Joan Worralson of the WAAF - otherwise known as Worrals - paced up and down the narrow corridor outside Air Commodore Raymond's office, her irritation growing with every passing minute. Just as she felt that she couldn't wait a second longer, the heavy oak door swung open, and a harried-looking clerk hurried out.
"Miss Worralson? The Air Commodore will see you now." She nodded at the young man briefly, then walked through the open door into the office beyond. Behind the large desk in the middle of the room sat Air Commodore Raymond, looking as impressive as ever, despite his white hair.
"Ah, Miss Worralson. Sorry to have kept you waiting."
"Not at all, sir," she murmured politely, though something in her tone caught Raymond's attention, and he smiled to himself.
"Sit down," he said, waving one hand towards a chair. Worrals complied, wondering what he had asked her to come for. She had only been here twice before, and both times Raymond had had some task for her, something that couldn't be done through more normal channels.
"I understand that Miss Lovell is in the hospital at the moment," Raymond said at length, raising his head from the file he had been studying.
"That's right, sir. There was an accident during a night exercise, and Fr- Miss Lovell caught the worst of it. The doctors say that she'll be all right."
"Yes, yes- I have something I'd like you to do for me, Miss Worralson."
"Yes, sir?" Worrals asked calmly, though she felt excited enough. It was rotten luck for poor Frecks, of course, but it was dashed boring hanging around England like this. At least with one of Raymond's plans, she'd have something to do.
"I have received a report from one of the officers on the Welsh borders - a Colonel Black. He was investigating some mysterious lights that were appearing after black-out; thought it might be an attempt to contact the Germans. Turned out to be a couple of poachers, of all things, so it isn't likely there'd be a threat there. But he did raise another issue, one we'd already been aware of." Worrals remained silent, wondering where this was going, and Raymond continued. "You know, of course, about the Anschluss in Austria?" Without waiting for her answer, he carried on. "At that time, there was a school based at the Tiern See, near Innsbruck, which consisted of several hundred girls of all nationalities: English, Austrian, French, German, Norwegian, and several others. Shortly after the Anschluss was declared, there seems to have been some considerable trouble with the Gestapo, and after that the entire school - not unsurprisingly - disbanded. The owners, and several others, made their way to Guernsey, and thence to a village near Armiford, on the Welsh border. The school re-started in Guernsey just before the declaration of war, and has been extant ever since."
"An Austrian school operating in England?" queried Worrals with some surprise. "I'm surprised it would be allowed, sir."
"No, no, Worrals, you misunderstand me. The school itself has always been English - it was started by an English woman in 1931."
"An English woman - with German sympathies?" asked Worrals at random, not quite sure where this was all going. Raymond shrugged.
"At first, we thought not. But Colonel Black seems sure that there is something not right about the school. For instance, he reports that they had a Nazi spy there for a term, and did not see fit to report it. However, his suspicion is not so much with Mrs Russell - the school's owner - but with her sister, Mrs Maynard. Apparently she seemed disrespectful of his authority and unwilling to co-operate with his investigation. And one must consider that she lived in Austria from the age of twelve; who knows what ideas she may have picked up."
"Has she been questioned, sir?" For the first time, Raymond looked a little uncomfortable.
"It has not been quite so... simple, Miss Worralson. In this case we cannot go rushing in and interrogating the woman. We'll have to go about it in a more sideways manner. And that's where you come in. How old are you, Miss Worralson?" Slightly taken-aback by the question, Worrals blinked at him, then answered slowly,
"Nineteen, sir, nearly twenty."
"Perfect. Mrs Maynard is twenty-two. I am sure the two of you will find plenty in common."
"Sir?" Raymond ignored the implied question, and thrust some papers at her.
"Here is your identification, ration card etc. You can keep your own name - I doubt it will make any difference. If you'll wait ten minutes, I'll have Barnstable bring in the baby."
"The baby? Sir, please..." He looked at her in surprise.
"It's quite straightforward, Miss Worralson. You will be billeted with Mrs Maynard. She has the space, since the friend that has been staying with her has been sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Now, able-bodied young women are not usually shunted off to the country, so you must have a reason. The baby is the reason."
"You- you want me to pretend to be the baby's mother?" Raymond eyed her consideringly.
"Well, that was the idea, but I don't think it would suit, somehow. Better say it was your sister's child, and she was killed during an air-raid. There, that's all right. Thank you, Miss Worralson." And before she knew where she was, Worrals was back outside the oak door, waiting for Barnstable and the baby.
With her case in one hand and the baby tucked under the other arm, Worrals caught the train for Armiford with barely a minute to spare. The London train to Shrewsbury had been delayed by debris on the track, and Worrals supposed she should be grateful to have made her connection. She sighed with relief as the train chugged out of the station, and tried to arrange her things, with some difficulty. Barnstable, the Air Ministry clerk, had duly returned with the baby, whose name was Lucy, and Worrals had had two days to become accustomed to dealing with her, but as she had never had much to do with babies before, it was still a little uncomfortable. She was struggling to remove her overcoat, when the carriage door was opened, and a middle-aged woman in a flowered hat walked into the compartment.
"I hope you don't mind if I sit here?" she asked pleasantly.
"Not at all," replied Worrals, and made to move her case from the opposite seat, before sitting back down as the newcomer tutted at her.
"Now, dear, you just worry about that baby of yours. I'll move this," and she suited action to word. "My name's Mrs Parry," she offered, plumping herself down.
"How do you do," said Worrals politely. "I'm Joan Worralson. This is Lucy," she added, seeing Mrs Parry's gaze drop to the baby on her lap. "She's my niece."
"Worralson, WorralsonE Now, why do I know that name? Oh, of course! You're the young lady that would be staying at Plas Gwyn!" Worrals looked at her in confusion.
"Aye, that's right, isn't it? With Mrs Maynard?"
"Oh, yes, that's right." Alert, Worrals asked carefully, "Do you know Mrs Maynard?" Mrs Parry settled herself comfortably.
"That I do, miss, and her daughters. Lovely girls they are - triplets, you know, and the prettiest children you ever saw." Worrals' eyes widened at this information - Raymond hadn't mentioned anything about triplets - but persisted.
"The people in London said something about a school nearby." Mrs Parry nodded.
"That'd be right. The Chalet School, it's called. Mrs Maynard's sister owns it. Started in Austria, it did, but then you can't judge anything by that, and Mrs Russell is a very fine lady. I dare say you'll see something of it, miss, Mrs Maynard being so involved, and her sister being a pupil there."
"Her sister? I thought-"
"Lord bless me, no, dear! I meant her other sister, Miss Robin. A very sweet young lady she is, and no mistake."
The train journey was a short one, and Worrals had little time to ask Mrs Parry anything else, but she made a mental note to visit the sweet shop run by her companion. Soon the train was slowing, and eventually stopped in a station with a large sign proclaiming it to be "Armiford".
"Is someone meeting you, dear?" asked Mrs Parry as she gathered together her belongings.
"Yes, I think so."
"Well, then, I-" She broke off as she was hailed by a stocky young man whom Worrals took to be her son, an assumption confirmed by the quick introduction that followed, before Mrs Parry was ushered away by Mr Parry. Left alone, Worrals looked around for anyone who might be waiting for her, but no one seemed to be interested in the young woman and baby, and soon all the other travellers had dispersed and Worrals was soon the only person on the platform. Biting her lip with some consternation, she told herself that a girl who had faced down German soldiers - not to mention shot down - had no business being afraid of being left at the station alone, but as twilight descended, she began to make her way towards the ticket office to enquire about the possibility of a taxi. Before she could reach the little wooden gate that divided the platform from the station house, a young lady came hurrying along, stopping breathlessly as she caught sight of Worrals.
"I say, are you Miss Worralson?"
"That's right," agreed Worrals, carefully taking stock of the girl in front of her. She looked to be about Worrals' own age, or a little younger, and was dressed in a well-made blue coat and hat, under which escaped a riot of golden waves. She was very pretty, with a beautiful complexion and bright blue eyes. "Are you Mrs Maynard?" Worrals asked doubtfully. The girl laughed.
"Heavens, no! Joey- Mrs Maynard couldn't come. She's frightfully sorry, but one of her little girls is ill, and she couldn't get away. She rang for one of the teachers over at the school to come and get you but they were all busy so I came. My sister's a teacher there, you see, and I'm staying with her for the moment. Unfortunately, my car seems to have broken down, and I had to walk the last mile." She held out a hand for Worrals' case, then laughed again. "I'm sorry, I do seem to have run on. My name's Joyce Linton." The two girls shook hands, then Worrals asked,
"Is that the school that Mrs Maynard's sister owns?" Joyce looked at her curiously as they walked towards the main road.
"Yes. However did you know?"
"I met a lady on the train who told me. Mrs Parry?" Joyce's face cleared.
"Oh, Mrs-Parry-the-shop! I'd forgotten that she'd been in Shrewsbury. Her daughter had a baby, you see. Is she back then?" Worrals confirmed that Mrs Parry had indeed returned, and they continued in silence until they reached the bus stop. They had only a short wait, and were soon on their way to Howell's village.
"Plas Gwyn isn't in the village per se," explained Joyce as she tickled baby Lucy under her chin. "It's a little outside, but we're lucky because the bus stops almost on the doorstep. It shouldn't be too long. I'd point out the sights, but, as you can see, it's a little dark," and she waved a careless hand towards the window of the bus.
"Is the school in the village?" Worrals asked off-handedly.
"No, it's on the other side. Plas Howell, it's called - the building, I mean. They were awfully lucky finding somewhere, but Reverend Howell - he owns it - has gone into the Navy as a chaplain, and he needed someone to take care of his daughter. The school fit the bill! Gwensi's in the Third Form. You'll probably meet her; she's great chums with Daisy, who also lives with Mrs Maynard."
"I'm surprised she has room for anyone else."
"Oh, Joey's always got room. She's terribly good, you know. I don't mean pi, because she's not that at all, but- oh, you'll see when you meet her. Look, here we are!"
She caught up Worrals' bag, leaving the younger girl to the baby, and leapt out of the bus with a cheerful "thank you" to the driver.
"Come along, Miss Worralson. You must be longing for bed." Joyce ushered her companion in front of her, up the drive of a charming house, old-fashioned but well-built, with a profusion of flowers growing along the path. She knocked sharply on the door, but opened it straight away, and gestured Worrals to go in.
"Joey! Joey, I'm back and I've brought Miss Worralson." There was a thump on the stairs, and a somewhat wild-looking lady came rushing downstairs, calling back up as she went.
"Nein, nein, Anna! Das ist-" She stopped abruptly as she saw her visitors, and then grinned rather tiredly at Joyce. "Thank you, my lamb! Was the train badly late?" This question was directed at Worrals, but before she could answer, Joyce interrupted.
"I'm afraid I was the late one, Joey. The wretched car broke down on me, and I had to abandon it out near Linney Junction. We caught the bus back. Anyway, I must run. Gillian won't look on me kindly if I'm much later!" And with this final remark she turned on her heel and hurried outside, carefully closing the door behind her.
Worrals blinked at the younger girl's sudden departure, but Mrs Maynard merely grinned at her.
"What a careless creature that girl is," she observed, laughing. "Still, it was very good of her to fetch you. My girl Margot has been unwell, I'm afraid, and I didn't dare leave her."
"I hope she's better," ventured Worrals, seeing the concern in the her hostess's eyes. Mrs Maynard wasn't at all what she had expected, though if asked, Worrals couldn't have said exactly what she had expected. Josephine Maynard was a tall woman, taller than Worrals herself, and very slim, with a pale face, dark eyes, and pointed chin. Her hair was dark and straight, and from the strands that fell from the untidy coils about her ears, quite long. She didn't at all look like a German spy, but no-one knew better than Worrals that looks could be highly deceiving, and she still hadn't got over the surprise of hearing German spoken here in England, by an Englishwoman.
"Much, thank you," Mrs Maynard replied, and Worrals almost jumped as her thoughts were interrupted. She cursed herself. That was the devil of it, of course. You could be as hard-boiled as you pleased when confronted with the enemy, but in a place like this you inevitably let your guard down a little. "I'm so sorry you were kept waiting - this is a terrible welcome for you. Come along in. Leave your case there; I'll take it up in a minute." Worrals found herself being ushered into a dainty sitting room, with pretty flowered curtains pulled in front of the black out material, and a warm fire in the hearth.
"And this must be Lucy." Mrs Maynard crouched in front of the baby, and pulled faces for a moment, before looking up at Worrals, seated in a well-stuffed arm chair. "She's your niece, isn't she?"
"That's right." Mrs Maynard's eyes softened with sympathy.
"They told me she was killed in an air raid. I'm so sorry - that must have been awful for you." Worrals shrugged, lowering her eyes.
"It's war," she replied briefly, for some reason feeling a little ashamed at her deceit.
"Yes, it is." There was a moment of silence, then Mrs Maynard stood up. "Well, it's getting late, and you must be tired. Come with me; I'll show you your room. I've put a cot in for Lucy, but if you need anything at all, just give me a yell. The girls are already asleep, so you won't be able to meet them till tomorrow."
"Miss Linton said you had other people living here - someone called Daisy. And Mrs Parry mentioned that your sister lived with you as well."
"Oh, Daisy and Rob are at the school tonight. There's been some excitement cooked up by the Seniors, and I thought they might as well join in the fun. You do miss out being a day girl, and I know Rob at least sometimes misses boarding. Prim - that's Primula Mary, Daisy's sister - is here, but she's in bed too."
"I'm surprised they sent anyone here. You seem pretty full." Mrs Maynard shrugged as she opened a door, and gestured for Worrals to enter.
"Oh, the authorities knew I had the space. One of my old friends was staying with me, but they sent her away to the Isle of Man. She's Austrian you see, and so she's the enemy." She didn't try and disguise the resentment in her voice.
"But- Well, they do that, don't they?" Worrals asked cautiously, wanting to see how much Mrs Maynard would say.
"Yes, and I think it's cruel. If they only knew how much Frieda and Bruno had been through, and Bruno is fighting for the Allies!"
"But the authorities can't know that, can they? I suppose anyone who's German, or Austrian, for that matter, should be under suspicion. We are at war with them, after all." Worrals wound up her speech passionately, and waited for her hostress's response. It wasn't long in coming, as that good lady swung round in the doorway, her dark eyes blazing.
"It's the Nazis we're fighting, not the poor Germans and Austrians!" Then she calmed down a little. "Look here, Miss Worralson, I understand what you feel, really I do. We - the school, my family, my friends - we were in Austria when the Nazis marched in. I know that a lot of Germans, and some Austrians, have embraced Hitler and all his dealings, but a lot want nothing to do with it. That's why they need so many of those evil camps. And - well, a lot of the girls at school spent happy times in Austria, some still have connections there. I know you must be grieving over your sister, but please don't let bitterness warp your view." Then she laughed a little. "I'm sorry, you must be exhausted. Come with me, and I'll show you up."
The two women climbed the stairs, and Mrs Maynard ushered the younger girl into a cosy room at the far end of the corridor.
"I've laid out towels and so forth for you," she explained as she pulled back a screen, "and here's the cot for Lucy. Stephen's using the one I had for the girls, but I borrowed from my sister, Mrs Russell. You'll probably meet her in a day or two, I would think. She has three children, David, Sybil and Josette. Sybs will be starting school soon and Josette is only a little older than my three. There you are. I'll bring up your case in a minute, and some hot water so you can wash. Then we'll have some supper and you can go to bed." She disappeared through the doorway, and Worrals was left with Lucy in her arms, surveying her latest billet.
It was far nicer than some of the places she and Frecks had had to stay in France, that was true. The room was fairly small, but there was enough space for a bed, chair, chest-of-drawers and a nightstand. The corner of the room was sectioned off by a large rattan screen, and peeking round Worrals saw a small wooden cot and another chair. The walls were covered in an ivy-patterned paper and the curtains, hiding the inevitable black-out, were a medium green that matched perfectly.
Settling Lucy into the crib, Worrals considered her position. Colonel Black had intimated in his report that Mrs Maynard was overly sympathetic towards the enemy, and, if she regularly spoke out as she had done tonight, Worrals could understand how he had got that impression. Nevertheless, Worrals found herself disliking the idea of Mrs Maynard being a traitor, or even a spy.
"She seemed too straight for all that," she mused aloud, then scolded herself. "My good girl, you've only known the woman an hour! She could be any kind of traitor." Her thoughts were interrupted by her hostess's return, bearing Worrals' case and a pitcher of water, which she placed on the nightstand next to a china basin.
"Here you go. Anna's getting supper ready; come down in about twenty minutes. If you need anything else, just yell," and with the flash of a grin, which made her look disconcertingly like a schoolgirl, Mrs Maynard vanished again.
Worrals awoke the next morning with the feeling of comfortable fuzziness that follows a good night's sleep. She stretched her arms wide for a moment, then swung her legs out of bed and, sitting there, reviewed the previous evening's events. After she had washed, she had gone back downstairs. As she had not seen either Mrs Maynard, or her maid, Anna, she had poked her head round a couple of doors to get a feel for the layout of the house. There was the main living room, with which she was already familiar, but further investigation revealed a dining room, also facing the garden, and next to that a study, which Worrals deduced belonged to Mrs Maynard's husband, as yet unaccounted for. Many of the books on the shelves were medical in nature, and it seemed likely that he might be a doctor. A door at the back of the hall patently led to the kitchen, and Worrals had not explored further, not wishing to earn a reputation for nosiness.
She had headed back to the living room to be greeted by Mrs Maynard, who seemed to have forgotten the fervent words spoken not half an hour ago, and had been an entertaining hostess. A polite enquiry had elicited the fact that Dr Maynard was serving as a medic in the Navy, though was expected home on leave shortly. The dinner had been good, faintly continental in tone, and Worrals had enjoyed it. The two ladies had passed a restful half hour listening to the wireless while Mrs Maynard knitted a small blue jacket for one of her daughters, and Worrals attacked some embroidery Air Commodore Raymond had suggested she bring. Nothing more had been said about the war, and they had parted amicably for the night.
Having turned all this over in her mind, Worrals rose and checked on Lucy, who was just waking. Lifting the baby out of the cot, she wandered over to the window, and pulled back curtains and black-out. She was greeted with a view of the Welsh hills in the distance, green and hazy in the morning light, and, closer, the rooftops of Howells village visible at the end of the lane passing by Plas Gwyn. Worrals dressed quickly and then attended to baby Lucy, who submitted to her ministrations with equanimity. She had just finished when a quiet knock at the door startled her.
"Come in," she called out. The door opened, and a small blonde head poked round.
"Please, Miss Worralson, Auntie Joey says if you're ready you can come down to breakfast. I'm Primula," the little girl added conscientiously. Worrals bit back a grin at the solemnity of a child who looked to be no more than eight or nine.
"Thank you, Primula. Lucy and I will be down shortly." Primula nodded, her head was withdrawn from the doorway, and Worrals heard the sound of light footsteps running down the stairs before disappearing into the dining room. She followed obediently five minutes later, Lucy in her arms.
The breakfast table at Plas Gwyn was not by any standards a sober one. Even with two of the house's occupants absent that morning, Primula Mary and the Maynard triplets made plenty of noise, and Mrs Maynard was contributing with the best of them, at once scolding one dark-haired daughter for spilling the milk and adjuring young Primula to "hoe in all she could" at Maths, however much she loathed it. She broke off from this to flash a welcoming smile at Worrals.
"Come and sit down, do!" she entreated. "Now, be quiet, you crowd! Miss Worralson, these are my daughters. Len is the eldest," and she placed a hand lightly on the shoulder of a chestnut-headed child who smiled sweetly at the introduction before continuing with her breakfast. "Con is next, and Margot is the youngest of them. Primula you've already met, of course." Worrals smiled at Primula, who was looking mutinous about something, and then inspected the younger two triplets. Con was almost as dark as her mother, while young Margot had brilliant red-gold curls, accentuated by the pallor of her face. This, then, was the triplet who had so recently been ill. She was distracted from that thought as Primula heaved an exaggerated sigh.
"But, Auntie Joey, why must I hoe in when I don't like it? I think Maths is beastly."
"But necessary, my good child," returned Mrs Maynard, with some vigour. "Think how hard life would be if you couldn't add up. Now, Miss Worralson," she continued, turning her attention to Worrals and ignoring Primula's sulky "but I can add up", "Prim and I are walking over to the school at twenty past. Would you like to come with us and see it? I'm leaving my three with Anna, and she can quite easily take care of Lucy as well." Worrals agreed to this plan of action, eager to see this school started in Austria, and so obviously the centre of things.
So it was that a quarter of an hour later saw them striding down the lane away from the village, and heading towards the Chalet School.
"Usually Rob and Daisy are day girls, of course," explained Mrs Maynard, as she carefully closed a gate behind her. "They bike to school each morning, and Prim goes with them, unless the weather is bad and I drive them. We don't do too much of that, though, not with petrol as hard to get as it is. In the winter they'll board if it gets too bad. We haven't been here long - we were in Guernsey, but then the Nazis came and that put an end to that. They really are the most awful nuisance!" and with this sentiment they came to a stop at the end of a long drive, with a large building visible at the end.
"The Chalet School," Mrs Maynard annouced simply, and Worrals paused a moment to look at it.
"It's very nice," she ventured, with a quick glance at her companion. That lady laughed.
"You must think I'm soft in the head! Yes, the building's nice enough - better than anything else we managed to come up with. Gwensi's brother owns it - that's Gwensi Howell, she's a pal of Daisy's. I'll root her and Robin out and you can meet them now, if you like." She suddenly yodelled, much to Worrals' surprise, and Primula, who had raced ahead, came running back.
"What is it?" she asked breathlessly.
"I want Miss Worralson to meet Rob and Daisy. After you've reported to Miss Linton, go and find them and ask them to come to Miss Annersley's office, please, pet." Primula agreed easily, and continued her mad dash for the school, while the two ladies followed her rather more sedately. They were almost at the school door when at least half a dozen girls came out, only to stop suddenly.
There was a chorus of shrieks from the girls, whom Worrals guessed to be about fifteen, and they gathered round the visitors.
"Sure, Joey, and we've hardly seen you!" exclaimed one of the girls, whose wild dark hair, bright green eyes and strong accent identified her as being Irish.
"I do think you might have come sooner than this, Joey," added another girl, taller with red hair.
"You are a demanding lot, aren't you?" replied the object of their complaints dispassionately. "I do have other things on my plate, you know."
"Where are the trips?" demanded the Irish girl, ignoring this rebuttal. Worrals watched in amusement as Mrs Maynard turned on her heatedly.
"You know perfectly well, Bridget O'Ryan, that I object to my daughters being referred to as "trips". And, as for where they are, at home, of course. Where else would they be? Now, Miss Worralson, have you ever seen a more disreputable collection of school girls?" This question was posed with a sweet smile, oblivious to the cries of indignation it produced. They continued unabated for a few moments until they were hurriedly shushed by the red-haired girl.
"Be quiet, you idiots! Someone will be along if you're not careful!" Worrals glanced at Mrs Maynard and was surprised by the look of curiosity on that lady's face, but disregarded it as she spoke.
"Elizabeth's right, you lot. Look, you'll be late for lessons if you're not careful. I just came to show Miss Worralson the school. She's been evacuated," she added by way of explanation. "These are some of the Fifth, Miss Worralson. The cheeky one is Biddy O'Ryan. Madam Red-head is Elizabeth Arnett. Nicole de Saumarez, Mary Shand and Betty Wynne-Davis account for the rest. Better hurry up, girls, or people will have words to say."
"Folk always do have something to say around here," murmured the slight, dark girl introduced as Betty, but her comment was ignored as the girls headed back round a narrow path.
"We'd better hurry," advised Mrs Maynard, tucking one hand through Worrals' arm. "This way." They walked briskly through several corridors until they reached a solid oak door. Mrs Maynard knocked sharply ,and opened the door almost straight away, barely waiting for the decisive 'Enter!'
"Hallo, Hilda! I've brought Miss Worralson to meet you! This is Hilda Annersley, head mistress of this fine establishment." Worrals looked appraisingly at the woman rising from her seat behind the desk. She had had in mind the rather ineffectual woman, cheekily nicknamed "Mouse" by her pupils, who had presided over the small girls' school where the young Joan had gained her education. This lady, however, was clearly made along quite different lines. She was tall and slender, with a figure admirably suited to the academic gown she was wearing, and her pleasant face was distinguished by a pair of blue-grey eyes that showed their owner's keen intelligence.
"Welcome to Armishire, my dear," said Miss Annersley.
There was only time for Worrals to exchange the briefest commonplaces with Miss Annersley, before a knock on the study door was heard.
"That’ll be Robin and Daisy," Jo announced cheerfully from the chair in which she was most reprehensibly lounging. "I asked them to come along. You don’t mind, do you, Hilda?"
"It’s a good thing I don’t," returned Hilda Annersley sternly. "And for Heaven’s sake sit up properly, Jo. Enter!" The door was pushed open, and two girls entered, somewhat warily to begin with, ending in a rush as they saw the figure rising from a chair.
The girls flung themselves on Jo, giving Worrals the opportunity to study them more closely. The elder, Robin, was characterised by a slight build and dark curls surrounding a face of angelic loveliness. She was only a little taller than her companion who, to judge from the startling colour of her hair, had to be young Primula’s elder sister, Daisy. She was a long, lanky creature, with straight yellow hair tied back in plaits and a clean-scrubbed face that appealed to Worrals. Both girls were clearly delighted to see Jo Maynard, which was unsurprising given that they apparently made their permanent home with her. After the three were reunited, Jo freed herself and waved towards Worrals.
"This is Miss Worralson, girls. She’s been sent to stay with us. This is my sister, Robin, and my niece Daisy, Miss Worralson." There was a chorus of "how d’you do’s", before Jo suggested that the girls take their new acquaintance on a tour of the school. Robin excused herself, explaining that she had a Lit. essay in the works and didn’t dare leave it, but Daisy agreed readily enough, and Worrals left the study in the company of the younger girl. Half way down the corridor, she stopped with an exclamation of annoyance.
"Oh, drat it! I’ve gone and left my bag in Miss Annersley’s study!"
"I’ll go and fetch it," offered Daisy obligingly, moving back down the corridor, but Worrals caught at her arm.
"No; I’ll go. Wait here, Daisy, I’ll only be a minute." She sped back down, turning a corner and found herself outside the Headmistress’ sanctum. As she had left it, the door was open a bare inch, and she stopped outside, listening intently. Both Hilda Annersley and Jo Maynard had clear, carrying voices, and Worrals could easily hear them. As she had suspected, they were discussing her.
"…Yes, I thought so," said Jo, obviously agreeing with something her ex-headmistress had said. "Lucky, really, when you think of the sort of person I might have ended up with. And don’t pull a face like that, Hilda!" she continued indignantly. "I hope I’m not a snob – I’ve always tried to steer clear of that failing, especially after knowing Thekla von Stift, poor creature – but, well, with the girls, I have to be careful, you know. And Prim and Daisy in particular are at a susceptible age."
"True enough," replied Miss Annersley. "It doesn’t seem that you’ll have much to worry about on that front, at any rate. You know, I was wondering what happened to Thekla?"
"Haven’t an earthly. I know she wrote to Therese before we left the Tyrol – rather a mad letter, apparently, though I didn’t see it. I say, wasn’t her brother involved in the Nazi movement?"
"Yes, he was. Oh, you wouldn’t have known about it; you were only a pupil then, but that’s why Frau von Stift sent us Thekla in the first place. She rather worried about the influences she was subject to."
Worrals was all to conscious of passing time and the knowledge that Daisy was waiting for her, so she knocked sharply on the door, holding the handle so that it wouldn’t swing open, then walked in without waiting for an answer. Full of apologies, she offered the excuse of the missing bag, found it, and walked back out, this time closing the door behind her with an audible click, and hurried down the corridor to the waiting Daisy. It looked as if Raymond had been right to send her here: it was a goldmine of information, whether or not Jo Maynard was an informer.
Turning the corner, she was presented with the spectacle of an indignant-looking Daisy explaining her presence to a tall, white-haired mistress.
"Honestly, Miss Wilson, I’m supposed to be here," she was saying earnestly. "Auntie Jo came and- oh, Miss Worralson!" This last was expressed in tones of deep relief, and Worrals hurried forward, suppressing a grin at the young girl’s predicament."
"I’m sorry I took so long, Daisy," she said easily. "I hope you haven’t got in trouble?" She looked enquiringly at the mistress, and was somewhat taken aback to see that at a closer glance, the woman she had taken to be in her later years was probably in the mid-thirties, if that. The white hair, so misleading, contrasted sharply with dark, well-defined brows and the pleasant face of the mistress was unmarred by wrinkles.
"No more than usual, I assure you," replied the mistress with a smile. "I’m Miss Wilson, the Senior Mistress here. You, I take it, are Miss Worralson."
"That’s right. How do you do?" They shook hands, and Worrals continued, "I’ve been billeted with Mrs Maynard; she suggested Daisy give me a tour of the school."
"Well, I’m sure she’ll do that admirably. If anyone knows the ins and outs of the school, it’s this young lady! Why don’t you go and find Beth and Gwensi, Daisy? The three of you might as well show Miss Worralson around, and Gwensi knows the area better than either of you. I’ll let Mlle de Lachenais know you won’t be in her lesson – you do have French first, don’t you? – but make sure you’re in time for your next class." Daisy beamed at Miss Wilson, and sped off down the corridor, moderating her pace without a backward glance at Miss Wilson’s suggestive cough.
After a few minutes conversation, during which she learned that Miss Wilson was a Science and Geography mistress who had been with the school since its earliest days in Austria, Daisy returned, with two other girls in tow who looked to be a similar age. They were speedily introduced as Beth Chester, a quietly pretty girl with chestnut hair and lovely violet eyes, and Gwensi Howell, who looked to be as much the Welsh spitfire as her name suggested, with her dark eyes and wild black curls. They took her on an enthusiastic tour of Howells, and Worrals learnt a great deal about the school, though she noted that none of them spoke about the school’s existence in Austria. That was partly explained by the fact that, as she also learnt, neither Beth nor Gwensi had been present then. Still, it was odd that Daisy said nothing.
After an hour or so, Beth looked at her watch, and whooped, and the other two followed suite.
"I’m awfully sorry," explained a penitent Daisy, "but we’re going to horribly late for Maths if we don’t dash. I say, can you find Miss Annersley’s office from here?" Worrals smiled, and assured the girls that she could, inwardly thanking her excellent sense of direction. She stood a moment and watched as the three girls ran off, obviously uncaring about rules to the contrary, then turned on her heel and walked back in the direction of the study.
After fortification by way of cups of tea and fresh-made scones, Worrals and Mrs Maynard strolled back towards Plas Gwyn. They had been silent for some minutes, when Worrals spoke up with a question.
"Why did your sister decide to start a school in Austria, of all places?" She was met with a sharp glance, swiftly followed by a casual shrug.
"It was cheaper than England, and we’d been on holiday there before. Besides, it was a healthy place – I wasn’t always the bundle of health you see before you now! Look here, I can’t keep calling you Miss Worralson every three minutes, and I hate being called ‘Mrs Maynard’ by folk my own age. Let’s make it Jo and Joan, shall we? Much friendlier, anyway."
To this, Worrals quickly agreed. She had not missed Jo Maynard’s instinctive reaction to her question about Austria.
"That idiot Black’s obviously put the wind up her about it," she thought viciously. "She shouldn’t be so suspicious otherwise." In this, she had not erred. Colonel Black had not impressed Jo particularly, and she had resented his clumsy questions, especially once it was revealed that the school had, for a time, harboured a Nazi spy. What is more, unbeknownst to Worrals, Jo had some doubts about her new guest. She was very aware that she had asked a lot of questions about the school, and its time in Austria. There were other things, too, that made her look askance. Worrals’ reaction to Frieda’s internment, while perfectly valid, and not new to Jo, had felt, in retrospect, to be a little calculated. And the most important thing: what on earth was she doing in Howells Village anyway? Well-brought-up young ladies, even with babies, rarely got evacuated, in Jo’s experience. They usually either stayed put or, more likely, ended up in the country with family or friends. It wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility, of course, but put together, they put Jo on her guard, and she cursed herself for sending her off with Daisy, though after the affair with Gertrud Beck, Daisy had learned to hold her tongue.
The rest of the day passed in relative peace. Worrals asked no further questions, and did not mention Austria again. She played with baby Lucy, embroidered very badly until she was tired of it, and read aloud at her hostess’s request. At about half-past five Primula returned from school, in high spirits, and a very merry evening was passed. Eventually, all the members of the household were tucked in bed, and calm descended on Plas Gwyn until, in the early hours of the morning, an unearthly wailing could be heard. Air raid!
Worrals sat on the floor, her mac haphazardly thrown over her dressing gown, and a pair of stout corduroy trousers gracing her lower half. Cradled in her arms was Baby Lucy, and for the first time in the war, Worrals felt a pang of fear. So this it what it’s like to have children, she mused. Terrified that something will happen. She cast a glance at Jo Maynard, who sat on another cushion, Margot and Con in her lap, while the redoubtable Anna held Len. Little Primula Mary sat in a rather battered old chair, fast asleep, with a blanket thrown over her.
The household had been awoken by the wail of the air raid warning, and had hurried down to the large cellar under Plas Gwyn. Jo Maynard had already taken pains to show Worrals its ins and outs when she had arrived, and it was as comfortable as could be expected, with a cupboard of tinned food, and chairs and cushions, as well as a small shelf of books.
"It’s more trouble than we’d usually take, of course," Jo had explained to her guest, "but since we’re using it as a air raid shelter as well we’d best be prepared." The area they were sitting in now was tucked away under the stairs that led to the kitchen, and was softly lit by a paraffin lamp that was securely fastened to a wall in a small alcove. Jo had firmly vetoed any suggestions that it should be hung from a nail on the underside of the stairs, or left on the shelf, on the grounds that she didn’t want to see her home in flames courtesy of the Nazis, let alone her own fair hands!
The other side of the cellar, as far as Worrals could make out in the gloom, was stacked with boxes and all the other paraphernalia that one expects. She gave up that line of thought – it was unlikely that the Maynards were hiding a couple of German officers down there! – and returned to the situation at hand. She shifted slightly, careful not to wake the baby in her arms, and looked over at Jo, who, she noticed with some concern, wasn’t looking at all the thing.
"It’s rather a bother, this, isn’t it," she offered, in an attempt to get her young hostess’s mind off the air raid.
"Rather," agreed Jo, somewhat absently, then jumped as a explosion could be heard, louder than the others. "Golly, that was close!" Worrals’ quick eyes caught sight of the other woman’s fingers convulsively clutching closer at the two children she held, and she hoped that Jo wouldn’t become hysterical. She was an emotional woman, that much Worrals had already gathered, and rather inclined to take such things badly. In times past, Worrals would have had very little patience for that kind of woman, but now, holding tightly onto Lucy, she understood slightly better. At any rate, it would be quite a responsibility, with not only her own three to look after, but Primula, and the other-
"I say, they have things set up all right at the school, don’t they?" she asked suddenly. Jo looked up, relaxing slightly.
"Oh yes, well enough. They have some pretty extensive cellars under the main house. The warden came and looked them over when we moved in, and said they were sound. The girls will be okay. I do wish Rob were here, though." Her tone took on a wistful note, and Worrals half-wished she hadn’t said anything.
"I’m sure they’ll be fine. And they’ll need Robin, won’t they? She is a prefect."
"That’s true. I mustn’t be selfish about it." As she spoke, there was another crash, even closer, and Margot woke up with a wail, setting the other two off as well, and waking Primula into the bargain, while Lucy stirred fretfully in Worrals’ lap.
"Oh, lawks!" exclaimed Jo, rocking the two little girls in an attempt to hush them. "I hope that one didn’t bring the house down! Shh, shh, Margot, Mamma’s here." She crooned at them, and eventually they quietened, though it was the best part of an hour before they fell back asleep, and almost dawn before the all clear was signalled.
At this, Anna took charge, supervising the children’s return to bed, then packing off her mistress and Worrals herself in short order, with cups of hot milk and strict orders not to rise until lunchtime. Worrals had no argument, and fell gratefully into bed, and the sweet oblivion that beckoned.
She woke several hours later, to see the sun streaming through the pretty curtains at the window. A quick glance at the little clock next to her bed showed the time to be nearly one o’clock in the afternoon, which explained the rumbling in her stomach. The sound of voices rose up the house, and Worrals recognised one as belonging to Hilda Annersley, the school’s head mistress. Curious, she pulled on the dressing gown she had left lying at the foot of the bed, and went to hang over the banisters. At the bottom, standing in the hall, she could see Jo Maynard’s head, characterised by a messy array of black hair, and the neater arrangement of brown coils that belonged to Miss Annersley. That latter lady was giving something to Jo, and Worrals caught snatches of their conversation.
…Flew over from Germany…wanted to let us know…mustn’t tell the authorities…anything we can do…in the Nazi Youth…
Worrals found herself face to face with the distinct possibility that Jo Maynard really was a German spy – and some of the school staff too!
Jo and Miss Annersley disappeared into the salon, and Worrals crept quietly down the stairs. She found the heavy wooden door to be carefully closed, however, and could not hear anything that was being said. She gave it up as a bad loss, and returned to her room after checking that Lucy was all right. Sitting on the narrow bed, Worrals gazed sightlessly at the wall in front of her.
All the evidence seemed to point towards the school having something to do with the Nazis. If not, what on earth had Hilda Annersley been talking about? And why were they all so careful never to talk about the days in the Tyrol in any detail? Why was Jo Maynard so alert to such questions if she didn’t have anything to hide? But try as she might, Worrals couldn’t fit her hostess into the mould of a spy. It just didn’t seem right – nothing seemed right. Apart from anything else, her husband was in the Navy, and by all accounts the couple were deeply in love. What woman would endanger the man she loved?
Sitting, worrying over the question, Worrals eventually made up her mind as to a course of action. The decision made, she washed hurriedly and dressed, and went back downstairs. She tapped lightly on the salon door, and walked straight in, only to discover Jo sitting by herself, with no sign of the head mistress.
"Good afternoon!" she said cheerfully.
"Hm? Oh, good afternoon! Did you sleep well?"
"Like a baby," Worrals assured her hostess, while taking careful stock of her. It was evident that something of import had happened, as Jo’s eyes were shining with what looked like suppressed tears, and her whole air was one of excitement. There was a moment’s silence as Anna brought in a tray of tea, and then, as the door closed behind the Tyrolean maid, Worrals launched straight in.
"I say, Jo, may I ask you a question?" Jo looked at her, and Worrals was quite sure that she wasn’t mistaking the expression of suspicion that crossed her face.
"Yes, of course. I can’t promise to answer, though!" she replied cautiously.
"Who was Thekla von Stift?" Whatever Jo had been expecting, it clearly wasn’t that, and she looked at her guest in surprise.
"Thekla? How on earth did you hear about her?"
"Oh, someone mentioned her name, then clammed up. I was curious," Worrals said vaguely. Jo looked unconvinced, but answered.
"She was one of the girls at the school back in the Tyrol. She didn’t really get along with anyone, and was expelled for bullying."
"Was she Austrian?"
"No. German. Look here, Joan, what’s the why of all the questions?"
"Oh, I’m just curious, that’s all. It seems so odd to have had an English school in Austria."
"Not at all odd!" Jo exclaimed indignantly. "It was my sister’s idea, and a jolly good one, too. And as for that, we weren’t the only English school there, you know!"
"Really?" asked Worrals mildly, hoping for more information. She wasn’t disappointed.
"No! That wretched Miss Browne moved her school out there, kit and caboodle. St Scholastika’s, they called themselves. Of course, they turned out all right, even Miss Browne, poor creature, but how we loathed them when they first came! The Campbells and MacDonalds didn’t have anything on us – our Middles, bless their hearts, decided to model their behaviour on the Ku Klux Klan, of all people, so we did have fun that term!" Jo came to her senses suddenly, and stood up. "I had better check on the girls," she said, somewhat stiffly, and walked out, leaving Worrals with no clearer idea of what was going on, but the strong impression that Jo Maynard didn’t have anything to do with any underhandedness.
She would have been more concerned had she been privy to that lady’s actions after leaving the salon. Jo made straight for her husband’s study, and, closing the door behind her, turning the key, and barricading herself in further with a draught-excluder, picked up the telephone. She was connected straight away to the Round House, and in moments was speaking to her sister.
"Madge? Jo here. I wanted…What?…No, they’re fine; I’m fine too…Yes, of course. I rang Hilda as soon as I got up…Yes, she brought it round…I thought so too…Wouldn’t it be a thrill if- but look here, Madge, that’s not why I called. Is Jem there?…It mightn’t be anything, but I’d rather…Yes, of course…Jem, is that you?…Well, you can talk!…Jem Russell, you really are the outside of enough! Now listen! It’s about this girl I’ve got staying with me: Joan Worralson. I daresay after the affair with Gertrud I’m being over-sensitive, but I really think there’s something not quite right about her…No, not like that, you ass!…Well, she asks far too many questions, for one thing, and most of them about our time in Austria…Yes, but there’s curious and curious, if you see what I mean. I just don’t like it. You couldn’t find anything out about it, could you?…Oh, you are a lamb!…Yes…Yes…All right, but I’ll have to go now. I dashed out of the salon in rather a marked manner, and I don’t want her getting suspicious…Yes…Tell Madge we’ll come up in a day or so…Bye!"
She rang off, and sat in the wide, carved chair that had come up from her husband’s family home in the New Forest, thinking. Her brother-in-law could be as sceptical as he liked, but there was definitely something behind Joan’s interest in the school, and Jo was determined to find out what it was.
The remainder of that day continued in a state of undeclared truce, neither woman saying anything of significance, and each carefully observing the other whilst making the greatest effort not to be seen to be doing so. Worrals was finding it harder and harder to believe that Jo Maynard could really be a spy. Apart from anything else, what could she tell anyone? Armishire, and Howells Village in particular, was far removed from anywhere important, which presumably was why the school had settled there in the first place. As far as Worrals could tell, Jo didn’t have access to any important information. The only possibility was that the school was some sort of brainwashing affair, but that seemed a little far-fetched, and anyhow Worrals had seen no sign of anything like that in the girls she had met. What’s more, there was no indication that anything had been done. Hadn’t Colonel Black reported that the problems had actually turned out to be poachers, and nothing to do with the school? It was merely Mrs Maynard’s attitude that had raised the issue, and Worrals knew all to well the type of man the Colonel was, and the attitude he was likely to provoke.
Though Worrals had almost convinced herself of Jo’s innocence, Jo herself was not so sure of her guest. Deception had never been a part of Jo’s make up, and, as such, she was easy to read, especially to someone who had a knack for that sort of thing. Worrals was not so open, and Jo, though already famed for her ability to "get under someone’s skin," felt that she didn’t really know the younger girl. Ever so often, glimpses of personality showed through, but all that did was further substantiate Jo’s belief that Joan Worralson was hiding something.
The following morning, relations were as strained as before, for although Worrals was ready to admit that her mission at Plas Gwyn was by way of being a wild goose chase, Jo was still on edge. Worrals noticed this and wondered, especially in the way that her hostess dashed to the phone each time it rang, and seemed disappointed when it turned out to be Miss Annersley, or an old friend, or any number of other people. After lunch, Jo disappeared into a curtained alcove, and Worrals entertained herself with the children. She had never had much to do with babies and small children, excepting her own experience as one, and had found to her surprise that she rather enjoyed it.
The relative calm of the afternoon was broken by the sharp "pring-pring!" of the telephone, and once again Jo jumped up, and rushed out of the room, carelessly pulling the curtain across the alcove behind her. Worrals could hear the murmured sound of conversation, and, keeping an ear out for its cessation, she poked her head into the alcove. In it was an upright wooden chair and a largish desk, liberally bestrewn with papers. In the centre was an exercise book, open to a grid of letters. A paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice lay open beside it, with several words underlined. On a separate sheet of paper, was the beginning of a message written out: "German soldiers will be present in the town. Coordinates for landing site…"
Worrals gazed in disbelief at the papers before her. Was it possible? Had she been completely wrong? This was a coded message, there could be no doubt about it. Where was the original message? Was that what Hilda Annersley had brought over? She cast her mind back to the night of the air raid. There had been some very close calls; planes had been flying almost over the house, but a little to the east… Worrals gasped. The planes had flown over the school! One of them had dropped this message!
So caught up in this discovery was she that Worrals failed to hear Jo re-enter the room. She jumped in surprise as a firm hand pulled her out of the alcove and swished the curtain back in place. She turned to face Jo, but it was not a Jo she recognised. Jo stood there arms akimbo, her usually pale cheeks flushed, her lips set in a grim line, and a martial light in her dark eyes.
"What do you think you are doing?" she bit out icily.
"I-" started Worrals, but Jo held up a hand.
"I don’t wish to hear it. Someone is on his way to deal with you. I suggest you sit down" – and she nodded to a chair – "and keep quiet." Worrals made a move towards her, but was stopped short when she saw what Jo Maynard had been holding behind her: a nasty-looking black pistol. She was holding it rather inexpertly, it was true, but that only increased the likelihood of its going off. Worrals decided that discretion, in this case, was the wisest part of valour, and sat down. Jo remained standing, the gun trained on her, and called out to Anna. A moment later, the maid entered, and exclaimed in horror at the sight which greeted her. Jo gave forth a stream of German which, to her annoyance, Worrals found almost impossible to understand. Her own German was excellent, and had been great use to her, but this was very Low, and almost incomprehensible. She caught a reference to "spy" and "doctor", as well as "a man is coming", but that was all.
Anna bustled out of the room, and a moment later Worrals could hear her calling to the children. She glanced out of the window and sure enough there was a small procession consisting of Anna, carrying Lucy, and the Maynard triplets walking behind her. Worrals half-rose out of the chair in alarm.
"She’ll be all right," said Jo, her stern expression easing ever so slightly. "Anna will look after her. Is she really your sister’s child?" she continued conversationally. Worrals pursed her lips and refused to answer. Jo shrugged. "Well, it’s nothing to do with me, really. Ah, here we are!" There was something like relief in her voice, and Worrals again turned in her seat to see out of the window. There were two men coming up the path. Both were about forty to look at, and blond, though one man was considerably taller and stockier than the other.
The door bell rang, and Worrals thought that her chance might come when Jo answered it, but her luck was out, as the other woman stood firm, and after a moment footsteps could be heard in the hallway.
"Jo? Jo, are you here?" There came the muted sounds of conversation, and of a door swinging, then the drawing room door opened, and the two men entered. The taller of the two stopped, staring aghast at the gun in Jo’s hand. "Josephine Mary Maynard! What the devil are you doing with that thing?" He stalked over and took it from her, carefully checking the safety.
"It’s Jack’s," answered Jo, with a sigh of relief. "I thought I’d better get it, just in case. And it’s a good thing I did!" she added indignantly, as she caught sight of his expression. "She was going to make a run for it!" She gestured widely at Worrals at this, who had stood up as well, chin up, ready to deal with whatever came her way. As it was, there was merely a stunned silence.
"A run for it?" queried the other man, who for some reason seemed vaguely familiar to Worrals. "Why?"
"Because she’s a spy, of course!" Jo said, exasperated. "Who are you, by the way?"
The taller man stepped forward hurriedly, a smile barely twitching. "Jo, this is Major Bigglesworth of the RAF. He’s old pal of mine from school; I called him after you told me your…problem. Biggles, my sister-in-law, Mrs Maynard."
"Biggles!" The exclamation was loud and disbelieving, and the three of them turned to face Worrals.
"Yes," replied that gentleman easily. "You’re Worrals, I take it? Raymond’s told me all about you." He shook hands with her and she stared at him.
"What on earth is going on?" demanded Jo. "Who is Raymond? Who is she?"
"Raymond is Air Commodore Raymond," explained Biggles. "This is Joan Worralson of the WAAF. I must say, I’m not entirely sure why she’s here, but she’s certainly not a spy!"
"Oh." Jo’s expression was almost downcast. "I though for sure she was- I suppose that’s why she asked so many questions but- Look here, Joan, why are you here?"
Worrals didn’t answer. Instead she crossed to the alcove and, after disappearing for a moment behind the curtain, she reappeared clutching a pile of papers which she thrust at Biggles. He examined them for a moment, then showed them silently to the man Worrals deduced to be Dr Russell. He looked at them, then the twitch of a smile became a fully-fledged grin.
"Well, well, Jo! I never knew you had such an interest in cryptography!" Jo stared at him imperiously.
"What?" Still grinning, Dr Russell flashed the papers at her. She gazed at them blankly for a moment, then she too smiled, much to Worrals’ growing unease.
"Ohhh. I see." She was silent for a moment, then a golden giggle erupted. "So we both thought- Oh, how simply priceless!" She giggled again, and was about to give way to full-blown laughter, when Worrals asked angrily,
"What on earth is so funny? You’re a spy, Mrs Maynard, a dirty, rotten- What is there to laugh about?" she asked furiously, as Jo once again descended into giggles. "You’re a traitor, a-"
"I am no such thing!" Jo replied indignantly, giggles forgotten. "How dare you say that?"
"Look here, Russell, perhaps some explanations would be in order," suggested Biggles in an undertone. "You have to admit, those papers are pretty worrying."
"And ask her about the message the German pilot dropped at the school!" shot out Worrals. Jo looked at her in surprise.
"How did you know about that," she asked curiously.
"What! Do you mean- Mrs Maynard, I really think you should explain all this," and Biggles shook the papers at her. Jo shrugged.
"I’m an author, Major, in case you didn’t know. I write children’s books. At the moment, I’m writing a book called Nancy Meets a Nazi. It’s sort of what happened to us in Austria, but anyway, I was putting a code into it. That’s all. As for that message, well-" she broke off, uncomfortable. Dr Russell took over the story.
"It was from a German pilot, all right. No, I won’t give you his name; not now, anyway. His sisters were at the school in Austria. He’s been forced into the Luftwaffe, poor chap, and is longing to be free of it. The message was from him, saying that they had not given up hope."
"They were lovely girls," said Jo softly. "This war is a terrible thing." They were silent, all four of them all too familiar with the horrors of war.
"I’d almost decided you weren’t a spy," admitted Worrals after a moment. "But then I saw the papers on the desk and, well… I’m sorry."
"Oh, you were just doing your job," dismissed Jo, sitting down in a heap on the sofa.
"Yes, and speaking of jobs," added Dr Russell, "just what were you doing here, Miss Worralson?" Worrals flushed slightly. It was rather embarrassing to admit that you had been sent to spy on an Englishwoman in her own home.
"Well- that is- Colonel Black had said…" She was interrupted by an unladylike snort from Jo.
"That- that ape!"
"Jo!" said Dr Russell, in a warning voice.
"Well, he is, Jem! You know it as well as I do! I suppose he said I was awful and suspicious and all sorts of other things."
"Pretty much," agreed Worrals cheerfully. "You must have been awfully rude to him."
"Oh yes," replied Jo, smiling reminiscently. "Anyway, now we have all that sorted, I’ll ring Hilda and get her to send Anna and the girls over, and we can have tea."
"Amen to that!" said Worrals. "I’m starving!"