A very silly drabble about a parallel universe, set in the Swiss years.
St Clare's House Characters:
08 Nov 2017 Updated:
15 Nov 2017
1. Chapter 1 - At first light by Bobcat
2. Chapter 2 - It is not what it seems by Bobcat
3. Chapter 3 - Into the fray by Bobcat
4. Chapter 4 - The plot thickens by Bobcat
5. Chapter 5 - All of us together by Bobcat
6. Chapter 6 - A few more revelations by Bobcat
Chapter 1 - At first light by Bobcat
It was mid-November, and Hilda Annersley was down with a bad cold. She had struggled through her lessons on the Friday morning, but by early evening her voice was hoarse and she was running a temperature.
Matey, noting her flushed cheeks and small appetite during Abendessen, tracked Hilda down not long after the meal had finished, and chivvied her off to bed.
“But, prayers…” croaked Hilda.
“Ruth and Jeanne will sort those out – I’ve already asked them and they’ve agreed. You’re in no fit state for anything. Bed!”
She escorted Hilda to her room and helped her undress. Hilda shivered violently as she struggled into bed and lay back on her pillows. Matey took her temperature and tutted, fishing in her pocket for a small bottle of paracetamol. “Now – two of these. Down the hatch.”
Hilda grimaced, but swallowed the tablets obediently.
“Good. I’ll be back to check on you later. Don’t worry about the school tonight; Ruth and Jeanne will look after everything. If you’re still this unwell tomorrow, you’re staying in bed then as well. I’m not having you pass this on to the rest of the staff. I don’t want an epidemic on my hands,” said Matey, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
“Oh, you!” said Hilda, hoarsely. “You know just where to get me where it hurts. I’ll be good. Now go and find some other poor soul to harass.” She settled down in her bed with a smile. Matey winked at her colleague and left, closing the door softly behind her.
Hilda sighed and coughed. She really did feel awful, and the temperature was making her ache all over. Eventually she fell into a deep sleep, and Matey, coming back to check on her later, was concerned to see Hilda still looked flushed.
The next morning, Hilda woke early. The light was dim in her room as it was not yet light. She rolled over and nearly fell out of bed. She hadn’t been sleeping that close to the edge, surely? She stretched, and her feet felt as if they were slightly over the end of the bed. That wasn’t right – she was a tall women, but not that tall. Puzzled, Hilda started to sit up, and coughed; not her normal cough but a deep rasping cough that didn’t sound like her at all. Her nightdress felt strangely tight, as if it were several sizes too small…..something was definitely wrong.
She sat on the edge of the bed and tried to make out the room; it looked different somehow, as if she was seeing it from a slightly different angle.
“Must be the temperature,” Hilda thought to herself. “I’m feeling weird and wobbly due to the cold.”
She staggered through to the bathroom and pulled on the light, wincing as she got used to the brightness. She caught a glance of herself in the mirror, and what she saw had her reeling backwards against the wall. She must be hallucinating - she must be. “It’s the high temperature, it has to be,” thought Hilda to herself.
Tentatively she looked in the mirror again….and her eyes widened and she drew in a huge breath of shock. Her usually long hair was now cut short, in a men’s cut – still the same brown with a few strands of grey, but definitely not her usual style. Her eyebrows were bushier than normal, and her face was definitely hers, but was fuller, with a broader, stronger chin.
“Oh god…..” thought Hilda, “I’m definitely hallucinating – or dreaming.”
She pinched herself – hard – to wake herself up from this weird situation.
“Ow!” she exclaimed, and then clapped her hand over her mouth in horror. The voice that she had heard wasn’t hers; it was deeper, more resonant than her usual voice, even taking into account her sore throat.
This was not happening. It had to be an awful dream. Hilda looked down at the rest of herself in the mirror. She was taller and stockier than usual – her hands were bigger and she felt physically different in space. She clapped her hands to her chest in panic.
“I’m……..a man!” she said despairingly. “Oh, this is awful…..how on earth did this happen……this has got to be a terrible nightmare. I just need to wake up somehow.”
She filled the sink with cold water and plunged her head in. The shock of the cold water made her gasp, and woke her up completely. She lifted her head slowly and looked unwillingly into the mirror. She was still male.
Hilda stumbled back through to her bedroom and sat on the bed, rubbing her face, water dripping on to her shoulders. Her mind was whirling. This was just ridiculous; it couldn’t be happening. People didn’t go to bed one night female and wake up the next morning male. It was impossible! Things like this didn’t happen to people like Hilda.
“What an earth am I going to do?! This is just……well I don’t know what it is……oh god, it’s awful.” She groaned and put her head in her hands. How would she explain this to the rest of the staff? She couldn’t stay on at the school……maybe she could discretely leave somehow, and explain to the staff and parents later?
A tap at the door roused her from her thoughts, and she froze in panic. She couldn’t let anyone in – no one could see her like this; they’d never believe what had happened. She rushed over to the door and held the handle upwards so that no one could enter. A fleeting thought passed through her head “Gosh, I’m strong!”
There was another tap at the door, and Hilda cleared her throat and tried to speak in a high voice so that she would sound more like herself.
“Um…. Who’s there?”
A voice answered – a voice that Hilda recognised but that didn’t quite sound as it usually did. “Gwynneth.”
“I……er……I don’t think you should come in. I’m not feeling myself.” Hilda cringed to herself as she spoke – this was the understatement of the year. She wondered how long she could delay Matey’s entrance.
There was a noise outside that sounded suspiciously like sniffing and the clearing of a throat. “I really think I should come in. Though, Hilda, it might be a bit of a shock.”
A sudden thought popped into Hilda’s head – what if it wasn’t just her that had woken up like this? Surely not Matey as well? She released her grip on the door handle and opened the door a crack. Peering through she saw someone that resembled Matey standing outside looking terrified, tears running down their face. Hilda opened the door a wee bit more and her eyes widened. Matey was also sporting a gents haircut and her face was more masculine. She too had broader shoulders and arms that were too long for her nightdress, and had grown by a couple of inches.
“Hilda, let me in, please,” begged Matey, desperately.
Hilda opened the door and Matey quickly entered and shut the door. She staggered back against the wall in shock. The two of them stood staring at each other through wide eyes.
“Oo –hhhhh!!” was all Matey could manage. Hilda now stood well over six foot tall, and her usually elegant frame had been replaced by a lean, athletic looking figure. She held herself still with an unconscious air of authority in spite of her obvious panic.
“You too?” breathed Hilda.
“What the hell is happening?” asked Matey, “We’re…….we’re men!”
Hilda began to pace backwards and forwards agitatedly. “I know…… I have no clue what’s happened – I mean… this is ridiculous. Things like this are impossible. This is a bad dream we’re both having, isn’t it? It must be! There’s no other explanation. Pinch me – go on!”
Hilda went over to Matey and proffered her arm, and Matey did likewise. The two of them pinched each other’s arms so hard that they both exclaimed.
“If it’s not a dream, then what is it?!” asked Matey.
“I have NO idea,” said Hilda in some panic. “It’s awful, is what it is. What are the girls going to think? Or the other staff? We can’t hide from them forever. What on earth are we going to do?”
Matey collapsed on to Hilda’s bed, head in hands. “Oh, this is horrible….this cannot be happening,” she moaned. “And my voice! It’s……..mannish!”
“Gwynneth, wait though…… if it’s happened to both of us – what if it’s happened to others as well?”
With thanks to Virginia Woolf for the 'inspiration' for the story, and also for the title (from Orlando).
Chapter 2 - It is not what it seems by Bobcat
They both looked at each other in horror. “Surely not?” cried Hilda. The question was answered almost immediately by a series of loud cries and running footsteps upstairs.
“That’s the staff corridor!” exclaimed Hilda, making for the door. She was stopped by Matey.
“Hilda – you’re almost indecent; that nightdress is tiny on you. Have you a dressing gown?”
Hilda threw open her wardrobe door, paused, and then gasped. “My clothes!”
Matey came and stood next to Hilda, looking into the wardrobe; her eyes widening. All Hilda’s elegant dresses and skirts had been replaced by men’s shirts and trousers and there were several belts hanging on the back of the door.
“This just gets more and more ridiculous,” said Hilda, but finding a rather nice crimson men’s dressing gown, she pulled it off the hanger and wrapped it around herself. Further noise and slamming doors upstairs alerted Hilda and Matey to their task and they left Hilda’s room and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. They reached the staff corridor and came to an abrupt halt.
“We don’t want to panic people if we’re the only ones,” gasped Hilda, “though judging from the noise, I doubt we are.”
They stood at the entrance to the staff corridor, unsure of how to proceed; they didn’t want to alarm other members of staff if this weird situation was affecting just them, but at the same time they needed to find out if any of the others were the same. From a half open door came a low Irish accent. “Would you look at me?” it cried “Sure, how can I have gone to bed as myself and woken up looking like…..well I don’t know what?!”
Hilda and Matey looked at each other, “Biddy,” gasped Matey. They made their way quickly along the corridor and pushed open the door.
“Argh! No!” Biddy tried to close the door to prevent them entering, but Hilda got her foot into it just in time. “Biddy, let us in, please. It’s happened to us too.”
On hearing Hilda’s deep voice, Biddy tentatively opened the door and Hilda and Matey entered to find a slight, dark haired, young man standing in front of them, sporting a rather neat Poirot-esque moustache. At the sight of this, Hilda nearly laughed out loud; it was so unexpected, yet suited its owner perfectly. Another figure in the room was examining themselves in the mirror in horror. Matey went slowly over, looking at the reflection in the mirror.
“Kathie??” she said. That person turned round and nodded, tears running down her face.
“Matey?….Hilda?….what’s happening to us?”
The four of them stood there staring at each other in silence; explanations were beyond any of them at the moment.
“I have no clue what is going on here this morning. This has got to be some weird and awful dream…..and hopefully we’ll wake up soon and everything will return to normal,” said Hilda, "But until then, we’re just going to have to try and deal with this…….crazy situation.”
The door was flung open and two more young-ish men came in, terror on their faces.
“Oohhhhhhh……you too then?” The first looked suspiciously like Peggy Burnett, with a shock of short curls on top of her head, while the second, taller figure, looked deeply embarrassed to be sporting a rather luxurious beard.
“Nancy?!” asked Kathie, wonderingly, while that lady (or was it man?) nodded slowly, rubbing her chin with her hand. A snort erupted from Matey, who tried to subdue it as Hilda glared at her. It was in vain though - Matey shook her head and then burst out laughing.
“We all look……ridiculous,” she gurgled “This is SO stupid. If we don’t laugh we’ll cry – and I have been!”
Nancy broke into a roar, and Biddy and Kathie quickly joined in.
“Your…..your moustache!” gasped Matey to Biddy, “And……you!” as she turned to Nancy.
“The beard does rather suit you!” chuckled Hilda “Though I’d never have thought it!”
The rising bell jangled and all of them abruptly stopped laughing and stared at each other.
“The girls!” gasped Peggy “What if this has happened to them as well? How on earth are they going to react?!”
Hilda thought quickly. “Right. Gwynneth, you stay here and head off the other staff as they wake – in fact, go now!” as various cries and gasps could be heard from elsewhere down the corridor. Matey scuttled out of the door as fast as she could, banging on doors as she went. Hilda continued, “We’ll take the dormitories. One or two each. Don’t go in initially – just hover outside until we can figure out the state of things.”
“But…..what if it’s just us?” asked Nancy, “What if the girls are still girls? They’ll have a fit when they see us.”
“If it is just us, I have NO idea what we’ll do, but come back here as quickly as you can and we’ll formulate a plan. The prefects can look after things while people are dressing. They’ll go down to their common rooms for a few minutes before Fruhstuck anyway, so we’ve got a little time. Come on.”
Hilda led the way out into the main school and the five of them made their way towards the dormitories.
As they approached the first dormitory, a loud clear boys voice could be heard, “Come on Conrad, hurry up. You’re going to make us all late for our baths.”
Hilda whirled round to face the others with wide eyes, “Did you hear that? Conrad? What IS going on?”
A teenage boy emerged from the nearest room carrying a towel, evidently on the way to the bathroom. He had dark hair, dark eyes and fine features, and was looking distinctly sleepy. At the sight of Hilda and her colleagues though, his eyes widened.
“Um…..Mr Annersley, is something wrong?”
Hilda blanched at these words, “No…..um….Conrad…. we were just coming to check the……er……hot water. Apparently it’s not running properly.” Hilda was thinking fast, and was well aware her excuse wasn’t up to much. “Now hurry off to your bath.”
Conrad nodded and went off towards the bathroom, casting a curious glance behind him at the huddle of staff standing in the corridor.
Hilda recovered first and quickly hustled the others back to the staff corridor. When they returned there, she leaned weakly against the wall, breathing fast.
“They…….they’re all boys!” gasped Biddy.
“And……they seemed to know who you were…….as Mr Annersley!” said Kathie, “How…..what…….I mean….this is just….crazy – or are WE all crazy?”
Hilda slid down the wall to the floor, groaning as she did so. “I can’t work this out…..this is just getting weirder and weirder…… They seem to be acting completely normally. I don’t understand this at all,” she said weakly.
“Come on Mr Annersley, up you get,” said Nancy, with a wry grin on her face as she hoisted Hilda to her feet, “I have just what you – we – need. And Hilda, please, no comments……I’ve hardly had any of it. Medicinal purposes and all that.”
They crowded in to Nancy’s room, and that person rootled about in a drawer and produced a bottle of brandy. She produced a clean glass and poured a small amount in, and handed the glass to Hilda, who raised her eyebrows at Nancy.
“I think you need it,” said Nancy, reddening slightly, “And no, I don’t make a habit of keeping alcohol in my room, you don’t need to worry.”
Hilda swallowed the drink, gasping slightly as it burned her throat slightly and began to warm her. Nancy poured more brandy and passed the glass to Kathie, who also drunk her share. “Yeuch! Ooo, that’s strong!”
The glass went round the room; all the staff having a small measure of the brandy, and all were feeling slightly more steadied as a result, when Matey appeared with several more horrified looking staff – Sharlie, Rosalie, Ruth Derwent and Jeanne de Lachennais, who was exclaiming loudly in very quick French as she made her way towards the others.
“Hilda….where are you….oh – Hilda?” asked Ruth as she tentatively approached Hilda, who nodded. “What…..I mean… how….,” she gulped.
Peggy spoke first “The girls – they’re boys!” After loud exclamations from Matey and co., she broke in, “And, they seemed to be acting completely normally – as if they’d always been boys and nothing was wrong. One of them – Conrad – called Hilda Mr Annersley as if it was the most natural thing in the world.”
“So……so…….our school is suddenly full of boys…..and they seem to be used to having male staff – us – in fact…..but we’re in some strange nightmare parallel universe where we’ve all morphed into men overnight?” Nancy said.
“It seems that way,” said Kathie, weakly “Oh….this is just…..horrible. And who on earth was Conrad?”
“I thought he looked suspiciously like Con Maynard,” said Hilda, who had recovered herself a little by now. “Ruth, Jeanne – you others, I think you need some brandy. Nancy?”
The glass again did the rounds of the newcomers. “Brrrrr!” cried Rosalie, “Alcohol for breakfast. Who’d have thought it?”
“Who’d have thought anything today?!” said Biddy, “Nothing is as it’s supposed to be, so brandy for breakfast is par for the course, I think!”
“We need to hurry,” said Hilda desperately. “It will be Fruhstuck soon, and none of us is dressed.”
“What will we wear?!” interjected Peggy with a cry, “We can’t go around in dresses and skirts. The…..boys…..will think we’ve gone mad!”
“I think if you open your wardrobe you might find that problem is solved. My clothes have all been replaced by men’s suits and trousers – see if yours have too.”
Nancy wrenched open her wardrobe door and gasped. Gone were the skirts and jumpers, replaced by button down shirts, trousers, and a selection of ties and jackets.
“Oh my………” she breathed. “Look at this!”
“I suggest we all get dressed, and then go down to Fruhstuck. The…..er….pupils will be expecting us. It seems it’s a normal day for them even if we’re in some strange alternate world. I’ll try and think of what to do next as we eat. But for now, lets try and act normally,” said Hilda.
Chapter 3 - Into the fray by Bobcat
They all nodded, and fled off to various rooms to attempt to dress. Nancy and Biddy helped each other with the unfamiliar buttons and ties – “I’ve no idea how to do one of these,” wailed Biddy – and eventually all appeared in the Speisesaal in time for Fruhstuck.
Biddy had given up on trying to knot a tie and instead was sporting a dark green bow tie, which went rather well with the grey Donegal tweed trousers and waistcoat she had found. With the neat moustache, Biddy looked quite the thing, and Hilda had to bite her tongue to stop herself laughing out loud at how well the outfit suited the personality of her colleague.
“Well! Look at you!” said Matey, as they sat down to eat.
“Yes,” said Biddy complacently, “I rather like it – but this tweed is awfully itchy. I don’t know how men stand it.”
“I’m being strangled by this stupid tie,” complained Nancy, pulling at her collar, “They might look smart, but…ugh!”
They looked around at the Speisesaal, which was by now full of boys of various ages and sizes. They younger boys were in grey short trousers, and knee length grey socks with a crimson band around the top. They had cream shirts on, a crimson and gentian blue tie, and a gentian blue v-neck jumper. The older boys had long grey trousers and blue blazers, with the same tie. As Fruhstuck progressed, the staff noticed about eight or nine boys sporting crimson waistcoats under their blazers.
“Are those the prefects, do you think?” said Nancy to Hilda.
“I would imagine so – or possibly the sixth. That one over there – the tall slim one – I’m sure is Elinor, our head girl – or….boy now.”
“And that stocky looking thing over there with the curly hair has got to be Mary Lou,” commented Kathie.
Sharlie had noticed some odd looks from some of the boys and was wondering why they seemed to be directed at Matey and Rosalie. “You two are getting a few odd looks from the boys,” she said, “I wonder why that it is?”
There was no time to consider this question when there was a gasp from Ruth. “What on earth are we going to call them?! We don’t know any of their names!”
They looked at each other in consternation. “Don’t they go by surnames at boys schools?” asked Kathie, doubtfully, “You know – ‘Maynard’, and ‘Trelawney’ and so on?”
“I…..I….think so,” replied Hilda, “But that seems awfully formal. And, what about the Maynards – there are three of them. How are we to distinguish between them?”
“At my brother’s school they used to call them ‘major’ and ‘minor’,” said Nancy, “So the eldest would be ‘Maynard major’ and the younger would be ‘Maynard minor’. But where you go with three, I do not know!”
“’Maynard lesser’?! Or ‘insignificant’?” chuckled Ruth, “Though I can’t see Margot - or whoever she is not - liking that very much!”
“We could go Latin,” mused Hilda “’Maynard primus’, ‘Maynard secundus’, ‘Maynard tertius’…...” She finished her coffee. “I’m going to send them off for dormitory work now, and then prayers. Come to my study now, please, all of you? Lessons as normal this morning, and then as it’s snowed overnight we’ll have Mitagessen at 12:30 instead of thirteen, and an early rest, then get outside for the afternoon. How does that sound? And then hobbies this evening – assuming boys do hobbies?”
“Oh, I think they do,” laughed Biddy. She passed the message along the staff table, and Hilda stood up and touched the electric bell that was by her place. She quailed momentarily as she saw the rows of boys faces turned in her direction, but they were acting as if nothing was amiss, which reassured Hilda somewhat. As she gave news of the afternoon in the snow, the boys cheered loudly and the staff were deafened by the noise. They went off to tidy their dormitories before prayers, while the staff headed for Hilda’s study.
As they approached, Rosalie stopped and pointed suddenly at the study door, “Lo….look!” she gasped.
The sign on Hilda’s door read ‘Mr. Hugh Annersley, Headmaster’
“Hugh?” cried Hilda, “Oh no!”
“Well now we know what to call you, but what about the rest of us – and more importantly the boys?” said Matey. There was another loud gasp, and they all turned to the door of the office; the sign on which said, as it usually did, ‘Miss R Dene, Secretary’.
“Miss?!” groaned Rosalie, “But…..but…..I can’t be. I mean…..well…. I am, but……”
“Come into the study,” said Hilda “We can’t stand out here making all this noise or the gir – boys will be wondering what on earth is going on.”
They all crowded into the study, and Hilda sat down at her desk, loosened her tie, and ran her fingers through her short hair. Nancy also loosened her tie, and several other staff made adjustments to their collars or waistcoats.
“Hilda……I mean Hugh……I mean…..Oh, what am I going to do?” Rosalie looked horrified, “I’m supposed to be me – female, I mean…..I can’t go around like this!” She looked down at her jacket and trousers in despair.
Hilda thought quickly; she wasn’t entirely sure which way was up at the moment and was just doing her best to ensure things appeared normal – whatever that meant – for the boys. “Luckily it’s the weekend, so you won’t have much contact with the boys. We’ll just have to tell them you’re unwell, and you’ll have to keep out of sight as much as possible for the time being. We’ll work out something – oh, I don’t know what – in the long term. But for now, lets just buy ourselves some time?”
Rosalie nodded, and sat down heavily on the sofa. Matey stepped forward, “Um…..Hil – Hugh, boys schools don’t have male matrons. If Rosalie is supposed to be female, I’ll wager I am too.”
“I don’t know how we find out though,” said Hilda wearily, “If you are supposed to be female, you’re also going to have to be unwell with Rosalie for the weekend and keep out of sight. And please – don’t call me Hugh. We know each other by our usual names – lets stick to them. It’s going to be bad enough learning the boys names, let alone ours too. If this nonsense ever ends and we find out it is all some weird anomaly and we go back to being female, then all well and good; and if we don’t – “
That last comment was left hanging, and the staff all eyed each other uncertainly. It couldn’t be the case that they were going to be male permanently from now on – things like this just didn’t happen!
“That explains the odd looks you were getting at breakfast,” said Sharlie suddenly to Gwynneth and Rosalie, “They were trying to work out who you are!”
Ruth had been idly looking at some papers on the coffee table in the study, and found a brochure for the school, which Hilda had put out to send to the parents of a prospective pupil. She picked it up and leafed through it, and noticing the pictures inside were of male pupils, turning to the staff list at the back. “Oh!” she cried, “Here are all our names! The brochure’s changed!”
By now, nothing surprised the staff, and they all crowded round as Ruth read out the staff list, “Headmaster, Hugh Annersley. Deputy heads Robert Derwent - oh, not Robert! That’s awful! Ok, ok, I’ll carry on,” as the others began to interject.
“Robert Derwent and Jules Lachennais. Teaching staff Donald Armitage, Charles Andrews, John Bertram, Peter Burnett, Simon Denny, Keith Ferrars, Reuben Lawrence, Phillipe Lenoir, Gudrun Meiders, Rutherford Moore, Nye Wilmot…… but….,” she gurgled, trying to supress her laughter, “Listen to this – Brian O’Ryan!”
She hooted with laughter, and the rest of the staff roared at the absurdity of Biddy’s ‘new’ name. The exception was that young person who just stood looking utterly bemused. “Brian O’Ryan?!” she cried, “What sort of nonsense is that now? Don’t you all stand there laughing like drains. How did I get saddled with that?!”
“Oh, oh!” gasped Ruth, “My stomach! And you,” she choked, turning to Rosalind, “Rutherford!”
“I quite like it,” said that person, calmly. “And I’ll let you into a secret. It was my grandfather’s first name. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
While they were laughing at their names, Rosalie had had an idea and had dashed into the office next door. Now she came back in waving the class registers. “These have changed too – we’ll know what the boys are called now.”
She distributed the registers to the form mistresses and they opened them, eager to see what their pupils were now named.
“Oh goodness!” breathed Kathie, “The triplets! Leonard, Conrad and Melvyn Maynard!”
There was another outbreak of laughter amongst the assembled crowd, until Hilda reminded them it was time for prayers. They all dispersed quickly taking their registers with them. At the end of prayers, Hilda collared Rosalie and Matey and the three of them retreated back to the study for a council of war while the rest of the staff and boys got on with their Saturday morning lessons.
Chapter 4 - The plot thickens by Bobcat
“I’m a wreck!” declared Hilda, collapsing on the sofa in her study and letting out a deep breath. “This is exhausting. We’ve got a school full of boys, none of whom we know the names of, most of whom we don’t recognise, yet we have to act as if everything is normal because for them, it appears everything is normal. And yet here we all are in some absolute nightmare where we’ve all woken up male.”
“I can’t get my head around what’s happened for Gwynneth and myself,” said Rosalie, tearfully, “We’ve woken up male but are supposed to be ourselves, so we can’t do anything because the boys think we’re female. Are we going to have to leave the school if we don’t go back to normal?”
“No….. no. I couldn’t have that,” said Hilda firmly. “You’ve both been too much a part of the school and are too valued by all of us for that to happen. You’d have to be new staff next term or something. We’ll make it work – don’t worry. Besides, the school will fall apart if you two leave; we couldn’t manage the admin system you have set up Rosalie, and the boys need your efficient care and concern Gwynneth.”
The two of them nodded, reassured by Hilda’s words. She continued, “I think for now though, if you could stay out of sight as much as possible; carry on with your work as far as you can though and if they ask, we’ll tell the pupils you’re unwell. I’m sorry it has to be like this at the moment, but we need to work out what to do and this gives me some time. If you do want today off, feel free to take it – I’d completely understand if you want to lie down in darkened room for the rest of the day!” she laughed.
“Oh no Hilda,” said Rosalie, “I want to help out as much as I can. This is a……completely weird situation and I can’t leave you to deal with it.”
“Agreed,” chipped in Gwynneth. “We can help out behind the scenes and try to stay out of the gir- boys way. No doubt there’s a huge pile of socks for darning. I can’t image boys can sew to save their lives.”
At that point the phone rang, and Hilda jumped, and then stared at the other two. “Do I answer it?” she asked urgently.
“You’ll have to,” said Gwynneth, after a moment’s pause. “If it’s someone we know, they’ll wonder why you’re not answering and get worried. We don’t need that.”
“But who am I? Hilda or Hugh?”
They all looked at each other in consternation while the phone kept ringing. Hilda knew she couldn’t ignore it, and picked it up. “Hello?” she said tentatively, aiming for a mid-range voice; hoping she could explain it as a sore throat if she were to be Hilda, or some sort of cough if it was Hugh that the caller wanted. She didn’t have to wait for an answer.
“Hugh – that you? What’s wrong with your voice?” Hilda didn’t quite recognise the voice; it sounded suspiciously like Joey’s, but was more resonant and deeper than usual.
“Oh, nothing…..just……er…..a frog in it.,” Hilda let her voice deepen to its masculine tones, which were those of a rich baritone. “What can I do for you?”
“I’ve finished the script for the Christmas play and concert – do you want me to bring it over so that you can have a read through this evening?”
Hilda paused; this question had completely thrown her; evidently this was Joey – or a male version of Jo she was speaking to, but what to call him?
“Hugh? You still there?”
“I…..oh…..um…..yes, do bring it over, that would be good. Any time this morning would be fine, I’m not teaching.”
“Hugh, is everything alright? You sound awfully distracted.”
“Yes…..no……I mean, yes. Everything is fine.” Hilda spoke more firmly, “I’ve got Matron and Rosalie down with awful colds, so I’m just trying to organise things this end.” Hilda eyed the two of them sitting in her study, deeply aware of the irony that they were both fit as a fiddle and here she was blatantly lying to someone.
“Do you want me to send Jacqueline over when she gets back from the san? She was on a night shift, but could look in on them on the way home if you‘d like?”
“Er, no…..no, I don’t think that will be necessary, thank you. It is just colds they have. Day or two in bed and I’m sure they’ll be fit again.” Hilda’s brain was whirring – Jacqueline? Was that Jack? It sounded like it, by the references to the san.
“All right, as you like,” said the caller. “I’ll come round as soon as Jacqueline comes back. I’ve got the little ones here at the moment and I can’t leave them.”
“How….how are they?” queried Hilda, hoping to get more of a sense of things from the answer to this question. “Oh, keeping me amused!” laughed the caller, “Fabian and Florence are walking about all over the place now, and chattering nonsense all day long, and Cyril is gurgling away as six month olds tend to do. I do wish Jacqueline had taken longer off work with him, but she did want to get back.”
“And how….are the girls getting on?” Hilda held her breath, hoping she was asking the right questions but wanting to find out more about this weird situation they were all in.
“They’re doing well! Charlotte and Sabrina are getting along nicely at school, and Milly is down in Lausanne during the week and then comes up here at weekends, though now the snow has set in, that might have to change. I’ll talk to Jacqueline about it over the weekend and see what she says. Oh – she’s back, hang on…..”
In the background, Hilda could hear a voice calling for ‘Joseph’, and guessed that must be who she was talking to; “I should have guessed,” she murmured to herself. Joseph came back to Hilda.
“Hugh, I have to go, but I’ll pop over in about half an hour or so with the play – that do you?”
“Fine; see you later Joseph,”
Hilda put the phone down and leant on her desk, letting out a deep breath. That had gone without any difficulties, but it was terribly stressful, having to be on your toes the entire time and try and keep track of who was who, and not say anything that might give anyone cause for concern. She turned to Rosalie and Matey with wide eyes.
“Well, as you heard some of that, you know you’re currently down with bad colds. That was Joey – or should I say Joseph. He’s written the script for the play and wants to bring it over – in about half an hour, so you will have to make yourselves scarce for a bit.”
“Joseph?!” Matey was amazed, “And that seemed perfectly normal to him?!”
“Perfectly,” said Hilda in amazement. “We appear to have been transported into some parallel universe where roles and sexes are reversed, but to us it’s all completely alien. This is exhausting….” She sat down and put her head on the desk in front of her.
“Oh, when is this going to end?” she groaned, but then raised her head immediately. “Jack is Jacqueline, and works at the san – not sure if she’s a nurse or doctor. Joseph has the children at home with him; Cyril, Florence and Fabian. The others are Charlotte, Milly and Sabrina and are at school.”
“Goodness!” breathed Rosalie, “I feel as if I should be taking notes; I’ll never remember all these names!”
“That might not be a bad idea,” mused Hilda, “at least until we learn names. We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t know what any of our pupils are called. Do you have a list of the prefects anywhere?”
Rosalie went into the office next door to try and find a list of the current head girl and prefects. She came back in looking slightly more cheerful. “Our two Lesleys are still Leslie, and Hilary Bennett is still Hilary” she cried, “so that’s three people we can call on easily! Of course we’re going to have to work out who they are, but it’s three fewer names to remember.”
“What about the others?” asked Matey.
Rosalie read down the list, “Head……boy, I suppose it is now, Edmund Pennell; prefects – well, the two Leslies and Hilary, Laurie Norris, Benjamin Willoughby, Maurice Trelawney, Ned Herbert, Basil Appleton, Matthew Watson, Sebastian Russell, Louis Winterton”
“Well, there’s a list to try and learn,” said Hilda, glancing at the clock. “Now, you two, I need you to make yourselves scarce for a while. Joe – Joseph is coming over with the script for the play, and he thinks you’re both ill.”
Chapter 5 - All of us together by Bobcat
Matey and Rosalie scuttled off to Rosalie’s room on the staff corridor, trying to come to terms with all that had happened that morning and wondering if they were on their head or their heels.
Hilda stood in her study wondering much the same thing. How could so much have happened in such a short time? She was exhausted, and it was not even eleven o’clock.
The phone rang again, and Hilda hesitated. As far as she knew, she was ‘supposed’ to be male, but, was it worth playing it a little safe, just in case? She picked up the handset and tried again for a mid-range tone to her voice.
“Hello……who’s that? This is……um……I’m calling from St Mildreds. How are things there today?”
Hilda recognised the voice – or thought she did anyway; it sounded very like Nell’s, but she wasn’t sure if it was Nell herself, or Nell in another form. Anything was possible at the moment. Hilda tried to be suitably vague in her reply, “Um…..things are a bit…….tricky…..at the moment – I’ve got Rosalie and Matron down with heavy colds.”
“Ah, ok.” There was a pause at the other end, and Hilda could sense the caller was having difficulty. The voice then asked “And is everyone else well? Nothing….. um…..unusual doing the rounds?”
Hilda took a breath in and decided it was worth the risk, “Nell? Is that you?”
A low-ish voice answered and Hilda could hear the relief “Oh…..Hilda……the most awful thing has happened. You’re…..you’re not going to believe it. It’s…..”
Hilda decided on some sort of coded message; thinking that if nothing was wrong, she would only at least seem rather strange for a moment or two, but that if things were as she suspected at Millies, then Nell would completely understand what she was getting at. “The tweed is itchy and the collars are too tight.”
All Hilda could hear in response to that statement was a deep breath out and then several more, as if Nell were trying to calm herself down. “Nell? Nell, try and stay calm. It’s happened here too.”
Hilda just heard a wail down the line followed by “My name’s Noel!”
That was it. The absurdity of the whole situation and the stress of trying to stay abreast of things needed a release, and the revelation of Nell’s name was too much for Hilda, who burst out laughing much to Nell’s annoyance.
“Hilda! How can you laugh! This is just terrible and I don’t know what to do. All the girls are boys, and I’ve no idea what to call any of them, but they seem to know who we are, and Gill Culver and Matron…..”
Hilda struggled to control the laughter, “I’m sorry Nell, it’s all got to me – but, Noel!” she could hear Nell tutting down the phone at her, but continued, “Listen, Joey – Joseph as she now seems to be is coming over in a minute with the play, so I can’t talk for long. But, check your registers – that will have the names of the boys. If you’ve got a Millies brochure, have a look at that for staff names. And I’ve had to pretend that Rosalie and Gwynneth are unwell and keep them out of sight while I figure out what to do. I’m guessing that Gill and Gertrude are also male but supposed to be female?”
“Yes, they are. The registers! Why didn’t I think of that? And good idea about Gill and Gertrude. If the boys start asking, that’s the excuse. Let’s hope none of them become ill.”
“If they do here, Peggy Burnett is going to look after them. She’s got good first aid knowledge from her PT training. Are you planning on coming out skiing this afternoon? I was going to get the pupils out for a while. Hopefully if we try and keep things as normal as possible no one will suspect anything. Look – I’ve got to go now, but I’ll give you a ring as soon as Joey – Joseph has gone.”
Hilda had seen Joseph approaching across the garden, so she and Nell said quick goodbyes, and Hilda steeled herself for a potentially awkward conversation with Joseph. He came to the French doors, as usual, and Hilda opened them, observing Joseph closely as he stamped the snow off his boots on the mat just inside the door.
It was definitely a male version of Joey Maynard that had stepped into the study; tall and slim, with dark eyes and fine dark hair cut into a short back and sides with a longer, slightly foppish top. Joseph also sported a rather neat van Dyke beard and moustache, which suited him well. Hilda could see the resemblance to Conrad; the fine features were there, and the same slightly delicate look.
“Hugh! How are you? How are Rosalie and Matey,” said Joseph, heartily. Same breezy manner as Joey, thought Hilda to herself before replying.
“Oh, they’re tucked up in bed out of harm’s way,” she said, “We’ll keep an eye on them and hopefully they should be fit by Monday.“
Half an hour later Hilda bade Joseph farewell. It had been a slightly awkward meeting; Joseph certainly had Joeys character, but Hilda was feeling so discombobulated with the events thus far that day that she wasn’t sure if she’d come across as ‘normal’ enough for Joseph not to be suspicious. She hoped he would put it down to having Rosalie and Gwynneth ill at the same time and trying to cover their duties.
Morning lessons ended, and after break the boys went off to their common rooms to read or write letters home until Mittagessen. The staff adjourned to the sitting room for much needed coffee, while Hilda went back to her study to phone Nell to see how she was getting on. Just as she was about to pick up the phone, there was a tap at the French window. Hilda looked up and then frowned. The face looked familiar; ruddy and handsome, with a shock of white hair above….. She sprang up and threw open the doors. “Nell?!”
Chapter 6 - A few more revelations by Bobcat
Thank you for all the reviews so far; you've all been very kind about my nonsense!!
“Oh Hilda, I can’t take much more of this! I had to get out for a walk to try and calm down, so thought I’d come over here and say hello.” exclaimed Nell as she entered the study and took her boots off.
She threw her hat and coat over the back of the sofa, and then turned to Hilda. The two of them regarded each other. Nell had become a good two inches taller, and had a study figure with the beginnings of a portly stomach. She was wearing a three piece suit, and threw open her jacket and stood staring at Hilda with her hands in her waistcoat pockets.
“Well, I must say you make a fine looking fellow,” exclaimed Nell, “I like the height of you, and that figure is rather nice. But oh, Hilda…… what on earth is going on? Why have we woken up like this? And everyone else thinks it’s normal?!”
“I know, I know,” said Hilda walking restlessly about the study. “I don’t know what this is all about, or why, or if it’s permanent. It’s like some sort of living nightmare. I can’t be as complimentary about your figure though,” she added, nodding at Nell’s less than svelte stomach.
“That’s the least of my worries at the moment,” said Nell, rather tetchily. “I’ve got Gertrude and Gill holed up away from the girl – boys, I mean – pretending they’re unwell because they’re male but supposed to be themselves, and I’ve got Vi Norton in hysterics about what’s happened – Gill’s had to give her a sedative and put her back to bed for a bit. That’s three staff down, and I have to lie to the girls – for goodness sake, boys – about what’s wrong with them all. Thank goodness they’re all fairly sensible – I hope – and can look after themselves a bit.”
“Vi’s in hysterics?” asked Hilda, “That’s unlike her.”
“Yes, I thought so, but……oh Hilda…. She’s bald!”
Hilda gasped as she took in this news. She shook her head as if trying to process what she’d just heard, “Bald?! Oh my goodness – that would be a massive shock. I mean, we’ve all woken up as men, which is bad enough, but at least we’ve got hair – some more than others, in fact. Oh, poor Vi.”
“Isn’t it awful?” agreed Nell. “She wailed at me that she looks like her father – apparently baldness runs in the male side of their family, and now she’s got a male body….. She couldn’t stop crying, so she’s gone back to bed.” She collapsed on to the sofa. “Hilda what are we going to do? Is this permanent? What if it is? Are just going to have to get used to this?”
Hilda leaned over the back of the sofa next to Nell and patted her shoulder, “Now then old fellow, don’t get so worked up.”
Nell spluttered in indignation as Hilda smiled grimly and came round to sit on the sofa next to her. Her face grew sombre, “Nell, I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t know how we came to be in this situation, and I don’t know if it’s permanent, or if we’ll wake up tomorrow with everything back to normal. I keep hoping that’s what will happen, and if we just get through today, everything will be ok. But what if it’s not? Do we just live with it? I mean, it’s……it’s just intolerable. And how can we tell anyone about this – they’ll think we’re all crazy!”
“How are your staff reacting - have you had any hysterics here?” asked Nell.
“Not so far. A lot of shock, and some tears. I gather Vida Armitage fainted at the sight of herself but soon came round, and Nancy administered brandy this morning to fortify us somewhat – oh Nell….Nancy has the most amazing beard! And you should see Biddy – or Brian as she now is!”
“Brian? Brian O’Rya – oh, that’s just priceless!” Nell went off into fits of laughter, “Who thought that one up, I’d love to know!”
“So would she,” said Hilda drily. “Unimpressed was not the word. Do you want to come and say hello – they’re all in the staff room comparing notes?”
Nell glanced at her watch, paused, and then stood up and started putting her coat on. “No, much as I’d like to see them all, I’d best be getting back for Mittagessen otherwise my lot will be wondering where all their staff are. What time are you going out skiing and sledding?”
“Probably about thirteen forty-five,” replied Hilda, as Nell balanced on one foot and then another putting her boots on. “We’re having lunch at twelve thirty, and then a rest, and we’ll be out after that. I take it you’ll be out as well?”
“We will. Though how we’ll recognise everyone in their snowsuits and glasses is beyond me. It’s bad enough in their usual clothes!”
Hilda frowned. “Oh!……That hadn’t occurred to me. We do usually find it quite hard to recognise people – though I suppose you can often tell with height and how they walk; now we’re going to have no chance. We could get the prefects on to it,” she added thoughtfully, “Tell them that because Matron’s ill, we need them to keep more of an eye on the gir – boys so that we don’t get a lot of injuries, and leave it largely to them. They’ll recognise each other far better than we will.”
“Do you know, that’s an excellent idea. I’ll ask my lot to keep an eye on each other, and hopefully that will take some of the pressure from us. Right. See you later.”
Nell took her leave, and Hilda went up to the staff sitting room where the staff were discussing the developments of the day. The mood was mixed amongst them; some of the younger staff were taking things in their stride or treating it all as rather a joke, but others were, like Nell and Hilda, wondering if this was to be a permanent situation, and if so, what the consequences would be.
As Hilda entered, Nancy called out to her, “Hilda, come and sit down and have a coffee – you look like you could do with it. Or would you like something stronger?” she asked, seeing Hilda’s face.
“Thank you Nancy, no, coffee will be fine.” She sat down next to Nancy and gratefully accepted took the cup from her colleague. “You’ll be interested to hear that Millies are in the same position as we are.”
“How? How has this happened?”
The staff gathered around, anxious to hear Hilda’s news. “Nell came over earlier. Or should I say, Noel?!”
“What? Noel? Oh that’s hilarious,” roared Biddy.
“Yes, she said very much the same about your name,” said Hilda, with a grin.
Biddy sat back with a quiet ‘Humph’, and Hilda continued with her news,
“It’s the same over there as here; all the pupils are boys, and Gertrude Rider and Gill Culver are male but supposed to be female, rather like you two,” she said, indicating Rosalie and Matey. “Nell’s also got Vi Norton out of action for the day; she had rather a bad reaction to discovering she had a male body, so is in bed.”
There were murmurs of sympathy and concern at this news, and Hilda continued, “It’s as if we’ve stepped into a parallel universe showing what life would be like if we had a boys school. I can’t say I like it all that much. Millies are coming out skiing and sledging with us this afternoon. I thought tomorrow, if the weather holds, we’ll get out again in the afternoon, and then have a read through of the Christmas concert in the evening. Joey – who is now Joseph – brought the script round this morning – Oh, I’ll tell you that particular story over lunch!” Hilda laughed as the staff started exclaiming about Joey being male. She took a drink and then said ‘Oh – how did you all get in class this morning? I can’t imagine it was very easy.”
Nancy groaned, “Oh, it was awful! I’ve never been so on edge with a class before – not even my first day teaching, I don’t think.”
“It reminded me of my first day here – I remember too well what that was like,” said Kathie, who as the newest member of staff had had the experience of learning pupils names fairly recently.
“Yes, I went through the register very slowly and tried to remember all their names, but I’m sure I slipped up once or twice, said Biddy, “The boys must have wondered what was going on.”
“My class asked me twice if I was ok,” said Ruth. “I was so hesitant and……discombobulated. I couldn’t remember all their names…. It was terrible!”
“Do you think they’ll work out that something’s wrong?” asked Nancy, “I mean, one teacher having a bad day is excusable, but if they chat amongst themselves and figure out we’ve all been having a bad day, they might start to wonder what is going on.”
Hilda let out a breath. “Who knows?” she said. “Hopefully the boys won’t be so bothered about us and our wellbeing as the some of the girls might have been, and we’ll get away with it.”
“It must be fairly obvious that something’s wrong though,” said Kathie, rather glumly. “I called some of my own form the wrong name this morning – oh, not their female name, don’t worry – but I got them mixed up. How are we ever going to used to this?”
“You never know, we might not have to,” said Hilda, “For now though, we need to get to Mittagessen. I’m going to ask all the prefects to come and see me at the end of the rest period. Nell and I thought we’d get them to keep more of an eye on the pupils than usual, under the guise of Matron being out of action so we want to avoid too many injuries, but they are also going to recognise each other far better than we will.”
Following the rest period, the prefects presented themselves to Hilda in the study. Dressed in their snow suits, they looked too identical for Hilda’s liking, but regarding them as they stood before her, she began to see the similarities to the female prefects she was used to.
Mary Lou – or Maurice – was tall and study with golden curly hair and wide blue eyes. Edmund, the head boy, had short dark hair and a calm thoughtful expression, while the two Leslies and Hilary Bennet were fairly easily recognisable and, thought Hilda, at least those are names I don’t have to learn.
“Now, …..um……boys, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Matron hasn’t been present today; she’s in bed with a bad cold, and so won’t be able to administer her usual first aid and liniments if needed after skiing, and therefore we want to avoid too many bumps and bruises. Mis….ter Burnett has first aid training, so will be helping out if there are any injuries, however I need you all to keep an extra vigilant eye on everyone today and try and nip any reckless behaviour in the bud. The staff will be out with you as usual, but your vigilance as well will be a great help.”
The prefects nodded, and Hilda was amused to see a couple of not-very-well-hidden disappointed faces. She had a feeling that the afternoon’s skiing and sledding was going to be far more energetic and boisterous than she was used to, and curbing the energies of the boys might be required. She dismissed the prefects, but as they left she could hear some shuffling and whispers outside the door, and there was a tentative knock.
Hilda frowned, but said “Come in,” and the door opened, and Edmund Pennell came back in with a rather red face.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but……um…….” He hesitated, not sure how to begin.
“What is it Edmund? Can I help with anything?” Hilda asked slightly curiously, though she had a horrible thought about what was coming next, and wasn’t sure how to she was going to explain it to Edmund.
“I…..er…… well….. It’s just… some of the boys have been saying that the masters were acting oddly in class this morning, and….er…… we wondered……..um……if….er…..everything was alright…..only…..it’s the talk of the school,” he wound down, and stared around the room rather than look at Hilda, whose heart sank at this news.
“When you say the masters were acting oddly, what do you mean?” asked Hilda, hoping that nothing too awful had been done or said, and that it could be brushed aside with a fairly simple explanation – though what that would be at the moment, Hilda was desperately trying to think.
“Well, um……..,” Edmund began falteringly, not wanting to be seen as telling tales on staff.
“It’s alright,” said Hilda, “I’d already heard that some of the staff were not themselves this morning; you’re only filling in some details for me, not ‘telling tales’ on the masters.”
Edmund looked relieved, and then continued, “Mr Moore, Sir…..we had him for Geography this morning and…….um…….he kept forgetting our names……and staring at us. I wondered if he had a headache or wasn’t feeling well.”
“Possibly,” acknowledged Hilda solemnly, thinking that she would far rather cope with her staff being merely unwell than the situation they were faced with today. “I’ll enquire with Mr Moore. Were there any other staff that might be…..er….unwell?”
“We-ell…Vb said that Mr O’Ryan was also forgetting students names, and I heard some from Inter V talking about Mr Wilmot as well; and, Sir, we had Mr Derwent for English after Geography, and he was staring at us from time to time. It was almost as if he wasn’t sure who we were. Or his eyesight was bad.” Edmund added.
Hilda coughed to supress a chuckle at Edmund’s suggestion that Ruth’s eyesight might be the issue. “Oh, if only he knew….”, she thought to herself. Aloud she said, “Thank you for letting me know about this; I shall certainly keep an eye on the masters; it does sound like they might not be…..um…..feeling quite…..themselves today. We don’t want them joining Matron and Miss Dene in the sick room.”
“No Sir. Um, thank you. And I hope you don’t think I was speaking out of turn,” said Edmund, scarlet in the face.
“No, I don’t. As head boy you must feel you can come to me with any concerns you have, so thank you for bringing this to my attention. Now, you’d best get off and get your skis – or are you sledding today?” said Hilda, smiling at Edmund.
“Oh, no, skiing Sir – and thank you.” Edmund scuttled out of the study and Hilda let out a deep breath and a wry laugh at Edmund’s observations and suggestion that the staff weren’t very well.
The realisation that the boys had noticed that all was not well with the staff was not a comfortable one for Hilda. She sat back in her chair and stared at the ceiling, hoping that she could support her staff enough to cope with this situation so that life would seem perfectly normal for the boys. The ticking clock reminded Hilda that she was supposed to be outside skiing with the rest of the school, and, because sitting in the study pondering was not bringing any resolutions to mind, Hilda went and to collect her skis from the sheds out at the back of the school, hoping that an afternoon’s exercise might clear her mind.
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.