Hilda was enjoying her first G&T of the day, having told the Sixth Form to do private study instead of their English lesson, when a visitor was announced. Hilda hastily secreted her glass in her desk.
‘I apologise for arriving at such an early hour,’ Herr Flick said as he was shown into Hilda’s office. ‘I appreciate that 9 in the morning is not a good time for a schoolteacher but unfortunately the matter is of some urgency and I am rather busy today torturing people.’
‘It’s no problem, Herr Flick,’ Hilda said, wondering what she had done and whether she was on the torture list. ‘How can I help?’
‘It’s concerning Frau Matey,’ Herr Flick said. ‘She has unpicked all the sheets and there is nothing there.’
‘Does that mean you’ll be releasing her?’ Hilda asked, thinking of constant medicine doses, the San filled again despite no-one having needed it since Matey was taken prisoner and the inevitable tantrums from the Sixth Formers.
‘That’s the delicate part,’ Herr Flick explained. ‘The Gestapo cannot be seen to have been wrong. Like headmistresses, ve are never wrong.’
‘I see what you mean,’ Hilda sympathised. ‘Your street cred. will be shot.’
‘Exactly,’ Herr Flick agreed. ‘So ve need to find a vay to get Frau Matey back to you vithout the Gestapo looking silly.’
‘Couldn’t you let her escape?’ Hilda suggested. ‘You could blame it on a junior member of staff and we could send Matey into hiding and pretend she’s on the run.’ This would solve all the problems, Hilda reflected, as Matey would not be able to resume duties.
‘Ve haf tried that,’ Herr Flick explained. ‘But she doesn’t vant to leave. However ve can’t keep her indefinitely. Our supplies of medicine are at an all-time low.’
As were the supplies of vhisky, Hilda had no doubt, but she kept the thought to herself.
‘Could you allow me a little time to think this over, Herr Flick?’ she asked, at her most gracious. ‘I am sure I can come up with a solution which will be acceptable but I need a little thinking time.’
‘Certainly, Miss Annersley,’ Herr Flick replied, rising from his seat. ‘I apologise again for interrupting your gin and tonic hour.’
Hilda showed him out and then picked a classroom at random. The Fourth were in the middle of French with Mademoiselle when Hilda burst in.
‘May I help you, Miss Annersley?’ Mademoiselle asked, signalling the girls, who had stood politely at the arrival of their headmistress, to sit.
‘I need one of the girls to go on an errand for me,’ Hilda explained.
Mademoiselle drew Hilda into the corridor. ‘In the middle of lesson time? Is this really urgent?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ Hilda said. ‘In fact it’s a catastrophe. We’re likely to get Matey back imminently.’
‘Mon Dieu, a catastrophe indeed!’ Mademoiselle exclaimed. ‘You may have Betty Wynne-Davies. She is too docile, I fear trouble.’
‘I keep thinking the same,’ Hilda said. ‘And yet the Middles are behaving like angels. It’s the Sixth who have gone right off the rails.’
‘I will return to the classroom and send Betty to your study,’ Mademoiselle said. ‘Perhaps you should eat a mint sweet before she arrives?’
Mademoiselle entered the classroom, where the girls were studying in perfect silence. She couldn’t get rid of the uneasy feeling that the Chalet School world was tilting on its axis.
‘Betty, please could you report to Miss Annersley in her study,’ Mademoiselle said. ‘Now.’
The girls all looked up in consternation and Betty rose. ‘Please, Mademoiselle. I haven’t done anything wrong.’
‘I know, ma petite,’ Mademoiselle reassured her. ‘Miss Annersley needs you to do something for her.’
‘But what about my French lesson, Mademoiselle?’ Betty asked. ‘May I come and see you later to catch up?’
Mademoiselle, feeling rather faint from shock, promised Betty her help later. ‘Now run along. It won’t do to keep the headmistress waiting.’
Hilda had returned to her office and consumed a strong black coffee. She smiled when she saw Betty’s anxious expression as the latter bobbed her curtsy.
‘You are not in trouble, Betty. I need you to run an errand for me. Could you go to Café René and ask Robin to call in and see me as soon as she is off duty, please?’
‘Very well, Miss Annersley. But it’s maths after break. I’ll hurry but I may not get back in time.’
‘Don’t worry dear, I will sort all that out.’
‘But what about the work, Miss Annersley? Could I have my lesson after prep?’
‘I’m sure we can arrange something, Betty. Are you sure you are feeling quite well? Do you need to see Fraülein Helga?’
‘I am very well, thank you, Miss Annersley. May I set off now?’
Hilda graciously gave her permission and Betty left to collect her coat, hat, gloves, boots and cold remedy.
It was a cold day and Betty was freezing when she arrived at Café René. Robin insisted she sit down and have some hot coffee.
‘But I’m missing lessons, Robin! I need to get back as soon as possible.’
‘You’re turning into a real prig, Betty. You used to be one of the naughtiest girls in the school. Whatever happened to you?’
‘Some of us have to behave with maturity,’ Betty answered with dignity. ‘Miss Annersley is on the gin and the rest of the mistresses have gone to pieces, the Sixth are in cahoots with Helga and Matey is in prison. Even Madame is so wrapped up with the Resistance she has no time for the school and Joey is unconscious with feigned illness most of the time. The whole place would go to rack and ruin if it wasn’t for the Middles. We’re even having to feed the British airmen because no-one else remembers to do it.’
‘Who’s looking after the trips?’ Robin wanted to know.
‘Anyone who happens to be around,’ Betty said with feeling. ‘You’d better get your skates on, Robin.’
‘I’m not due off duty for ages yet,’ Robin said. ‘I’ll need to see if René will let me off. It’s a bit difficult because the Germans are in for lunch.’
Betty looked round the empty café. ‘Where are they then?’
Robin decided Betty didn’t need to know the details. ‘They are lunching in private rooms.’ She was relieved when Betty accepted this without comment. Just then, Yvette reappeared looking slightly dishevelled.
‘I might be able to get away, since Yvette has returned,’ Robin said. ‘I’ll go and find René.’
René was in the back room. Robin explained about Miss Annersley asking to see her.
‘I need you here, Maria Cecile,’ her boss said, looking worried. ‘Maria is still with Captain Geering and is likely to be some time. I don’t think you can go at the moment.’
Madame Edith’s voice could be heard in the corridor, scolding Yvette.
Robin advanced on René. ‘Oh, R-r-r- René,’ she said throatily. ‘Crush me in your arms, press your lips against my lips.’ She put her arms round René.
‘Stop that, Marie Cecile,’ René said, fending her off. ‘Madame Edith is in the corridor.’
Robin redoubled her efforts and spoke more loudly.
Madame Edith entered the back room as Robin, clinging to René like a limpet, tried to kiss him.
‘René! What are you doing with that child in your arms?’
‘You stupid woman!’ René retorted. ‘Can’t you see she is trying to blackmail me to let her off duty? We could hear your foghorn tones in the corridor and she is trying to cause trouble.’
‘Very well, René,’ Madame Edith said. ‘I shall leave you to deal with her. I must practise my songs for tonight.’ Madame Edith left.
‘You see, it failed,’ René said. ‘Now get on with your work. You may go up to the school when the lunch-time rush is over. And if you ever try that stunt again, I will set you to cleaning the café whilst Madame Edith is practising in there.’
‘Very well, René,’ Robin said, suitably crushed. She returned to the café where Betty was finishing her coffee and a large cake, bestowed on her by Madame Edith.
‘Tell the old bat I’ll be along after lunch,’ Robin told Betty. ‘Now you’d better hurry. Madame Edith is going to start practising in a minute.’
Lunch service was over early, due to Madame Edith doing her singing spot and Robin headed to the school.
Miss Annersley explained the problem. Robin thought for a while.
‘Herr Flick won’t mind Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering looking stupid. The best thing will be for him to hand her over to them. We can get the Resistance to mount a rescue after she’s out of Herr Flick’s hands.’
‘Won’t the Colonel and the Captain be cross?’
‘They’ll be so glad not to be dosed with medicine and confined to the sick bay if they sneeze, they’ll soon get over it. And I’m sure Yvette and Maria can divert them.’
‘You think of everything, Robin,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘I’ll have a word with Herr Flick and explain the plan.’
‘Best not to mention the Resistance by name though,’ Robin said. ‘He’s not supposed to know they exist.’
‘Will you be able to get the message to Michelle?’ Miss Annersley asked.
‘She’ll appear through the window of the café some time,’ Robin said. ‘But just in case I’ll let Madge know the plan and she can pass it on while they’re doing bomb-setting practice.’
Herr Flick was delighted with the plan when Hilda explained it to him later that afternoon. ‘Ve vill plan the move for 23 December vhich means that you vill haf Frau Matey back for Christmas.’
‘How will we deal with the fact that she’s supposed to be on the run?’ Hilda asked.
‘Ve vill let you know vhen ve’re going to do a spot check raid on the school,’ Herr Flick said. ‘It is not normal Gestapo practice to do this, but as you are taking Frau Matey off our hands, I think a little co-operation is in order.’
Outside the window, shivering in the chill of the afternoon, Violet listened with dismay. She hurried back to the common room, having divested herself of her coat, hat, gloves, boots and cold remedy.
‘The Gestapo are planning to let Matey go,’ she announced in gloomy tones. ‘So Helga will be going back to her normal duties.’ She explained about the plot for Matey to “escape”.
‘Could we foil the escape, do you think?’ Cornelia asked.
‘Only if no-one knew it was us,’ Violet said. ‘We’d have made enemies of the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht if we leave Matey with them. And if we knacker a Resistance exercise to rescue Matey, they’ll not be very happy with us.’
‘It’s all very well for them. They don’t have her dosing them and confining them to bed for a week when they have indigestion.’ Ruth spoke from bitter experience.
‘Why don’t we wait until the Resistance have rescued her, then kidnap her and keep her somewhere until she agrees to adopt Helga’s way of being Matron?’ Polly suggested.
‘Genius!’ Cornelia exclaimed.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Herr Flick seeks help from Miss Annersley