|Next day, at the Chalet School|
Quaking at the knees, Hilda went to beard Matey in her den. Joey had been allowed another visit to her own apartment, so the San. was empty apart from Matey herself.
They sat by the large windows and Hilda tentatively broached the subject of a move to the farm. To her surprise, Matey did not dismiss the idea out of hand.
‘Once Joey is off my hands it would be possible,’ she allowed. ‘Those poor airmen can’t stay out in the henhouse in this weather and it makes sense to use the farm to grow some of our food.’
‘It would be a huge relief to have the airmen settled in a reasonably safe place,’ Hilda said. ‘There’s no chance of getting them off the island at the moment with the Germans all over the place. And I think it would be good to give the Sixth Formers some responsibility here.’
‘Yes, it might steady them a bit,’ Matey agreed. ‘They’re worse than the Middles.’
They settled on Matey moving to the farm as soon as it had been cleaned and equipped and Hilda left to put that in place.
Now for the hell-cats, she thought. I need to be at my most headmistressy.
Much as she would have liked her morning G&T before seeing them, she knew she needed all her wits about her. She decided to summon them to her study, she would feel more confident on her home ground.
When the Sixth were all assembled, and looking curiously at her, she began. ‘I am aware, girls, that you have been unhappy with the state of affairs, particularly our being stranded in occupied territory. However we are here for the duration of the war and have to make the best of it.’
Hilda paused and looked at the row of faces. They didn’t seem terribly impressed so far. ‘I would remind you, that you are all still minors and have been entrusted to the care of the school by your parents. Despite not receiving any school fees, we still consider ourselves morally responsible for you until you reach the age of majority or the war ends.’
They had now absorbed the fact that the school could throw them out in the cold to fend for themselves, Hilda thought. After all, girls from less privileged backgrounds were leaving school and going to work at the age of fourteen.
‘In view of our continuing responsibility for you as minors, I intend that you should complete your education until your normal leaving age. However, this will be modified to allow you to learn to run the farm and to help with Matron-type duties, as Matron Lloyd will be moving to the farm in the next few days. You will therefore not have time to look after Joey’s triplets and I will inform Joey accordingly. I will also not be seeking to direct your free time to any great extent and you may shop in the village provided you do not go alone. Café René is out of bounds unless you are accompanied by a mistress, due to the presence of so many German officers and soldiers in the café.’
The girls were looking distinctly more cheerful. Time for the killer blow. ‘I do not think it is appropriate for you to be with a teacher imposed on us by the Germans without chaperonage. Miss Lecoutier will therefore accompany you on all cross-country runs and a member of staff will sit in on all classes taken by Fraulein Helga or Lieutenant Gruber.’
Whilst they were still looking aghast, Hilda dismissed them briskly to their next lesson and got them out of the door. No talking was allowed in the corridors, and Mademoiselle Lachenais was waiting for them in the classroom, so there was no opportunity to discuss the matter until break.
‘She’s stitched us up good and proper, sending Simone with us on our runs,’ Cornelia said furiously. ‘We’ll actually have to run.’
‘And we better be getting changed. We’ve got PT after break,’ Violet reminded her.
Helga’s original plan had been to run as far as the bike sheds where they could all stop for a smoke but Miss Lecoutier’s presence had put paid to that. As it was raining, she suggested staying indoors but Simone vetoed that.
‘At this school we don’t let a little rain bother us,’ she told Helga. ‘Come along girls!’
It was more than “a little rain” and they were soon wet and muddy but Simone did not allow them to turn back. As they reached the wood, Simone neatly tripped the nearest girl to her, who happened to be Yvette.
Simone crouched down beside Yvette. ‘You’ve hurt your ankle,’ she said quietly.
‘No, I’m fine, Miss Lecoutier, really,’ Yvette said, wincing and Simone got her ankle in a tight grip.
‘Oh dear, you’ve hurt your ankle,’ Simone said a bit more loudly. She moved Yvette so she was resting against a tree, and then turned to the others.
‘Run back to school, girls and get some help. Fraulein Helga and I will stay here with Yvette.’
Helga did not look enthusiastic about the idea but made no objection and the girls ran off in the direction of school. ‘Why don’t we move her to that shed over there?’ she suggested. ‘I will see if it is open.’
Simone smiled in satisfaction as Helga went over to the shed. She took the opportunity to speak to Yvette. ‘You need to play along about your ankle, ok?’
Yvette, cold and wet, was so astonished at the use of a forbidden word by a mistress, that she simply nodded. Helga returned and between her and Simone, Yvette was transferred to the shed to await rescue.
‘Who does the shed belong to?’ Helga asked.
‘It’s part of the school’s property but it’s never used,’ Simone said. ‘Though it might be now that we’re going to be opening up the farm.’
Within ten minutes, Jem had arrived, driving a horse and cart. The ground was too muddy for any other type of vehicle and the Germans had commandeered the petrol. Jem got the shivering passengers aboard and back to the school in a few minutes.
Matey, alerted by the girls, had hot baths waiting and hustled her patients into them whilst she prepared beds in the San.
Helga said somewhat scornfully that getting wet was normal for army personnel and refused the offered bed. Simone, looking out of the window shortly afterwards, was not surprised to see Helga heading towards the woods.
Matey scolded Simone for being out of bed and ensured both her patients were tucked up with steaming cups of cocoa whilst Joey sulked in the furthest away bed, having been demoted from centre of attention.
Simone, who should have been teaching Lower IV, and Yvette, who was on prep duty, were perfectly happy to be missing school for the afternoon and they settled happily to read whilst Matey clucked round them. An awkward moment occurred when Jem arrived to check Yvette’s ankle but, due to the good acting ability of the latter, he diagnosed a mild sprain.
Not anxious to return too quickly to his child-minding duties, Jem lingered for a cup of tea with Matey and between them they decided that Joey was now well enough to return to her apartment permanently.
‘And I think Yvette and Miss Lecoutier will be able to return to school tomorrow, Matey,’ Jem said. ‘But if you hear so much as a sneeze, keep them in bed for another day.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Matey said. ‘I’ve never been known to send a girl back to school too early, and if these two have even a mild cold, they’ll be here for another couple of days.’
‘Excellent, my dear girl,’ Jem said, patting Matey on the shoulder as he left.
‘He’s so bloody patronising,’ Matey announced generally, almost causing Yvette to fall out of bed. Whatever had happened to the normally prim-and-proper staff? This war had a lot to answer for.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Gin bottle set aside, Hilda goes into battle.