|“Well, we have had some strange moments at the beginning of term before but this one takes the biscuit!”|
“Really, Nell, I should have a slang fine box in here for your personal use!” said Hilda Annersley with a mock frown at her friend and co-Head. “But you are right, of course: Carola’s unplanned arrival in certainly unique in the annals of the Chalet School. I do hope we can keep it from the girls but I am not so sure we can keep the staff from finding out.”
“We must just do our best and you know we can rely on Biddy and co to keep quiet about it. More to the point at this moment, we are invited to join the staff for coffee to tell them of our Scottish New Year adventures.” Nell grinned wickedly. “I think that the unexpurgated version will distract them very adequately from questions about Carola!”
Hilda looked thoughtful then smiled. “I think you might be right for once and these might also help!” She brandished two long yellow triangular objects.
“Oh, we’re not going to waste those on the staff are we?” said Nell plaintively. “They were presents!”
“A little chocolate deprivation will do you no harm, Miss Wilson!” replied Hilda tartly as they made their way to the staffroom. “It will make up for some recent excessive consumption!”
“Look who’s talking!” muttered Nell, as she gleefully prepared to tell all!
“Ooh, Toblerone!” shrieked Hilary Burn when the two Heads appeared bearing gifts. “Where on earth did you get those? I don’t think I have seen any since before the War! You must have no sweet coupons left!”
“There was no injury to our ration books at all!” Hilda’s smile was suspiciously smug as she settled into her armchair and accepted a cup of coffee. “It just so happens that these were made in the Keillor factory where Meg’s cousin works. The employees have an opportunity, on a rota basis, to buy the imperfect stock off coupon. Addie very kindly presented them to us as a leaving gift.”
“Addie?” said Matey, thoughtfully, “Is she the cousin who went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and had to escape over the Pyrenees?”
“No, that’s Agnes.” replied Nell. “Addie is the one who was in ENSA. She was wounded when the Germans strafed their lorry in 1944. She’s made a full recovery, thank goodness, and still dances in amateur productions.”
“So, cherie, tell us all! How is our dear Meg, and did you enjoy your little holiday?”
“Meg is very well, Jeanne, and sends her love to you all. She is working hard for her final steps to being a fully-fledged surgeon though she did have a few days off when we were there and we had a wonderful time. The hospitality was almost overwhelming.” Hilda smiled. “When I was trying to rouse myself to get ready for yet another party, Maggie, Meg’s mother, told me of a French nobleman who visited a Scottish Castle last century. After several days of celebrations in his honour, he said to his host “My Lord, your hospitality borders on brutality!”
“Yes,” agreed Nell, as the laughter subsidised, “and I don’t know if it’s Scots in general or Meg’s relations in particular but it was all very musical. Even a sedate afternoon tea with her sister-in-law’s parents finished with us all doing the Hokey-Cokey!”
“That I would have liked to see!” said Rosalie.
Hilda grinned wickedly. “Well, I think I shall always regret not being there to witness Miss Wilson’s celebrated conga line on New Year’s morning!”
“You were not in any fit state to witness anything by that time!” retorted Nell, her voice almost drowned out by the demands of the staff for enlightenment.
More laughter followed the explanations and the various other tales of their adventures.
“In other words, a good time was had by all!” said Grizel wiping her eyes. “What’s Meg’s flat like? She said it wasn’t big enough to swing a cat!”
“It is small but very cosy and just about a hundred yards from the Infirmary. Young Kate pops in regularly to dust and sweep, take sheets to the laundry and generally keep it tidy. That arrangement is to compensate Kate who wanted to follow her siblings into the paper or milk rounds they all had as soon as they were old enough. According to Maggie, despite the fact that Meg had gone out delivering papers aged 11, she had ‘forty tartan fleepies’ at the very idea that her precious Kittykat could be going out in the cold and dark of a winter morning to do the same!”
“That doesn’t surprise me!” chipped in Grizel. “I recall Martin telling us the drama of Kate’s birth one evening years ago. You’ll remember the details better than I will, Rosalie!”
“Oh yes!” replied the secretary, “Kate arrived early and Meg came home for lunch to find her mother in some distress. The midwife, or howdie as she called her, lived nearby so Meg called out to her from the window and sent Stella upstairs to her grandmother with little Mickey. Mrs Kelly was very ill and when Kate was born the midwife thrust her into Meg’s hands telling her to ‘baptise it and wash it for the undertaker.’ Meg was a second year medic at the time and refused to accept that her baby sister was dead. She began to blow on her nose and mouth and rub her heart area. Whatever was blocking the baby’s airways was coughed up and she began to cry. Meg christened her Kathleen Rose after two of the aunts, bathed her and by the time the crisis was over, the baby was dressed and ready to be fed. I believe Mrs Kelly took some time to fully recover and Meg and her grandmother had most of the care of the baby for some months. She’s been Meg’s darling ever since!”
“The feeling’s mutual, too,” commented Nell. “Big Pat said to me that Kate thinks the sun only bothers to rise in the morning for the privilege of shining on Meg so she’s quite happy to earn her pocket money looking after her sister’s flat! She is a bright child, though. It isn’t every day you can have an intelligent conversation on Mendelian inheritance in plants with a 13 year old! You would be delighted with her, Rhyll, for she can do the practical stuff too. She spends a lot of time at her uncle’s allotment and they produce lovely vegetables.”
“She would be a boon and a blessing,” replied Rhyll Everett, who sometimes found a pupil’s lack of enthusiasm for gardening very trying. “I don’t suppose there is any chance of her coming to the Chalet School?”
“We did explore that possibility,” confided Hilda. “I, very tentatively, raised the subject of a full scholarship with Maggie Kelly. She was very polite, and I believe that she did appreciate the offer, but sending a child away to school was just something they could not and would not contemplate!”
Nell laughed ruefully. “We had decided on a two-pronged attack and so I spoke to Meg. She was even less inclined to consider the proposal than her mother was. She was kind enough to say that she believed we did a very good job for the girls entrusted to our care. She then added that as far as she was concerned sending girls or boys away from home for schooling was sheer barbarism!”
Meg’s frankness was met with a mixture of laughter from those who knew her and a little indignation from the others to whom she was just a name.
“That’s very Meg!” said Rosalie, remembering occasions in the war years when her friend had challenged authority, “She was never afraid to speak her mind – as Miss Bubb could tell you!”
“That’s very true,” agreed Nell. “She’s also very happy to be home with the family. She has been invited to apply for posts at various hospitals in other cities but she won’t even consider them as she loves the work that she is doing where she is. The only fly in her ointment is that despite her best efforts she is still on the reserve list. The Army seem determined to hang on to her.”
“That’s no surprise to me!” said Matey drily. “Jesse James predicted before Meg was even demobbed that they would hang on to her until she reaches the upper age limit. The peacetime Army doesn’t attract the top medical talent and they won’t let go of Meg’s combination of innate ability, medical knowledge and battlefield experience without a struggle. Let’s just hope for her sake that we don’t get involved in another war.”
Hilda, rising to take her leave, smiled round at her staff. “On that cheerful thought we’ll bid you ladies goodnight!”
“One thing,” said Nell stifling a yawn as she opened her bedroom door, “between your encounter with the Polish spirit and my escapades with the constabulary, I think we gave them enough to think about to stop them wondering about Carola!”
Author's Chapter Notes:
Apologies for the long delay - real life intruding! Nell and Hilda's Hogmanay adventures can be found in The Daft Days (one of these days I'll work out how to do proper links.....) And for those who wonder, yes, Dundee was the home of Toblerone for more than a decade! The Keillor sweetie factory was in the centre of town and walking past the entrance and smelling the boiling toffee and chocolate was a delicious torture!