent and you may shop in the village provided you do not go alone. Café René is out of bounds unless you are accompanied by a mistress, due to the presence of so many German officers and soldiers in the café.’
The girls were looking distinctly more cheerful. Time for the killer blow. ‘I do not think it is appropriate for you to be with a teacher imposed on us by the Germans without chaperonage. Miss Lecoutier will therefore accompany you on all cross-country runs and a member of staff will sit in on all classes taken by Fraulein Helga or Lieutenant Gruber.’
Whilst they were still looking aghast, Hilda dismissed them briskly to their next lesson and got them out of the door. No talking was allowed in the corridors, and Mademoiselle Lachenais was waiting for them in the classroom, so there was no opportunity to discuss the matter until break.
‘She’s stitched us up good and proper, sending Simone with us on our runs,’ Cornelia said furiously. ‘We’ll actually have to run.’
‘And we better be getting changed. We’ve got PT after break,’ Violet reminded her.
Helga’s original plan had been to run as far as the bike sheds where they could all stop for a smoke but Miss Lecoutier’s presence had put paid to that. As it was raining, she suggested staying indoors but Simone vetoed that.
‘At this school we don’t let a little rain bother us,’ she told Helga. ‘Come along girls!’
It was more than “a little rain” and they were soon wet and muddy but Simone did not allow them to turn back. As they reached the wood, Simone neatly tripped the nearest girl to her, who happened to be Yvette.
Simone crouched down beside Yvette. ‘You’ve hurt your ankle,’ she said quietly.
‘No, I’m fine, Miss Lecoutier, really,’ Yvette said, wincing and Simone got her ankle in a tight grip.
‘Oh dear, you’ve hurt your ankle,’ Simone said a bit more loudly. She moved Yvette so she was resting against a tree, and then turned to the others.
‘Run back to school, girls and get some help. Fraulein Helga and I will stay here with Yvette.’
Helga did not look enthusiastic about the idea but made no objection and the girls ran off in the direction of school. ‘Why don’t we move her to that shed over there?’ she suggested. ‘I will see if it is open.’
Simone smiled in satisfaction as Helga went over to the shed. She took the opportunity to speak to Yvette. ‘You need to play along about your ankle, ok?’
Yvette, cold and wet, was so astonished at the use of a forbidden word by a mistress, that she simply nodded. Helga returned and between her and Simone, Yvette was transferred to the shed to await rescue.
‘Who does the shed belong to?’ Helga asked.
‘It’s part of the school’s property but it’s never used,’ Simone said. ‘Though it might be now that we’re going to be opening up the farm.’
Within ten minutes, Jem had arrived, driving a horse and cart. The ground was too muddy for any other type of vehicle and the Germans had commandeered the petrol. Jem got the shivering passengers aboard and back to the school in a few minutes.
Matey, alerted by the girls, had hot baths waiting and hustled her patients into them whilst she prepared beds in the San.
Helga said somewhat scornfully that getting wet was normal for army personnel and refused the offered bed. Simone, looking out of the window shortly afterwards, was not surprised to see Helga heading towards the woods.
Matey scolded Simone for being out of bed and ensured both her patients were tucked up with steaming cups of cocoa whilst Joey sulked in the furthest away bed, having been demoted from centre of attention.
Simone, who should have been teaching Lower IV, and Yvette, who was on prep duty, were perfectly happy to be missing school for the afternoon and they settled happily to read whilst Matey clucked round them. An awkward moment occurred when Jem arrived to check Yvette’s ankle but, due to the good acting ability of the latter, he diagnosed a mild sprain.
Not anxious to return too quickly to his child-minding duties, Jem lingered for a cup of tea with Matey and between them they decided that Joey was now well enough to return to her apartment permanently.
‘And I think Yvette and Miss Lecoutier will be able to return to school tomorrow, Matey,’ Jem said. ‘But if you hear so much as a sneeze, keep them in bed for another day.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Matey said. ‘I’ve never been known to send a girl back to school too early, and if these two have even a mild cold, they’ll be here for another couple of days.’
‘Excellent, my dear girl,’ Jem said, patting Matey on the shoulder as he left.
‘He’s so bloody patronising,’ Matey announced generally, almost causing Yvette to fall out of bed. Whatever had happened to the normally prim-and-proper staff? This war had a lot to answer for.
Chapter 18 - The Painting by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
Miss Annersley discovers if her plan has worked and Robin gets a shock.
Later the same day
Miss Annersley was in a state of high tension, wondering if the plan had worked, but with Simone confined to the San. under the watchful eye of Matey, it seemed impossible to get news.
‘You’re the headmistress,’ Robin pointed out unnecessarily, on a flying visit to ask about progress whilst René was at the Guernsey war-time version of the cash-and-carry.
‘That’s beside the point,’ Hilda told her. ‘If I try to see Simone without Matey’s permission – I’m toast.’
It was an interesting insight for Robin into the staff pecking order. ‘The sooner you get the old bat off to the farm the better then.’
Miss Annersley agreed. ‘I only worry that something else will happen to delay her departure. No-one was ill the whole time she was in custody but as soon as she came back it was like Piccadilly Circus.’
‘We will just have to hope there are no more mishaps,’ Robin said. ‘Do you want me to try to distract Matey so you can nip in and see Simone?’
‘No need, dear,’ Miss Annersley said, looking out of the window. ‘The plan worked. The Gestapo are arriving. You’d better not be seen here – go out the back door and then collect your bike when they’re inside.’
Robin sped off and Miss Annersley went to the front door to meet her visitors.
‘Fraulein Annersley, ve vill be searching the grounds,’ Herr Flick said, self-importantly. ‘Ve believe there is a painting in a tree. So you must keep the pupils and the staff in the building.’
‘That’s a very strange place to keep a painting, Herr Flick,’ Miss Annersley said, doing her headmistress-act. ‘Everyone is indoors in view of the weather and I will give instructions that no-one is to venture outside.’
‘Or they vill be shott,’ Herr Flick said, with emphasis.
‘Oh, please spare me the melodrama,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘I get enough of that from my staff, let alone the girls.’
Herr Flick did not answer but left the building and directed the vehicles along the track towards the wood. Miss Annersley issued instructions about remaining indoors and then, feeling reckless, headed up to the San. The plot had obviously worked, but the least she could do was praise Simone on carrying it out successfully.
Simone and Yvette were all but hanging out of the window and nearly jumped out of their skins when the door opened, anticipating it would be Matey. Hilda burst out laughing when she saw their apprehensive expression.
‘Just as well for you that I’m not Matey!’ she told them. ‘Where is she anyway?’
‘She went off to check up on Joey, and she’s usually ages. So when we heard the commotion, we thought it would be safe to have a look out.’
‘Well if you put on your dressing gowns and slippers, you could sit by the window and watch,’ Hilda told them. ‘I’ll square it with Matey.’
‘Really?’ Simone said, awed at such bravery, or foolhardiness, depending on which way you looked at it.
However Matey had not returned by the time the Gestapo search had been completed and the cars drove away. Hilda chivvied the two patients back to bed, congratulated them on their performance that morning, and left to preside over Café et Gateaux. Recently the staff had been putting in more appearances at the afternoon tea, as they could not rely on the Sixth Formers. It did curtail their G&T break but the Middles appreciated not having to deal with bad behaviour from their seniors.
After Café et Gateaux, Hilda returned to her study where a considerable amount of work awaited her. Scrabbling noises emanated from the window and Hilda obligingly opened it to allow Michelle in. It was not a French window, and the brickwork was wet, so it took several attempts before she got in. Hilda politely did not point out that the front door was open and waited for Michelle’s opening line. Michelle did not disappoint and then continued.
‘I hear that Herr Flick searched the grounds today, Miss Annersley. What happened?’
‘Oh, it was nothing, Michelle. He was looking for the painting of the fallen Madonna with the big boobies. We left it in a tree for him.’
‘Mon Dieu, you British do such strange things! Why did you not just give him the painting if you wanted him to have it?’
‘Because he wouldn’t have believed it was genuine,’ Miss Annersley explained, as if to a not-particularly-bright junior. ‘So we put it in the tree and then arranged an accident for one of the girls right at the foot of the tree so that Helga would spot it.’
‘This school is a most dangerous place to be,’ Michelle observed. ‘Madge was telling me about all the skiing accidents, avalanches, kidnappings and being stranded when you were in the Tyrol. Occupied territory is safe in comparison!’
‘We never had to do anything which could have resulted in our being shot, however,’ Miss Annersley said snootily. ‘And when precisely are you going to take those airmen off our hands?’
‘Not for some time yet,’ Michelle said. ‘It is more difficult to get people off an island like this than out of France.’
Michelle went off to find Madge to practise bomb-setting and Miss Annersley reached for the gin bottle. It had been a busy day, she told herself, resolving to cut down on her consumption from tomorrow.
Over at Café René, it had also been a busy day. Herr Flick had visited, in a self-congratulatory mood, for a late lunch and had stayed half the afternoon. Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering were relieved that Herr Flick had found a painting and would now give them some peace, they hoped. They were in a mood to celebrate, which meant that Yvette and Maria were missing for some time, there was no celery left for Madame Edith’s recipe and the eggs could not be whisked.
Robin was serving dinners when Violet and Polly strolled in, dressed in outfits which had never before seen the inside of the Chalet School. There were many German personnel in, so Robin had no choice but to seat them quickly, though they attracted several wolf-whistles as she did so.
‘What are you two doing here?’ Robin asked in an undertone. ‘You look like a pair of cheap tarts.’
‘Tarts possibly,’ Polly said, producing a cigarette and looking hopefully in the direction of Colonel von Strohm’s table. ‘But cheap, never.’
Several German officers practically fell over themselves to light cigarettes for the girls and would have lingered at their table, but for a despairing look Robin sent to René. Producing a new bottle of red wine and one of brandy, René managed to distract the officers so Robin could find out what was going on.
‘Are you just breaking bounds for the sake of it?’ she asked. ‘You’ll go too far with Miss A and she’ll throw you out to fend for yourselves, if you don’t watch it.’
‘No, the old bat’s cool about us being here,’ Yvette said. ‘Matey sent us.’
‘Pull the other one,’ Robin said scornfully. ‘Matey would never let you out looking like that. Nor would the Abbess.’
‘Well we did modify our outfits a bit after we left the school,’ Polly admitted. ‘But Matey did send us. There was something she forgot to tell you.’
‘What?’ Robin asked.
‘She said she had forgotten that she switched the labels on the paintings before you sewed them. So the original went into the pink sheets.’
Chapter 19 - Leopards and Spots by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
At Cafe Rene, Robin is trying to deal with the fall-out from Matey's revelation.
Café René – next day
‘You see, in me, a very confused man,’ René announced to an invisible audience in his empty café. ‘Maria Cecile has told me that the sausage which contained the fake painting, concealed in a tree to make Herr Flick think it was the original, was the original which had been sewn into pink sheets instead of white because of the Matey switching the labels. So now Herr Flick has two paintings, one fake which he thinks is a fake and one original he thinks is an original. Fortunately we still have one painting only known about by Maria Cecile, Lieutenant Gruber and me. Lieutenant Gruber thinks it is the original. Until yesterday Maria Cecile and I thought it was the original but now we know it is a fake…..’
Robin appeared with Michelle in tow. ‘She appeared through the window while I was cleaning the back room,’ Robin told René. ‘Nearly frightened the bleedin’ life out of me. I wish you’d make her use the back door, like other spies.’
‘I’ve tried. She’s Resistance. It’s the nature of the beast,’ René said.
‘Leopards and spots,’ Michelle agreed. ‘I would like to use doors but it is not possible.’
‘What do you want anyway?’ René asked, less than hospitably. ‘The café will be opening shortly.’
‘Listen very …..’
‘PUT A SOCK IN IT,’ Robin and René yelled in unison.
Michelle looked offended. ‘I hear that the Germans are in possession of the original painting.’
‘How do you know that?’ Robin asked. ‘We haven’t said a word to anyone!’
‘I am Resistance,’ Michelle said with dignity. ‘It is my business to know.’
‘It’s true, but I don’t see what it has got to do with you,’ Robin said.
Michelle gave an impatient gesture. ‘Everything has to do with us. We do not like the Germans having the real painting. It must be stolen from them.’
René looked at Robin. ‘Why do I think I know what’s coming next?’
‘Because you do,’ Robin told him. ‘Leopards and spots.’
‘You go and get it then,’ René said to Michelle. ‘You’re the expert on covert operations.’
‘I am too busy winning the war,’ Michelle said loftily. ‘You got yourselves into this mess and you will have to get out of it. Or I will shoot you.’
Michelle left and the other two looked at each other. ‘It makes me sick the way she uses that gun to throw her weight around,’ Robin said. ‘She’s like a school bully.’
‘Unfortunately the café is dependent on that school bully for survival,’ René pointed out. ‘And your school even more so.’
Madge dropped in to the café for a coffee on her way to Advanced Radio Operation class.
‘Jem’s kicking off big style at having to look after the sprogs,’ she told Robin. ‘Every time he tries to palm ours off on to Joey she mutters the word “relapse” and he has to back off. She’s smart is my little sis.’
‘Is it going to curtail your Resistance activity?’ Robin asked.
‘Is it Hell,’ Madge told her. ‘I’m going on to Advanced Dynamite-Handling next week. It’s like being in the Guides, only more fun. But why so gloomy, Robin? I thought you liked being at the café?’
‘I do,’ Robin said. ‘I couldn’t go back to being a schoolgirl now. But sometimes the responsibility is too much. Miss A depends on me a lot to help her, Madame Edith relies on me to help in the kitchen because Yvette and Maria are always off sha-, er, entertaining the Germans and Matey is a complete liability.’
‘I see what you mean, Robin,’ Madge said sympathetically. ‘Still, if we can shove Matey off to the farm she’ll be less bother and the Sixth Formers will be busier, which will relieve some of Miss Annersley’s woes, as they won’t have time to be so mischievous.’
‘She could do with cutting down on the G&Ts as well, Madge. I’m trying to get René to reduce the supply but he says payment has suddenly become really good.’
This caught Madge’s interest. ‘Suddenly?’
‘Mmm,’ Robin answered, reflectively. ‘He used to be a bit reluctant to take payment. He said it was exhaustion but I think she just wasn’t a very good lay. However now there’s no stopping him.’
‘I wonder at the recent improvement,’ Madge said. ‘You don’t think she’s been sneaking out to the airmen do you?’
Robin shook her head. ‘Don’t see Hilda going at it in the henhouse, do you? Not really her style.’
Madge got up. ‘Well as good as it is to see you for a gossip, Robin, I’ll need to get on. There’s a war to be won.’ She patted Robin’s cheek. ‘You’re doing a great job, poppet. Don’t let it all get you down.’
‘I won’t,’ Robin promised. ‘But you will call in for coffee again, won’t you? It’s nice to have a chat.’
‘Try and stop me,’ Madge said. ‘I can’t talk to my prissy little sister about the things you and I discuss, Rob.’
Madge left and Robin went through to the back room, where René was deep in thought.
‘How can we find out where Herr Flick is keeping the painting?’ he asked. ‘And how would we know which is the original if we got into Gestapo HQ?’
Robin shuddered. ‘Don’t even think about breaking into Gestapo HQ, René. I’ve got the makings of a plan.’
Chapter 20 - Rescuing the Madonna by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
The rescue of the original painting is under way....
A week later – outside Gestapo HQ
‘It’ll never work,’ René whispered to Robin as they crouched uncomfortably in bushes at the side of the road.
‘Yes it will. We have to make it work,’ Robin responded. ‘There’s no way we could have got into Gestapo HQ to steal the original.’
‘I suppose this is our best chance,’ René said. ‘But the chances of pulling it off are slim.’
‘Nonsense!’ Robin said bracingly. ‘It’s all been worked out. We just need a little luck on our side, or more importantly no bad luck.’
As they watched, Violet and Polly appeared, dressed in the outfits they had worn in the café. They stopped beside the car belonging to the Germans and engaged the driver in conversation by asking for a light. Conversation was lively, judging by the body language, as they were too far away to be overheard and before long the soldier followed the girls along a path at the side of the Gestapo HQ building.
Robin and René looked at each other. So far, so good.
A few minutes later, the German soldier appeared to return from the same direction and get into the car.
‘Was that who I thought it was?’ René asked, incredulous.
‘Yes, of course,’ Robin replied. ‘Remember we had to have a fluent German speaker, just in case. And Madge and Maria Marani were needed for the next phase of the operation.’
‘Will she be fit to drive?’
Robin nodded. ‘I hid the gin bottle when I went up to school for the final briefing this morning.’
Herr Flick and Helga emerged from the building. Helga was carrying a long cylindrical parcel which she placed carefully in the boot of the car. She and Herr Flick got into the car and it drove away.
In the car, silence reigned until the car had to stop suddenly as a bridge which should have been there had disappeared.
‘What is happening?’ Herr Flick demanded angrily. ‘Why is there no bridge?’
‘I rather think the Resistance have been up to their tricks again,’ Helga said. ‘We will have to go by another route.’
The driver duly undertook a three-point turn which, as the road was narrow and overhung by trees, was more like nine points. Herr Flick muttered impatiently whilst this was going on and, when the car almost stalled on the final turn, swore.
Eventually with much bumping, the car crawled forward and an alternative route to the harbour was decided upon. When the harbour was reached, Helga retrieved the parcel from the car boot and handed it to Herr Flick. They both boarded a German ship and returned a little while later.
The car took them back to Gestapo HQ and when they were safely inside, the driver emerged and disappeared along the side of the building.
The real driver reappeared some minutes later and drove the car round to the compound where all the vehicles were kept.
‘How did you get him to co-operate?’ René asked, as they set off to return to the café.
‘He didn’t exactly co-operate,’ Robin explained. ‘We arranged for him to be kept occupied while the car was away. He doesn’t know it wasn’t another soldier who drove it and he daren’t say anything because he should have been on duty.’
René was shocked. ‘Those two girls who looked like tarts are schoolgirls, are they not? You surely didn’t get them to sha-, er, entertain, the soldier to get his uniform from him, did you?’
‘Of course not. Mind you, they were well up for entertaining him but we agreed that Yvette and Maria would be more able to keep him out of the way for the time we needed. So Polly and Violet only had to entice him into the hotel in the next street.’
It was a noisy gathering that evening at the café to celebrate a successful mission. René drew the curtains and locked the door before serving drinks all round.
‘But how could you be sure Helga would put it in the boot?’ Polly asked. If they had taken it into the car then you’d have been snookered.’
‘They carried it in the boot when they got it from the tree,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘And if they had taken it into the car, then I would have crashed the car instead of just stalling it.’
Polly looked at her headmistress in awe and a new respect. She had never imagined Miss Annersley to have so many skills.
‘How about we have a look at this famous painting then?’ Miss Annersley suggested, in high spirits – and not entirely due to the G&T she had just consumed. ‘It’s the only time we’ll get to see a Van Klomp up close and personal.’
Madge put down her brandy and soda, and went round behind the counter of the café. ‘Here it is,’ she said, putting it on a table.
It was unrolled carefully and everyone gathered round to admire it.
Robin looked at it carefully and rolled back one corner to check the canvas. ‘This isn’t the original!’
Chapter 21 - Resisting the Resistance by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
The same evening
‘The sneaky b*****d,’ Robin continued. ‘He was sending the fake to Hitler and keeping the original for himself!’
‘Exactly,’ Madge said. ‘And now our fake is going to Hitler and we’ve got his fake instead.’
‘What are we going to do now?’ Miss Annersley asked. ‘We’ve failed in our mission after all.’
‘Not necessarily,’ Violet responded. ‘It depends on who knows what we have is a fake.’
‘Only we know, obviously,’ Madge said. ‘I don’t see how that helps.’
‘The only reason we were after the original was because the Resistance weren’t happy with the Germans having possession of it,’ Violet said.
‘Ok,’ Hilda said as Violet paused. ‘How does that affect the matter?’
But poor Violet was so shocked at her headmistress using a forbidden word, she was struck dumb. It was left to Robin to come to her rescue.
‘I see what you mean, Violet. Michelle knows we put on an operation to get the original. She doesn’t know we’ve got another fake instead. She doesn’t need to know and we can all get back to normal.’
All heads turned to look at Madge.
‘What are you looking at me for?’ Madge asked. ‘I’m not going to tell her and put us through another operation to get the painting.’
‘We understand it’s difficult for you, what with being in the Resistance and all,’ Robin said.
‘Grammar, Robin!’ Hilda put in.
‘Sorry, Miss A. I forgot myself in the excitement.’
‘Are all the windows closed, René?’ Miss Annersley asked. ‘That sneaky little cow couldn’t have got in, could she?’
‘No, Miss Annersley,’ René said, being formal as they were in company. I locked the doors and windows earlier and checked behind all the curtains.’
‘So we’re home and dry,’ Madge said with satisfaction. ‘Now we only have to get rid of the airmen, not let the Germans find out we’re British, keep reporting back to Michelle what they’re saying in the café, stop the Sixth Form totally undermining our school and get the Middles to start being normally naughty again. Simples.’
‘It’s amazing Helga didn’t work out that we’re not a French school,’ Madge continued. ‘She was teaching for quite a few weeks before Herr Flick recalled her.’
‘That was because we skived PT,’ Violet put in, still smarting about the comment on the Sixth Form. ‘She thinks British schoolgirls are all “jolly hockey sticks” so she was completely fooled by us.’
‘Yes, that was very well done,’ her headmistress put in soothingly. ‘You played a blinder there, girls.’
Violet, now mollified, suggested to Polly that they had better get back to school to help with the younger children, Matey having moved to the farmhouse.
‘Have one for the road,’ René suggested, pouring them another glass of wine each. ‘You did very well today. Your teachers should be proud of you.’
‘We are,’ Madge confirmed. ‘Who would have thought that Chalet School girls could look just like cheap tarts?’
The Chalet School party decided to walk back to school together, to be back before curfew and they all went through to the back room to collect their coats, hats, boots, scarves and cold remedies. They were on the point of leaving when Michelle stepped out from behind the curtains. René did not even allow her to utter her opening remark.
‘How the Hell did you get in here?’ he burst out furiously. ‘I locked the place up tighter than Madame Edith’s purse!’
Michelle looked at him coldly. ‘I am Michelle of the Resistance. I bomb German bridges. I throw grenades into German gatherings. Breaking into your little café is a teddy bear’s picnic in comparison.’
‘What do you want this time?’ René asked, fearing he knew the answer.
‘I hear you have failed to obtain the original,’ Michelle said. ‘You must do better than this. You have two weeks to obtain it.’
‘Or?’ Miss Annersley asked.
‘Or you will be shot!’
Michelle left via the window and the rest looked at each other.
‘No point worrying about it now,’ Robin said. ‘The school contingent better get back there before curfew. And we need to get the café open. How about meeting here tomorrow morning to discuss it?’
‘After assembly,’ Miss Annersley suggested. ‘Polly and Violet, I’ll arrange for you to be excused Matron duties.’
‘I’ve got Advanced Code-Breaking then,’ Madge pointed out.
‘Just skive,’ Robin suggested.
Madge considered this. ‘Good thinking, Batman.’
‘I’m Robin,’ Robin objected.
Chapter 22 - A Woman of Many Talents by Dizzy Miss Lizzie
The rescue is on!
The following morning
By nine-thirty in the morning, the group was assembled in the café with cups of coffee and large slices of Madame Edith’s cake in front of them.
‘How do we prevent Michelle gate-crashing the meeting?’ Miss Annersley asked.
‘Already dealt with,’ René said, with satisfaction. ‘Yvette, Maria and I were waiting for her when she came in through the window this morning. We threw a blanket over her head, tied her up and locked her in the cellar.’
‘Good work,’ Madge said admiringly. ‘Now she won’t know I’ve skived her class.’
‘Are you sure she won’t get free and pick her way out of the cellar?’ Violet asked.
‘Madame Fanee is sitting outside the door, ready to hit her with a bedpan if she gets out,’ René said reassuringly.
‘Mama packs quite a punch,’ Madame Edith added. ‘So there is no chance of Michelle interrupting us.’
‘So, how do we get the original?’ Madge wanted to know.
‘That’s not the right question,’ Robin said.
Everyone looked at Robin. ‘Are you going in for politics, Robin?’ Miss Annersley asked. ‘It’s not a terribly respectable profession for a young lady. As your headmistress, I’d rather you went in for being a café waitress.’
‘No, Miss A. What I mean is, what we should be asking is “how do we look as if we’ve got the original?”.’
Violet caught on first. ‘You mean to fool the Resistance that we’ve got the original?’
Robin grinned. ‘Exactly. It’s far too dangerous to break into Gestapo HQ to switch the paintings. All we need to do is to look as if we have done it.’
‘Any ideas?’ René asked.
Robin hesitated. ‘I do have an idea but it’s a bit delicate. May I have a word in private with Miss Annersley?’
Miss Annersley went into the back room with Robin where they had a low-voiced conversation and returned to the main group within a couple of minutes.
‘Robin has put an idea to me, which I have agreed to. I think it best not to go into the detail but to assign duties.’ She nodded to Robin.
‘The main thing is to get Helga out of the way for a few hours. Violet and Polly, you are in charge of distracting Helga. I suggest the Sixth Form invite her up to the school to play Dirty Scrabble, Strip Poker or one of your usual games.’
‘Mon Dieu,’ whispered Madame Edith to René. ‘The girls in my boarding school books never behaved like this.’
‘In the meantime, Miss Annersley will make an arranged visit to Herr Flick,’ Robin continued. ‘She will have a long roll with her with the fake painting and other things.’
‘What other things?’ Violet asked.
‘That’s on a need-to-know basis,’ Robin said sternly.
Miss Annersley appeared lost in thought. ‘Flying helmet, wet celery, egg whisk,’ she muttered to herself.
‘Matey will provide something to put in Herr Flick’s G&T,’ Robin added. ‘Though of course there is no need for Miss A to knock him out as she isn’t really going to switch the paintings. After her visit, she will come to the café, as if to leave the original in a sausage.’
‘How do we know she’ll get to visit Herr Flick?’ Madge asked. ‘He may not be willing to see her. Or perhaps he’ll be busy torturing people.’
‘I can assure you that the only one being tortured that day will be Herr Flick,’ Miss Annersley said huskily. ‘Tortured with desire.’
‘Don’t let Matey hear you say things like that,’ Robin advised. ‘She’ll think you’re over-excited and dose you with something.’
‘How do you know he’s not gay?’ Polly asked.
Madame Edith put her hands over her ears. This was not her impression of well-brought up English girls from a most exclusive boarding school. Or the staff for that matter.
Miss Annersley smiled. ‘I can assure you, Polly. Herr Flick is not gay.’
René and Robin exchanged a glance. That was one mystery solved.
Two days later at Café René
Madge called in to see Robin on her way to Advanced Radio Interception.
‘How are preparations going?’ Robin wanted to know.
‘Such a catastrophe, Rob,’ Madge said, sitting at one of the tables whilst Robin served her a cup of fragrant (though less nectar-like than Mademoiselle’s) coffee. ‘David got into my bedroom and nicked the flying helmet.’
‘I hope you got it back off the little sod,’ Robin said.
‘I did, but unfortunately he’d taken it to the nursery to play with and the trips have chewed it senseless.’
‘Bloody Hell,’ Robin said. ‘Well that’s the plan gone tits-up now. Old Hilda told René yesterday when she called in to pay for the gin that it’s Herr Flick’s favourite. It wouldn’t have mattered as much if the horrible little sprogs had destroyed the egg whisk. Though she says he does like a massage with it.’
‘Really?’ Madge was interested. ‘Where?’
‘Usually in her study apparently,’ Robin said.
‘No, I mean where on his body?’ Madge asked impatiently.
Robin whispered in her ear.
‘Never!’ Madge exclaimed. ‘I must try that on Jem. He says he’s getting really bored with our sex life. He wasn’t even all that cross about the flying helmet. Though he did say if we could get off the island he might have sent David to Canada for a year.’
‘So we need a new flying helmet,’ Robin said. ‘I wonder if either of the airmen was wearing his when they bailed out?’
‘I would go up and see them but I’m really pushed for time at the moment,’ Madge said, finishing her coffee and getting up.
‘If I go near Matey she’ll try and dose me and keep me in bed for a week,’ Robin said. ‘Perhaps we should draw lots as to who should go to the farm.’
‘Just be a brave girl and go and do it,’ Madge said. ‘If she imprisons you, I’ll get the Resistance to rescue you. You’re needed here.’
‘Ok,’ Robin said.
Next day, at the farm
Robin cycled over to the farm, to find Matey having coffee and scones with Lieutenant Gruber. Fortunately the airmen were nowhere in sight.
‘How lovely to hear all about your mother,’ Matey was saying as Robin entered. ‘And why isn’t a handsome young man like you married yet? I’m sure you’d be a super daddy.’
Robin winked at Lieutenant Gruber. ‘Matey, leave the poor man alone! He’s busy fighting a war. That’s enough to be going on with.’
Lieutenant Gruber, who had stood politely when Robin entered, started to make his preparations for departure. He thanked Matey profusely for the coffee and scones and Robin showed him out.
‘Sorry about the old bat,’ Robin apologised. ‘I’ve tried to explain to her but she just doesn’t get it.’
‘No worries,’ Lieutenant Gruber answered as he climbed into his little tank.
Robin returned to the kitchen. ‘Matey, what on earth are you doing encouraging Lieutenant Gruber to come here when you’ve got the airmen?’
‘Lieutenant Gruber wouldn’t say anything,’ Matey said, untroubled. ‘He likes my scones too much.’
‘Where are the airmen anyway?’
‘They’re in the greenhouse looking after the celery. They had to plant it in the greenhouse as it’s needed all year round here, apparently. The islanders must be particularly fond of it.’
Robin raised her eyes to Heaven. Matey lived in her own little world.
The airmen were in the greenhouse, enjoying the winter sunshine and peering uncertainly at the celery plants.
‘What ho, old chaps,’ Robin said as she entered.
‘Another gal who speaks English, don’t you know,’ Fairfax said. ‘Top hole!’
Robin explained her mission.
‘Sorry old gal. Had it on when I pranged the old kite, don’t you know, but that Resistance girl got it.’ Carstairs was apologetic.
‘Michelle?’ Robin asked.
‘No, other gal. One with the bad coat,’ Carstairs said.
‘That was Madge,’ Robin explained. ‘Unfortunately her nieces chewed it a bit so it’s not suitable for the exercise.’
‘I still have mine,’ Fairfax offered. He delved into his pocket and produced it.
‘Thanks awfully, old chap,’ Robin said, taking it. ‘I’ll make sure it’s returned to you eventually. Could you let me have some celery while I’m here?’
Carstairs carefully cut a head of celery.
‘Hmm, it’s a bit thin yet but it should be ok when wet,’ Robin said. ‘Thanks again chaps!’
‘Toodle pip,’ Carstairs and Fairfax said in unison as Robin left.
The following week
Helga arrived punctually for her afternoon with the Sixth Form, carrying the Scrabble game and a pack of cards. The car which dropped her off stopped on its way out at the gates and Miss Annersley, dressed in a very headmistress-style and carrying a long roll, emerged from the trees and got in.
A little later, the car arrived at Gestapo HQ and Miss Annersley emerged and was conducted to Herr Flick’s office. She emerged some three hours later, carrying the same long roll. She graciously declined the offer of a lift back to school and walked round to Café René where its occupants (with the exception of Madame Fanny) were assembled to put the fake painting back into its sausage and pretend it was the original.
‘Unfortunately Michelle has evaded capture today,’ René said very quietly. ‘She got wise to us after last time. So in case she is around, do not refer to the painting as the fake.’ More loudly he added. ‘I assume that the celery will be the worse for wear and will have been disposed of at Gestapo HQ.’
‘That is true,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘Herr Flick was not in the mood for the celery to tickle his fancy today, so I abandoned it.
The roll was unpacked and, in addition to a rather sorry-looking flying helmet and a battered egg whisk, the painting emerged.
‘But, Miss Annersley!’ Robin exclaimed. ‘That’s the original!’
Miss Annersley smirked. ‘I am a woman of many talents.’
A good place to end!
Allo Allo may return for a new series in the future, following the fortunes of Robin and Co at the cafe, the school's efforts to remain incognito and the adventures at the farm - What Matey Did, What Matey Did Next and What Matey Did, (Not) At School.
And thank you so much to everyone for the reviews - the feedback and encouragement have been great!
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.