Summary: The secret life of Rosalie Dene.
Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Rosalie Dene
School Period: Switzerland
School Name: Chalet School
Chapters: 14 Completed: No
Word count: 19140 Read: 11155
Published: 04 Nov 2014 Updated: 03 Oct 2017
1. Chapter 1 by shesings
2. Chapter 2 by shesings
3. Chapter 3 by shesings
4. Chapter 4 by shesings
5. Chapter 5 by shesings
6. Chapter 6 by shesings
7. Chapter 7 by shesings
8. Chapter 8 by shesings
9. Chapter 9 by shesings
10. Chapter 10 by shesings
11. Chapter 11 by shesings
12. Chapter 12 by shesings
13. Chapter 13 by shesings
14. Chapter 14 by shesings
Based on a chance remark in Coming of Age and it just growed..........
Rosalie Dene sank into her comfortable reclining chair, switched on her radio, took a refreshing sip of her drink and breathed a deep contented sigh. The cool shower had been just what she needed, the salad had been crisp and tasty and these new lounging pyjamas were soft and silky against her skin. “This quiet evening,” she thought, “I have most definitely earned!”
It was the Monday evening at the culmination of the long, hot Coming of Age weekend. Rosalie had successfully fought off attempts to get her to any of the reminiscence parties still in full swing in the School proper and across the Platz. She had even managed to skip attendance at Abendessen pleading that she had to get the stencils cut for the back of the great Coming of Age photograph. That was a slight stretching of the truth. The excellent photographer she had booked had the most up-to-date equipment and all she had had to do was type the list and hand it to him before he left. She smiled as she thought of the unexpectedly large bonus which had come to the photographer, and to the Project funds, from all the extra copies ordered and paid for by former pupils carried away by the excitement of the Event.
Her mind went back to the morning last term when Hilda Annersley, brightly smiling, announced to her that the school would be having a major celebration to mark its Coming of Age.
Resisting the temptation to ask if this meant that staff members would, at long last, be getting a key for the front door, Rosalie queried, “But why do we want to celebrate the 21st? Don't most institutions like this wait for their Silver Jubilee?”
“Well, yes, I suppose they do, now you mention it” said Hilda with a slightly startled air, “but Joey was so full of enthusiasm about getting in touch with Old Girls, having special events, possibly school trips to the Tiernsee, perhaps even making a start on the chapels we've always wanted, that it seemed like a wonderful idea at the time. Of course, it will mean a lot of hard work and especially for you, as if you didn't have enough to do!”
Seeing the worried look on the Head's face, Rosalie hastened to reassure her. “That's my job – I'm The Secretary. And it should be a lot of fun, too!”
“I knew it was going to be worth all the effort, Hank” she said to the radio as “Your Cheatin Heart” played on AFN. “Celebration saturated in nostalgia, heavily laced with sentimentality and with the school leaders stoking up the excitement for all they were worth, how could it fail? There were angles, oh yes indeed, there were angles - and I think I measured them all!”
She looked at the handsome clock on the section of wall between the doors of her bathroom and her kitchen, both small but boasting the most up-to-date fittings and fixtures, smiling again as she remembered how Madge and Hilda had been touched to the point of tears by her request to have her living quarters made a little more homelike - at her own expense, of course.
Time to switch to the news from the USSR, not to find out what was actually going on but just to keep her ear tuned. The clandestine stations, the radio equivalent of the samizdat press, were better both for hard news and for current idioms but it was frustratingly hard to keep track of them as they changed wavelengths so frequently. She groaned as she realised the Radio Moscow newsreader was one of the group who also read on the station's English service and whose stilted delivery was a sore trial in either language. Still, she thought, it must hard to sound animated when the most exciting thing you ever have to report is an increase in monthly tractor production in Minsk....
A sharp ring on the doorbell startled Rosalie out of her musings. “Who on earth............!”. The back door of the Annexe was rarely used; in fact most people, including many members of staff, had no idea that it existed. Certainly this was the first time the bell had ever been rung at this hour! Hastily donning her silk dressing gown, she slipped quickly down the back stairs.
“Who is it?” she called.
“Rosalie, it's me, it's Frieda, let me in, please! We need to talk!”
Shocked out of her skin by the tremor in the voice of the usually placid Frieda, Rosalie unlocked the door and ushered her friend upstairs.
Motioning Frieda to the armchair, she swiftly poured a gin and tonic, clapped it in her visitor's hand and in some trepidation said “Frieda, what on earth is the matter?”
Frieda took a deep swallow of her drink, and gulped, “Please, Rosalie, tell me that Joey doesn't know about The Project?!?!”
Rosalie spluttered as her Haig Dimple on the rocks went down the wrong way and looked at Frieda with a stunned expression.
“Joey know about The Project? Frieda, are you mad? What in the name of goodness makes you think that I would tell Joey, of all people, anything about it? Leaving aside the fact that she is to discretion what Attila the Hun was to peace and universal brotherhood, the dear woman is financially hopeless. I will never forget the day she came to wail on my shoulder about the state of the Plas Gwyn foundations. When I tried to console her by saying the buildings insurance should cover most of it she looked at me as if I was speaking Sanskrit! As we know, to our considerable cost, neither she nor Jack had thought of insuring the place. Heaven knows what would have happened if we hadn't been able to lend them the cash for the repairs!”
“I do like the way you said 'lend'” laughed Frieda, looking a bit more cheerful. “Do you think we’ll ever get it all back?”
“Maybe when we are old and grey but at the rate we're going I can see Louis and Gerard having to discuss it with the Trips and Steve", said Rosalie, with a rueful grin. “I paid off a fair amount after my Canada visit – it seemed the right thing to do in return for their hospitality - but we have to keep reducing their repayments as their family grows. My blood runs cold every time Joey starts talking about quads! But, tell me, what brought on this panic?”
"It was this afternoon when we took Marie to Interlaken to catch the train. We were talking about the Chapels' Fund - you know Madame announced it stood at around £7600 - and Joey was telling us about the donations from Corney, Evvy and the Hopes. Then she said ‘Actually, we got our first twenty thousand pounds in one fell swoop, more or less.’ I nearly did a Joey-type fainting clean away act! And Simone has been giving Joey the odd quizzical look ever since. Of course, it all went over Marie's head. She's a dear sweet beautiful girl but.... "
"When they said 'brains' she thought they said "drains" and asked them to clear hers out!” added Rosalie, with a chuckle. "Simone, though, is a very different proposition and it could have been difficult. Fortunately, this is the one transaction in the entire Coming-of-Age affair where I am the completely blameless clergyman's daughter - and Joey was almost right!"
"How so?" Frieda enquired, as Rosalie topped up both their drinks. "Thank you, I needed that! I've had enough of that light country wine that Joey serves which is only one step up from water. Do you know, I've been reduced to drinking Anna's lemonade?"
"You poor hard done by soul" laughed Rosalie. "I don't know where Jo got the £20,000 figure but there is more money in the Chapels' Fund than Madge announced. I managed to persuade her that we should have some contingency funds in case the building work cost more than the estimate. I also suggested setting up an endowment for their maintenance and to let us pay a modest honorarium to the chaplains. The Heads thought it was a good idea but it took a bit of work to get Joey to understand what I meant. I think she imagines that men of the cloth live off communion wine and the odd fruit loaf donated by grateful parishioners. My father had a few like that in all of his parishes."
Frieda gave her a sympathetic glance. She knew how much Rosalie would have loved the University education that could not be afforded. She also knew how happy it made her friend that The Project had helped her provide a comfortable home for her father and stepmother and a good education for her young half-brothers.
"Anyhow" said Rosalie crisply. "I don't want Simone mulling things over - she might feel moved to investigate and she is more than clever enough to make life very awkward if she gets wind of the arrangement with Herr Braun or one of the other little ploys which enabled us, among other things, to ensure that every pupil was able to go to the Tiernsee whether their parents could afford it or not. Why don't you bring her over with you tomorrow morning for coffee? I'll explain the scheme, ask her to check my figures and cost projections, and, with a bit of luck, disarm any suspicions she might have. Tell Bruno that I should be able to transfer the spare funds by the end of the week. Herr Kensinger did say that he could have the photographs ready by Friday so that will give me a good excuse to nip down to Interlaken.”
"I'll do that" returned Frieda, "but I must get back before they send out search parties. I told Jo I was a bit head-achy and wanted some fresh air and quiet. I don't want her thinking I've slipped off a shelf!"
By the time she had shown Frieda out and returned to her quarters Rosalie was ready for bed.
She was just drifting off to sleep when the irony suddenly struck her. "Good grief, The Project could have been destroyed by a perfectly legitimate scheme! And they have the cheek to say honesty is the best policy!"
This has some unpleasnat passages but I did always wonder how Bruno morphed from doctor to banker........
“But this is such a good and thoughtful plan, Rosalie! It is just what is needed and you have presented it so well.” Simone smiled at the secretary, as she finished checking Rosalie’s careful figures.
“I did do book-keeping as part of my secretarial course but, of course, I don’t do anything complicated.” said Rosalie with a becomingly modest air. “We are going to ask Bruno to advise us on how to invest it.”
“Yes, that is wise. It is good that we have a reliable banker “in the family”, so to speak! Now, we must bid you au revoir and let you get on with your work.”
Rosalie bade a smiling farewell to her friends then bent her mind to the problem of Miss Bubb’s finances or, rather, her lack of them. Jo’s emphatic “We must see that the poor soul doesn’t have to worry about money during her treatment.” had been warmly endorsed by Madge, the Heads and Jack Maynard and they had lost no time on passing the responsibility to Rosalie.
“I know that you don’t like her, Rosalie,” began Hilda with a frown, “but if you could deal with the arrangements……”
“I don’t wish the woman harm, Hilda,” replied Rosalie with a smile, though she had indeed loathed Miss Bubb who in her brief time as the School’s Head had treated her secretary as a serf and had also hampered her clandestine wartime activities. She looked thoughtful. “Jack’s diagnosis suggests that she will be in San for months so I doubt if it is worth continuing to pay rent to keep her room. I take it that he will waive his fees but there will still be her board, accommodation, X-Rays, tests and so on.”
“Yes, Jo did say they would help but, really, Jack’s contribution is already enough and I feel the School should do something!”
“Well, as she is a staff member, if in a rather detached manner, I shall check the policy to see if that will help. And don’t look so worried, Hilda! I’m your secretary and it’s my job to manage these things!”
“What a rock you are, Rosalie,” said Hilda gratefully. “Where would we be without you?”
“Probably on Carey Street!” thought Rosalie with an affectionate grin at Hilda’s retreating back.
A quick survey of the small print of the policy proved fruitful and call requesting the appropriate claim form was speedily made. Dealing with Miss Bubb’s room, however, was going to entail a trip to talk to Frau Wampfler who didn’t possess a telephone so that could wait until after Mittagessen. Realising it was too late to start another job, Rosalie let her mind wander to the unsettling years after the War…..
“Please, Bruno, I beg you, tell Rosalie everything!” Frieda’s voice broke and she angrily wiped the tears from her eyes.
“What good will it do?” replied Bruno sadly. “I spoke to Sir James and he can do nothing, nor could Gottfried Mensch though they believed me. I know you mean well, Rosalie, but what can you, or anyone, do?”
“Why not tell me and then we shall see.”
Bruno looked at the fair pretty woman sitting opposite. She was Rosalie, Frieda’s friend, good at her job, quiet, the last person you noticed in the room – what could she do? But something in her voice and in her eyes compelled him to begin.
“I was pleased to be asked to go to Vienna to be medical liaison officer for the British command. I lived there as a youth; I studied there; I wanted to help. I had no idea what it would be like. It was beyond my worst nightmares. The destruction was massive, there wasn’t enough food, women were clearing wrecked buildings virtually with their bare hands, robberies, assaults, murders on every corner. My beautiful Vienna!” He paused for a moment and swallowed. Frieda squeezed his hand. “And the allies, well, the British, American and French, they were doing their best but the Russians, and some of the Austrians, were running rings around them. Do you know that the British agreed to return nearly 40,000 Cossacks to the Russians? They were killed almost as soon as they were handed over. And the ‘denazification’? What a joke!!
He shook his head. “The Colonel called me in to meet the Austrian doctor they had appointed to rebuild the medical services in the British sector. ‘A thoroughly good chap’, I was told, ‘had to do his duty for his country, of course, but not a Nazi’. I walked in to the Colonel’s office and had to shake hands with one of the ringleaders of the riots that killed my father, a fanatic but a clever one. My cousin, who was a medical orderly during the War, knew Gruber and he told me of things he did to patients that were beyond evil. He didn’t recognise me then but when he did………..”
He buried his face in his hands. Rosalie stood, went to a cupboard and filled a glass with a pale gold liquid. “Drink that!” she ordered.
Bruno took the glass and sipped. “They had a saying over there about the troops and the women. It’s not a correct thing to say to ladies.”
“Just pretend we are not ladies,” advised Rosalie quietly.
“They said ‘The French seduce them, the Americans buy them, the Russians rape them and the British marry them’. There was some truth in all of these. All of those men, and all of those women who had been without their men for so long, it was inevitable, but….. there was starvation, some women had to sell themselves to live and to feed their children, many were taken willing or not and there were filthy diseases.” He looked at Rosalie and she nodded to show she had understood. “Babies were born, God help us, babies were born to babies, little girls, 12, 13 years old, and sometimes they died of it or their bodies were ruined.” He took a swig of the whisky, holding the glass so tightly that Frieda feared it would break in his hand. The drink seemed to calm him and he continued, sighing deeply.
“We had set up clinics in various districts, wherever we could find a space. The city hospitals lacked doctors and drugs and many people, especially the women and girls, would not come to the military hospital. It was difficult but we did what we could. Then……………………….then………….”
Frieda put her arms round him and took up the story.
“Someone had told Gruber who Bruno’s father was and the beast was afraid that he would be exposed as a thorough Nazi and, possibly, a war criminal. There were things even before the Anschluss which could be set at his door. He had Bruno accused of illegal operations!”
“It was not true, Rosalie!” broke in Bruno. “As God is my witness, it was not true! I delivered babies that died, yes, I cleaned up women and girls who had miscarried the products of rapes but I did not deliberately destroy an unborn child.” He looked at her and was strangely relieved to see that her face showed concern but no condemnation.
“Of course, the authorities took his word, he had witnesses, bribed or threatened, I know not. I protested my innocence and insisted on a proper court martial. That night, as I walked home, I was attacked and beaten. I still bear the marks. They broke my hand, they knew about members of my family still in Austria and threatened harm to them. I accepted my punishment, I have been struck off the medical register, here, in Austria, everywhere.” He gave an ironic laugh. “You know, I never really wanted to be a doctor, that was the dream of my parents, but now…I have my wish, I am no longer a doctor!” Frieda held him closer.
There was a brief thoughtful silence before Rosalie spoke and her words were unexpected.
“What did you want to be when you were a boy, Bruno?”
“You will think it strange” admitted Bruno with a slight twitch of his lips, “but I wanted to be a banker like my father. I loved numbers. I worked in the bank during my summer holidays for years. I started out just running errands and keeping things tidy but at the end I was working in the foreign exchange department. But this is of no use. All those who knew me or my father are dead or scattered, and the headquarters building was bombed in the last days of the War. I went and stood by the crater. It was odd, the great vaults had melted and they told me the only things that were recovered were the lead and the gold.”
“Rosalie, can you help?” Frieda had a touch of impatience in her voice.
“I think so”, said Rosalie slowly, “but it may take a little time.”
In the event, it was six weeks before Bruno von Ahlen, still feeling slightly dazed, walked into the London headquarters of a long established British bank to be greeted by the manager.
“Welcome to the firm, von Ahlen, glad to have you aboard. Morton, my deputy, will show you round then you can get down to work!” He went off, very pleased to have beaten off several competitors to secure the services of a foreign exchange specialist who boasted first class references from one of the better Continental pre-war banks. Excellent that he could speak several languages, too! He had taken the precaution of letting the staff know that the new employee had served on the allied side during the war and was confident that this von Ahlen chap would be a real asset in this difficult post-war world.
A couple of months later, the telephone in Rosalie Dene’s office rang and the operator announced that a Mr Vanilla was on the line from London.
“Rosalie, have you seen the story in the Times?”
“Goodness me, no, Bruno! It’s as much as my life is worth to open the paper before Hilda and Nell have scrapped over it. What story?”
“It’s that schweinhund Gruber, he has been arrested! His house was burgled, and the safe blown open. It seems the thieves took the valuables and just dumped some papers outside. They proved that Gruber had been involved in experiments on handicapped children and prisoners. He could hang!”
After bidding farewell to the jubilant Bruno, Rosalie smiled, raised her arm and sketched a sign which bore a distinct resemblance to a tick!
Dover House was the London HQ of the Scottish Office, and is now the Scotland Office, decorative but of limited use. Foggy Bottom, then and now, is the home of the US State Department, which is more useful!
“Of course, one knew the poor lady was getting no better.” Frau Wampfler was sympathetic but practical. “The rent always she paid in advance and I shall return the balance to you.” She waved away Rosalie’s protest with a smile. “No, no, Miss Dene, I can rent out the room by the day or the week very easily and, should she be able to return, it will be here for Miss Bubb. A respectable, proud woman but not one with many friends or, I think, money to spare. She found her own food but sometimes she could be persuaded to take a bowl of soup or a slice of pie if I told her I had made more than I needed. Come, I will show you her room and you can gather her belongings.”
The room was small but comfortably furnished, the well-worn gladstone bag and matching suitcase a sad reminder that their owner had once known better days. Rosalie quickly separated Miss Bubb’s few clothes, books and personal items into those which she would require in the hospital and those which could be kept safely at the school. She decided to drop the smaller bag off at the San on her way.
Helen Graves didn’t mince her words. “It’s only a matter of time, Rosalie, and all we can do is keep her as free from pain as possible. She does appear to have some worry on her mind, though, which it isn’t helping so maybe you can find out what it is. I’ll take you to her room.”
Miss Bubb looked much smaller than Rosalie remembered, her face almost as white as the pillow. She opened her eyes and Rosalie was startled to see the naked fear in them. She spoke quietly and gently.
"Hello, Miss Bubb, I hope they are making you comfortable here? I’ve brought your sponge bag and fresh night things as well as your writing case and books so you will have those to hand. Frau Wampfler sends you her best wishes, and your room will be waiting for you when you are well enough to return.” She didn’t think it necessary to mention that it would meanwhile be occupied by assorted climbers, nature lovers, artists and general tourists as she noted that some of the fear had left Miss Bubb’s face. “You may not be aware of it but, as you are teaching at the Chalet School, our insurance will cover your costs while you are in the Sanatorium so you can just concentrate on getting better.” Miss Bubb closed her eyes tightly but most of the tension left her frame. “As soon as the doctors permit it, you’ll have various members of the Chalet School community popping in to see you so do please ask if there is anything you need or want – most of us welcome an excuse to go down to Interlaken for a shopping trip! Now, I must let you rest so, au revoir!”
“Thank you, Miss Dene, you are very kind.” The voice was weak and had lost the harsh metallic tones that Rosalie remembered. “Would you…” , she coughed, painfully. “Please, would you be so kind as to deal with any business matters for me while I am hors de combat?”
“Of course, Miss Bubb,” said a startled Rosalie. “I shall do whatever is necessary.”
A slight smile appeared on Miss Bubb’s face. “You always did, Miss Dene! Goodbye.”
“Darn it,” thought Rosalie as she walked to out to the car. “The wretched woman can still throw me off balance!”
Back at the Chalet she reported to Hilda who shook her head sadly as she looked at the small pile of papers which were now in Rosalie’s charge. “Letters from her bank and solicitor, two photographs of a Victorian wedding party – her parents, I presume – her degree parchment. So little to show for a life, really.”
Rosalie smiled. “Whatever I think of her, she was an excellent teacher so I’m sure there are many girls who owe their success in life to her just as there are so many, including me, who owe you so much.”
Before Hilda could reply, the telephone rang and Rosalie answered. “Chalet School, Miss Dene speaking!” She listened for a moment then politely said. “I am sorry, there is no-one of that name here. You must have the wrong number.” She looked at the Head. “Hilda, if you don’t need me urgently in the next ten minutes I am going to run upstairs to change this dress for one that isn’t sticking to me.”
In her room she took the telephone from its usual socket and plugged it into one hidden behind her dressing table. She quickly fixed small devices to microphone and receiver then dialled.
“411 for London Station 1748, please.” After the usual succession of bleeps, clicks and distant waves, came the familiar voice. “Rosie, my dear, how are you enjoying the sunshine? Can you get yourself to Bonn by early Friday evening?”
“Need you there! Big op, favour for Uncle Sam. Button your ears back and I’ll explain.”
Rosalie listened, taking notes. “You’ll need to talk to MacKinnon, can never make out what the man’s saying and fall asleep trying! Should be fine, his minister’s a bit slow but has hopes of the Washington post so won’t cavil.”
“I’ll need to talk to the Head first, Spooky, I can’t just go haring off on a whim!”
“Every confidence in you, Rosie!”
As she put on a fresh dress, Rosalie was thinking hard. She made some swift adjustments to her make-up and went downstairs. As she entered the office she was stifling a yawn.
Hilda looked at her secretary with concern noting the dark circles under her eyes. “You are looking a little pale, Rosalie. Are you feeling unwell?”
The secretary sighed deeply. “Not really, Hilda, just very tired. It’s probably reaction after the Celebrations but I just feel I could sleep for a week – or a weekend anyway!”
“Hmm, yes, you’ve been working very hard, I know. You haven’t had an afternoon off for several weeks and when we have had girls at the Tiernsee you have stayed close at hand on Saturdays and Sundays in case of problems. Why don’t you take this weekend off and go somewhere restful? “No!” Hilda held up an imperious hand as Rosalie looked doubtful, “I know that if you stay at school you will not relax properly so you are going.”
“Well, I have a standing invitation from Frieda and Bruno and I haven’t seen the children since Christmas. I was planning to go to Interlaken on Friday to put the sale money in the bank so…”
“........ you might as well go early and carry on to Basle!” said Hilda decisively. “That’s settled and, as there is nothing here at the moment that cannot wait until tomorrow, I suggest you go to your room and rest until Abendessen.”
Rosalie thanked the Head and went upstairs. “Of course, she would have given me the weekend off if I had asked directly,” she thought to herself, “but it’s much more fun to let her think it’s all her idea!”
In her room she picked up the phone and asked for another number. This time the bleeps, click and distant waves were succeeded by a "Good afternoon, Permanent Under-Secretary's Office."
“Good afternoon, it’s Miss Davison. May I speak to the Permanent Under-Secretary, please?”
“Putting you through, ma’am” said the lady leaving Rosalie to wonder, as she usually did, why all the staff in Dover House, with the exception of Donald MacKinnon, sounded as if they were first cousins to the Queen.
“Good afternoon, Miss Davison.” The soft Inverness voice had a note of resignation in it. “What can I do for you today?”
“Donald, I need you to arrange collection of a parcel from the Blue Town to be delivered to my cousins in North Angus on Friday afternoon. We would like it to be with them by 2pm.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“The Governor won’t like it, Rosalie. He says it unsettles the parcel and makes it even more difficult to handle. He’s under a lot of pressure since the parcel got lost in April and there are still a couple of reporters hanging around. The Minister will be concerned too.”
“The Governor should be more careful with his belongings and you can tell the Minister that we are doing this for our friends in Foggy Bottom!” returned Rosalie crisply.
Donald relaxed a little. “That should please him! The problem will be getting the parcel out of the depot. As I said, there is press interest and they might just be curious if we use the ambulance. Still, I expect they’ll be able to find some nondescript van. How can we ensure the parcel will be returned in good order?”
“I’ll be collecting the parcel at the other end. I shall put it back into the transport myself and it should be back home by Saturday evening.”
Donald MacKinnon’s raised his eyebrows. If ‘Miss Davison’ was going into the field this was an important operation!
“I think that is everything for the moment, Donald. Please let the Chairman know when arrangements are confirmed, and thank you.”
“My pleasure!” muttered Donald. He replaced the receiver and leaned back in his chair thinking hard then lifted the phone again.
“Miss Robinson-Jones, could you get the Governor of Peterhead Prison for me, please. And a strong cup of tea!”
He was going to quite enjoy telling the pompous fool that the finest safe-breaker and most persistent prison escapee in the country was going out for a weekend excursion!
Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2012 2:23 pm
“Ah, Miss Dene, you wish to visit the safe deposit room?”
“If you please, Herr Ackermann” returned Rosalie politely.
“I have also a letter for you,” said Herr Ackermann, his tone conspiratorial as he handed over the large white envelope addressed in the familiar hand writing. Rosalie took the letter with a smile as she rose to follow the bank manager to the vaults. She had realised some time ago that underneath his very correct demeanour and pinstripe suit Herr Ackermann was a romantic, convinced that he was facilitating the correspondence of two star-crossed lovers!
Left alone in the drawer-lined room, Rosalie quickly opened her own box, removed a couple of items then checked her letter. Tickets, plans and instructions appeared in order so she relocked the box, slipped the essentials into her travel bag and left for Interlaken Ost station.
Most of the two and a half hour journey to Basle she spent familiarising herself with the instructions and plans. At the station, she slipped into the Ladies, emerging some ten minutes later as a brunette with a short, no nonsense, haircut, a cream linen suit and sensible shoes. Outside the Bahnhof, she caught the shuttle bus travelling the Zollfreistrasse to the airport.
The diplomatic passport she was carrying ensured she was waved through all formalities and soon she was airborne, landing some ninety minutes later at the airport which served both Cologne and Bonn, capital of the Federal German Republic.
Again she was able to pass through the CD gate to find a smartly dressed and deferential chauffeur awaiting her.
“Miss Davison?” Rosalie nodded and the man took her bag and walked outside where a smart black car stood. “Would you care to ride in the front, ma’am” Rosalie climbed into the passenger seat and the sleek machine pulled out onto the autobahn towards Bonn.
“Great to see you, Rosalie, it’s been an age!” The deference was gone and his manner was relaxed. “Sorry about the masquerade but this is need to know as usual, and it seemed easier.”
Rosalie looked at Brigadier Charles Woodrow Graham, military attaché at the US Embassy, and smiled fondly. “It’s good to see you. Chuck! Is there any news of our old friend?”
“Yes, Jake was safely delivered to Edzell and is on his way to Bonn. I wish I could be your backstop on this but everyone down to secretary level has to be at this huge party that the Federal Government are throwing and, of course, that’s why tonight has to be the night. Lt. Colonel Rick Blaiden will be your contact at the base. He’s a sound guy and will make sure you get to where you’re going – and, God willing, get back! I’ll come out as soon as I can get away but that will probably be in the early hours. I can’t leave until my ambassador leaves and he can’t leave until the French ambassador who is the current doyen in Bonn leaves. Even then he won’t leave before the Soviets in case we miss anything - he doesn’t trust Uncle Konrad as far as he could throw him.”
“Who could blame him? Are we going to the Embassy first?” She had studied the map of the area very carefully and realised that the direction they were heading.
“Yes, we have a WAF officer rig there for you. People come in and out from the base all the time so just in case our foes and friends are being nosy it’ll look less suspicious. If anyone is taking note, and in this burg they will be, they’ll see a British civil servant probably bringing some important but not too vital papers to an ally on Friday afternoon and leaving again Saturday lunchtime. By tomorrow morning everyone in town will be talking about the audacious break-ins at half a dozen Embassies and I doubt they’ll think you had anything to do with it. And before we have to work, what has Jake been up to? London sounded very jittery about the possibility of him going AWOL!”
“Bunch of nervous Nellies!” said Rosalie scornfully. “They know perfectly that he just wants to get back to Barlinnie so Mary and the children can visit more often. There isn’t a chance that he would think of staying in Germany. He does tweak their tails, though. A couple of months ago he got out of his locked cell, out of the locked wing, and through the locked service gate just two days after the governor had claimed he had made Peterhead escape proof. To add insult to injury, he stood at the bus stop opposite the jail waiting for the bus to Aberdeen! When he got there he bought stamps, went in to the Station Hotel and used their notepaper and envelopes to write letters to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the War Ministry, the Times, the Daily Record and Her Majesty the Queen. He posted them on the way to the Press and Journal office where he surrendered to the editor and gave him the story. It got everyone in a flap!”
Chuck Graham roared with laughter! “What a guy! He has his own style, you have to admit! What’s he in for just now?”
“Oh please, even for Jake Murray this was special! He broke into a big pawnbrokers in central Glasgow, opened the safe and cleared everything out except the watch that he had pawned himself!”
“You’re kidding me!”
“No, according to him, when he pledged the watch that was a debt of honour to the pawnbroker and it would have been dishonest to steal it back!”
Rick Blaiden looked at the woman in WAF uniform and tried to reconcile her mild and very pretty appearance with what he had been told.
“Our man is a decorated war hero, three times into Occupied Europe to secure vital information for the Allies, brilliant safe-cracker and jail-breaker, never yet met a lock he cannot pick, a thoroughly engaging personality and a complete nightmare to try to control! Which is why you’ll need Davison – looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but a wonderfully devious mind. Seems to understand the crooks and they like her. She’ll keep him in order, get the job done and put him back on the bus!”
He held out his hand “Good to meet you, ma’am. We’ve time for a quick run through before your man touches down. I hear you don’t want a driver so there’ll be a car ahead of you to guide you to the right Strasse. They’ll hang around town and watch your back.”
The pair went over signals and timings then Braiden escorted Rosalie towards a hardstanding as a Convair Transport touched down and rolled towards them. Almost before it had stopped the door opened, steps came down and a couple of airmen appeared followed by a small figure, swamped by his flying suit but wearing a cheerful grin.
“Rosie, ya beauty!” The little man bounded towards them “They never said it was you!!”
“Jeez, you could drive a truck between his legs!” said the Colonel in an undertone as he prepared to welcome his unusual guest.
“Lt Colonel Blaiden, may I introduce Jakob Marinski, also known as Jake Murray!”
“Pleased to meet you, pal, nice place you’ve got here!” said the ebullient Jake. “Where are we, by the way? The boy said Germany but there’s a lot of that to land in.”
“We’re just outside Bonn, Jake, and all will be revealed once you’ve got out of that outfit and we’ve had some dinner,” replied Rosalie firmly, reflecting with some pleasure that three years as a guest of Her Majesty had not notably dampened Jake’s spirits.
Over the very good dinner that a steward brought to the CO’s office, Rosalie explained the details of the scheme.
“We need you to get into the first floor – this is the plan of the Embassy – open the safe and bring out everything. It’s this type, which you’ve met before, and we need it damaged!”
“Aw, come on Rosie, that’s a pre-war Mauer, a beautiful wee thing. It would be a crime to hurt it - I can tickle it open, no bother!”
“Yes, I know you can, Jake, but there are safes being chiselled and blown open across the town and it’s important that the Russians don’t know that they’ve had a visit from a real professional.”
“We’re doing the Russkies? Ye dancer! OK, doll, you win, I can make it look good, a bit of damage they can repair. Do you mind that Grubber guy? Could have opened the safe with a tin opener – waste of good gelignite that!”
“It was Gruber and we can do the good old days after!” said Rosalie briskly. “If you’ve had quite enough of that ice-cream, we need to get changed and ready to go to work!”
Rosalie concentrated on keeping her eyes on the US jeep two cars ahead. The split rear window of the Volkswagen Beetle made seeing what was following difficult but as 90% of the traffic on the street was the same model, a high proportion of them also black, she felt fairly safe from pursuit.
“Where’s everybody going at this time of night?” asked her passenger.
“Fireworks,” she replied laconically. “There’s to be a massive display starting at 10.45pm which, we hope, will provide noisy cover for our operations.”
Jake was hurt to the core. “Whit? I’m The Shadow, I never make a sound!”
“Well, there was that time you dropped out the window and landed on the Spanish chargé d'affaires’ cat! Granted it wasn’t you who made the noise but I have never moved so fast in all my life! Anyway, it’s not for your benefit though it might prove a useful distraction for the security detail and if they stare at the pretty sparkly lights it will knock out their night vision. We can’t guarantee that those doing the diversionary break-ins are up to your standard. In fact,” she grinned at him, “we can safely bet money that they won’t be. A couple of them are inside jobs but the others are agents and I haven’t seen their CVs.”
“You’re working in the dark and you don’t like it!” said Jake shrewdly.
“Nosy Rosie, that’s me! Still, Chuck Graham has always been reliable and so far it’s been smooth going …..!
Traffic had thinned considerably by the time they were in the suburb of Bad Godesberg. The jeep, the only vehicle now ahead of them, turned into Waldstrasse, slowed down at a curve on the road then accelerated away. Rosalie also slowed down almost to a stop. Jake opened the passenger door and disappeared into a small wooded area next to a big modern building surrounded by a high fence where large notices proclaimed, in several languages, that dogs were on patrol.
Rosalie drove slowly off. Parking for any length of time in this area might attract the attention of a passing police car or an alert member of staff in one of the many Embassies in the area so driving around in as near to a circle as possible would have to do. Unfortunately, in her desire not to attract attention by driving at speed, she went too far the other way. Her heart sank as she was overtaken by a police motorcyclist who signalled her to stop. The young policeman marched briskly towards her as she wound the window down, her mind racing.
“Your papers, please!”
Rosalie reached into the glove department and handed over a Personalausweiss which declared her to be Rosa Dreschler, resident of Cologne. The officer looked at her, noting her good looking but sad face and her simple black dress.
“You were driving very slowly, Frau Dreschler, is there a problem?”
Rosalie sighed. “No, officer, I came for the celebrations but my friend couldn’t….”, her lip trembled and she seemed near to tears, “….the plan was changed!”
“Probably had to take his wife!” thought the young man cynically. “Shame I’m on night duty, nice looking mature bit of stuff!” Aloud, he said, “I am sorry for your disappointment and I bid you good evening!” He sketched a salute, went back to his motor bike and roared off with a backward wave.
“The things I do for Queen and Country! If Hilda Annersley knew what her secretary was doing on her relaxing weekend………..” That thought made her smile, as she re-started the car and drove at a faster pace. Ten minutes later she approached the Embassy of the USSR again. To her horror she heard frantic barking and guttural shouts from the opposite end of the building to the wooded area where she was supposed to meet the little safebreaker.
She slowed the car, her heart pounding in dread at what might be happening to her old friend. The passenger door was wrenched open, a well packed black bag was tossed into the back seat and a black clad figure cried cheerfully, “OK doll, let’s get home for supper! I could eat a scabby horse!”
“Jake, what happened? I heard the dogs and I thought………..!” She fought down a sudden nausea as she gripped the steering wheel tightly and accelerated away. A feeling of relief washed over her as she saw the American jeep pull out of a cul-de-sac some fifty yards ahead. There was no vehicle visible in her rear-view mirror and she relaxed enough to listen to Jake’s reply.
“Piece of cake, shame to scratch that lovely wee Mauer but there you go. When I was in the plane I asked if they could get on the radio and sort me a few bits and pieces. Stirred it up in the cookhouse and when I came out the window I dodged round the corner and threw it as hard as I could. Dogs canna resist it so they were off, the guards ran to see what the dogs were chasing and I sloped off in the opposite direction, over the wall! The safe was chock-a-block, by the way - papers, jewellery, money, photographs. As you said, I took the lot including what looks like two big bags of salt but isn’t!”
“Drugs! Heroin? Cocaine?” asked Rosalie.
“Aye, could be either for all I know. I tell you, though, it feels good to have pulled one on the Russians: my Babcia will be cheering in Heaven!” Jake had never been to the land of his father’s birth but had absorbed from his grandmother all the tales of the wrongs visited on Poland. “Oh-oh, looks like the cops are busy boys tonight!”
The sound of sirens filled the air and Rosalie had to stop as a fleet of police cars raced across the intersection, peeling off in several directions.
“Let’s hope they don’t set up roadblocks! It’ll be hard enough trying to explain away any of what’s in that bag but a couple of kilos of snow? Just wait till I speak to Morrell!”
“Ach, don’t worry, Rosie, we know people who know people who can pull strings. Mind, they’re not doing much for me these days!”
“Oh come on, Jake, you’re probably the only man in history who has had two King’s Pardons in the space of five years! Spooky is working on your case but when you will keep doing your Houdini act and embarrassing the government it makes things very difficult.”
“You know it’s not doing the time, hen, it’s Mary and the weans! It’s no easy to get from Bridgeton to Peterhead, even with youse paying for the train and the digs. If I was back in the Bar L they could get there by tram!”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr Murray, but didn’t they move you north because you broke out of Barlinnie one fine August day?”
“Aye, but that was to see wee Helen on her first day at the school! I mean you don’t want to miss special occasions like that, do you?”
It was useless to point out that Jake would miss fewer family days if he restricted his professional activities to the semi-legitimate ones required by The Project. The man was a genius but, as his loyal, long-suffering wife was wont to say, “If common-sense was cash, Jake wouldn’t have enough to buy a canary a pair of spats!”
They were approaching the outskirts of Bonn when Rosalie noticed that a black BMW was suddenly very close behind them.
“Hell’s bells, what now?” she muttered. Jake turned round and peered out of the rear window. “Relax, Rosie, I think that’s Uncle Sam’s favourite nephew, Chuck Graham!”
Rosalie was less reassured than Jake by the appearance of the one star US general. She was still wondering why he had turned up at the airport dressed as a chauffeur. Rachel Davison’s papers said she was a senior civil servant in the War Office so it would be perfectly natural for the military attaché to meet her in his official capacity. Every agent in Bonn, if not West Germany, would know Chuck Graham - they probably knew his shoe size, his wife’s favourite colour and the name of his children’s pet goldfish - so why the disguise? There was definitely more to this little escapade than met the eye!
The 50s, the Cold War, atom secrets, spies everywhere, numbered Swiss bank acoounts.............Roslai in her element!
“Are you seriously sitting there telling me that you let me put Jake Murray into the Russian Embassy when Ivan Serov was there! How could you, you..”
“Rosie, my dear……………”
“Don’t you ‘Rosie, my dear’ me, you unprincipled old charlatan! You and this overgrown CIA boy scout led me to believe that the damned Embassy was guarded by the usual bunch of bored conscripts and now I find out that the most twisted and vicious KGB man in recorded history was in the building. You really are a pair of unscrupulous, conniving dastards! ”
“Hey, Rosie, calm down and think about it!” Chuck Graham reluctantly intervened. “What would you have done if you had known Serov was there?”
“I would have gone in with Jake to watch his back!” snapped Rosalie.
“Couldn’t risk that, Rosie! Jake knows what he has to know – you know too much!” Spooky’s manner was unusually serious. “Had to be done when Serov was in Bonn because the material was why he’s here.”
Rosalie gave him a glower. “What was so important that you risked my best asset to get it?”
“Papers are very useful, we’ve copied, they’ll be dropped round Waldstrasse where a mark will find and return. Heroin, Bonn’s suspected the Ivans were using it for payoffs, blackmail and general mischief. Likewise the currencies, and possibly the jewellery though that could just be the Ambassador’s wife’s personal stuff.”
“Unlikely,” said Rosie. “The settings are very ornate and there were some religious symbols among them. That wouldn’t go down at all well with the Party!”
“Hmm, interesting!” He gave Chuck Graham a look which the big American rightly interpreted as a request to make himself scarce.
“Colonel, shall we go see to delivering these papers back to the Reds?”
Lt.Colonel Blaiden rose with alacrity. He’d spent his war in the Pacific, only visiting Great Britain in transit, but he had seen the old movies and in the space of the last six hours every stereotype he cherished had been overturned! The very important passenger he was told to expect turned out to be a short bow-legged Scottish convict safebreaker, there was a civil servant who looked like an English rose but cussed like a longshoreman and to crown it all they send him a Royal Navy vice-admiral with a Treasure Island eyepatch. And where in the name of tarnation did he get those pants that you would be embarrassed to put in a Goodwill bin?
As Chuck closed the door behind him, Rosalie looked thoughtfully at the man who had literally waltzed in to her life all those years ago and changed it forever.
“OK, Morrell, you haven’t torn yourself away from your Friday evening chess game just to annoy me or to have a look at some grade 2 papers. What’s this about?”
“You look at the photographs?”
“No, Jake said they were disgusting and that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to me. He did say he could get all sorts of favours if he could smuggle them back in to gaol!”
“Worth more than a few smokes and someone doing his dhobying! Sorry, my dear, but I’ll have to ask you to have a look at some.”
With a grimace of distaste, Rosalie took the photographs and reluctantly flicked through them. Spooky Morrell saw the shock register, the colour draining from her face.
“My God, that’s….and that’s……surely he’s the …..where the… what!” Realising she was gibbering she stopped.
Spooky Morrell put his arm on her shoulder. “Knew what I expected to find but shook me too, Rosie! Rot set in years ago. Not just the Commies, can at least respect a man’s beliefs, but the weak, the vicious, the greedy, selling their country and their souls. The Cambridge lot, tip of the iceberg, haven’t got all of them yet. This,” showing her a very explicit photograph. “could explain that!”
“What are you going to do? These are powerful people, Spooky!”
“Give some to Chuck, let the Company deal with their own. Heroin’s good for him too, big problem on their bases, suspected the Ivans but proof is useful. We’ll get rid of a few minor bad apples. Get some big boys by the short and curlies, begging your pardon, my dear!”
“Granted! But turning them? You always said doubles are more trouble than they are worth!”
“No choice, Rosie, can you imagine trying to clear all of them out? Some of the dimmer ones who walked into a honeytrap will be relieved and as long as the wide boys know we’re watching them….”
Rosalie still felt a little sick. She was about to speak when Chuck came back into the room accompanied by Jake who had been enjoying a sumptuous supper in the officer’s mess.
“All hell’s broken loose in town! The Federal authorities have more or less declared martial law and asked us to help with roadblocks, choppers and general personnel - Rick is dealing with that now. The affected embassies are kicking up, the Bundestag is having an emergency session tomorrow and the Ivans say they repelled an attempted attack and the burglars didn’t get in to their compound!”
“Lying baskets, as usual!” chortled Jake, “Goad, I bet there’s a few doups getting kicked there, scuse language, Rosie!”
Chuck got to the point. “There seem to have been suspicious characters spotted all over Bonn, including a couple of women. Rosie, so I think we’d better get rid of your cover story which you shouldn’t need now!”
Rosalie handed over everything that supported her identity as Rosa Dreschler and watched as Chuck put it in the small stove and set light to it. She was suddenly very tired but there was still one thing she wanted settled before she sought her bed.
“Well, good show, boys, but now it’s reward time! We’ll deal with the convertibles at the normal rate, should be enough room in my case, but, Spooky, I want Jake moved as quickly as possible to the Bar L and actually out as soon as it can be arranged!” She held up her hand. “I know it’s impossible for the Prison Service, the Scottish Office, the Prime Minister and probably HM the Queen but I don’t care if you have to get Chuckie to bring in Angleton, Dulles or even Ike - it’s the very least this,” she reached out and smacked Jake lightly on top of his head, “daft, brave, reckless, aggravating genius deserves! And he gets it - or else!”
Vice Admiral Sir Sebastian Percival Oliver Kentigern Morrell R.N. looked from a determined Rosalie to a grinning Jake and back and shook his head with a wry smile.
“Whatever you say, Miss Dene, whatever you say!”
Thank you for the kind comments - time to get try to get Rosalie out of Germany unscathed..............
The US Army driver honked his horn but the traffic ahead was going nowhere. “Guess I’m not going to get you much closer, ma’am! Looks like there searching all the cars as well as the passengers, like someone would be nuts enough to try to get on an international flight carrying the loot from a bigtime robbery!”
“That would be rather silly, would it not?” The response was coolly polite. “I might as well get out here. I don’t want to risk missing my plane.”
“Are you sure, Miss Davison? Your gate isn’t far but with your luggage…..and I can’t leave the vehicle”
Rosalie was already out of the car. “Thank you, I am sure I shall manage!”
The young private sketched a salute, and returned to tapping his fingers on the steering wheel and idly wondering if all British broads could freeze steam with a look.
Rosalie hoped that she appeared calmer than she felt as she looked round at the sea of uniforms. Rachel Davison’s diplomatic passport was impeccable, of course. As Spooky had said when he handed it to her, “It’s absolutely genuine, Rosie, apart from minor details like name, address, date and place of birth, occupation, next of kin…” Normally, it would have ensured that she sailed through passport control and customs unhindered, her baggage unsearched. The practice of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government, however, was that in friendly countries this privilege was graciously waived for personal luggage when security or public order was involved.
“You can take noblesse oblige and the public school code too far,” she thought bitterly as she waited in the queue. Armed policemen stood on either side of the stern and correct official examining papers while several more stood behind the long table where cases were being opened and searched carefully but thoroughly. Oh glory, surely no competent customs man could miss the discrepancy in the external and internal dimensions of her suitcase? How long would it take Morrell to arrange her release? And how on earth would she explain it to Hilda?
She placed her passport on the desk hoping the man would not notice the slight tremor in her hand. “If there is a security emergency, you may examine my personal luggage,” she heard herself saying.
The passport officer looked at the passport and her travel documents, compared her features with the unsmiling photograph, and handed them back with a twitch of the mouth that might have been an attempt at a smile.
“Thank you, Frau Davison, but that will not be necessary. We cannot allow common criminals to cause us to dispense with correct form. Please proceed through the gate as your flight will be boarding shortly.”
“And all I can say is thank goodness for that old fashioned Teutonic regard for the proper diplomatic niceties! I tell you, I am just too old for this kind of melodrama and I am not - I repeat, not, - going into the field again! It was bad enough during the War, and at least then you more or less knew who was on your side. Vice Admiral Morrell can do his own dirty work in future!” Thus Rosalie ensconced in a comfortable chair in the von Ahlen’s sitting-room with a glass in her hand and an enthralled audience comprising Frieda and Bruno. “Thank goodness you collected me at the railway station, Bruno, because I was a limp and soggy rag by that time!”
Bruno smiled. “You looked, as always, cool as a cucumber, Rosalie, but I must admit we are very relieved to see you back safely. The wireless news has been full of speculation on who was behind the raids on all the Embassies. The Communists, the Americans, a shadowy Nazi hangover, dissident Hungarians, and some radical Bavarian group have been suspected but as far as I know, the British have not been mentioned.”
“A radical Bavarian group? Not the Bavaria Party – they are a peaceful constitutional bunch, are they not? I must look into that.”
Frieda and Bruno exchanged grins. “You were born to do what you are doing, Rosalie – and you know it!” laughed Frieda. “Now, I am going to check that baby and the girls are asleep then I shall remove these American comics you brought for Louis and Gerard from their hands and persuade them that it is time for sleep for them also! You two can discuss business while I am away.” With that she left the room while Bruno rose to replenish their drinks.
“I went into the Bank earlier on while you were at the Zoo with the children. No-one was there apart from the guard, of course, and he is accustomed to me arriving out of hours. Some clients prefer to consort with their safety deposit boxes when there are few people around! Most of the cash is in dollars, but we also have sterling, francs, deutschmarks and a handful of Iron Curtain currencies. Not roubles, so I think we can conclude that the Bear has its spies among its allies. As far as I can tell, none of the money is counterfeit and at current exchange rates we have something in the region of £100,000 - are you all right, Rose?”
Rosalie had choked on her drink. “Damnit, that’s the second time recently this family has made me waste perfectly good Scotch! Are you sure - sorry, of course you are! Well, the Americans couldn’t get it out of town quickly enough and would prefer not to know about it or the jewellery though they are quite happy if we use it for activities of which they will approve. Our commission is a very tidy 25% and the rest we can put to good use! Have you had time to look at the jewellery yet?”
“As it happens, yes! Gunther was in town to visit family so he was able to drop by to give me a quick appraisal. He is fairly sure that several pieces were confiscated from Jewish families and that it might be possible to identify their owners.”
He looked at Rosalie whose response was immediate. “If we can trace them, or any surviving family, we must! If not, and, realistically, the chances are slender, we should find some way to get them back to the Jewish community anyway!”
“That’s what I thought,” agreed Bruno. “As for the rest, mostly gold chains with gold crosses, bracelets set with fine stones and a large number of plain gold rings, mostly 24 carat!”
“So,” mused Rosalie, “they are either planning a mass wedding or this is a payment method for agents and informants! Well, along with everything else, we have probably seriously disrupted their activities for a while at least! London will be pleased!”
Just then Frieda popped her head round the door. “Telephone for you, Rosalie – it’s Hilda! She sounded most relieved that you were in the house at last!” Rosalie pulled a face and prepared to reassure her employer, leaving the door open for Frieda and Bruno to hear.
“Hello, Hilda, so sorry to keep missing your calls. It’s much cooler here than the Platz, just comfortably warm really, and the children and I have been out a lot!” And not a word of a lie in there, she thought!
There was a silence while Hilda spoke then Rosalie’s next words had her hosts choking with laughter.
“Oh, I shall be fine to travel back on Monday morning, Hilda - it has all been very relaxing!”
Erm, sorry for the long pause but real life got in the way! There will be a second update probably tomorrow though!
Dawn had scarcely broken but already Rosalie Dene was sitting at her desk industriously typing. In the summer months she liked to get as much work as possible done in the coolest part of the day so there would be a neat pile of important correspondence ready for Hilda Annersley to sign after Frühstück.
She was in a cheerful mood. The evening before Frieda left to join the Tiernsee party she had called to impart the good news that Gretchen’s health was no longer a major cause for concern. Rosalie was very fond of her friend’s older daughter and was delighted. Several days without Joey arriving on the doorstep at the least opportune moment, and no reports of accident or other contretemps from Brisau, added to her feeling of wellbeing.
Suddenly the telephone ring shattered her calm. Who would be telephoning at six thirty in the morning? She snatched up the receiver.
“Rosalie, is that you?”
“Who else would be in my office at this ungodly hour, Frieda? What’s happened?”
“Everyone’s fine, we’re just getting ready to leave, but I thought you would like to know in advance that Joey has arranged to buy the old St Scholastika’s as a summer home!”
“She’s done what?” Rosalie’s voice rose to a squeak then she took a deep breath. “For goodness sake, it was only a few days ago that I had Jack here telling me they had an offer for Plas Gwyn! You mean she’s…”
“She has!” said Frieda, “but I’ll have to go, Rosalie, we’re due to leave in five minutes and Jo is yelling for me.”
“OK, I was going to call you tonight anyway as there are a few things we need to discuss – around twenty-one?”
“Fine, goodbye Bruno, tell the children I shall see them soon!”
Rightly concluding that her friend had not suddenly gone mad but that Joey or one of the others had come into the room, Rosalie put down the telephone and sighed.
Poor old Jack! She recalled his excitement when he called in to the office, thrilled that, he having at last managed to persuade Joey that Plas Gwyn was surplus to their needs, someone wanted to buy the lovely house that had been their home in Armishire.
“It’s not just that it will allow us to repay what we owe you and your friend, Rosalie, though that matters, of course, but it will give us some capital to invest for the children’s education. Steve and the triplets have what my mother left them but the younger ones haven’t and I don’t mind telling you it will be a struggle. Thank goodness, I got rid of Pretty Maids to the National Trust and don’t have the upkeep of that to worry about. It would have made a difference if we had could have rented Plas Gwyn out but it was important for Joey to know that it was there for her to go back to at a moment’s notice so……”
Rosalie gave a rueful smile. Oh well, it wouldn’t break the bank to keep the Maynard ship afloat for another few years, but it would help if Joey had the remotest notion of practical finance! Her insouciant insistence that Herr Braun would be so delighted to fill his hotel with Chalet School pupils for several mid-season weekends that he would gladly give them a large discount had Rosalie struggling not to laugh.
As it happened, Rosalie had been able to negotiate a very satisfactory arrangement with Herr Braun. Pupils from poorer homes could make the trip, former pupils were very pleased to have a ‘special rate’ for their nostalgic visit, Herr Braun made a comfortable profit, Rosalie made a modest commission, the only loss was to the local tax authorities and, as they were not aware of it, everyone was happy.
A soft knock on the door brought Rosalie back to the present.
An unusually nervous looking Biddy O’Ryan entered, “Do you have a minute to talk, Rosalie?”
“Always time for you, Biddy.” Rosalie smiled at her colleague. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s, well, I was wondering, well it’s just, I thought you’d know, have the Heads found someone to take my place yet? To take the History, I mean! I just well, you know……..”
Unravelling Biddy’s unusually incoherent sentences, Rosalie wondered what lay behind the girl’s obvious discomfort.
“Not as far as I am aware, Biddy. The last word I heard was that the best candidate was a woman who would not be available until after Christmas. Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind about getting married?”
“Oh no, no!” cried Biddy, “Isn’t Eugen the best thing that has ever happened to me? It’s just,” she sighed, “I’m bringing so little to our marriage, Rosalie. I’ve no real savings, I didn’t earn much beyond my keep in Australia, and though I’ve managed to save a bit from my salary here it isn’t the dowry I would have wanted to bring. Nell has insisted that she and Hilda will pay for my wedding, Madge and Jem have been so generous, the Courvoisiers have practically furnished our sitting room but there’s so much more we need and it isn’t fair that Eugen should have to do it all. If I could work another term or so……”
“Biddy, Biddy, you must know that Eugen would take you barefoot in your shift, as they say!” Rosalie’s voice, though teasing, was warm. “Never let yourself doubt that. Still, I’ll see what I can do about next term and meanwhile you could be thinking of what you would like as wedding gifts from the staff and from the pupils who are all champing at the bit to go shopping in Interlaken.” She opened a drawer in her desk and handed Biddy a paper. “This is what they have collected.”
Biddy’s eyes widened. “It can’t be this much, Rosalie, surely? Sure, I could stock my kitchen and buy linen to last me for years with this!”
“You are one of ours, Biddy, and the girls love you. The cash is in the bank so you can set about making a list of what you need and we’ll organise a couple of weekend hikes to town. Now off you go and let me get these letters finished before Frühstück! “
Biddy left looking happier while Rosalie pondered how to bring about the desired outcome. She had been at secretarial college at the time Biddy had been adopted by the School, just hearing the tale from her younger cousins, but she had taken a great liking to the Irish girl from their first meeting. She was, too, one of the very few who knew why Biddy’s speech was still sprinkled with Irish expressions.
A cutting remark from Grizel Cochrane about “our stage Irish colleen” had brought tears to Biddy’s eyes and she had fled from the St Briavel staff room. Stopping just long enough to glare at Grizel, who shrugged in her usual careless way, Rosalie had followed the girl to the garden.
“I’ve nothing of my family, you know, Rosalie, bar my baptismal certificate that the Russells got from the Cecilia Home.” Biddy had confided. “I’ve no photograph or letter, no ring, no jewellery. I came out of Austria on an emergency passport from the consul. Jem got my birth lines and my parent’s marriage lines when we eventually got to England but he could never trace any relatives on either side or get any news of my brother. I can only vaguely remember my mother’s face but I can still hear her voice and her accent and the way she’d say things so……” Her voice shook “I know it sound silly.”
“No, it doesn’t, Biddy,” said Rosalie gently, “not if it’s a comfort to you. And it’s a part of you – you wouldn’t be our Biddy without the odd Irish inflection!”
Later that same day........
“Sorry, I’m a bit later telephoning than I said, Frieda, but it has been one of those days!”
“It’s only a few minutes, Rosalie, so no need to apologise. Bruno has gone to his office to use the extension. Ah,” as a click was heard. “there he is!”
“Rosalie, how goes the battle? Frieda told me about Joey’s purchase of the old St Scholastika’s and one must say, how very Joey!”
“Oh, quite! She breezed in here full of her new acquisition, inviting the staff en masse to visit or borrow her Tiernsee home whenever they wished. Of course, I asked if it was in need of much repair or modernisation and that set her off reminiscing about all the fun she and Robin had choosing paint and decorating when the Russells bought the place as a holiday home. Actually, the reason I am late is that Jack telephoned about half an hour ago agitated, apologising and mildly panicking. I assured him that in the current conditions the proceeds of the Plas Gwyn sale should comfortably cover the purchase from Herr Helfen with a bit left over. I gave him the number of that good lawyer in Spartz that I used when we bought those two parcels of land in March and told him we were in no hurry to have the debt repaid.”
Bruno laughed, “No, it’s a small sum of little import. But what news of the plans for our friend Jake?”
“Mixed! He will be transferred back to Barlinnie which will make it easier for Mary and the children but getting him out early is going to be difficult. He has become something of a folk hero for his escapes – the students are singing songs about him, for goodness sake - and the authorities are very reluctant to be seen to be giving in to popular pressure.”
“Is there any word of the new home for the family?” Frieda, as always, was concerned for the children.
“That is coming along nicely. Mary knows perfectly well that it is not just Jake’s seedy friends who lead him astray but she hopes that moving him a safe distance from the Gallowgate and its hostelries would help. Of course, if the Corporation had given them a house in one of the new schemes it would have caused ructions so it meant either private renting or buying.
Spooky went to talk to Mary and discovered that the great aunt for whom she is named died in January. She was an unmarried lady who has lived quietly in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York since she emigrated in 1904. An envelope to be opened on her death, and containing a letter in her own hand leaving everything to Mary and the key to a safety deposit box, has recently turned up in the office of an eminently respectable New York law firm. They wrote to Mary, she gave permission for them to open the box and it contained some $2000 in small notes, a couple of pieces of inexpensive Victorian jewellery and a picture postcard of Loch Lomond circa 1900.”
Bruno and Frieda were momentarily dumbstruck then both spoke at once. “How in the name of all.....?” “But you’ve had no time!”
“To be honest, I had very little to do with the actual mechanics of the operation. Victor was given a couple of letters and Christmas cards that Mary had from her great aunt and created, on genuine USA paper, what Spooky says was a work of art that would have had the old lady herself swearing that she had written it. Once you had transferred the money to him, Chuck Graham handled the American end so don’t ask me how it was that the second biggest bank in the USA was able to affirm that one Mary Geraldine Ogilvie had held a safety deposit box in their 34th Street branch since 1946!”
“What it is to have useful friends!” exclaimed Bruno. “So now Mary buys a house?”
“We’re going for a flat rather than a house. Firstly, because Mary thinks it will suit the family better and, secondly, because having the Murray/Marinski family moving in to a Bearsden bungalow would raise more than a few eyebrows. A modest ground floor flat in a respectable street in Scotstoun will be just the ticket, especially as it will be in Mary’s maiden name.”
“You think the police will want to know the source of the money?” asked Frieda
“The Project has the clout to keep the Glasgow Police quiet - it’s the Glasgow press that’s the worry. Apparently if you try to slap a D notice on the Glasgow Herald or the Daily Record they will slap it right back at you and ask you where your interim interdict is! Scotland has a different legal system and Spooky says that not only the press but the judiciary enjoy letting London authority know that!
And Scots seem to be sceptical by nature. Remember Meg Kelly asking Nell Wilson and Julie Berne how Frieda’s Aunt Anna came to be living near Interlaken? Of course, they had no idea that it had taken months of planning, forgery and the odd bit of smuggling to get the Chalet School to this useful part of Switzerland and if they looked at the property deeds they would find them immaculate so no harm done. You know, Meg would have been such a useful addition to the team, clever, intuitive, impressive connections, widely travelled. Shame Spooky told me that with her political activist relatives she wouldn’t get through the positive vetting!”
“Really?” Bruno was astonished. “Isn’t she is still a British officer?”
“Yes, apparently she can be trusted in a war zone but not with trying to ensure we keep one step ahead of our enemies! Don’t ask me to explain the Establishment mentality.”
“Is there anything you need us to do at the moment?” Frieda was aware of time passing.
“The cousins may need you to do a little recording, Frieda, but they’ll be in touch if so. Bruno, there are a couple of personal things I would like you to do if you would?”
Bruno murmured assent and prepared to take notes.
“Firstly, could you find out anything you can about an account held at Martins Bank in the name of Edmund Greystone?” Bruno took down the account numbers at Rosalie’s dictation.
“And also, could you see if you can find an account anywhere, probably but not necessarily, in Italy, for Luigi Giovanni Desti or Giovanni Luigi Desti?”
“Desti?” exclaimed Frieda. “Biddy’s brother?”
“Yes,” replied Rosalie. “We looked after the War but all we could find was that a person possibly of that name was with the Italian Army in Yugoslavia 1943. There was a story that he had joined the Garibaldi Partisan Division but you know how difficult it was in those days, hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, millions of records destroyed and countless numbers who went by a nom de guerre. I think I am hoping that Luigi or Giovanni – Bid was never sure which way round his baptismal names were – managed to make his way home, got his life back and is now well and happy. It would be so special if we could find him and get him to her wedding!”
“You are a very good and kind woman, Rosalie Dene,” said Frieda softly.
“No, just want a friend to be happy! Now, I must get to bed and so must you so thank you, goodnight and God bless!”
Noticed a little EBDism crept in about Biddy's brother who was several years younger than his sister - it didn't get past Frieda or Bruno mind......
“Good morning Frieda, sorry to call so early...”
“No matter, Rosalie, I called you even earlier yesterday. Is it Bruno you want? I’ll just put you through. Oh, before I do, Biddy’s brother.......?”
“That’s one of the things I need to talk about but I can hear you have your hands full with the children. If I speak to Bruno now may I call you about 11?”
“Yes, our little rascal should be having his nap then. Ah, here’s Bruno!”
“Rosalie, good morning! I was going to call you. Are you sure about Biddy’s brother?”
“Yes, sorry, I mean no! I tangled myself up last night, but firstly, how much do we have readily available in forints?”
“Forints?” Bruno thought for a moment. “You brought back about 600,000.”
“Which isn’t as exciting as it sounds! How much is that in sterling?”
Bruno did a quick calculation, “Around £4,150, give or take.”
“That should do! I was relying on memory about Biddy’s brother. I did not get time to read the file because a letter from Andris arrived and had to be translated - and Magyar is not my strong point – then I had Jack’s call. Of course, young Luigi or Giovanni can only be around eighteen or nineteen even now. Desti is not a very common name and we thought this one in Yugoslavia might be a cousin or at least some connection. It’s a pity that Biddy can’t remember the name of her stepfather’s home village or even the region and she doesn’t think she ever heard his sister’s married name either. I wonder, do you think hypnosis would work?”
“It could worth a try if she would agree,” said Bruno, “but why this interest in forint? Is Andris in Switzerland? I do not have quite the professional interest in Hungary as was necessary in Innsbruck but there are a number of Hungarians here at the moment for the World Cup. I am taking the boys to see Hungary play West Germany in their group match next Sunday. It’s a pity I could not get tickets for the final where undoubtedly Hungary will appear.......”
“Good old bread and circuses!” Rosalie found Bruno’s passion for soccer endearing but decided to cut him off before he started to speculate on his beloved Tottenham Hotspur’s chances next season. “To get back to Hungary, Nagy isn’t as secure as he might be, Rakosi still has an important power base as Party Secretary and Moscow is jittery after the trouble in East Germany last year. Andris doesn’t think there will be serious unrest in the immediate future but there are rumblings and I think it’s worth keeping an eye on the situation. Andris is here on an official Party excursion so we can’t get in contact with him directly. I’m afraid it’ll have to be the diplomatic bag when I can arrange the handover.”
Bruno groaned loudly.
“It is so ridiculous! I meet the commercial attaché, and other officials, regularly as part of my work. Frieda and I are invited to the Consul’s receptions and cocktail parties and even dinners at the Embassy but we can’t have anything as simple as just casually strolling along to the Consulate and handing over the cash.
One of us will have to go to Berne, sit in a small café with two white roses in our buttonhole and wait for someone to come along and ask how poor dear Aunt Anastasia is. We’ll say she has fully recovered from the St Vitus Dance and how is Edgar enjoying life at Eton? He’ll say “Oh jolly well, hoping to get into the rugger team next half!” and by the time we make the exchange every snoop, spy, double agent, gossip and newspaper reporter in the city will be interested spectators!”
Rosalie laughed, “I know, I know but it could be worse! They might have wanted you to canoe down the Danube with the money in a weighted waterproof bag looking for the convenient hook just below the waterline on the harbour wall under the Pest side of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to hang it on. And now, you must get to work and so must I, so TTFN!”
Two letters in the morning mail gave Rosalie pause for thought. The first was from the agency through which the Chalet School normally recruited its staff. Apparently a well-qualified history teacher was available to work at the School until Christmas. “Drat it!” muttered Rosalie under her breath. “I should have raised Biddy’s request with Hilda yesterday but there was never the right moment!”
The second was from Miss Bubb’s solicitor. Formally taking control of the sick woman’s business affairs had involved both Swiss and English lawyers but had proceeded fairly smoothly. Rosalie had ventured to enquire of Mr Appleton of Berkeley, Appleton, Appleton & Thwaite, if he knew of any living relatives of Miss Bubb who might wish to know of her serious state of health.
Mr Appleton was an important figure in the county town where he practiced. He was not, however, above being impressed by the references which had accompanied Miss Dene’s request for power of attorney to be granted so was inclined to be, if not indiscreet, at least more expansive than he might have been.
“........Of Miss Bubb’s antecedents we have little information beyond that contained in her birth certificate and the marriage certificate of her parents, copies of which you already have. My father, long retired but still in good health, recalls that we first became her legal representatives when she was five years old.
She lived at that time with an elderly great-aunt, a Miss Elrick, who died when Miss Bubb was at Cambridge. Miss Elrick received a monthly sum for household expenses from a trust which also bought the house in which they lived and paid Miss Bubb’s school and university fees. The only representative of the trust with whom we ever corresponded was an official of the private bank. My father met him very briefly when they both attended Miss Elrick’s funeral, the only other mourner being Miss Bubb herself.
Miss Bubb gained control of her inheritance, if such it was, on her 25th birthday. She sold the house and we have seen comparatively little of her since. In 1933 she received a legacy from a distant cousin in Australia, a William Smith of Sidney, but this again came through the bank.
Unfortunately, she did not ask us to act for her when she entered a partnership in a school, choosing instead to use the solicitor of her prospective partner. The subsequent failure of the partnership and the terms of the contract greatly disadvantaged Miss Bubb financially in spite of our own best endeavours in the matter.
As for Edmund Greystone, we are aware, of course, of the payments to her account which arrive on a quarterly basis. The first of these was made on Miss Bubb’s 25th birthday and they have continued, with adjustments broadly in line with the cost of living, ever since.
Who Edmund Greystone is and what connection he may have with Miss Bubb I am afraid I do not know. One suspects a family reticence, that Victorian regard for respectability above all things, but we shall probably never know.
I have always found Miss Bubb to be a woman of high intelligence and great probity. Do please give her my best wishes for her recovery.”
“Well, that could certainly explain a lot about poor Miss Bubb!” thought Rosalie, feeling a genuine pity for what appeared to be a bleak and almost friendless life. “Now, if I go on looking for our Mr Greystone would I be doing it for poor Mabel or for my own vulgar curiosity?”
Her ruminations were interrupted by a thoughtful looking Hilda.
“Rosalie, I have read the letter from the agency and this Miss Bingley might suit but I do wonder about her languages. She does not appear to have used either French or German since leaving school.”
Rosalie took the proffered sheets. “We shall have to ask her for her health records and various other details. I could suggest that she give us a time, preferably an evening, when we can telephone her to give her an oral languages test.”
“Do you think she’ll agree?”
“She will if she wants the post!”
“If you would write to that effect then, Rosalie, please - and would you mind very much if I asked you to do the testing? You are so much more comfortable talking on the telephone than I am!”
Rosalie smiled. “I shall be very happy to do it, Hilda!”
Sorry for the delay!
Hilda Annersley looked at the documents in her hand and sighed. “Oh dear, it is all rather ‘la plume de ma tante’, don’t you think?”
“That was just the phrase that came to mind when I read it and her German is barely there at all,” Rosalie concurred, “but, to be fair, it is hard to be eloquent in any language when you are just filling in forms about your medical history and employment record! Miss Bingley could be one of those people who can chat fluently enough but finds it more difficult to express herself in writing. Anyway, Jeanne and I shall speak to her on Sunday evening and we should be able to give you a better answer then.”
“Weren’t you going to Joey’s radio party on Sunday?”
“Yes, but I am afraid that I shall have to miss “Down Your Way” even though it is coming from Armishire this week. Anyway, it is not the same now though I suppose I will get used to Franklin Englemann.”
Hilda laughed, “I felt the same when Richard Dimbleby replaced Stewart MacPherson. He has such a warm, reassuring voice....” She stopped as the telephone bell jangled twice.
“Cable!” said Rosalie as she raced into her office and lifted the receiver. “Good afternoon, Chalet School!” She typed rapidly then sighed as she put the telephone down and handed Hilda the sheet. “From Mr Sefton - Rosamund is failing and wants Jessica home as soon as possible!”
The next half hour was busy as Rosalie managed to get through to a contact at Basle Airport, booking the last remaining seat on the early evening flight and getting assurance from Elsa that the stewardess would take care of Jessica and ensure that she was safely delivered to her stepfather. Luckily, Jack was at home when she called Freudesheim. He immediately volunteered to drive the child to Basle, Joey coming with him to give what comfort she could. “Bless the woman!” thought Rosalie. “She does drive us up the wall at times but her heart is in the right place!”
Her conversation with Mr Sefton was sympathetic but practical and brief, it being all too evident that the poor man was struggling to keep his composure. She was sadly putting the telephone back on its rest when Hilda returned from breaking the news to Jessica.
“She is angry, of course, and, I think, feeling guilty about her past attitude. I did offer to send a prefect along to help with her packing and accompany her to Basle and she said, “Let me have Mary Lou. She’ll talk sense and help me!”
Rosalie grinned. “That is true, Mary Lou isn’t the type to go to pieces. As you have a class in about five minutes would you like me to go and tell her?”
“If you wouldn’t mind, Rosalie? You have all the practical details at your fingertips.”
After she delivered her message, Rosalie walked back to her office, double-checked all the travel timings and was busy typing letters when Hilda returned. Rosalie reported Mary Lou’s compassionate but calm response and her assessment of Jessica.
“Yes, she really is a fine young woman,” agreed the Head, “and I think we have made a wise choice for our next Head Girl. I suppose you want me to take these letters and sign them?”
“Well, I should like you to read them first. I could be committing you to all sorts of things otherwise!” said Rosalie with a smile.
“Not you, my dear! Your integrity is beyond question!” Hilda remarked as she carried the letters off.
Rosalie grinned and, school work being up to date, gave herself up to thinking about her other concerns. Not for the first time, she pondered Mary Lou’s potential as a future agent. The girl was clever, resourceful and self-assured but the very vividness of her personality could be a problem. Still, her archaeology career could have possibilities.
Having spent many hours teaching shorthand and typing to the less flamboyant Elinor Pennell she had already decided that the current Head Girl was ideal. She had intelligence, character and a thoughtful grasp of current affairs. Pointing her in the direction of a suitable scholarship had been a simple matter and would ensure that no money problems would worry her during her time at Oxford.
Her phone call to Bruno and Frieda last evening had been interesting and useful.
“The forint handover should be no problem.” Bruno informed her. The British Ambassador in Berne is hosting the annual party in honour of the Queen’s Official Birthday tomorrow and we have been invited. The Second Secretary called me to say that he would like my opinion on some old Swiss currency notes that he has recently added to his collection! I shall have to take one or two of our treasures – the East German or Polish envoy will have been instructed to enquire about them.”
Rosalie laughed. “Well, it’s better than Aunt Anastasia’s rugby blue or whatever it was. Have you had any success with the other items?”
“Not directly but my Italian colleague gave me the details of a private enquiry agency which does work for his bank and, apparently, they are very well connected, shall we say? .”
“La dirigenza, the Vatican, or Cosa Nostra?”
“I suspect all three and not necessarily in that order!” said Bruno drily. “And all the major political parties too by the sound of it. I propose to employ them – much more efficient than official channels and it would be a joy for Frieda and me if we could give this special wedding gift to our dear Biddy. And no,” as Rosalie started to speak, “for this once, Rosalie, you may not contribute!
As for the matter of Edmund Greystone, a friend who worked with me in London is now a senior figure at Martins Bank. We have amicably exchanged quite sensitive information in the past but he became reserved to the point of being chilly when I mentioned that name. I had the impression that I had landed very heavily on very delicate toes! All he would say was that if I really had to know I should ask a sailor!”
“Ask a sailor? What on earth did he mean?”
“I was puzzled until I remembered that I was dining with him at the club one evening when Spooky Morrell stopped at the table. They appeared to be acquainted but in that odd British manner where you are not sure whether they are lifelong friends, sworn enemies or former cellmates! I can’t think of any other naval connection, apart from Jack Maynard, of course, and I am not sure he would know that we were friends. If you don’t mind I’ll leave you to talk to the admiral.”
Frieda chipped in at that point, “Humour him, Rosalie, his memories of Trieste still haunt him!”
“Oh, I don’t blame him, Frieda, I have the odd nightmare about that episode, too! I wouldn’t put it past the old villain to know so I might just try that.”
It was late on Sunday evening before Spooky was available. In the meantime, Rosalie and Jeanne had had what was, for Rosalie, a very satisfactory telephone conversation with Miss Bingley.
“She withdrew her application herself, Hilda!” declaimed Jeanne. “She had not understood that the staff also spoke the language of the day all day and she was shocked at the idea. Her French was fairly fluent but her German was barely adequate so she would not have been suitable in any case. Also she knew so little of Switzerland she expected to ski in September!”
“Oh dear!” said the Head, “She was rather our last hope. How I wish Biddy could stay until Christmas!”
“Well...” began Rosalie at the same moment as Jeanne spoke.
“But why not ask her, ma chère? Biddy loves the School and would wish to help if at all possible. She has the summer to get her home as she wishes and she would perhaps be glad to have something to do when Eugen is at work. She need not have duties just classes.”
Rosalie was still grinning when she reached her own quarters, having left Jeanne to summon Biddy from the staff room for a word with the Head.
Getting through to Morrell took even longer than usual.
“Where on earth are you, Spooks, I lost count of the number of times I was transferred!”
“Chequers, usual flapping, PM’s worried about the French plan for Indochina, the FO says the CIA’s up to something in Guatemala! But what can I do for you on this lovely summer evening, my dear?”
“Who is Edmund Greystone?”
There was a long uncharacteristic pause.
“I trained you too well, Rosalie. I should have known you were not going to let that loose end go! Sit down comfortably and I’ll tell you a story........”
Apologies for the long pause and for the convoluted tale of Mabel Bubb.....
“Right!” began Spooky. “What do you know about the Mandeville-Daubney family?”
Rosalie thought for a moment. “Just what everyone knows, I should think! Came over with the Conqueror, got titles and land, married more titles and land, made a fortune in coal, a bit of military service, good works. Isn’t the present incumbent a Government Minister?”
“Yes, the noble Marquess of Mandeville is a junior dogsbody at the Colonial Office, helpful for keeping an eye on the family interests in various colonies, no doubt. To be fair, he’s also very involved in charitable work. ”
“What do they have to do with Edmund Greystone - or Mabel Bubb, come to that?”
“Goes back to the last century, the 8th Marquess was married twice, first to the daughter of a neighbouring landowner who died leaving him with two sons and a few thousand more acres of prime land. About a year later he married the children’s governess. She was a distant cousin, the proverbial poor but gently born relation, plain but a very intelligent, educated lady. They had one son, clever boy, but thought delicate so didn’t follow his half-brothers to Harrow. Father was taken up with the heir and the spare, the boy’s tutor was a fine teacher but a bit of a Bolshie, had the boy reading Marx and whatnot.
The oldest went to Oxford, spent his time there carousing then was found a minor post in Whitehall where he couldn’t do any harm, the second was bought a commission in the Army. The youngest was left free to pursue his own interests which were classics and mathematics. He went to Cambridge determined to make his own way, going to the lengths of enrolling under a false name.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Rosalie. “Would he have called himself George William Bubb, by any chance?”
“He would indeed! Simple really, his baptismal names reversed and the plainest, least aristocratic surname he could find. He had never mixed with his peers at school or socially and he resembled his mother more than his father so he wasn’t recognised as a Mandeville-Daubney. That meant he was able to mix with the studious and be ignored by the others.”
“Is that where he met Miss Bubb’s mother?”
“I believe they met at some charity which helped the poor – he was hot and strong on that sort of thing. She was bookish, modest but respectable family who took him at his own valuation. He got a job as a teacher and they married without him feeling the need to tell his father, though his mother knew, and were seemingly happy especially after the baby was born.”
“And....?” Rosalie felt there was more to the story.
“Well, first of all, the soldier brother caught yellow fever and died in some outpost of the Empire. Less than six months later, the heir broke his neck in a steeplechase leaving a wealthy American fiancée - and his youngest brother as the heir.
There was quite a how-d’you do! Old Mandeville had been relying on the marriage to shore up the family finances. He managed to bully his son’s whereabouts out of his wife, went to see him and demanded he came back to Mandeville to run the estate and marry the American heiress – apparently she and her father were more interested in the title than the man attached to it. Of course, he refused, pointing out he already had wife, child and work that he felt was useful. That was when his father showed a ruthless streak. He threatened to have his wife, who was not in good health, committed to an asylum.
I know,” at Rosalie’s sound of disbelief, “all very melodramatic, but it could and did happen in those days! Upshot was, young Mandeville agreed for his mother’s sake on the promise that Mabel and her mother Edith would be looked after and he could see them. Both he and Edith were persuaded that because William had married under a false name their marriage was invalid and their child illegitimate. A downright lie, as the woman had no idea that it was not his real name, and even if she had there might well be a presumption of validity if it went to court. Sadly, both believed the solicitor. William went to Mandeville, went through a form of marriage with the American heiress and their only child, the present Marquess, was born a few years later.
William never saw his daughter again and she was not quite four when her mother died.”
“Good grief!” said Rosalie. “I feel that I’ve walked into a novel here! Poor Edith – and poor Mabel! How much do you think she knows about her background?”
“Very little, I expect. Edith’s parents were dead, the great-aunt would have believed there was some scandal around the child’s birth so it would not be talked about. Mabel’s financial arrangements were in the hands of a firm of solicitors who had no direct connection with the father’s family and had no idea where the money originated.
William turned out to be good at estate management but more or less turned control over to his son on his 25th birthday, and disappeared, though there was report of his death in Australia.”
“In 1933,” said Rosalie, “leaving a modest sum of money to his alleged cousin but actually to his daughter.” She paused for a moment. “But tell me, Spooky, if this was all such a secret how is it that you know the details?”
“When Mabel Bubb joined the Chalet School we did the usual in-depth search, contacts, that sort of thing but we hadn’t got far before she was offski! No reason to follow up but........”
“Wait a minute!” Rosalie interrupted. “What do you mean ‘the usual in-depth search? Were you investigating us all?”
“Not me personally but it was wartime, Rosie! You had lived in a Nazi country, so you and anyone connected were suspect. So no professional interest in Mabel Bubb but dead ends annoy me. Might have done nothing but had to interview the Marquess in his office just after the War about one of his staff, family photographs included his late grandmamma, a softer version of your Miss Bubb. Easier when you have both ends.”
Rosalie had been pondering.
“If the marriage of Mabel’s parents was legal, what does that mean for the present Marquess?”
“Good question! She wouldn’t have inherited the title, of course, most of the estate is entailed, so probably some distant male relation would get the bulk but she would have come in for a packet. If the story comes out now it will fill the gossip columns for weeks and the court case would be sensational!”
Rosalie snorted. “I wasn’t thinking of legal action but I can’t help thinking how different Mabel Bubb’s life should have been.”
“Well, I’ll leave it with you, Rosie, let me know if I can help. Oh, and there will be a letter in the usual place in a couple of days, just a small matter, right up your street!”
Wisely deciding to leave Spooky’s ‘small matter’ for another day, Rosalie reorganised the phone apparatus, switched on the radio, poured herself a drink and sat down to consider what to do about Mabel and the Marquess.
I meant to post this before I went on holiday but it got lost in the general mayhem... The Italian fascists were in the habit of force-feeding castor oil to their political opponents, a humiliating punishment. I have put my own feelings about train doors onto Rosalie, btw!
Rosalie Dene looked out at the familiar Cornish countryside, her book laid aside and the long journey to London stretching ahead. It would have been so good just to spend another couple of days with the family at the holiday cottage, swimming and playing beach cricket with the boys and enjoying the company and wide-ranging conversation of her father and stepmother.
“Oh pull yourself together, Dene! Serves you right for making Spooky’s ‘small matter’ of legerdemain in Lyons an excuse for not attending to this business sooner” she thought. “No-one asked you to interfere so be prepared to take the consequences and try to think of something pleasant!” With that, her mind went back to the week before the summer holidays started:-
“How on earth did I come to be cast as Mother of the Bride? Where’s Hilda? What are you doing working on a Sunday?” Nell flopped into a chair looking at Rosalie much as if she might be hiding Hilda in a filing cabinet.
Rosalie grinned. “Well, in reverse order, I am just doing some preliminary checking of the reports to make sure they are legible, grammatical and free of accidental truths. Hilda is having tea with Joey and perusing the latest additions to the Old Girls history. And you are the only person who could be Mother of the Bride because not only were you Biddy’s legal guardian until she was 21, you paid for everything the scholarships didn’t provide both here and when she was at Oxford - and before you ask how I know that, the combined contributions of the Guides would just about have kept the girl in stockings and I have been keeping the books in this establishment since 1939! Most important of all, there is no-one else that Biddy would want in the role. Now, let me just make a fresh pot of tea and you can tell me all about your weekend in Lucerne! Have you brought your new outfit with you?”
“No, that is safely with the wedding dress – she looks so beautiful in it - at the home of Eugen’s Tante Amélie, where we shall spend the night before the wedding. By the way, Mme Courvoisier has decided that since we are all fluent in French and German we shall be mingled at the wedding feast.” Her lips twitched. “She was very keen to ensure that Nancy Wilmot would be sitting next to her nephew Philippe.”
“Philippe? Ah, he’s the one who is, ehm.......”
“As camp as a row of tents? The very one! He got on well with Nancy at the betrothal festivities and the family think it is time for him to settle down so.....”
“Oh dear, I can foresee disappointment!”
“Quite, and, as Kathie is being partnered with Philippe’s friend, well, I wondered if you would like to mention it in the right places. Officially, I know nothing, and Biddy is no use! She’s been having fits of the giggles over it since we were told and I don’t want anyone’s feelings hurt. Wait a minute, ‘accidental truths’ – what on earth are you talking about?”
Rosalie chuckled “Oh, just some of the remarks you hear in the staff room like ‘your daughter may well have a remarkable brain but unfortunately she has never brought it to the mathematics class!’
She was jolted out of her memories with the sudden bustle as the train steamed in to Exeter St David station. Reaching up to the luggage rack, she brought down a small hamper and settled down to enjoy the tasty sandwiches, fruit and lemonade carefully packed by her stepmother. Her luncheon finished, and the others in her compartment reading or sleeping, she let her mind wander to the Thursday before Biddy’s wedding:-
“Rosalie, please will you come to my mother’s house for coffee this afternoon!” Eugen’s voice had an air of suppressed excitement which intrigued Rosalie and promptly at 2.30 she presented herself at the Courvoisier’s large flat.
Mme Courvoisier ushered her in to the salon where Biddy and Nell sat looking a little bewildered. “Rosalie, do you know what is happening?” said Nell. “We have been told that a special wedding gift is coming and we have to sit here and wait!”
“No idea!” answered Rosalie, though she was beginning to have a glimmer.
Just then the bell rang and there were the sounds of several people entering. The salon door opened to admit Eugen, his parents and the Von Ahlens.
“Frieda, Bruno!” Biddy rose to hug her friends, then looked at the three men who had followed them. The first, immaculately tailored and barbered, was introduced as Signor Alessandro Giordano of Rome, the elder of his two companions, looking uncomfortable in his very new suit and shoes, Piero Bianchi. Biddy looked at Piero with a slight air of puzzlement as if she had seen him before but could not recall where or when.
She turned to the third, a young man of about twenty, and her face paled.
“Luigi?” she whispered.
“Luigi Giovanni Desti Bianchi, but they call me Gio. You are Breejeet, you are so like the photographs of my mother!” He threw his arms around her.
“You are a younger version of your father! Let me look at you! Where did you come from? How did you get here?” At that moment, Biddy burst into tears and the next few minutes were a confusion of hugs, sobs and incoherent exclamations in several languages.
Mme Courvoisier, Frieda and Rosalie slipped out to arrange refreshments, and by the time they were brought in order was more or less restored.
Bruno took Biddy’s hand. “It all started not long after the end of the War, my dear. You were just about to graduate and we were talking one evening about how sad it was that your brother could not be there. I was working in a bank with European connections, Rosalie knew a civil servant in the Foreign Office and between us we searched as best we could. Sadly, all we found was a Luigi Desti, too old to be your brother and last heard of in 1943 in Yugoslavia.”
Piero chimed in. “This Luigi was the son of my mother’s cousin. He did not return.”
Signor Giordano took up the story. “When Herr von Ahlen brought this problem to my company we found that the work he and Miss Dene had already done was invaluable. With the help of our contacts”, he said, glossing over small matters like gaining illegal access to files, “we were able to find out more about this Luigi’s antecedents. Desti is not a common name but, as so much is, it was also affected by politics. The Desti family were not supporters of the PNF, and after Mussolini came to power several members were in active opposition, one or two, indeed, suffering more than the standard castor oil treatment, some had to change their names and move from their homes. Gio’s father - your stepfather, Miss O’Ryan - left Italy just one step ahead of the Squadristi!”
He paused, “And then, of course, it became really complicated! A small baby had been brought to somewhere in Italy, possibly to the family home in Lombardy, possibly anywhere in Italy, we had no record of the surname of the husband of your stepfather’s sister and there had been a World War. The Cecilia Home where you were placed is now a home for old people and no-one there recalled either of you.
By the grace of the Good Lord, though, we found the names of those who had been conscripted at the same time, and into the same unit, as Luigi Desti. Fortunately, we did trace and question one man who had been a good friend of Luigi. He remembered visiting with him a cousin’s small farm some four or five miles from their camp. After this it was easier. The parish priest knew the story and took us to meet Piero’s parents. Gio works in Milan but eventually we caught up with him!”
At this point, Piero interrupted, his English halting but sincere. “Miss Breegeet, when my mamma brought Gio to our home she wept to think of you left behind and you were always in our prayers. Gio always knew of his sister and he had this box. Gio?”
Gio took the wooden box from his cousin and handed it to his sister. Wonderingly, Biddy opened it and brought out a photograph of a young British soldier and his bride. More photographs, family papers, a couple of brooches and two silver chains each bearing a miraculous medal emerged. “I remember these medals and chains, sure, they were the wedding gifts Luigi and mother gave to each other.” Biddy’s tears of mingled sorrow and joy came again.
Rosalie was still smiling at the memories of the emotional sibling reunion when she realised the train was pulling in to Paddington. She retrieved her case, grateful when the man who had occupied the corner seat pulled the window down and opened the door. Though she had never suffered the ignominy of swinging out she always had an uneasy feeling that one day she just might!
Leaving her suitcase at her usual London hotel, she took a taxi to the address Spooky had given her. As she paid the cabbie, she looked round the elegant square and her heart dropped, so redolent was it of wealth and power. “Buck up, Rosie, you’ve been in situations where you could have been shot. They’re not likely to kill you here!” She walked up the steps of the imposing townhouse and rang the bell. The door was opened almost instantly by a butler whose immaculate appearance matched his surroundings.
“Miss Dene? His Grace is ready to receive you.”
Rosalie followed him to an oak door which he opened, announcing her name. Trying to control her trembling hands Rosalie walked into the book lined study and looked into the oddly familiar cool blue eyes of the Marquess of Mandeville...........
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.