|Nell sighed and muttered under her breath, before aiming headfirst into the cupboard beneath the lab bench.|
"What on earth Rosalie was thinking, ordering all these giant spatulas, I don't know..." came floating back out to Hilda, disgruntled tone wrapped all around the words.
Hilda frowned, struggling to remember any recent orders for lab equipment. As Nell unearthed several extremely dusty packages, most with writing too faded to see more than Spa.. & ..as the mystery became far less so, for the order in question must have been several years ago. An imp within her was tempted to call Nell out for the fact that the order would almost certainly have been due to her tendency for illegible notes when requesting supplies. However long friendship and knowledge of Nell's hatred of being wrong and of waste, both in equal measure, made Hilda hold back. Paying attention to the muttering would almost certainly lead to uses being found all around the school for the offending articles. Stifling a grin at the thought of Karen's face were she to be asked to use any more surplus science equipment in cookery, Hilda merely moved the packages off to one side, for later disposal. That was, she admitted to herself, only if she could succeed in distracting Nell to avoid her putting them back into the cupboard again, to languish there for another decade.
For such a methodical person, it never failed to amaze Hilda how cluttered and disorganised Nell's lab cupboards always were. Upon voicing this in the past, Jack Maynard had been the only one to offer a possible reason.
"She's passionate about not wasting the School's money. So once bought, she can't bear to throw things away, but science keeps moving on, and old equipment just isn't as useful. If it were her own possessions, I'm sure she could be more brutal, but instead she hoards these things, until there is just too much there to keep control of everything."
Thinking on this for a while, Hilda had finally worked out a way to persuade her co head to declutter. A vague suggestion that it in effect cost the school to store things for long, coupled with an implication that the girls might be set to investigating the cupboards had led to Nell suddenly getting going on the first deep spring clean of the lab since the move to Switzerland. Hilda hadn't counted on the fact that none of the staff were willing to help, leading to her volunteering herself as assistant, for fear that the process would otherwise never happen.
She was brought back to the present by an impressive range of expletives from behind her, and realised that Nell had moved on to the full length cupboard in the corner of the lab and clearly had found more than she bargained for. A loose shelf had tipped up and she had just avoided being showered by thousands of drawing pins, as a package dropped, bounced and sprayed the pins everywhere.
After checking Nell was unharmed, Hilda felt able to let the laughter out, for Nell's face had been a study, as the coloured pins bounced everywhere around her. Her friend's disgruntled face at her reaction only served to add to her mirth, and girls and staff alike would have been amazed to see their leader bent half over, chortling away like any middle. Nell was used to seeing Hilda laugh, and after her first indignation she simply ordered her 'assistant' to stir her stumps and help collect them. Along with the pins, they realised that the other packet contained tiny springs, originally to be used for science demonstrations. The combination meant that the pins were spread truly to every corner of the room, and the irony of Nell's 'Spring' cleaning being hindered by actual springs tickled Hilda even more than the accident itself. As her giggles came under control however, Hilda went to with a will, and the pair of them shuffled along the gaps between lab benches, collecting the pins. All of a sudden, Nell looked ahead of her at Hilda's raised backside, unbent herself and sped to the lab door, locking it before returning to her task.
"What was that about?" Hilda asked, straightening with a slight groan, and checking a slight pinprick from an unruly drawing pin she had just collected. "Locking me in here until the job is done? What a taskmaster!"
Nell stuck her tongue out at Hilda and carried on her collecting as she spoke. "It occurred to me that there might be some staff or girls around, and as you look ...perhaps a little less dignified than you might wish! Must keep up the illusion of the dignified Abbess!"
Hilda laughed and returned to the gruelling task. She had suggested a magnet, only to be vetoed by the Science mistress. "limited help really, we are nearly there anyway now."
Unfortunately Nell had forgotten that the lab was over looked, in one place only, but quite clearly visible. Over in the staff room, Nancy Wilmot stood up from her favourite chair by the window, and stretched, looking idly out of the window before being unable to restrain a splutter. She regretted it immediately, for any staff nearby made a beeline for the window, wondering what she had seen. So it was that most of the staff were treated to the view of their leaders they had never expected, for the benches were just high enough to shield much of the body, so their task was unclear, and they simply could be seen rears in the air gradually moving around the lab.
Mindful of how much Hilda at least would hate to be seen this way, Nancy remembered herself, and pulled the curtains to, standing fiercely in front of them when some of the newer young staff wanted another look. She gave a look to Kathy, who nodded, and hurried off to warn the pair that they were visible, and held her post until the younger mistress returned, and they left the room. Only then did the pair collapse into the giggles the situation deserved, especially when Kathy told Nancy about Hilda's shocked face and then Nell's guffaws when their unexpected effort at entertainment became clear. The young mistress had left as quickly as she arrived, very aware that Nancy was waiting in her defensive post, but not before hearing Hilda giving Nell a piece of her mind, before starting to laugh herself.
In the way of these things, the story passed into Chalet School lore, and for some time anyone caught in a less than dignified position was always described as "Spring Cleaning" until Hilda thoroughly regretted trying to help her friend's hoarder tendancies.