Authors: Eve Bunting
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003
Text copyright Â© 1995 by Eve Bunting
All rights reserved.
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Clarion Books is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
We're Gonna Hang Out the Wash On the Siegfried Line
Words and music by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr
Copyright Â© 1939 by Skidmore Music Co. Inc.
International Copyright Secured All rights reserved
Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Bunting, Eve, 1928â
Spying on Miss MÃ¼ller / by Eve Bunting,
Summary: At Alveara boarding school in Belfast at the start of World War II, thirteen-year-old Jessie must deal with her suspicions about a teacher whose father was German and with her worries about her own father's drinking problem.
1. World War, 1939â1945âNorthern IrelandâBelfastâJuvenile fiction. [1. World War, 1939â1945âNorthern IrelandâBelfastâFiction. 2. Boarding schoolsâFiction. 3. SchoolsâFiction. 4. Fathers and daughtersâFiction. 5. IrelandâFiction.]
For my friends, Janet and Jim, who encouraged me, and for my “Alveara” friends.
They know who they are.
AN YOU REMEMBER
how much we used to like Miss MÃ¼ller?” Maureen asked the rest of us.
“Well, we don't like her anymore,” Ada said.
The four of usâMaureen, Ada, Lizzie Mag, and Iâwere sprawled on my bed just before lights-out. We were wearing our blue regulation pajamas and dressing gowns and I had my blue quilt wrapped around me. The dorm was always freezing.
look like Vivien Leigh, though,” I said. We'd seen
Gone With the Wind
at the Imperial Cinema last Saturday, and we were boggled by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara.
“Miss MÃ¼ller's sweeter looking,” Lizzie Mag said.
“Don't say sweet about a German,” Ada told her sharply. “Germans are poison.”
Miss MÃ¼ller taught German and she'd been everybody's favorite teacher until Britain went to war with Germany. Northern Ireland is part of Britain, so it was our war, too. Most of the boarders at the Alveara school had fathers, brothers, uncles serving in the army or the navy or the Royal Air Force. My favorite cousin, Bryan, was in the army fighting Germans somewhere in France. Bryan was like a brother to me, since I didn't have a brother, or a sister either. Now he was in danger, and here we were with Miss MÃ¼ller, a half German, the dorm mistress in our dormitory.
“We're contaminated,” Ada Sinclair said.
Secretly I didn't think we were contaminated. I still liked Miss MÃ¼ller. But I was careful not to defend her too much. It was awful to be called Jessie the German lover, and that's what Mean Jean Ross had called me at break last Friday. In front of two of the boy boarders, too.
I was trying not to defend Miss MÃ¼ller now.
“She could be a spy for all we know,” Maureen Campbell said.
“Like Mata Hari,” Ada added. Ada read, so she knew a lot.
Maureen dropped her knitting onto the bed between her bent knees. She'd been knitting a balaclava helmet for months, the kind that comes right over one's face and leaves only slits for eyes. When it was finished she'd send it to one of the hoys at the front along with a very flattering photograph of herself that she'd taken in the booth at Woolworth's, a front view and two profiles for a shilling. Maureen looked seventeen instead of thirteen. The rest of us just looked thirteen.
Maureen had suggested she send the helmet and the photograph to my cousin Bryan.
“He might like to be my pen pal,” she'd said.
“Forget it, Mo,” I told her. “Keep your mitts off him.” Maureen was such a shark where boys were concerned. She picked up her knitting again now and frowned at it.
I'd been home for the weekend and had brought back a bar of Cadbury's fruit-and-nut chocolate. We finished off the last four squares.
“But what kind of spying could Miss MÃ¼ller do at Alveara?” Lizzie Mag licked chocolate off her fingers and went back to the subject of our conversation.
“She'd be spying from here, using us as camouflage. Reporting back to Hitler,” Maureen said.
“On one of those Morse code radios, you mean?” Lizzie Mag asked.
“Dit-da-dit, dit-da-dit, attention all ships at sea.” Ada crossed her eyes.
“And where would she keep this dit-da-dit machine?” I asked as sarcastically as I could.
“Somewhere in her room,” Ada said promptly.
“We could look,” Maureen suggested.
We stared at one another.
“Oh, we'd be in terrible trouble if we got caught,” Lizzie Mag said. “Being in a teacher's room without permission. Poking through her things.”
Maureen raised her eyebrows. They used to be thick and black, but she shaved them off and now used a soft 2B pencil to draw in arched lines. “The Arcs de Triomphe” Ada called them, after the famous arch in Paris. “She's not a teacher anymore,” Maureen said. “She's a German.”
“If the Secret Service or the police were suspicious of Miss MÃ¼ller, they'd have sent her away to one of those camps in England,” I said.
“They only take men,” Maureen said authoritatively. “And no one would ever think Miss MÃ¼ller was a man.”
We shook our heads, all of us visualizing Miss MÃ¼ller's cute, slim figure with the movie-star breasts. Hers were real, too; we could tell by the way they wobbled. They weren't just handkerchiefs stuffed into a bra. Maureen did that all the time and it was so obvious.
“Oh, cheese,” Maureen groaned. “Here comes the FrÃ¤ulein and I just dropped a stitch.”
“Time for bed check,” Miss MÃ¼ller called in her soft voice with the little accent that we used to think so attractive. For a while we'd even practiced talking with accents ourselves.
We'd loved her name, too. Daphne.
“Like a beautiful daffodil,” Lizzie Mag had said.
“Daphne was a nymph,” Ada told her. “Apollo was in love with her. She was changed into a laurel tree.”
“I'd rather be a daffodil,” Maureen had said.
We used to think we were lucky having Miss MÃ¼ller be the teacher in our dorm. Not anymore.
“Lights out in five minutes,” Miss MÃ¼ller said. “Please make sure you have all your things ready in case of an air raid.”
“Let's check her room tonight, right after lights-out,” Ada whispered. “Soon as she leaves to go to the teachers' lounge.”
“I'm not going to,” I said. “It's too sneaky.”
“You're her little pet, that's why you're not going.” Maureen pushed her face close to mine. I could smell the chocolate on her breath. I was wishing I hadn't shared. “You don't have to come,” she said. “The rest of us will carry out the inspection.” She gathered her knitting and left. Over her shoulder she said, “It's our duty. It's for the war effort.”
Lizzie Mag, whose cubicle is next to mine, didn't leave with the other two. Her face shone with cold cream and her blond hair was pinned up in little tight curls. I never wore cold cream at night because it encourages pimples, and mine didn't need encouraging. I never put my frizzy red hair in pin curls either. What would have been the use?
“Do you think Ada and Maureen will really do it?” Lizzie Mag whispered.
I rolled my eyes. “Probably,” I said. “They're daft enough for anything.”
“Thanks for sharing the chocolate,” Lizzie Mag said.
“I got it with my daddy's sweetie coupons. He saved them for me. They were the last ones in his ration book.” Suddenly I saw him giving them to me. His smile, the love in his eyes. My throat tightened.
“He's so nice, Jessie. And so handsome, too,” Lizzie Mag said. “Just like a film star. Is he any better?”
“A bit.” I bent and took off my slippers so I wouldn't have to look at her. I dreaded being asked about my father.
Lizzie Mag gave me a quick hug. “Night, Jess.”
As she left my cubicle, she called “Good night” to everyone in Snow White.
Snow White was the name of our dorm. We hated it that all the dorms had fairy-tale names. It was so babyish for fourth formers.
Already I could hear Miss MÃ¼ller opening the door of the first cubie, which was Maureen's. “Good night, dear. How does the knitting progress?”
“Very well, thank you, Miss MÃ¼ller.”
You'd think butter wouldn't melt in Maureen's mouth, and here she was planning to search Miss MÃ¼ller's room that very night.
“Good night, Ada. What are you reading?”
All Quiet on the Western Front,
Miss MÃ¼ller. It's about the First World War, when we fought the Germans the last time.”
I held my breath. That Ada. She didn't care what she said.
“Yes. I have read the novel myself,” Miss MÃ¼ller said. “We must discuss it when you've finished.”
She opened Lizzie Mag's door. “Good night, Elizabeth Margaret.”
Lizzie Mag was named after the two English princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. But only the teachers ever called her that. Lizzie Mag's parents lived in India. Her father was a captain there in the regular British army. Before the war she used to spend her summer holidays with them in their bungalow in the hills. She'd come back with stories of tigers and tiger hunts, of her ayah who'd been her nurse for years and years, of mosquitoes and heat and flies, and all the romantic faraway things we could never imagine in dull, rainy Belfast. But since the war there'd been no traveling. Lizzie Mag was stuck here, even on holidays.
Miss MÃ¼ller was in my doorway now. She looked around my room to check that I'd obeyed all the airraid regulations. My gas mask hung on the knob of my iron bed. My heavy coat and shoes were on my chair, ready to take with me. My flashlight with its new, strong batteries was on my dresser.
“Is your emergency suitcase prepared also?” Miss MÃ¼ller asked.
“How was your father when you saw him, Jessie?”
“Very well, thank you,” I said stiffly.
“Sleep tight, dear.”
My door closed. Miss MÃ¼ller always asked about my father. I'd told everyone he had a mysterious illness because they knew how much I worried after holidays and when I got letters from home. Once I'd been crying after lights-out, softly, secretly, and Miss MÃ¼ller came and sat on the floor by my bed and stroked my hair and whispered to me not to cry. That everything would be all right. She was wearing her black silk dressing gown and she'd smelled of apricots. I thought she must use apricot soap.
Her own father was dead, Miss MÃ¼ller told me. Fathers were so precious and she missed hers so much. She told me she'd been born in Berlin, but her mother was Irish. After her father died, they thought they should come back here, for her mother had once been a boarder at Alveara herself, years and years ago. Miss MÃ¼ller's voice went on, soft and comforting. I knew she was just talking to keep me company. Just staying there being my friend.
“I am so fortunate to work here,” she'd whispered. “What would my mother and I have done otherwise? This way I am able to live here and pay the rent for her little apartment. Not too many schools would hire someone as a teacher who's half Germanânot with the war on.”
I think it was because of that talk that I always stuck up for Miss MÃ¼ller.
The overhead lights clicked off. “Good night, girls,”
Miss MÃ¼ller called. Her footsteps went toward her room, not toward the outside corridor and teachers' lounge. She was going to bed already.