|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.’
Author's Chapter Notes:
Matey is absent, the Sixth Form are out of control and the Middles are well-behaved. Can this really be the Chalet School?