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.’
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thanks for the reviews! The scene now moves to Cafe Rene.....