THE year is 1938. The locale the Yorkshire moors, not far from Doncaster.The month is May. And we are looking from the height of one of the peaks of the Pennines at a long. grey-stoned collection of buildings, large and small, surrounded by a high wall. It is in fact St. Olave's College, started in the nineteenth century as an Academy for the Daughters of the Gentry, and now recognised as one of the most exclusive - and certainly most expensive - girls' colleges in the country, pupils coming from all over the world (provided that their parents are wealthy enough) and ranging in age from twelve to eighteen.
Emphasis at St. Olave's, in the last two or three decades, has been very much on the physical development of its pupils. They play hockey, lacrosse, net-ball, they fence, and every day, without fail, all the girls attend the well-equipped gymnasium for strenuous P.T. workouts.
Field sports - running, the javelin and discus, high-jumping and hurdling, relays and sprinting are also included in the curriculum, and when not busy with practising one or more of these strenuous exercises all the pupils are expected to work equally hard in the class room. The College has a fine reputation for both academic and sporting successes.
Of the staff there is little that concerns us - apart from one particular member, about whom we shall hear a great deal. She is a young German woman, some 22 years of age, tall and slim and extremely skilful at all the gymnastic subjects she teaches. She is a fencer of international reputation. She is not only the head of the P.T. staff at the College, but she also -being an excellent bi-linguist - takes some of the senior girls in German. Her name is Ursula Battenburg, and she has been with the College for a year or so.
Ursula is addressed by pupils and staff alike as "Fraulein". This she has insisted upon from her first day.
In many respects Fraulein Ursula is an excellent teacher and a sound instructor. She was, after all, good enough to represent her country in the recent Olympics, gaining a Bronze medal for her performance as a member of the German fencing team, while her academic standing in the field of the two languages she speaks is equally high.
Fraulein Ursula has the ability, as well, to communicate her enthusiasm for the subjects she teaches to her pupils, and she controls her classes well, keeping truly excellent discipline. Perhaps it could be said that sometimes her habit of tieing a malefactor's hands behind her, and standing her in a corner wearing an old-fashioned dunce's cap is going a little too far, but surprisingly enough so far no official protest has been made against this rather Teutonic practise...
Alas, there is one significant field in which, thanks to her membership from her childhood in various Nazi Youth Parties, she is somewhat at fault, though so far only those girls of whom she does not approve, for various reasons, are aware of this. Yes, Fraulein, we f, has an 'instinctive' dislike -one might almost say hatred - of Jews and "schwartzers", the latter being the label she has been taught to attach to anyone who is non-white and non-Aryan. There are, unfortunately, a small coterie of St. Olave pupils who come under these categories, and they know only too well, after bitter experience, that it is not a good thing to get on the wrong side of Fraulein ! This first tale concerns some of these young ladies, and tells the how and the why of Fraulein Ursula Battenburg's Ride to Banbury Cross.
Let's meet the girl who could be described, I suppose, as the instigator and ring leader of that ride. She is a tall, slightly plumpish dark-skinned raven-haired young lady, whose name is Mary Leighton. She is in her last year at the College, and is just over seventeen. She has done fairly well academically -she passed her Matriculation with flying colours - but unfortunately for her she has fallen out with Fraulein over her inability to get to the top of the climbing ropes in the gym. And once you are in Fraulein's bad books, there you stay - particularly if you are, as is Mary, slightly Middle Eastern in looks...
Mary's particular friend is a jolly, rather scatter-brained girl; whose name is Evelyn. She is the same age as Mary, and is even worse in the playing-fields and the gym than is Mary. She, too, is in Fraulein's bad-books and, again, like Mary, loathes the German girl.. Then there are the Tuppenham twins, Sally and June. A year or so younger than Mary and Evelyn, nevertheless they tend to do things collectively - the four of them, that is. The twins, too, are so very often the subject of Frauleins's bitterly sarcastic tongue, as neither of them seem to possess much of a sense of rhythm, though they have many other talents...
Here we have, then, most of the principal characters in our little drama. On the one hand the German teacher, backed by the power and weight of her age and physique, and the vertical structure of the College administration, and on the other her four perpetual victims - Mary Leighton, Evelyn Armstrong, and the identical Tuppenham twins, Sally and June.
Having met our leading players (or some of them) let us set the scene for the beginning of the action.
We are in the College gymnasium. a large and echoing wooden-floored building with a small stage at one end, the walls lined with rows of bars, on which at the moment one of Fraulein's classes are comporting themselves, trying with all their might to raise - and keep - their legs horizontally outstretched while supporting their weight from their outtretched arms.
According to Fraulein this task is simple - "Any German girl can easily carry out this simple exercise for seven minutes at a time - what is the matter with you English girls ? Are you all afraid of hurting yourselves ? You are -all - so weak and lazy, are you not ? Now ! Up again with the legs -and keep them up, this time. or I will be cross !"
Muttering curses under their breath, Mary and Evelyn - this day the particular targets of Fraulein's scorn - tried again and again to satisfy their hard task-mistress. Eventually they, with the rest of the class, were allowed to climb down from the wall bars. Then, while the all the others prepared themselves for a brisk practice at net-ball,. Fraulein beckoned to the two friends. "I have a little task for you," she said, "Here is the key to the shed where the old equipment is stored. Go there now, and inside you will find a vaulting horse, I am told. You know what a vaulting horse is, I suppose ? Goot ! Bring it to the front of the shed, so that I can inspect it. Off, now - schnell!" Obediently enough the two girls trotted out of the gym and across the quad. (When Fraulein told you to move she expected you to move at the double - always).
As they crossed the Quad they could hear the shrill blasts of Frauleins's whistle fading behind them as she hectored and bullied the rest of the class. Mary opened the double doors of the equipment shed and switched on the lights. It was a long, low building, one half crammed almost to overflowing with long discarded sports gear- broken hurdles, boxes of old hockey sticks, portable goals, benches and trestle tables and the like. There was no sign at first of the horse they had been sent to find, and slowly the two girls moved down the crowded floor looking to left and right. And there - right at the end of the shed - was the equipment for which they were searching.
It was certainly an old piece of apparatus, for the leather covering was scratched, discoloured and torn in several places. Each of the four legs culminated in a swivelling wheel, and these could be folded up so that the ends of the legs rested on the floor when the horse was in use, the wheels being folded down again when the thing had to be moved. The girls quickly found that the swivels were rusted solid and could not be moved,and they realised that they would have to drag the apparatus - and heavy it was, too - all down the length of the shed to the open double doors. This so that Fraulein could examine it with the least inconvenience. As they pulled and pushed at the heavy and cumbersome object they exchanged comments on how much they disliked -hated -the German mistress.
Probably it was at the moment when they had at last reached the end of the shed, and were sitting on the horse waiting for the arrival of Fraulein, that Mary had the first germ of the idea that was to develop into the Banbury Cross scheme.
They were discussing the fact that at the end of the term Fraulein was returning to Germany for good, and bemoaning that there was nothing that could be done to repay her for the humiliations she had heaped upon them -and some of her other 'bête -noirs' - and Mary was idly running her hand down one of the legs of the vaulting horse, when she noticed something.
"Look !" she said. "Each of the legs has two channels cut right through - one near the top, and one near the bottom. Why on earth should this have been done ?"
"I don't know, I'm sure !" replied her friend. "Anyway, does it matter at all ?"
"Of course it matters !" laughed Mary. "To the inquiring mind everything matters ! It can't have been done for decoration - and it doesn't affect the strength of the legs - so why was it done ? I wonder . . " Her voice trailed away as she saw that one of the Tuppenham girls - Sally - was crossing the Quad, and she called to her.
Sally came into the shed, and Mary asked her to do her a favour, and lie along the top of the vaulting horse, face-down, and rest her arms along the front legs.
Wonderingly Sally did as she was told (most people did what Mary told them to do) and Mary grasped her left wrist and held it against the horse-leg at the same time telling Evelyn to hold Sally's other wrist firmly against the leg on which it rested. Evelyn did so, and the three giggling girls found that Sally was firmly pinned down on to the horse. At least her top half was -she could, of course, kick her legs about. Mary and Evelyn released Sally, and she slid on to the ground, dusting herself down.
" Come on, what's it all about, then ?" she asked.
Mary didn't answer - just nodded in the direction of the gym, from which the slim figure of Fraulein could be seen emerging. Sally scuttled off without a word, and the other two waited while Fraulein came up to the apparatus and examined it, her lip curling. "Well, it will have to do, I suppose. Now, my little friends, you will take this monstrosity over to the gym, and make sure that it is clean and polished - oh, and get some oil for those wheels and ensure they work ! I shall want to see it in position and ready for use by to-morrow afternoon, understand ?"
"Yes, Fraulein !" they said, and the German girl turned on her heel and left,
THE two decided that the first thing to do was to get some oil and see if they could fold down the small wheels on the legs so that the heavy apparatus could be trundledacross the Quad to the Gym, And, after
a quick visit to the metal workshop (the College was well-equipped) they returned with oil can, pliers and spanners, and after only a few minutes' work had managed to lower the wheels and lubricate their axles and were able to start trundling the thing along to the Gym.
Mary had been very quiet. Suddenly she said : "Do you know, I do believe we could do something about our lovely German friend before she goes ! I think we could do something really horrible if we wanted to ! And this -" she slapped the leather top of the horse - ":this is what would make it possible !"
Evelyn's eyes widened, and she stopped pushing the horse. "What do you mean ?" she asked. Mary smiled. "Come on !" she said. "Let's get old Dobbin into the gym, and then I'll tell you !"
The two girls manoeuvred the apparatus through the double-doors of the gym, and pushed it into a corner.
"Now !" said Mary. "I'm pretty sure that these slits along the legs of the horse were put there for a purpose - and a very nasty purpose, too ! I think they are there so that a victim can be strapped down onto the horse by the ankles and wrists - and by the arms and legs, too, if it coms to that - so that they can be punished by flogging. It's old enough - I bet it came from the big school for boys that used to be in the next valley - it's just the kind of thing they would have ! You see, the slits are so straps can be put through them, and then the arms and legs can't be slid up or down, so that the victim is held quite,quite still. I expect they would have put a wide strap over the waist, too, just to make sure. I certainly would !"
"What's all this got to do with Fraulein /" asked her friend, mouth agape.
"I'll tell you," said Mary. "I think it would be rather lovely if, when the ceremonies are over at Speech day at the end of this term, everybody -teachers and us and parents - saw lovely, clever, witty, accomplished Fraulein riding on this horse, that's what I think !" and she brought her hand down hard on the back of the apparatus.
Evelyn was still puzzled. "But, Mary,": she said, "how would you get Fraulein to agree to sit on this - surely she wouldn't want to - and
certainly not if we asked her - she hates us !"
"Sometimes I wonder about you !" said Mary. "I think your father has wasted his money sending you here. I sound just like Fraulein, don't I ? Of course she wouldn't agree - we would have to make her. And we could do it !"
"We could ?" said Evelyn. "Just you and I - just the two of us ?"
"No, stupid ! There would have to be at least four of us -preferably five. Look, I'll work it all out, and we'll have a meeting very soon. I'll book one of the debating rooms for - oh, what shall we call it - I know, for The Banbury Circle. That will do very well. Now, shut up, and don't bother me - I want to think !"
By half past four the next day - the time for which Mary had reserved the Debating Room - she had completed her preliminary arrangements. Tactful questioning had confirmed her opinion that the Tuppenhams - June and Sally -would most certainly take part in any attempt to 'do something horrible' to the much-hated Fraulein, and for a fifth member Mary had approached the Syrian maiden Ayesha Fathel who, like her, had fallen foul many times to Fraulein's prejudice against anybody who was not plainly Aryan in appearance.
So for the first time the five girls met together, four of them with very little idea as to why they had been summoned to this room, where normally the School debating teams planned their strategies. The room was furnished with desks and chairs, and Mary took her place beneath the large blackboard over the dais at thetop of the room. took a deep breath, and began.
"We've got a lot in common", she began." We're all in our last year at this place, we're all going home for this week-end, and we all - shall I say -"dislike" lovely Fraulein?."
Her audience nodded, and Mary went on. "Well, I've thought of a way in which we can pay back that German bitch - with interest. I know it'll work, but only if we all pull together and trust each other - and above all, that we keep the whole thing a deadly secret. So before I go on any further, I'm going to ask you all to swear a solemn sisterhood sacred oath that you will never breathe a word of what I'm going to say to anybody
outside this room - ever,. If you agree, I want us all to take a blood-oath - we prick a drop of blood from our thumb - it doesn't hurt - and then mix it all together. Do you agree ?"
The girls did agree, and solemnly enough they came up to Mary, one by one, who pricked their thumbs with a sterilised needle, and drew a little drop of blood, which she smeared onto a glass slide. Then she added her own contribution, and showed her audience the slide.
"Say after me - all of us - We do solemnly swear, by our mixed blood, never to divulge by word of mouth or by writing anything of what we hear and see and do in connection with "- Mary paused for a couple of seconds, nd then continued with a rush -"with - Banbury Cross !"
Obediently all the girls followed suit, and Mary tucked the slide away in a little box. She turned to the blackboard behind her, and wrote in chalk :
OPERATION BANBURY CROSS
"Now I'll tell you what we're going to do", she contined.."As we all know, Fraulein goes for a three-mile run every single evening -whatever the weather. She prides herself on this, and she's bored us all rigid with going on and on about how all German girls are so healthy and so on. Well, on the evening before Speech Day we're going to grab her as she comes back to College for a bath before she returns to her room - she always does that, as you know. We grab her, and tie her up and gag her, and put her in a safe place, Then later on that night we'll take her into the Gym, teach her a lesson or two, and leave her to be found by everybody at the Speech Day Ceremony. What do you think ?"
Immediately there came a flood of questions. "Could we get away with it ?" "What happens if we're found out ?" "How could we teach her a lesson ?" "She'll scream the place down !" "Why Banbury Cross ?" and etcetera.
Mary waved them down. "One at a time !" she said. "I told you I've worked it all out. We won't be found out because she won't be able to recognise us. She'll be blindfolded most of the time, and in any case we'll all wear the same outfits and our faces will be completely hidden and we won't say a word to each other - it'll all be done by signals. And I'm pretty
sure that dear Fraulein will be too busy to worry very much about who's doing what to her !"
"But why do we call it 'Banbury Cross' ?" queried one of the twins.
A smile crossed Mary's face, and she quoted :
"As I was going to Banbury Cross, I saw a fine lady on a white horse, With rings on her fingers, And bells on her toes, She shall have music wherever she goes !"
That's why," Mary explained. "Beautiful, charming, efficient Fraulein will be riding on a horse. Not a white one, but it will bear her weight to Banbury Cross - and won't she be glad when she comes to the end of her journey ! Now," she said, and waved the girls to her, "bring your note-books here, and we'll list what we need and who can supply what !"
It took just about half-an-hour for Mary to outline the needed inventory, and for the members of the conspiracy to decide who was to obtain specific pieces of equipment. What was needed was this :
Ratchet Handcuffs complete with key Strap-and-ball gag : Sponge and bandage gag Crepe bandaging in rolls two inches wide.Ten rolls of this would be required - each member would bring two rolls. One long (five feet at least )- two-inch wide leather strap, with buckle-holes added along its length. This for elbows and arms. Two leather belts, at least three feet in length, any width, with buckle holes added. These for legs above the knees and the ankles j ustin case. One set of ankle fetters. (Two short ankle straps, two inches wide, with extra buckle holes, joined by an eighteen inch thin chain.) Four two foot long "horse-leg" straps, half-an-inch in width, with extra buckle-holes. Six small padlocks, to be unlocked by the same key. One five-foot long two-inch wide waist strap, extra buckle holes.
One conical black velvet head-bag, with draw-string. One large dog-collar, with handling chain. One leather punch - new. One nose ring. Five full-face and head cloth masks. Two carrying bags. One thin and flexible cane. One cat o'nine tails. Set of large and small bells
WHEN the party had digested the list, Mary outlined the way in which the task of "taking" Fraulein would be attempted. Ayesha asked her how she knew so much about it, and Mary giggled, and replied :
"Listen, I've got two big brothers, and I seem to have spent most of my life in the hols being tied up and tortured and executed. Whenever they played Cowboys and Indians I was always the Indian chief who was captured and burnt at the stake and all that. We've got a lot of equipment at home, and I know exactly where it all is. So you can leave the handcuffs, and the fetters, and the gags to me. Oh, and the cat o' nine tails !"
"You've forgotten the rope", one of the others said.
Mary laughed. "Oh, no I haven't !" she said. "There isn't going to be any rope. Rope gets tangled so easily, and takes some time to knot, and anyway knots can always be undone. You know, it's not such an easy thing to tie somebody up, even if they co-operate. Here, try this !" she held up a neatly-wrapped thin clothes line. "Now," she continued. "Any of you can try and tie me up so that I can't escape - I won't struggle. and fight you the way Fraulein will ! Come on, have a go ! Anyway you like - to a chair, or a desk, or standing up or lying down - go on. You have a try at it, Ayesha !"
And that is just what Ayesha did, watched with goggling fascination by the rest of the party. When she had finished Mary certainly looked securely tied-up. Ayesha had crossed her wrists in front of her, and lashed them together, and then she had used the rest of the long rope to mummy-wrap Mary from her shoulders to her hips, pulling the
rope quite tight, and knotting it with an elaborate series of double hitches at Mary's waist.
Mary freed herself in just over twenty-five seconds, stepping out of the loosened coils on the floor round her ankles with a triumphant smile.
"You see, it's not so easy, is it ? I'll show you where you went wrong in a moment, Ayesha. Meanwhile - " she paused, and cut a two-foot length of rope from the end of the clothes-line. "Meanwhile, with the help of either of you -" she pointed to the twins - "I'll show you how you can control somebody perfectly well with just this length of rope !"
One twin pushed the other, and eventually June came forward to offer her services. Mary asked her to sit on the desk, and draw her legs up to her bottom by folding her knees, which June did. Then Mary took her right arm., and passed it between her legs and under the right knee, and then did the same with her left arm through and under the left knee. With some difficulty the girl obeyed Mary's request that she should clasp her hands and intertwine the fingers, and as soon as she had done this Mary whipped the cord round June's slim wrists, and tied them together. A little push on one shoulder and the completely helpless girl rolled over to her side, Mary catching her head as she came down.
"There you are !" said Mary. "I couldn't get out of that - nor could anybody. Not very comfortable, is it, June ?" she asked, ruffling her victim's hair.
"No, it isn't !" replied the girl. "Please undo me now - these cords are hurting !"
"I'm afraid you'll have to be very brave for a little while !" said Mary. "In any case, they don't hurt as much as all that ! You just keep quiet, or we'll have to gag you !"
Mary clapped her hands to gain the attention of the gathering.
"Now !" she said. "You've just had two demonstrations of how easy it is to tie a person up if they don't make any resistance at all. But when we take Fraulein she's going to resist and fight and kick and scream like mad. So you'll have to learn how to cope with that. Now, Ayesha. I'll tell you where you went wrong. In the first place you felt you had to use all the rope - but as you see - more-or-less complete control can be achieved with only a very little rope. Like this wriggler here !"
She leaned over the indignant June again, and this time tickled her very gently in the ribs, and then tightly held her hand over her mouth to silence her expostulations. Mary then began to release the knot on the rope binding June's wrists together as she spoke, and the girl thankfully withdrew her arms and stretched her legs.
Mary went on :"Ayesha, you didn't notice that I kept my arms away from my body as much as I could while you were putting the rope round me. When you'd finished all I had to do was to relax, and the ropes just fell off, as you saw. And of course you were afraid of hurting me, so you deliberately didn't tighten the ropes as much as you should have done.
"So we won't use ropes at all on Fraulein. Now, this is what is going to happen. Listen very carefully, because it's important, and we shall have to practise quite a bit to get it all to go off smoothly. Save any questions until I've finished, eh ?
"Now, we know that Fraulein will come running up the slope that leads to the main archway. She'll have done her three miles, so she won't be at the top of her form. It'll be quite dark. and it's very unlikely there'll be anybody about. All of us will be waiting in the sides of the arch, and we'll grab her as she comes through the entrance.Two of us will go for her arms, cuff her wrists behind her and strap her upper arms to her body. At the same time those two will force her down to her knees - I'll show you how to do this -and the fourth of us will very quickly fetter her ankles. By this time I will have gagged her- this had better be left to me - and put a hood over her head. Then we'll buckle her dog-collar on, and lead her off to the side-door to the Gym. Once in we'll take her off to the little room next to the platform where the hand-equipment is kept, and make a good job of hog-tying her. And we'll leave her there until very early in the morning, when we'll come for her -put her on the horse - and then we'll disciplne her in various ways.
"And I've thought out a way in which dear Fraulien can display herself in all her glory to everybody: staff, parents and us, when the Speeches are over and everybody leaves the Hall for their elevenses. What a lovely surprise for everyone!"
With a deprecatory gesture Mary acknowledged the spontaneous applause from her audience. Then followed half-an-hour's keen discussion as to the kind of punishments that would be meted out to the German girl, with what and by whom, and eventually agreement was reached, followed by the allocation of duties and responsibilities to each member of the team.
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