|Christmas Day 1940 |
‘It doesn’t seem right, enjoying our Christmas dinner when poor Matey is in the slammer,’ Cornelia said as she tucked into a large plateful of roast chicken.
‘Very true, Cornelia, but I’ve sent dinner over to her. I hope the guards allow her to have it,’ Miss Annersley replied from the head of the table.
‘What about the British airmen?’ Joey, restored to health in time for Christmas, enquired. ‘Len, stop spitting the chicken out! We can’t afford to waste food.’
Madge, resplendent in a new raincoat, a gift from Michelle, spoke up. ‘I arranged for their dinner to be sent out to them. They’re in the old hen hut at the far side of the woods.’
Violet appeared deep in thought and after lunch she went to find Miss Annersley in the latter’s study. She knew it was essential to speak to her headmistress before the gin bottle came out.
‘Yes, Violet dear, what can I do for you?’
‘It was the mention of the hen hut and food being precious that gave me an idea,’ Violet said, after she had bobbed the regulation curtsey. ‘The old farm on the other side of the wood belongs to this property, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, Dr Russell bought the whole property when we had to move from Austria. It’s amazing how properties magically come available when he wants them. He bought a hotel in a day in Austria when we had to move up to beside the San.’
‘Well, there’s a lot of us to feed, and no school fees coming in,’ Violet said. ‘We don’t know how long the war is going to continue. I was thinking that we could take over the farm as an educational centre. Get some of the locals to teach us farming. We’ve got the airmen as well for any heavy work.’
‘That’s a very bright idea, Violet. What I’d do without you and Robin, I can’t imagine!’
‘Matey could go over and live at the farm to look after the airmen when we get her back,’ Violet added. ‘It would get round the problem of the deal you’ve got with us. She won’t kick off about it if she doesn’t know.’
Hilda nodded thoughtfully. ‘Good thinking. Matey in a right royal paddy is a sight to behold. We could convince her she was doing her patriotic duty. But how would we manage for a Matron?’
‘I thought we could have a Matron-rota amongst the older girls. Those of us who would be leaving school soon anyway,’ Violet explained. ‘The normal post-Chalet School routes aren’t available to us. We can’t to university. Nor can we marry a doctor as all the young ones are away in the armed forces.’
‘I suppose we can’t keep you schoolgirls for ever,’ Hilda sighed. ‘And from the little news we can get, the war isn’t going to be over any time soon. Ask the other girls what they think and then we’ll discuss it further.’
Over at Café René, Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering were having their Christmas lunch with René, Madame Edith and the staff. In deference to the German guests, and because they had supplied the main ingredient, a traditional German Christmas dinner of baked goose had been prepared by Madame Edith, with help from Robin. Yvette and Maria had been busy giving the Colonel and the Captain their Christmas gifts and René had locked the window of the back room and settled down for a snooze whilst the meal was being prepared.
Robin had had one bad moment, when Madame Edith came up with the idea of adding some German sausage to the meal, but she had managed to persuade her that it should be saved for a future occasion.
After the meal, Madame Edith announced that she would sing, which had the effect of breaking up the party swiftly. ‘Ve must get back to duty,’ Captain Geering said.
‘Yes, and take some dinner for Lieutenant Gruber. What a pity he had to stay on duty,’ René said unconvincingly.
Even the Resistance had a break on Christmas Day but the next morning it was business-as-usual. Michelle sidled through the window of the back room.
‘Listen very carefully, I will say this only once.’
‘Get on with it then,’ René said impatiently. ‘I’ve got a café to run.’
‘Herr Flick is still looking for the painting. He never believed the one Colonel von Strohm gave him was genuine,’ Michelle explained. ‘We need him to find the painting soon. He’s all over the island at the moment and we can’t get on with our training.’
‘And what am I supposed to do about it?’
‘Get Maria Cecile to find out from Madame Matey where she has hidden the painting. Then we can arrange for it to be somewhere and send Herr Flick an anonymous tip-off.’
‘Why not just give Herr Flick the painting?’ René wanted to know.
‘Because he would never believe the original would be handed over willingly.’
René thought for a moment. ‘I will see what I can do.’
Michelle disappeared through the window and René went in search of Robin who was helping Madame Edith in the kitchen.
‘I don’t see her telling me,’ Robin said. ‘If she had been going to tell me where she was hiding it, she could have done so before now.’
‘What’s the best way to get round her?’ Madame Edith asked. ‘You need to get her off guard.’
‘Being ill,’ Robin said promptly. ‘She loves that. After all, it’s her raison d’être.’
‘Maria Cecile, you are looking very peaky,’ Madame Edith said. ‘I think we had better send you back to the school to be looked after.’
‘No good, Madame E,’ Robin pointed out. ‘Matey’s still in the pokey.’
‘I sense you sickening for something, child,’ Madame Edith said. ‘By the time Matey is released by the Germans, you will be quite ill.’
‘Very well, Madame E,’ Robin said obediently. ‘I will go and see Miss Annersley this afternoon and tell her I’m about to be ill.’
Miss Annersley greeted the news of Robin’s incipient illness with concern. ‘The problem is, Robin, that I’ve had my arm twisted up my back by those she-devils in the Sixth Form to banish Matey to the farm.’
‘She can’t go till I’m better,’ Robin insisted. ‘Leave it to me. I’ll box it off with the hell-cats.’
Miss Annersley was worried. ‘I don’t know that we want to tell them more than we can help. They’ll only use it against us. It would be better if they thought your illness was genuine.’
‘How about if Matey comes to Café René to nurse me back to health?’ Robin suggested. ‘We need to find out when General von Klinkerhoffen is leaving.’
‘I can do that,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘Colonel von Strohm will visit me here if I ask him to. Just pop down to the kitchen and get me some celery and an egg whisk, there’s a dear.’
Author's Chapter Notes:
Despite Matey being a captive of the Germans, Christmas festivities still have to proceed.......