|Later the same day|
Miss Annersley was in a state of high tension, wondering if the plan had worked, but with Simone confined to the San. under the watchful eye of Matey, it seemed impossible to get news.
‘You’re the headmistress,’ Robin pointed out unnecessarily, on a flying visit to ask about progress whilst René was at the Guernsey war-time version of the cash-and-carry.
‘That’s beside the point,’ Hilda told her. ‘If I try to see Simone without Matey’s permission – I’m toast.’
It was an interesting insight for Robin into the staff pecking order. ‘The sooner you get the old bat off to the farm the better then.’
Miss Annersley agreed. ‘I only worry that something else will happen to delay her departure. No-one was ill the whole time she was in custody but as soon as she came back it was like Piccadilly Circus.’
‘We will just have to hope there are no more mishaps,’ Robin said. ‘Do you want me to try to distract Matey so you can nip in and see Simone?’
‘No need, dear,’ Miss Annersley said, looking out of the window. ‘The plan worked. The Gestapo are arriving. You’d better not be seen here – go out the back door and then collect your bike when they’re inside.’
Robin sped off and Miss Annersley went to the front door to meet her visitors.
‘Fraulein Annersley, ve vill be searching the grounds,’ Herr Flick said, self-importantly. ‘Ve believe there is a painting in a tree. So you must keep the pupils and the staff in the building.’
‘That’s a very strange place to keep a painting, Herr Flick,’ Miss Annersley said, doing her headmistress-act. ‘Everyone is indoors in view of the weather and I will give instructions that no-one is to venture outside.’
‘Or they vill be shott,’ Herr Flick said, with emphasis.
‘Oh, please spare me the melodrama,’ Miss Annersley said. ‘I get enough of that from my staff, let alone the girls.’
Herr Flick did not answer but left the building and directed the vehicles along the track towards the wood. Miss Annersley issued instructions about remaining indoors and then, feeling reckless, headed up to the San. The plot had obviously worked, but the least she could do was praise Simone on carrying it out successfully.
Simone and Yvette were all but hanging out of the window and nearly jumped out of their skins when the door opened, anticipating it would be Matey. Hilda burst out laughing when she saw their apprehensive expression.
‘Just as well for you that I’m not Matey!’ she told them. ‘Where is she anyway?’
‘She went off to check up on Joey, and she’s usually ages. So when we heard the commotion, we thought it would be safe to have a look out.’
‘Well if you put on your dressing gowns and slippers, you could sit by the window and watch,’ Hilda told them. ‘I’ll square it with Matey.’
‘Really?’ Simone said, awed at such bravery, or foolhardiness, depending on which way you looked at it.
However Matey had not returned by the time the Gestapo search had been completed and the cars drove away. Hilda chivvied the two patients back to bed, congratulated them on their performance that morning, and left to preside over Café et Gateaux. Recently the staff had been putting in more appearances at the afternoon tea, as they could not rely on the Sixth Formers. It did curtail their G&T break but the Middles appreciated not having to deal with bad behaviour from their seniors.
After Café et Gateaux, Hilda returned to her study where a considerable amount of work awaited her. Scrabbling noises emanated from the window and Hilda obligingly opened it to allow Michelle in. It was not a French window, and the brickwork was wet, so it took several attempts before she got in. Hilda politely did not point out that the front door was open and waited for Michelle’s opening line. Michelle did not disappoint and then continued.
‘I hear that Herr Flick searched the grounds today, Miss Annersley. What happened?’
‘Oh, it was nothing, Michelle. He was looking for the painting of the fallen Madonna with the big boobies. We left it in a tree for him.’
‘Mon Dieu, you British do such strange things! Why did you not just give him the painting if you wanted him to have it?’
‘Because he wouldn’t have believed it was genuine,’ Miss Annersley explained, as if to a not-particularly-bright junior. ‘So we put it in the tree and then arranged an accident for one of the girls right at the foot of the tree so that Helga would spot it.’
‘This school is a most dangerous place to be,’ Michelle observed. ‘Madge was telling me about all the skiing accidents, avalanches, kidnappings and being stranded when you were in the Tyrol. Occupied territory is safe in comparison!’
‘We never had to do anything which could have resulted in our being shot, however,’ Miss Annersley said snootily. ‘And when precisely are you going to take those airmen off our hands?’
‘Not for some time yet,’ Michelle said. ‘It is more difficult to get people off an island like this than out of France.’
Michelle went off to find Madge to practise bomb-setting and Miss Annersley reached for the gin bottle. It had been a busy day, she told herself, resolving to cut down on her consumption from tomorrow.
Over at Café René, it had also been a busy day. Herr Flick had visited, in a self-congratulatory mood, for a late lunch and had stayed half the afternoon. Colonel von Strohm and Captain Geering were relieved that Herr Flick had found a painting and would now give them some peace, they hoped. They were in a mood to celebrate, which meant that Yvette and Maria were missing for some time, there was no celery left for Madame Edith’s recipe and the eggs could not be whisked.
Robin was serving dinners when Violet and Polly strolled in, dressed in outfits which had never before seen the inside of the Chalet School. There were many German personnel in, so Robin had no choice but to seat them quickly, though they attracted several wolf-whistles as she did so.
‘What are you two doing here?’ Robin asked in an undertone. ‘You look like a pair of cheap tarts.’
‘Tarts possibly,’ Polly said, producing a cigarette and looking hopefully in the direction of Colonel von Strohm’s table. ‘But cheap, never.’
Several German officers practically fell over themselves to light cigarettes for the girls and would have lingered at their table, but for a despairing look Robin sent to René. Producing a new bottle of red wine and one of brandy, René managed to distract the officers so Robin could find out what was going on.
‘Are you just breaking bounds for the sake of it?’ she asked. ‘You’ll go too far with Miss A and she’ll throw you out to fend for yourselves, if you don’t watch it.’
‘No, the old bat’s cool about us being here,’ Yvette said. ‘Matey sent us.’
‘Pull the other one,’ Robin said scornfully. ‘Matey would never let you out looking like that. Nor would the Abbess.’
‘Well we did modify our outfits a bit after we left the school,’ Polly admitted. ‘But Matey did send us. There was something she forgot to tell you.’
‘What?’ Robin asked.
‘She said she had forgotten that she switched the labels on the paintings before you sewed them. So the original went into the pink sheets.’
Author's Chapter Notes:
Miss Annersley discovers if her plan has worked and Robin gets a shock.