The Midnight That Didn't Come Off

First published in 1948 in The Second Chalet Book for Girls, pages 150-154.

"I think it would be awful fun," said Betsy. "And seeing that Moira's got her parcel in without Matey finding out, it does seem a waste if we don't do something about it, doesn't it?"

"It's funny," said Mary Brown thoughtfully, "but though we have all sorts of things and larks here, no one ever seems to have thought of a 'midnight,' though they do have them in lots of the books."

"No - do they?" asked Blossom Willoughby with her most celestial expression as she spoke. And that, as anyone of the Chalet School Staff could have told you, was a bad sign.

"And it's so wizard all of us being in the same dormy," put in Moira Redmond, the lucky possessor of the parcel which had given rise to this conversation.

"You don't s'pose you're havin any 'midnight' in the dormy, do you?" Vetsy asked in horrified tones. "And Matey nearly next door!"

"Of course don't, idiot! But it means we don't have to fuss about people getting out of the other dormies. Where d'you want it, anyhow? Tell me that!"

Betsy drew her brows with a frown. "It's a bit hard to think of a safe place, isn't it? I mean Matey is so terribly on the spot. And there are the Prees - oh, I know! We'll have it in Lavender's bathroom!"

"The very place!" agreed the other three enthusiastically.

"It's not to far from the dormy," said Blossom. "And if Matey catches any of us we can always say we want a drink of water. I dare say we shall, too, so it won't be a lie."

"Matey will jolly well want to know why four of us want a drink of water all at once!" Mary, the sanest of them, pointed out.

"No, she won't," Blossom returned calmly. "'Cos why? 'Cos we aren't all going together. We'll have to go there one by one, of course."

The others concurred in this. Mary might possess most of the sanity of their chummery, but when it came to using their wits, it was Blossom who scored. That young woman combied an angelic little face with a positive gift for wriggling out of holes, which had served them well on more than one occasion. If she said they must go separately to what the enture school called 'Lavender's bathroom,' because Lavender Leigh had once had an exciting accident with the bathwater there, then they would do it, no matter how much Betsy and Moira, both gifted with vivid imaginations, disliked the idea of stealing down the shadowy corridor at dead of night all alone.

"It's a pity Sybil's in San with that cold," said Betsy. "She's have loved to be in this."

"I know she would. But she won't be out till she's finished streaming," pointed out Mary. "That won't be this week. I heard Matey tell Daisy Venables that it looked like 'flu to her."

"Poor old Sybs! I s'ppose the cakes wouldn't keep a bit, Moira?" Betsy turned to Irish Moira, who shook her head.

"I'm sure they won't. They were late getting here. Besides," she added. "I've had to put them in my locker, and though Teddy went through the lockers yesterday, you never know when she's going to pounce again."

This was so true that the rest said no more, but turned to the question of how the parcel was to be got to the bathroom without anyone finding out. It wasfinally decided that each must be responsible for one large cake and as many small ones as she could cram into her blazer pockers, and take her share up some time durin the day. There was a cupboard in the bathroom where they could hide them. The 'midnight' was planned to take place quite literally at midnight that very night, and each was to bring a glass with her. Moira's people had been quite lavish in the way of cakes, but they had not sent anything to drink, their idea being that Moira would take them to the tea-table. But the wicked four had met old Even Evans, 'Posty,' when no one in authority was anywhere about, and he had given them the parcel to carry up to school to save his rheumaticky old legs the long walk up the avenue. Hence their sinful plans!

By dint of watching and biding their time, they managed to have all the cakes hidden by half-past four that aftertoon.

"Isn't it easy?" chucked Betsy when the last gingerbread bun had been safely stowed away. "I wonder why no one ever thought of it before us!"

As Sybil Russell, th last member of their party, was in bed in San, there was no one to tell them that years ago, when the school had been in Tirol, Joyce Linton, younger sister of Miss Linton, who was one of their own mistresses, had organised a 'midnight' - and nearly died of the effects. Sybil, as th daughter of Lady russell to whom the school belonged, and niece of her sister, Joey Maynard, who had been Head Girl at the time, knew the story. But Sybil was wrapped up between the sheets with a hot-water bottle, sneezing and sniffling, and very sorry for herself, so they heard nothing about it - then.

The Prefect on duty on their corridor that night found them very giggly and tiresome, but set it down to natural depravity, and beyond calling them sharply to order, thought no more of it. They managed to get to bed without giving themseves away, and setled down to wait with what patience they might until the rest of the school had come to bed and the place was in silence. It had been arranged that Moira was to go first. Betsy would follow, then Blossom, and last of all Mary. Moira was to wait till she heard th big stable-clock strike twelve.

Unfortunately, the had bargained without the fact that small girls of ten and eleven do not fit it very easy to lie awake for four hours after they have gone to bed. Every single one of the four was fast asleep by half-past nine, and when the stabl clock boomed out the stroked of twelve, no one stirred.

It was nearly two when Betsy roused up, wondered why she had wakened, and then remembered. She burrowed under her pillow for the small wrist watch, which was the pride of her life since her mother had handed it to her on her birthday, and looked at it. It was a very elderly affair, having the hands and figures illuminated. Betsy just bit back a cry when she found out it was ten to two. However, better late than never! She tumbled out of bed, groped for her dressing-gown and bedroom slippers, found them, and put them on.

Perhaps her gropings had been rather more noisy than she thought, for Moira, who slept next to her, awoke, too, and produced the pride of her life, a pencil torch; so between them, they were able to rouse the other two, though Mary nearly caused disaster by sitting up and beginning to demand indignantly what they meant when they shoke her awake. Luckily, Blossom was with them, and she quickly smothered Mary's speech with her bedclothes. By the time they let her sit up again, Mary had come to her sense, and there was no more trouble.

Moira picked up her toothglass, and set off on the lonely prowl. Five minutes later by her watch, Betsy followed her between the dropped durtains of hte little cubicles.

She had almost reached the door when she heard a movement from Moira's cubicle. What on earth could it be? Had Moira come back for something? Betsy cautiously pulled aside the curtains and peeped in. There, standing beside the little bureau, hunting among the things untidy Moira had bundld on to the top, was a man!

The howl that Betsy let out would have wakened most folk. It certainly roused the entire dormitory, as well as 'Matey,' famed for sleeping with one ear open.

Judging by events, it startled the man almost out of his sense. With a smothered exclamation, he grabbed at something laid on Moira's bed which that young person had made tidy before she left the cubicle, cast a hunted look round him, and then, diving under the curtains at the far side - and startling Marjory White, who slept there, almost to the verge of hysterics - he managed to get into the aisle between the cubicles, 'hared up' it, and went out of the open window at the far end and down the near-by beech tree and without one glance behind him.

By this time half the house had been roused, and Moira had taken advantage of the general scrimmage to come flying back to the dormitory, where she mingled with the rest, so that Matron did not know she had been out of the room. Indeed, Matron had her hands full, what with Betsy's howls and Marjory White's screams. It was left to Miss Wilson, the acting Head, to rin up williams at the lodge, and then the police. The man was not caught however.

By half-past three, everyone but Miss Wilson, Matron, Miss Edwards - the 'Teddy' of the junior's chatter - and Miss Linton was back in bed. Betsy and Marjory had been soothed with mugs of hot milk, and most folk were sound asleep once more.

"Can you tell me what the man took, ma'am?" asked the police sergeant who had come full pelt from Armiford, the nearest town, on receipt of Miss Wilson's call.

Miss Wilson shook her head. "I'm afraid we've had no time to think of that yet, Sergeant. The girls were very much excited, and our first care, naturally, was to try o calm them down. Matron - "

But Matron knoew no more than she did, and they had to go round the house to see what was missing.

The burglar had helped himself to a handful of school forks and spoons, and also a silver rose-bowl from Miss Wilson's sitting-room, as well as a few other knick-knacks.

"And what about the young ladies' things?" demanded the sergeant.

"I really don't know," said Miss Wilson. "And I'm sorry, Sergeant, but I'm afraid I can't disturb them now to ask. They've had quite as much excitement as is good for them for one night. I doubt if he would get much. We don't encourage the girls to bring property of much value to school. Indeed," she added, "I simply can't understand his trying to burgle us. Even the forks and spoons are only E.P., and not a good E.P. at that!"

It had to be left at that; but the Sergeant promised to come out next morning and see what, if anything, the girls had lost.

Next morning came the first sequel to the episode. Matron, making her usual rounds, found herself faced by an indignant Moira, who proclaimed loudly that the burglar had stolen her combinations, and she couldn't get dressed. Matron went to her cubicle to investigate, and found that not only her combinations, but her blouse and stockings had also gone. In their place was a bundle which, when opened, proved to contain Miss Wilson's rose-bowl and the other oddments. The burglar had grabbed the wrong bundle in his fright! Thus, alhtough they did not catch him, and never recovered the missing things, all he had got away with was Moira's combinations, blouse and stockings, and half-a-dozen or so each of elctro-plated spoons and forks, which one of the maids owned to having fogotten the previous evenings, and left in the scullery sink.

The second sequel was a much more unpleasant one for the four 'Midnighters,' as Daisy Venables called them. Matron overhauled every cupboard in the place next day to find out what was missing, and came on the cakes. A few pertinent questions soon told her the whole story, and the four had to go to Miss Wilson, who scolded them roundly for breaking rules and for greediness, and wound up by sending them to bed for the rest of the day - a most effective punishment from more points of view than one.

"I'll never try to have a 'midnight' again!" sobbed Betsy later on in the week to her elder sister Julie.

"I should think not!" said Julie. "You got a burglar this time. It might be a murderer next!"

So that was that!