Miss Annersley laid the letter to one said and gazed unthinkingly at the wall for a few moments before pulling herself together. "Come on Hilda" she said to herself "don't be a spineless jellyfish - reread it, it will all make sense."
On second reading it made as little sense as before but this time she managed to register that some kind of inspector would be visiting the school early next week and a report would be produced. Ah well didn't sound that serious, all they'd probably want was a quick word with her, a few nice cakes and a cup of tea... and maybe some lunch. .... she smiled as a brilliant idea struck her.
She called in Rosalie and asked her to check which class had domestic science next Tuesday morning.
"Upper 4th". Perfect. "Rosalie would you let Hilary know that I'd like them to produce a special three course meal for the staff table. We'll be having a couple of visitors and I'm sure they'd love to try the girls cooking."
"Who are they?" asked Rosalie with interest.
"Someone from a company - odd name - hang on, oh yes Ofsted, apparently we should be registered with them or something so they want to pop in and inspect and do a little report, meet us probably and just get acquainted with the girls. Bit rude really, inviting themselves but sure it can do no harm so we may as well show them our usual good manners. After all they're coming all the way from London to see us. They've sent us a big folder of stuff but I expect they just want us to buy their stationary and books you know what these marketing companies are so I've popped it in the incinerator......."
A sharp intake of breath from Rosalie stopped her in her tracks "Ofsted... are you sure Hilda and you really threw all the paperwork in the incinerator?"
"Of course I'm sure do you want to see the letter?" asked Hilda handing it over as she spoke.
A moment of reading and Rosalie said "Hilda this is bad news, very bad news -they could close us down."
"Oh don't be so melodramatic Rosalie of course they can't. I'm sure they've just heard what a wonderful education we give the girls and they're coming to pick up some ideas. Pop it in the diary, give Hilary my message and then let Matron know that we'll have a couple of visitors and she'd better get the maids to prepare 2 rooms since one of them is a man so they can hardly share."
And with that, Hilda placed the letter to one side penned a quick response then put the matter of Ofsted out of her mind and busied herself with the sixths forms efforts on "How Nature and magic interact in A Midsummers Nights Dream". By the time she'd finished her marking she'd completely forgotten about the impending visit of Mr. James Connelly and Ms. Julia Verity.
Hilary Burn was feeling disgruntled. The kitchen was hot, the girls were unusually clumsy and the smells issuing from the ovens were anything but savoury. She really was not cut out for teaching domestic science and she hated cottage pie anyway - still at least she wouldn't need to eat it it was for the girls only today.
"Miss Burn" called a voice -shaken out of her thoughts she said "yes Maria"
"Please will you come and check my peelings to make sure I've done it right".
Miss Burn walked over glanced vaguely at the pile wondering why on earth she'd been asked and said "that's fine Maria now tidy it all up".
She thought again about Hilda's edict at the staff meeting "we can't get anyone to cover domestic science this term, so Hilary as you only teach games and things you can do with that for now and the prefects can deal with games and whatever else it is you do - I'm sure they can work out a time table between themselves"
Her weak protest had been swiftly quelled with "we all have to do what's necessary for the school and you had domestic science lessons at school so obviously you're well qualified to deal with it... now next..."
Her reminiscences were interrupted by a knock at the door followed by the swift appearance of Rosalie Dene asking for a quick word. Rosalie relayed the head's message and left Hilary in equal measure horrified and furious. Upper 4th the most difficult form in the school to cook a three course meal... for important visitors... under her supervision -
Even the cottage pie was proving a disaster - she'd forgotten to get them to peel the onions and they'd just shoved them in anyhow. The first batch of potatoes had boiled dry forcing the girls to peel more. The crumble on the apples had burnt and smoked - and this was the efforts of the mainly responsible lower sixth. Custard next,not that she'd ever made it herself but she'd read a recipe book last night and was hoping for the best.
Meanwhile, Matron was staring at Rosalie utterly aghast. A man? You want me to make a room ready for a man? Men don't stay at the Chalet School. Maybe the san could put him up or Madge and Jem or maybe....
"Hello Matron, Hello Rosalie" chimed in a well known voice "I have a free afternoon so I thought I'd pop in and see you"
"Joey thank goodness the answer to all our problems" shrieked Rosalie "you need to find room for a man, and tell us what to do about ofsted and please help us with Hilary she's so cross at the moment"
"Slow down, slow down... never heard of ofsted, I've have to ask Jack about the man I am sure we can squeeze him in somehow - I assume he's a doctor... and what's wrong with Hilary? She's normally so cheerful."
"Not now Hilda's got her teaching domestic science, she hates it and all the cooking is terrible and she's worried about games and gym.. really only some of the prefects like that sort of thing and they aren't happy either I've heard them grumbling and everything is awful and they'll shut the school down unless we do something"
And with that confused outburst poor Rosalie burst into tears and was led away by Matey muttering "there, there don't cry, I'll put you to bed with some hot milk and you'll feel far better after a few hours sleep.
"Well" proclaimed Jo out loud then thought to herself "Something's obviously wrong with Rosalie, perhaps the heat has addled her brain... I expect Matey has taken her to her room, I'll pop along and sing her to sleep like I used to with The Robin"... and she quickly followed Matey and Rosalie along the corridor.
A little later, Hilda finished her marking and glancing at her watch realised that prayers would be in a few minutes. Just as she left the office Matey joined her and said "Hilda, Rosalie's not well,I've put her to bed and slipped a little something into her hot milk. Joey's singing to her now. I think perhaps she's overworking, she seems very highly strung....she's babbling about the school being closed down and seems to want a man to stay overnight..."
Hilda interjected "yes indeed, we have some visitors coming from London next week and one of them is a man -they are just coming to pick up some hints about how the school is run. They seem to be an organisation that advises schools so they want to write a report and I expect they'll find lots of things other schools will find useful - anyway we must make haste, its time for prayers."
And so the Chalet school having choked down the cottage pie, blackened apple crumble and suspiciously lumpy custard provided by the lower sixth passed for once a nearly uneventful weekend, unless one records Daisy Simmons pricking her thumb with a needle whilst sewing a nightdress for an impoverished girl of the local parish..
Author's Chapter Notes: