Nancy and Kathie's first term together - can their relationship survive under the pressures of school life?
Ste Therese's House Characters:
Biddy O'Ryan, Kathie Ferrars, Nancy Wilmot, Nell Wilson
Angst, Friendship, Romance
Throwing Caution into the Blaze
10 Jun 2011 Updated:
14 Jun 2011
This follows on from Throwing Caution into the Blaze, and was originally posted in the same thread as that drabble on the CBB.
1. Sneaking cuddles by jayj
2. Hangover by jayj
3. Some Geography, and a moonlit stroll by jayj
4. An evening in? by jayj
5. An argument by jayj
6. Things get worse by jayj
7. Rumours spread by jayj
8. Things get even worse by jayj
9. In recovery by jayj
10. Momentous words by jayj
11. Feeling better by jayj
12. Family by jayj
13. The grand adventure by jayj
"Kath. Kathie love. You need to wake up," Nancy spoke softly, smiling fondly at the brown head which was resting on her shoulder.
"Am awake," Kathie said sleepily, her eyes closed and her arm cosily tucked through Nancy’s. The pair were sitting in the waiting area of the Gare de Genève.
"Kathie. The others are going to be here soon. You need to wake up a bit. Honestly," Nancy murmured, "Anyone would think you hadn’t just spent the last two days in bed."
Opening her eyes just a little, Kathie playfully reached for Nancy’s hand. "Bed sounds nice. Let’s go back."
"Kath..." Nancy said weakly, then, regaining her focus, "Seriously, the others will be here soon. You need to sit up, open your eyes, that kind of thing."
Kathie shook her head. "Told you. Am awake." She raised her head slightly to look at Nancy, who saw a face that was not sleepy at all.
"Are you just pretending to be sleepy?" Nancy asked suspiciously.
"Pretending? No. Acting? Yes."
"Are you pretending to be sleepy so you can sneak cuddles in public?"
"No, I’m acting sleepy because your shoulder looked cold and lonely and wanted me to keep it warm and loved."
"You can’t tell me you haven’t been enjoying it though."
"Well." They sat in contented silence.
After a moment, Nancy asked, "So you’re not really tired at all?"
Kathie shook her head with a grin.
Nancy frowned. "Shame...if you were tired, you’d’ve had to have had an early night..."
The grin fell from Kathie’s face. She suddenly yawned rather theatrically.
"That’s more like it," Nancy chuckled.
Kathie snuggled back into Nancy’s shoulder. "I’m just trying to get a few more minutes of it being just us, before everyone else appears, and it’ll be us and all our friends, and before we have to go back to school, and it’ll be us and all our friends and all our colleagues and all our students."
"I know. But it’s not like we’re not going to be seeing each other every day, is it? Think of Biddy and Eugen, miles apart and seeing each other only every month or so."
"Yes, but they’re getting married, and then they’re going to have forever together in the same house."
"Hmm." Nancy was quiet for a moment. "But my room is awfully close to yours, you know."
"That I have been consoling myself with, yes."
"And we’ll have weekends we can escape and be together."
"But I’ll miss having you all to myself all the time. This last two weeks has been...splendiferous."
"Splendiferous? Is that a word?"
Kathie nodded. "I have it on good authority from Inter V that it is indeed a word."
"You’d get bored of me if I was all you had to see all day, every day."
"No I wouldn’t. I’d find ways to entertain myself. And you." And Kathie moved her head and whispered in Nancy’s ear, and what she said made Nancy turn rather red.
"Kathleen Ferrars! Whatever am I going to do with you?" Nancy wore a shocked look.
And Kathie gave a very wicked grin and was about to offer some whispered suggestions but before she could make Nancy blush even more a loud shout interrupted her.
"Nancy! Kathie! How good to see you both!" Dragging suitcases, Ruth, Rosalind, and Peggy were suddenly in front of them. Tearing themselves apart, Nancy and Kathie stood up, and greeted their friends warmly.
A few moments later, Biddy and Sharlie appeared from a different direction and as Nancy led them all out of the station towards their hotel, Peggy uttered some words that would, for some among the party, turn out to be rather prophetic.
"Right girls, one last weekend of freedom before we have to be back in school. Let’s make it one to remember!"
Because Nancy and Kathie had been in Geneva for several days already, that evening Nancy was placed in charge of getting the group from their hotel to the restaurant. Unfortunately, not long after leaving the hotel she took a right instead of a left and very quickly became rather lost.
"Well, seeing as I’m not a Geography teacher I’m not altogether sure why I was put in charge of map-reading. I have not been trained in the specialist skills required," Nancy complained.
In response, the Geography teachers objected that, as it was the holidays, they were not on duty and therefore could not in any way be expected to do anything which resembled work. But, Ruth added, despite being a holidaying Geography teacher, Kathie had been in Geneva at least as long as Nancy, and so was a reasonable candidate for the job. And, as Biddy pointed out, Kathie was also the youngest in the group, and it was only right that she showed due respect to her elders and submitted to being bullied into taking over the map-reading.
It took a bit of grumbling, and turning the map first this way and then that, and then some more grumbling before Kathie declared that she probably knew where they were and should be able to get them to their dinner.
Once they’d finally made it to the restaurant, a dinner of warmth and good cheer and wine of a reasonable quality and significant quantity followed. The friends swapped holiday stories; Sharlie had been to Paris; Biddy to stay near Eugen; while Peggy, Ruth and Rosalind had been to North Italy. And Kathie and Nancy, trying not to look too shifty, explained that they had been "quite busy," "sightseeing," "relaxing," "you know, that kind of thing," firstly in Bavaria, and then, for the last few days, in Geneva.
After dinner, the drinking and merriment was relocated to the hotel bar.
An hour or so later, Kathie looked at Nancy with intent and yawned. It was all Nancy could do not to laugh at Kathie’s performance but she nodded her head slightly to show she’d understood. And Kathie’s theatrics did the job. Rosalind noticed Kathie’s apparent tiredness, and suggested she might need to go to bed. Kathie agreed, especially as, she noted with a grin, the others seemed pretty solidly lodged in the bar, and rather likely to remain there for the foreseeable future.
"Oh, if only Miss Annersley could see you all now," were her parting words, as five of her six colleagues set about demolishing another bottle of wine. The sixth colleague, meanwhile, though she took yet another glass of wine when it was offered, was largely preoccupied with making a silent vow to find the next possible opportunity to follow Kathie upstairs.
A short while later Nancy did manage to make her own excuses, having – to her own mild embarrassment – resorted to the same kind of yawning tactics that Kathie had earlier demonstrated.
"It’s not like the old days," Ruth said, sorrowfully. "Then, no-one would have gone to bed this early. Do you think we’re getting old?"
Rosalind hurried to reassure Ruth that age wasn’t the determining factor: simply, it just seemed that Nancy and Kathie were lacking in stamina. And after collectively decrying their colleagues for a few minutes, Biddy doled out some more wine, and merriment resumed as Ruth began to reminisce about previous weekends away and she and the others set about educating Sharlie in the legends of the drunken exploits of the Chalet School mistresses.
It wasn’t too long before it became apparent that Nancy had taken a prominent role in many of the more outrageous stories they were telling, and Peggy suggested that that lady ought to be present to put forward her own account of the events and declare any mitigating circumstances. Like most ideas conceived after multiple bottles of wine have been collectively consumed, this seemed a perfectly reasonable plan, and so it was democratically voted that Peggy be the one to go and rouse Nancy – and while she was there, Kathie too – from their beds.
Peggy lurched to her feet, bounded rather hap-hazardly up the stairs, and made her way down one interminable hotel corridor after another, bouncing off the walls only occasionally until she reached room 214, tried the door, found it unlocked, burst in, and threw on the light.
"We’ve decided now’s no time for sleeping, Nancy, and you need to come back downstairs," Peggy declared, and then gasped "Oh God, I’m sorry" as she realized that the single bed nearest her was empty, and that nearer the window had two people in it – and one of them was Nancy and... she blinked a few times, dazed and drunkenly, as she realized that the other person in the bed, somewhat reluctantly attempting to extricate themselves from the tangle of limbs and bedclothes, was...Kathie?
So absorbed were Kathie and Nancy in each other that by the time they realised what had just happened Peggy had flipped the light back off and flung the door closed with as much vigour as she’d burst it open a minute before. Thrust back into darkness, Nancy reached out for the bedside light, and when she found it, she and Kathie regarded each other with horrified faces.
"Didn’t you lock the door?" Kathie was the first to speak.
"Me? I thought you did."
Kathie shook her head. "You were the last one in..."
Nancy groaned. "I was, wasn’t I? Oh... I’ll have to go and talk to her," she said, but for a minute or two stayed exactly where she was, holding Kathie close to her. Eventually she sighed and reluctantly got up and out of bed. "Though what I’m going to say..."
"The truth...?" Kathie suggested.
They looked at each other for a moment or two.
Then Kathie cracked into a grin. "But, lovely, you might want to put some clothes on first. I think she’s probably seen enough of you naked for one day."
Confused and embarrassed Peggy stood outside of room 214 not entirely sure what to do with herself. Her own room, which she was sharing with Biddy, was just a few doors away down the corridor, and suddenly feeling rather sober, she remembered that somewhere in her suitcase was a bottle of something, and that right now what she needed most was a drink.
Thankful that she had the keys in her pocket and didn’t have to go back downstairs to find them, Peggy let herself into her room, opened her case and turned it upside down. With a muffled thud, the bottle ...of Campari? Whose idea had that been?... landed amongst the pile of clean- and not-so-clean clothes.
She poured a slug into a tea cup, and downed it.
And then another.
And then there was a knock on the door.
Peggy wasn’t very surprised to see that it was Nancy. She let her in.
The two women stood there, looking at each other awkwardly. Peggy spoke first.
"Nancy – what was that all about?"
"I could ask you the same," Nancy replied, rather defensively. "Barging into our room like that?"
"I – um. We thought...we wanted you to come back downstairs...it seemed a good idea....." Peggy went quiet. What had they been thinking? "I think...maybe..." She stopped again. "I have no excuse. I can only blame the drink. But what about you? What are you going to say – 'It’s not what it looks like?'"
Nancy bristled. "It’s pretty much exactly what it looks like. But I wasn’t aware that I needed an excuse for what I – we - get up to in private."
"Yes. Well. I’m sorry for crashing in on you. But if you’re going to start ... well, you know ... you should have at least locked the door."
"I thought Kathie had." Nancy became rather sheepish.
"And she thought you had?"
"Has this been going on long?"
"A few weeks."
"Do you think it’s wise, you two carrying on like this?"
Despite herself, Nancy chuckled. "I don’t think wisdom’s got an awful lot to do with it."
Peggy tried to look sternly at her, and then started laughing too.
"Well." She sat down on her bed, and invited Nancy to sit in the armchair. "Want some?" she proffered the bottle of Campari.
Nancy nodded, and Peggy found her a clean mug.
Nancy drank. "Ew, that is vile."
"Acquired taste, apparently. Holiday souvenir." Peggy said. And then, "Well, that explains one thing – no, two actually."
"Well, firstly, why the pair of you’ve been looking like the cats that’ve got the cream lately."
Nancy shrugged. "And second?" she asked.
"And second, why despite being here for several days, and being – and I quote - ‘quite busy’, the pair of you have absolutely no idea where anything is."
"Nancy, just be careful. The pair of you."
"What are you going to do?"
Before Peggy could answer, there was a knock, and Kathie stuck her head round the door. "Can I come in?"she asked. Peggy nodded.
"Figured it wasn’t fair for Nancy to take the rap all on her own," Kathie said. She sat on the arm of Nancy’s chair, and looking defiantly at Peggy, slipped her arm round Nancy’s shoulders.
Peggy looked at the pair of them for a moment, and then made a decision.
"Kathie, I was just saying I shouldn’t have barged in on you," she said. "...if I’d’ve known.... What you two get up to behind closed doors is absolutely none of my business. I’m not going to say anything...but you might try a bit harder to make sure those doors stay closed in future... "
Nancy and Kathie looked at each other, and smiled sheepishly. Nancy offered Kathie the glass she was holding. Kathie sniffed it, pulled a face and politely declined.
Peggy watched the interaction between the two of them with a slight flush of embarrassment– an embarrassment that was confirmed when she realised that Kathie was wearing clothes that had last been seen on Nancy. But before she could reflect on this, the door to her own room burst open, and in poured Ruth, Rosalind, Biddy and Sharlie. And as the others came in, Peggy noted that Kathie withdrew the arm that had been resting on Nancy’s shoulders, and stiffened slightly.
"Peggy, really, you were meant to be bringing them downstairs with you, not setting up a rival party here," Ruth declared.
"We were... um...just coming," Nancy said quickly, and made to stand up.
"Too late. Given it’s gone midnight, the bar’s closed," Biddy explained.
"But it’s ok, because look what we snaffled before it did," said Sharlie, producing a bottle of wine from behind her back.
To this, was added Peggy’s Campari, a bottle of gin from Biddy, and, accompanied by much general hilarity and inappropriate jokes about sailors, one of Navy rum from Ruth. Raids were made on various rooms to pull together enough glasses and tea cups to drink from.
And Kathie – who, alone amongst her colleagues seemed to be not intent on getting completely obliterated, and thinking that, given what had just happened, at least one of her and Nancy ought to keep some measure of relative sobriety – was enormously thankful that Sharlie hadn’t managed her holiday’s ambition of acquiring a bottle of absinthe from ‘a friend of a friend of a friend’ while she was in Paris.
Nancy blinked groggily. It seemed to be quite light in the room. Her head hurt. Her mouth was dry. Her brain was oddly alert but simultaneously lacking in focus. Her left arm had gone numb where she had been lying on it, and as she rolled over to one side to free it and blood started to recirculate, it felt like a thousand tiny explosions.
Managing to lift her head slightly from the pillow she could see Kathie sitting up in the other bed, reading.
“Mmm... ello,” Nancy said.
“Ah, you’re awake, are you?” Kathie put her book to one side.
“Mmm. Or possibly dead. Not sure.”
Kathie came over and kissed her gently on the forehead. “I don’t think you’re dead, my love,” she said, sitting on the edge of Nancy’s bed.
“Oh.” Nancy gazed up at her. It was a beautiful sight, but unfortunately the world around Kathie was spinning in a rather unpleasant way. She closed her eyes.
“Oh, my love.”
“What happened?” Nancy asked, her eyes still closed. There was a pause, and when she opened her eyes, Kathie was looking at her with mild amusement.
“You got horrendously drunk.”
Nancy thought carefully for a moment. If she tried hard, she could remember bits of the night before but she wasn’t completely sure of the exact sequence of events.
“Oh...there was the wine, and then Biddy brought out the gin...”
“And the rest.”
“Why are you alright?”
“Because, unlike you, and, apparently, the rest of our colleagues, I know my limits. And I got to spend quite a long time in the bathroom looking after Sharlie who was being rather profusely sick.”
“Oh.” Nancy was hit by her own mild wave of nausea. “Oh, I shouldn’t drink.”
“Not that much, anyway,” Kathie agreed, handing her a glass of water from the bedside table. “Here, have this.”
Nancy did as she was told. Then a thought struck her. “Oh, God...I didn’t say – or do – anything stupid, did I?”
“More stupid than gin, rum and campari cocktails?”
“About us, I mean,” Nancy persisted.
“What, can’t you remember?”
Nancy looked horrified. “What?”
“Well, you did go on at length explaining why you find me so attractive.”
Nancy groaned. “Why didn’t you stop me?”
Kathie looked at her. “Vanity?” she shrugged.
“I didn’t do that at all, did I?”
Kathie shook her head with a grin.
“If I wasn’t currently immobile, I’d get you for that.”
“There was that whole bit where we got caught making love by one of our colleagues, though.”
“Oh. That. Yes.” Nancy paused, “But I’m pretty sure that happened before I got hideously drunk.”
Kathie nodded ruefully.
“I think that might be why I drank so much,” Nancy admitted.
“What, am I really that bad?” Kathie asked in mock indignation.
“No, you numpty, you’re perfect and you know it. But being caught...”
“Oh, Nance.” Kathie decided to get into the bed with her. Nancy suddenly frowned.
“What are you doing? Why were you in that bed?”
“My love, last night you were very drunk and largely insensible and not at all the most attractive proposition to share a single bed with.”
“Oh. OK. As long as you’ve not gone off me.”
“Now, is that likely?” Kathie kissed her gently, and they arranged themselves so that Kathie was sat with her back against the wall, with Nancy resting her head on her lap.
“Will she say anything, do you think?” Kathie asked, after a few moments, stroking Nancy’s hair back from her face.
“She said she wouldn’t.”
“Do you believe her?”
“We don’t really have a lot of choice.”
“We could stop all this– I don’t want you to lose your job over me.”
“Oh. Kathie. Frankly, I’d rather resign than lose you.” Nancy manouvred herself into a sitting position, wincing as she did so. “Goodness, that sounded rather melodramatic, didn’t it. We’ve only been seeing each other what, three and a half weeks. But I mean it. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.”
Her face suddenly went white.
“But oh, can I have some more water, please? I really don’t feel too well.”
It was a ramshackle crew that assembled in the hotel lobby just before lunchtime, with a number of rather sore heads and Ruth, quite inexplicably, displaying a pronounced limp. With desires ranging from “strong coffee” “..and dry toast” “...fried breakfast” “...cigarettes, please” “...water. I only want water,” Kathie and Nancy suggested that a nearby cafe (which they had discovered in one of their brief forays from the hotel) was certain to supply most, if not all, of these requests.
Just as they were on their way out of the hotel, Peggy stopped.
"Oh, bother, I’ve left my purse upstairs.” She said. “You go ahead. I’ll catch up. Or...Nancy, you’ll wait for me, won’t you?”
But as the others left, rather than going back upstairs, Peggy headed straight for the hotel lounge and ordered two black coffees.
Trailing behind her, Nancy asked with some confusion, “I thought you’d forgotten your purse?”
Peggy put her hand in her pocket and drew out that item. “A small lie. I thought we should probably have a chat away from the others.”
While they were waiting for coffee to be brought to them, they discussed their relative hangovers and the probability of the both of them still being more than a little drunk. And then, just after the waiter had departed leaving them two steaming mugs, Peggy said, “So.”
And Nancy replied, “So.”
“Are you sure about this – the two of you? I mean - It’s not like there aren’t plenty of men who’d be interested in you....either of you....if this is just some kind of...game...experiment...it’s a bit of a dangerous one.”
“It’s not a game and it’s not an experiment.” Nancy paused. “It’s just the way I am. A husband, marriage, babies, just don’t appeal.”
“And Kathie does?”
“Oh, completely. She’s all I could want.”
“And what does she think?”
Nancy went shy. “Well, I don’t want to presume, but I get the impression she likes me...”
Peggy smiled wickedly, “From the little I saw last night she likes you a lot...”
“Peggy!” Nancy blushed to remember how she and Kathie had been discovered the night before.
“Is this the first time you’ve...I’m sorry – it’s not my place to ask. But I’m...trying to find my feet with this. You don’t have to tell me anything.”
Nancy tried to weigh up the odds of telling and not telling, trying to work out could be told, and what was hers to tell.
“We’re not going into this blind. We’re neither of us...” Nancy rummaged for a word “....inexperienced.” As Peggy smirked, Nancy grimaced. “That probably wasn’t the right word to have gone for. What I’m saying is, we’ve both of us had relationships before.” She paused. “With women, I mean.”
“Yes, I know that’s what you meant.”
“Sorry. I...I think I’m just out of practise of talking about...this. It’s been a while.”
“Has there been anyone else while you’ve been at the school?”
“No. But when I was in England there was... and....” She sighed. ”...It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it one day. But...not now. Now’s not really the time. Lord, this feels weird.”
“Talking about this. I mean – no-one here knows about this. About me. And it’s something I’ve barely spoken of to other people for so long. And now, there’s someone like you, who I’ve known for years, and there’s this big thing that we’ve never spoken of, and now I’m talking about it. It’s like there’s been a whole hidden part of me. I’d forgotten...I’d forgotten the sense of...relief...that comes from talking about this. From not hiding or...ignoring...a whole part of what I am.”
“Well, from what I’ve heard, this kind of thing’s becoming rather fashionable nowadays.” Peggy chuckled. Nancy shrugged. “You know,” Peggy went on, “I don’t think I’d have guessed, but now I know I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“I’m not sure how I should take that!”
“Oh...I mean...certain things make sense now. And you know, anyone with half a brain would have seen how close you and Kathie have been for the last few months, and all those little looks between the pair of you, and the making excuses to get an early night, and then have used that information in their half-brain to jump to the right conclusion...and prevent themselves from barging in on you when you were...well...rather preoccupied.”
“Indeed.” They laughed.
“I am sorry about that, you know. If I’d have known, I’d never have barged in like that...”
“Yes, you’ve said. As long as it doesn’t happen again. And thank you.”
“For taking this so...calmly.”
Peggy was thoughtful for a moment. “I don’t see the point in not being...calm...about it. I mean, it’s your life. And if it’s what you and Kathie want, then so be it. You seem like you’re...good together.”
“I think we are. Will you say anything?”
“I said last night...I think...the details are a wee bit hazy...that I wouldn’t. And even if I can’t really remember saying it, I mean it. If you want me to keep this to myself, I will.”
“I appreciate that. I’m...I’m not ashamed of what I am and I’m not ashamed of my relationship with Kathie. But it really is early days for us – less than a month. And I really...I really want this to work. So I appreciate you not putting us under that extra pressure.”
Peggy smiled. “We probably ought to be catching up with the others.”
“Yes, they’re going to be wondering where exactly it was that you lost your purse.”
“Aha, I’ve thought this through – given your display of map reading yesterday, I’m going to blame us being delayed on your getting lost skills.”
“Well, that’s hardly fair. Can’t we say it’s because you were throwing up in the toilet after drinking too much yesterday?”
“No, because my name’s not Sharlie Andrews and I can handle my drink. And you’re the appointed scapegoat here.”
Friendly banter took them almost up to the cafe where the others were waiting, but before they got there, Peggy had one last thing to say to Nancy.
“One thing, Nancy, you probably don’t need telling, but I’ll say it anyway. Be discreet. Not everyone’s going to like it if it gets out.”
Some Geography, and a moonlit stroll by jayj
Lying on her front on a blanket in a patch of sun in the staff gardens, Kathie was trying to make sense of what IIIb had understood of European population distribution. And it involved quite a lot of red pen...sometimes she did wonder whether some of the girls actually paid any attention to what she said. Or what they read in their textbook. Or, rather worryingly, what they seemed to have copied from others in their class. She frowned. She was going to have to speak to them. It was one thing to copy someone else’s work, but when you were copying off someone who had completely missed the point, well, that seemed to defeat the purpose of cheating somewhat....
“Well, look at you and how you’ve managed to make marking look an appealing thing to do.”
Kathie looked up to see Nancy.
“‘Though you do manage to make most things look rather appealing,” Nancy continued with a grin.
Kathie smiled back at her, and patted the blanket “Hello you. I thought I’d make the most of the sun, while it’s here. Sit with me?”
“I’ve only got a few minutes.” As Nancy sat down on the blanket, Kathie pushed her marking to one side, rolled over onto her back and propped herself up on her elbows. Almost instinctively, her left hand reached out for Nancy’s, which was lying on the blanket. Their two hands lay next to each other, touching, innocently, unobtrusively. And also anything but.
“‘Why so? Oh...the planning meetings again?” Being on the organizing committee for the school’s anniversary celebrations meant Nancy had been particularly busy in the first few weeks of term.
“Actually, not this time. It’s all starting to come together. Which means a few more of my evenings might start to be my own again...”
“Is that a fact?”
“It is. Although what I’ll find to do with myself when there’s no work to be done...”
Kathie gave a wicked grin, a look Nancy was starting to know rather well, and a look that typically prefaced Kathie saying something that made her blush.
“Don’t even go there Kathleen Ferrars...it’s only...” Nancy checked her watch, “10.15 and it is, if you haven’t forgotten, the middle of a schoolday...and you’re supposed to be working...not thinking...things like that.”
“Things like what? I was only going to suggest we might go for a walk or something... It’s you who’s lowered the tone...”
“Really, I don’t think it was...”
“Well I do.”
“Well, you’re wrong.”
“No. You’re at least as bad as me. If not worse.”
This dispute could have gone on for some time, if Kathie hadn’t remembered that Nancy had said she had to be somewhere else soon.
“So where is it you’re going to be rushing off to rather than staying here to lose this rather important argument?”
“Ah. Rumours have reached me that half of the VIth are winding each other up about their exams. And obviously, it’s those who are going to do fine who are getting the most worried. So I’m going to meet up with some of them and see if some semblance of calm and sense can be restored.”
“I bet you never had any exam panics.”
Nancy shook her head. “Exams never really bothered me. I always seemed to be quite good at them. You?”
Kathie gave a shudder. “Uh, finals week at Oxford was horrible. Even when you know you’ve worked hard – it’s that fear: what if my questions don’t come up?” She smiled. “But if anyone can do the calm and reassuring thing, it’s you.”
They weren’t getting to spend a huge amount of time together, but the time they had was... special. Seeing Nancy at breakfast; catching her eye as she walked down a corridor; watching with quiet pride as she took a key role in school affairs; seeing the enthusiasm with which she related to the girls, and with which they related to her; noticing the respect and love with which her friends treated her. The buzz of excitement in her chest when she came into the staffroom in case Nancy was there. And the evenings, the snatched evenings, when it was just the two of them.
It was almost entirely perfect.
There was one thing, though. It had started out as a quiet nag at the back of Kathie’s mind. But every day it was growing bigger. And the more she tried to ignore it, the larger it got.
Nancy was worried.
For the last week, Kathie had been much quieter and paler than usual. Nancy was sure no-one else had noticed, but she knew Kathie. She knew Kathie, and she knew something was wrong. But every time she asked, Kathie said that she was okay, she was fine, she was just feeling the strain of work.
Kathie couldn’t sleep. Again.
She’d avoided Nancy’s gentle enquiries, and changed the subject in the face of her more direct probing, but this evening, when Nancy had finally pulled her up and demanded to know what was wrong, she’d had no way out.
And so Kathie had lied. She’d said she was tired because she wasn’t sleeping. Which was true. But she’d also said she wasn’t sleeping because she was worried about work. And that was a lie. And she hated herself for lying. But if she told Nancy what she was thinking, well, Nancy would never want to have anything to more do with her.
And she hated herself, because Nancy – kind, generous, loving Nancy – had then tried to help her. She’d talked to her about her work, and been understanding and reassuring.
“My brain’s just worrying away, and I can’t get it to stop.” Kathie had said.
“Ok, so what you need to do is something that’s engaging enough to distract your brain, but something that’s not going to excite you and keep you awake.”
Kathie had looked at her blankly.
“Right, so you know how some people count sheep? Well that’s never worked for me. It’s too...unfocused. My mind wanders back off to what was nagging at it in the first place. But if you do something that’s tedious but also a little bit challenging, you might be able to distract yourself long enough that you can shut down the worrying and fall asleep. So, what I do,” Nancy had smiled to herself, remembering when Meg had first come up with this idea, “I don’t count sheep, but I do something like mental arithmetic, or listing prime numbers. Basic stuff, nothing exciting, but enough to distract myself.”
“Listing primes? I don’t think I can really do that...”
“No, but...what about something that you know well...like listing all the countries in the world? Or capital cities? And, I don’t know, do it in French and German as well to make it more challenging?”
Eritrea; Ethiopa; El Salvador; Ecuador...
Kathie was part way through the Es but it wasn’t having the desired effect so she was sufficiently alert to hear a slight tapping at her door. She glanced at the clock. It was almost midnight. She swung herself out of bed and wasn’t at all surprised to see that it was Nancy; she was a little surprised, however, to see that Nancy was fully dressed and wearing her coat and shoes.
“No, we are. You’re still not sleeping?” Kathie shook her head. “Well, I have a plan. Put on your coat and shoes.” And, after an admiring look at Kathie in her pajamas, “Um, and I suppose some proper clothes, too.”
“What, are we running away from school?”
“Not quite. I thought a walk might be nice though. It’s a beautiful night.”
It was indeed a beautifully clear night. Nancy and Kathie walked hand in hand across the Platz, and after a short while they found themselves up behind the school. They sat down with their backs against a wall, looking down at the twinkling lights scattered across the valley below. With Nancy’s arm round her shoulders, Kathie leant into her, closed her eyes, and then asked in a quiet voice,
“What was she like?”
“What was who like?”
Nancy thought for a moment. And then, truthfully, she said, “For five years, she was the other half of my soul.”
She felt Kathie flinch slightly.
“What? Kath – what is it?”
“Nancy, though, how can I compete?”
A chill of fear went through Nancy. So that was it. That was what had been bothering Kathie all week.
“It’s not a competition,” Nancy said quietly.
“Oh, this is coming out all wrong. I obviously don’t want to compete. But she was so important to you and...”
“...and you don’t want to be second best? Second choice?”
“I don’t know if I could bear it, Nance.” Kathie tried hard to keep the wobble from her voice. She hunched forwards so she was no longer touching Nancy.
“You’re not second choice. You’re my only choice. That was then. That was...a different me.” After a moment, Nancy said, “You’ve been in love before.“
“So why shouldn’t I feel threatened by Laura?”
“Because she’s an evil cow who broke me into a million pieces?”
“But what if she turned up now and wanted you back?”
“I’d probably smack her in the face.”
“No. For a long time that was my plan. But I don’t even think I hate her anymore.”
“Time...and...and you. You’re...oh, I don’t know if I can even begin to tell you how much more you mean to me.... And yes, I’m not the same person I was then. I’m not the person she knew. And I don’t think I ever really knew her anyway. I thought I did, but I think I never properly understood her.” Kathie paused. “But it’s different. You and Meg didn’t split up....”
The words hung there for a moment.
“I’m sorry, I know I’m being ridiculous. How can I be jealous of someone who’s...” She trailed off.
Nancy finished for her. “Dead?”
Kathie winced. “Yes. And...it’s not like I’d have been a credible rival for your affections then. I’d have been, what, ten when you and Meg got together?”
“Something like that, yes.”
“But...You hate me, don’t you?”
“Hate you? Why?”
“Because I’m being totally unreasonable. I hate me.”
“I don’t hate you, Kathie.” Nancy felt she was being torn apart. “I love you. Have I done anything to make you doubt how I feel about you?”
Kathie shook her head.
“We’re who we are now, and we’re together, and we’re meant to be together.” Nancy caught hold of Kathie’s hands. “Look, I know you’re not Meg. But you’re you. And you’re pretty damn amazing. Do I have to tell you the ways I love you? It’s not like I’ve jumped on the first, most likely looking girl, is it?”
“No. At least I don’t think so...?” Despite herself, Kathie gave a little smile. “And it took you long enough!”
“You weren’t too quick off the mark yourself. If I hadn’t said anything when I did, were you ever planning to do anything?” Kathie shrugged. ”I thought about this. Long and hard. For so long. At Christmas, you know I went to see Meg’s best friend?”
Kathie shook her head again.
“Caroline. She’s...I think you’d like her. She’s a bit...well, think the Radcliffe Hall type – oh, not the misery and self-destruction, but the being rather butch and confrontational about what she is? She’s settled down recently though...”
“Met a nice girl?”
“Something like that...Anyway. I had to see her. Because I had to tell her about you. It was like...I had to tell her, because it was like telling Meg.”
“And she disapproved?”
“Quite the opposite. She told me that I had to tell you how I felt.”
“You did that at Christmas?”
“I told you – when I first saw you, I think I knew. I knew I wanted you. That I needed you. And then I had to tell you about Meg. It’s like – I don’t know - I’ve obviously not handled it very well, otherwise you wouldn’t be this upset now. But the way it worked in my head was that I had to tell her about you, and you about her, so I wasn’t....cheating on anyone. Meg was such a big part of me. But she’s not here anymore. And you are.“
“You know, in some ways, I feel blessed. So extraordinarily blessed. I’m privileged enough to have known and loved, and, what’s more astounding, been loved in return by, the two most wonderful women I’ve ever met.” Tears began to well in her eyes, and she reached out to draw Kathie closer to her. “I love you, Kathie Ferrars.”
Kathie allowed herself to be drawn into Nancy’s embrace. After a moment, and with tears rolling down her face, she said, “Oh, Nance. Let’s go back in. I – I think...and stay with me tonight. I need you. Just to hold me.”
Nancy stayed with Kathie. And for the first time in several nights, Kathie slept.
The following morning, the school awoke to an air of chaos. Rumours spread among those who were gathered in the staffroom before Frühstück that the Police were on site, and that Hilda, Nell and Rosalie were walking round terribly grim-faced.
“Any idea what’s going on?” Kathie asked Nancy, as the elder woman poured them each a cup of coffee.
Nancy shook her head. “Not really. It’s looking like we’ve had a break-in, but no-one’s told me anything official.”
Kathie went pale at the thought of intruders having got into the building where several hundred schoolgirls were sleeping. And then she suddenly gasped and grabbed at Nancy’s arm.
“Nance, you did lock the door last night when we went out, didn’t you?”
Nancy frowned. “I’ve been thinking about that. And I know I did. I’m sure I did.” But she looked worried.
At that moment, there was a banging on a table. While Kathie and Nancy had been talking, Nell Wilson had come in, and was now attempting to attract everyone’s attention. As the chatter died down, she began.
“Ladies – thank you. Last night we had a burglary. The Head’s office, and the Secretary’s office were both targeted. Preliminary investigations suggest that the intruders stayed in that part of the building, so we don’t think they went anywhere near the dormitories. But, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, this is a very serious matter, and we will be reviewing security arrangements.”
“How did they get in, do you know?” Ruth asked.
“The window of the Secretary’s office was forced open, the Police think. Gaudenz is currently making it secure.” At these words, Kathie heard Nancy give a tiny whimper of relief, and briefly, she reached out to give her lover’s hand a squeeze of reassurance. She’d believed Nancy when she said she’d locked the door, and she trusted implicitly in Nancy’s sense of duty and responsibility, but she had seen from the look on her face that Nancy had been doubting herself.
“If anybody saw or heard anything, do let us know. Now, I think it’s time for Frühstück.” Nell finished.
Nancy and Kathie began to move with everyone else in the direction of the Speisesaal but as she was passing Nell Wilson, Nancy suddenly stopped dead. She turned to the Co-Head.
“Nell, I think I might have seen something last night.”
Nell drew her over to one side of the room. “When? In the evening?”
“No, later. Maybe midnight-ish?”
Nell looked intrigued.
“I was...I was... out. On the Platz, up behind the school.”
Nell’s eyes widened. “Alone?”
With Nell staring at her incredulously, Nancy realized that she hadn’t thought through the consequences of confessing to one of the Heads that she’d been beyond the school boundaries late last night. And should she say she’d been with Kathie? She blinked several times and her mind, inconveniently, went rather blank.
“No, she was with me.” Kathie, who had been hovering nearby, was suddenly at Nancy’s elbow. Nancy looked at her gratefully.
“What on earth were the pair of you doing out of school property at that time of night?” Nell demanded.
Sensing Nancy was still incapable of answering - flummoxed was the word she later decided best described her partner’s appearance - Kathie said quickly, “I couldn’t sleep, and Nancy thought a walk might clear my head.”
“Is that so?” Nell looked at them a little oddly.
Nancy chose to ignore the look and picked up the story. “When we were coming back in – I’m sure I saw lights on in the Head’s study. At the time, I thought it must have been Hilda working late...”
“She better not’ve been working that late...” Nell muttered almost inaudibly.
“I mean...I didn’t see anything more than that. But I presume that if it wasn’t Hilda, it might have been the intruders?”
“Did you see any of this?” Nell turned to Kathie.
Kathie shook her head. “No. I was...” She looked at Nancy for support, and Nancy smiled softly at her. “... a little upset. I wasn’t really looking at the world around me.”
Nell raised her eyebrows, but said nothing for a moment. And then,
‘Well, you’ll have to tell all this to the Police, of course. And then you’re going to have the unenviable task of explaining to Miss Annersley why exactly you were prowling round the Platz in the early hours of the morning.”
Stifling a wicked grin, Nell thought that for a moment or two the Head of Maths looked rather like a terrified Middle.
A few days after the break-in, Ruth, Peggy and Rosalind were in the staffroom.
“According to Joey, they tried to get into Freudesheim too, but Bruno kicked up such a fuss that they were scared away,” Rosalind explained.
“So that dog is good for something, then?”
“Ruth! I can’t believe you’ve just said that!” Rosalind laughed at her friend.
“But is there any indication why they thought the school would be worth breaking into?” asked Peggy.
“Well, there is a theory that they were after the money we’ve been collecting for the Chapel Funds.”
“But surely that’s in the bank, not kept on site?” Peggy said.
“Yes, it’s in the bank. And even if it were on site, it’d be in the safe, and they didn’t manage to get in to that. Rosalie’s quite annoyed at some of the dints they’ve made in it, though. Oh, and she was furious at the mess they’d made of her filing. I’ve never seen her so angry. If she ever catches hold of who did it....”
“Did you see her shouting at Bill?” Ruth interjected. “That was very funny. I’d pay to see that again. I’d maybe even pay some of the Middles to turn the office upside down just to see the look on Bill’s face once more...”
Peggy regarded Ruth suspiciously, then took the mug out of her hands and sniffed it. She raised an eyebrow.
“What?” Ruth said. “It’s a Friday night, and I’m not on duty tomorrow. I can have a drink if I want.”
“That’s not really the Chalet School way, you know,” Peggy said, sternly. “I mean, a good Chalet School girl would share her contraband booze out amongst her nearest and dearest.”
“Yes, come on Ruth, fair’s fair, share it out!”
“That’s not going to work. And anyway, you’re both on duty tomorrow. So it wouldn’t be responsible of me...”
A rather flustered looking Biddy joined them at that point.
“Everything OK, Biddy?” Ruth asked quickly, thankful for the distraction.
Biddy shook her head. “Not really. Isn’t Nancy with you? I’ve been looking for her everywhere.”
“She’s not in her room?”
“No. And I need to talk through some of the plans for the wedding with her.”
While was Ruth muttering, not-quite-inaudibly, “Not that damn wedding again,” and Rosalind was surreptitiously hitting Ruth in an attempt to get her to be quiet, Peggy was scanning the room. And in doing so, she realized that a certain other person wasn’t there either. She shook her head slightly; she didn’t relish the thought of interrupting them again.
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
“I don’t think so. I really need to see her now.”
Peggy sighed. “I’ve got an idea where she might be.” She got to her feet. Biddy moved to come with her. “No, you stay here. There’s no point us both going. I’ll go and get her.”
Peggy knocked gently on Kathie’s door. There was no answer. She knocked more loudly. Again, nothing.
She knocked once more, and this time, called, “I know you’re in there.”
“Er, just a minute,” she heard Kathie’s muffled voice say.
Peggy sighed, shook her head again, and leaned back on the opposite wall to wait. After a few minutes, the door was unlocked and opened just a crack, and a rather red-faced Kathie stuck her head through the gap.
“Oh, Peggy, it’s you.”
“It’s a good job it’s me, all things considered. Is she with you?”
“Who?” Kathie asked, innocently.
Peggy rolled her eyes. “You know who.”
Kathie nodded slightly. “Yes, she’s here.”
“Well then, can you tell her she needs to ahem, stop whatever it is she’s doing, and come to the staffroom with me?”
Kathie half-nodded, half-shrugged, and closed the door.
Peggy could hear the sound of muffled voices, a thud, a curse, and in a few moments, Nancy peered round the door.
“You knocked this time, then?” She grinned.
“You locked the door this time, then?” Peggy returned. Nancy blushed. “Nancy, Biddy’s on the wedding organizational warpath. If you don’t come down with me, she’s going to come looking for you. And it won’t take her long to think to come looking here.”
“Can’t you tell her I’m busy?”
“Oh yes, I’ll tell her you’re busy, and when she asks what you’re doing, I’ll tell her what exactly?”
There was a stand-off for a moment or two.
“Alright, alright, I’m coming, let me just put on my...” Peggy’s eyes opened wide, “er...shoes...” Nancy supplied quickly, “and I’ll be right with you.”
As she leant back against the wall to wait once more, Peggy sighed to herself. “This wedding. It’s going to be the end of us all...”
Nancy tapped gently on Kathie’s door.
“Kath! Kath, it’s me!”
There was no reply. Kathie must be already asleep, Nancy reasoned, and that was completely understandable given the sleepless nights she’d been having. It had been a difficult week for her. And in several ways, it had been tough for Nancy too. She was beginning to realize that while, on the one hand, she knew what it meant to live and work in this school, and on the other, she had ideas about what it meant to be in a relationship, how to juggle those two distinct...concepts? states of being?...simultaneously was something she hadn’t quite figured out.
That evening, while she had been listening – or at least, giving the impression of doing so – to Biddy, Nancy had been doing a lot of thinking. Living and working together in the school was fine most of the time, and it certainly meant that she and Kathie got to see a lot of each other. But when something important was going on, like Kathie’s problems this week, being in this place was not ideal. And having to answer to the Heads, when all you were trying to do was look after the woman you loved was really rather ridiculous.
Though that wasn’t completely fair, Nancy had reflected. After all, it had been her fault that Nell had found out about their midnight excursion, and it wasn’t like they were watched over by the Heads particularly closely. The lack of private space was, however, more of a problem. They had their rooms, of course, but that was still only a limited square footage in which they could be themselves. And even there, privacy had limits when colleagues could just turn up and knock on your door and demand your company. Sometimes she longed for her own house with her own front door, so she could shut it and shut them all out. Or almost all of them. If she did have her own front door, there’d be one person she’d make sure would have the key.
But the more she thought about it, the more Nancy had realized that it wasn’t actually more privacy that she really wanted, but its complete opposite: openness. She hated having to hide. The thought that there was just a little over 250 square foot in which she and Kathie could behave naturally around each other and then, only if no-one else was around, was starting to make her feel terribly claustrophobic.
It was hard always having to keep a careful watch on their behaviour around each other. Nancy was perfectly comfortable with those restrictions during working hours and she wasn’t a particular fan of public demonstrations of affection anyway, but she just wanted to be able to relax sometimes, to stop worrying worrying worrying about what people might be thinking when they saw her together with Kathie.
She longed for a situation where Peggy could say to Biddy, “Nancy’s with Kathie this evening”, and that would be enough, and that her colleagues – with nods and winks and plenty of innuendo, of course, she knew them well enough – would accept that, and leave them in peace. As the bride-to-be had demanded Nancy’s attention for this plan and that plan all evening, the comparison with Biddy and Eugen had kept coming back to her. Surely, if it had been the two of them spending an evening together, no-one would have come knocking to drag one of them away. It just didn’t seem fair.
But then, life wasn’t meant to be fair; she’d learnt that a long time ago. And she loved Kathie, and Kathie loved her, and that was more than she could ever have hoped for. And there was no doubt that there were advantages to their current situation. She couldn’t deny the snatched moments, secret glances and covert meetings they shared were exciting, and despite her grumpiness, she had grinned to herself thinking back to a recent incident when the pair of them had almost been discovered by Ruth in the book storeroom. And living in the school brought certain benefits, she had thought, remembering how often she’d slipped into Kathie’s room or Kathie had slipped into hers. So really, was it better for Biddy and Eugen? Did they actually get to spend much time together, alone? Nancy had thought of all the mornings she’d woken up next to Kathie, and she was glad that was something they hadn’t needed to wait to get married for.
Oh, it wasn’t all bad, Nancy mused, as she stood in the corridor outside Kathie’s room. She was just feeling sorry for herself because she’d spent all day looking forward to spending the evening with Kathie, and had ended up having to listen to Biddy’s plans for flowers and flower girls and floral arrangements and florists. And now Kathie was asleep, and though she’d told Nancy to come back as soon as she’d been released from Biddy’s clutches, Nancy thought of her sleeping on the other side of the door and as much as she wanted to be with her, couldn’t bear to wake her. She’d see her in the morning, she decided. She’d get up early, and go and get them a nice breakfast to share.
Consoling herself with that thought, she returned back down the corridor to her own room. It wasn’t until she reached in her pocket to get her keys that she realized that in her earlier hurry, she’d left them on Kathie’s desk. She hit the palm of her hand against her head. She was going to have to wake Kathie after all.
“Nancy Wilmot, what on earth are you doing?”
Nancy spun round.
“What? You’re not asleep?” Having been so convinced that her partner would be fast asleep, Nancy was somewhat confused to see her now standing in front of her.
“Hello Nancy!” Sharlie was there too. Nancy smiled a greeting.
“Not asleep, no. It’s not my bedtime yet,” Kathie said, with a grin and the ghost of a wink. “We’ve been playing cards in Sharlie’s, and now we’ve come back to mine to make some tea. Would you like to join us?” she asked, the polite friendliness in her voice betrayed by the dancing flirtation in her eyes.
Nancy liked Sharlie, she really did. But she was feeling tired and uncharacteristically grumpy, she’d spent two difficult hours with Biddy, and all she wanted to do was curl up with Kathie. And if that wasn’t an option, then she just wanted to go to bed. But she couldn’t do that, because her keys were in Kathie’s room, and she was too tired to work out how to communicate that to Kathie without making Sharlie suspicious. Having to be polite and friendly, and sufficiently on guard not to let slip any hint of their relationship was the last thing she wanted to do. Oh, if only they were able to be normal around other people, things would be so much easier.
But as things stood, she had no choice. So, summoning up an enthusiasm that she did not feel, she said, “Yes, that sounds lovely,” and followed the younger two into the room.
“I don’t think you’re getting your bed back tonight,” Sharlie said quietly as Kathie stood at the stove seeing to the tea. Kathie turned to her, puzzled. Sharlie, who was dealing the cards, nodded in Nancy’s direction. “Should we wake her, do you think?”
Nancy had stretched out on Kathie’s bed, and was fast asleep.
“No, let her sleep. She looks done in,” Kathie gazed at the sleeping figure, almost bursting with affection as she did so. She’d caught the troubled look on Nancy’s face as she’d come into the room, and had a hunch that all was not quite right with her. “I might take her shoes off, though,” she said, moving over to the bed and gently unlacing Nancy’s shoes. She picked up the blanket that was folded over the back of one of the chairs, and arranged it carefully over Nancy.
Catching the tenderness in those gestures, Sharlie’s brow furrowed slightly. Something was going on there. She just wasn’t sure what.
Returning from the tennis courts after a battle of epic ferocity – Kathie was personally thankful that Sharlie hadn’t succeeded in persuading any of the students to act as ball girls, considering the aggression, swearing and generally unsportsmanlike behaviour that had marked the last hour and a half – Sharlie went to put the tennis equipment back in the store, while Kathie went to make them both a drink.
Carrying two glasses of orange squash, she headed out into the staff garden and found Sharlie sitting with Peggy and Davida Armitage. Sharlie and Davida were talking animatedly. Peggy was looking worried.
“...a bit of a surprise, I’ll say that,” Davida was saying as she approached. Kathie handed over one of the glasses to Sharlie, and sat down.
“What’s this?” Kathie asked.
“Major bust up between Biddy and Nancy, apparently,” Sharlie said. “While they were out on their hike with the Middles.”
“Nancy?” Kathie asked, incredulously, putting down her glass.
“That’s been nearly everyone’s reaction, yes,” said Davida.
“That’s just it,” Davida replied. “No-one seems to know.”
The colour drained from Kathie’s face. She glanced at Peggy. Peggy returned the look with a worried shrug.
Kathie stood up quickly. “Er, there’s something...I’ve forgotten to do...I just need to...” Without attempting to explain further, she raced off, kicking over her glass of squash as she did so.
During her first summer in Switzerland, Nancy had found, quite by chance – the opportunity thrown her way during a hunt for an awol Middle – her own secret hideaway. It was a spot, ten minutes or so away from the school, where some trees and bushes crowded near the edge of a stream, and you could sit, if you wanted, virtually unnoticed by onlookers. It was where, in seasonable weather, Nancy went when school was becoming too much. It was where she went when she wanted to disappear.
She’d never told anyone else about it. But one fine morning in early March, back before they’d got together, in the days when they were still eyeing each other cautiously, longingly, lovingly, secretly, apprehensively, inevitably, she’d shown it to Kathie. It had been Nancy’s private refuge. And once she’d welcomed Kathie into it, it became their own secret place.
So, when Kathie couldn’t find her anywhere in the school, that’s where she knew she’d find Nancy.
“Hello you. Nice shorts. Did you win?” Nancy smiled at her as Kathie clambered, in a slightly undignified way, through the shrubbery.
“We called it a draw. She’s a fighter, that Andrews.”
“I didn’t think you could draw in tennis?”
“It was either that or we’d still be going at midnight...but I’ll get her next time. I’m working on a plan.” Kathie stood for a moment, attempting to remove some of the leaves which had caught in her hair.
“What, to put stones in her shoes?”
“I was thinking of tying her shoelaces together, but that might be more subtle.”
"You could do both," Nancy suggested.
"I could. Then I'd be sure of winning - or at least, not losing."
Having done her best with the greenery, Kathie sat down next to Nancy, slipped an arm round her waist, and laid her head on her shoulder.
“So you’ve heard, then?” The cheerfulness which Nancy had forced into her voice was gone, and she spoke in barely a murmur.
“That you and Biddy have had a row?”
“You want to tell me about it?”
“Not really,” Nancy bit her lip. “No-one comes out of this particularly well.”
They sat quietly for a moment.
Then Nancy heaved a sigh, and began. “Oh, she was going on and on again about getting married, and when it would be my turn, and how Eugen has some lovely colleagues I’d like, and how she’d sit me with them at the wedding reception...”
“Hehe,” Kathie giggled.
“Don’t you laugh, she had plans for you as well – Eugen’s got a nice cousin called Matteo who she’s picked out for you.”
“Anyway, gospel according to Biddy is that getting married and having children are the only valid lifestyle choices. And there were a few jibes about me getting old and left on the shelf. And how it wouldn’t be until I found a man that I’d really know what it was like to be happy. And in the end I cracked.” Nancy picked up a pebble and launched it into the stream with some violence.
“What did you say? Did you tell her about us?”
“No. At least, not in as many words. But I think made it pretty clear that my...inclinations...did not lie in a male direction," (Kathie snorted at that), "and pigs would be flying before I ever got involved with a man. And then she said some pretty nasty things. And I may have said some pretty nasty things in return. And all to an audience of Middles.”
Kathie pulled a face. “Did they hear, do you think?”
“No, I shouldn’t think so. But they did see us arguing. And then, ah, not speaking for the return journey.”
“Oh, my love.”
“And she said she’s going to warn you to stay away from me, because, apparently, you’re a young innocent who’s been deceived into spending far too much time with me and I’m full of impure and evil desires to corrupt you....”
“A bit late for that, really.”
Kathie giggled. “Young innocent?!”
“’s what she said.” Nancy launched another pebble into the stream.
“Well, if she says any of that to me I’ll tell her exactly what I think of her. I’ll give her nasty things – implying that I’m just here to be taken advantage of – by you of all people.”
Nancy hung her head. “I’m sorry, Kathie.”
“Sorry? What for?”
“I shouldn’t have blown up like I did. At this rate, half the school is going to know about us. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
“Nancy Wilmot, right now I don’t care who knows. This isn’t the only school in the world. If we have to leave, we have to leave. And I don’t blame you for blowing up at her. In fact, I’m surprised you’ve managed to hold your tongue this long. She has been going on and on about this – this – this bloody wedding.”
Nancy allowed herself a small, sad, smile. “She has.”
“Come on, it’s nearly time for Abendessen. I’m starving.” Kathie stood up, and held out her hand to help Nancy up. Nancy clasped her hand, but shook her head. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather not come.”
“Do you want me to stay with you?”
“No, you go - I can hear your tummy rumbling from here. I’ll be fine. I just...need to think a bit. And I don’t think I can be in the same room as her, not for a while.”
“We’ll talk later?”
Nancy nodded. Kathie set off.
“Kath, if she’s there, you won’t start a row, will you?” Nancy called, as Kathie was part way through the bushes.
Kathie came back, and shook her head, seriously. “No, I won’t start anything. But if she says anything to me, I won’t hold back.”
With a rueful smile, Nancy said, “I thought that’s what you might say.”
With a quick glance around to check there was no-one nearby, Kathie bent down and kissed Nancy. “Be brave, Nance. Be strong. I love you.”
Though she had rushed to get back to the school, and hurried to wash and change out of her tennis clothes, Miss Annersely was already saying Grace when Kathie finally made it to the Speisesaal, and she slunk towards a seat at the end of the table just in time to mumble ‘Amen’.
Sitting down, Kathie found herself flanked by Joan Bertram on one side, and Jeanne De Lachenais on the other, both of them senior colleagues that she didn’t know at all well. For this, Kathie was a little thankful; they were people around whom she was always quiet and reserved, so she could keep her head down and if she didn’t join in the conversation, it wouldn’t be remarked on. However, her sense of good fortune quickly evaporated when, as their food was brought to them, Joan nudged her and asked whether she knew what was going on between Biddy and Nancy. Kathie couldn’t supress a surge of paranoia. What if she knew? What if they all knew? Clutching her cutlery more tightly than was strictly necessary, Kathie wordlessly shook her head to Joan’s question. To her relief, Joan then turned to ask the same question of her other neighbour. Kathie relaxed slightly, realising that Joan knew nothing, and was just looking for gossip.
Her relief was short-lived, however, for Joan’s quest for gossip meant that Kathie had to listen, for the rest of the meal, to her speculation over what the row had been about. Joan’s theories were quite wide of the mark; she averred that a dispute over Eugen lay at the bottom of this, and that there was some kind of love-triangle going on. But while Kathie was glad that Joan was thoroughly on the wrong track, it was painful to listen to Nancy being the subject of so much speculation. And it was torture not to be able to defend her.
Well, at least she didn’t have to sit next to Biddy. She was further down the table with a face like thunder. As far as Kathie could make out, Biddy was steadfastly refusing to be drawn on the source of the quarrel, but Kathie couldn’t get rid of the sense that she was watching her intently, and it made her feel deeply uncomfortable.
Kathie had to shake herself. She’d told Nancy to be brave, and that’s what she had to be herself. And it wasn’t like the rumours were about her - not yet, at least - though if what Nancy said about her ‘inclinations’ ever became public, it wouldn’t be long before she’d be implicated in the gossip too.
She tried to work out if she wasn’t herself, if she was an onlooker - if she was Sharlie, say - whether she’d be able to tell that their relationship was something more (oh, so much more!) than friendship. She glanced quickly at Sharlie, who was sat towards the middle of the table. Did she know anything? Sharlie looked up at that moment, and catching Kathie looking at her, grinned at her. What would Sharlie do, if she found out? Would she still want to be her friend? And what about the rest of them? Joan was having plenty of fun imagining the triangle between Biddy, Nancy and Eugen; if she knew the real truth, her gossiping would be unstoppable.
Kathie tried to pretend that she didn’t care. But she did. She’d told Nancy that it didn’t matter who knew, and in some respects, that was perfectly true. But it was one thing to say those words in the abstract, and another, in a room full of your peers – no, not your peers, in many cases, your superiors - to say, yes, this is who I am, this is what I am, this is who I love, and yes, she’s a woman, and yes, she’s incredible.
Rather helplessly, Kathie pushed her food around her plate. Despite her hunger, she’d lost her appetite.
“Kathie, I need to speak to you.” Biddy caught hold of Kathie’s arm just as they were leaving the Speisesaal, and ushered her into an empty classroom.
“Do you?” Kathie answered coldly, shaking herself free of Biddy’s grasp. One thing was clear: she wasn’t going to let Biddy intimidate her.
Biddy registered the icy tone. “You’ve already spoken to Nancy? I don’t know what she’s told you about why we argued today, but I doubt it’s the truth. You can’t trust her, Kathie. She’s...she’s not well. What she is...it’s not natural. You have to stay away from her. I don’t think you’re safe around her.”
“What do you mean, I’m not safe around her? What exactly are you trying to say about Nancy, Biddy?”
After a rather bitter encounter, Kathie decided that it was probably better if she didn’t go and join the others in the staffroom. She went to her own room, but just as she was about to throw herself despairingly on the bed, it struck her that Nancy might be back. She found Nancy in her room, rather forlornly curled up in a chair. She squeezed into the chair alongside her.
Kathie shook her head. “I’ve had my own run-in with Biddy.“
“It didn’t go well?”
“Not really. She said – what you said she’d say – that I shouldn’t trust you and you weren’t safe and that you’d try to seduce me...and I said I didn’t need seducing, thank you very much, and that I knew my own mind. And she said – well, various things, really, but the general jist of it was that if we don’t change our ways we’re doomed to hell fire for all eternity.”
“Sounds a bit like what she said to me,” Nancy said glumly.
Kathie wrapped her arms tightly round Nancy.
“Did you manage to get some dinner?”
Nancy nodded in the direction of a plate with a half-eaten sandwich.
“It’s not like I’ve not heard all that bile before,” Nancy said. “Being friends with Caroline – well, she went through a rather provocative period at college, and Meg and I got caught up in that a little bit - but it’s one thing when it’s a stranger shouting things at you, and another when it’s someone who’s a close friend. You think you know someone – she’s been a good friend – and then you realize you don’t at all.” The tears came and Nancy began to sob.
“It’s ok, Nance, it’s ok.”
If Nancy thought things were bad on that Sunday evening, the following day they were to get even worse.
With the school’s gala celebrations planned for the coming weekend, Miss Annersley had decreed that lessons be cancelled for the first period after lunch, with the girls to be supervised by the prefects while the teaching staff met to run through, one final time, the plans for the rest of the week. Biddy and Nancy had been on the gala organizing committee, and had, in a previous meeting, put themselves forward as the official ‘meeter and greeters’ of the guests. It was something both women had been eagerly looking forward to; as old girls of the school, and current teachers, they knew, and were keen to see once more, a vast number of the guests they were expecting.
But as Miss Annersley came to recap this part of the plan, Biddy interrupted her and said, “No. I’m not working with her.”
“I’m sorry?” Miss Annersley asked, rocking back in her chair and blinking in confusion.
“I’m not working with her,” Biddy repeated.
Nancy gave a half smile but her eyes were coldly furious. “Well that’s fine, because I’d rather not work with you.”
Though it was generally known that Biddy and Nancy had rowed the day before, this public outburst took everyone by surprise. Breaths were collectively held, while eyes flicked nervously between Biddy, Nancy, and Miss Annersley.
It took the Head a moment or two to regain her composure.
“Ladies! What is going on here?” she demanded.
At that point, being one of the few in the room who knew what was going on, and knew that it was not something that would benefit from exposure in a staff meeting, Peggy decided it would be wise to attempt to defuse the situation. Quickly, she volunteered that she didn’t mind swapping with one or other of them, if that would be acceptable to Miss Annersley.
“Very well,” said Miss Annersley. “Work it out amongst yourselves.” There was something very clearly wrong here, but now was not the time to sort it out. “Now, next on the agenda...”
The following day, Miss Annersley's instructions led to the establishment of what might very tenuously be described as a precarious truce. While neither Biddy nor Nancy could bring themselves to be civil towards each other, they were at least not arguing, for it is hard to row when you are neither speaking to nor acknowledging the presence of the person with whom you are in dispute. If Miss Annersley had had a moment to reflect on the situation, she would have seen that the ceasefire was unlikely to make it to the weekend, but as it was, she was struggling to stay on top of the preparations for the gala celebrations, and so she trusted that her staff would not let her down.
Other people were better placed to see that the truce was barely a truce, and that it would not last.
"Well, you know what Biddy's been like about this wedding. I don't blame Nancy for cracking." Rosalind said to Ruth and Peggy, having just witnessed Biddy come into the staffroom, see Nancy and Kathie chatting, and turn on her heels and leave, and then not long after, Nancy and Kathie themselves departing.
"But Nancy? Yes, Biddy's been a bit much recently, but it's not like Nancy to be like this at all. There's got to be more to it," Ruth replied.
Peggy, feeling glum and trying to look disinterested, said nothing.
"What do you think, Peg?" Rosalind asked.
Peggy shrugged. "I don't know."
"You know something, don't you?" Ruth turned to her.
"Me? No. I don't know anything."
Ruth looked at her curiously.
Peggy looked back at her, then stood up and left the room.
"Peggy knows something," Ruth said to Rosalind.
"She said she didn't. Leave her, Ruth! We've got enough trouble here without you picking a fight with Peggy."
Ruth, who had stood up just a second before, sat back down, chastened. "I'm not trying to pick a fight with her. I'm just trying to find out what's going on."
"You want the gossip, you mean."
"Come on Ros, you know me better than that!"
Rosalind raised an eyebrow.
"Well, yes," Ruth admitted, "I'm occasionally indiscreet about some things," (Rosalind snorted at that) "but not this. I don't know what's gone on, but whatever it is, it's got to be bad for those two to go for each other in a staff meeting. And if Peggy knows what it is, and can help sort it out...that's all I'm saying."
In the midst of all the tension and uncertainty, an evening spent supervising cricket practice felt like a blessed relief, Kathie thought, even as she had to step hastily out of the way of Emerence Hope's wildly swinging cricket bat.
"Good catch, Francie!" she applauded, as that girl had run, jumped, and surprised herself somewhat by plucking the ball out of the air. "Sorry, Emerence, but you're out."
"Blistering barnacles..." Emerence swore quietly under her breath.
"Excuse me?" Kathie said with a grin.
"Er...nothing, Miss Ferrars. Just...there was no way she should have been able to get that shot," Emerence blushed.
"Yes, well, I'll let you off this time. But try to keep things like that to yourself in future. Sometimes public outbursts aren't always the best way to respond to provocation." She grimaced inwardly at her own words. Everything was such a mess!
After another couple of overs, Kathie decided to subcontract the umpiring to Emerence and Margot, mainly as a way of stopping those two messing about on the sidelines. As she kept a careful eye on them, ready to step in to resolve any disputes, she found herself joined at the side of the pitch by Sharlie. Sharlie was meant to be helping with the cricket coaching but had been collared by Matron just as she'd been heading outside.
"Everything ok with Matron?"
"Oh, she makes me feel about twelve again, but yes, I think we've got everything sorted. Though I don't know how sympathetic she'll be with the poor kid. I wouldn't really want to face Matron if I was feeling miserable and homesick."
They broke off to clap as Yseult hammered the ball in the direction of the boundary.
"She's not really one for team games, is she?" Sharlie chuckled, watching the teenager uncomfortably responding to the congratulations of her teammates.
"No. But she's had a tough time of it this year. It's nice to see her getting on with everyone."
"Unlike her teachers," Sharlie said with a slight laugh.
Kathie grimaced. Sharlie saw the look, and became rather thoughtful. For a minute or two, she said nothing, and then, "Kathie?"
"Yes?" Kathie replied, with a half-smile that only partly masked the ominous feeling that had just engulfed her.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Holding her breath, Kathie nodded.
"You know what it's all about, don't you? The row between Biddy and Nancy."
Kathie nodded slightly before Sharlie continued, "It's about you, isn't it? You and Nancy, I mean?"
Without knocking, Ruth burst into Rosalind's room.
"Have you got anything to drink?"
Rosalind, part way through marking an essay, looked up and nodded in the direction of the top shelf of her bookcase. Standing on a chair Ruth reached for the bottle of whiskey, then clambering back down again, found two glasses. She poured them each a drink, sat down heavily, and waited for Rosalind to finish with her marking.
"Well? Have you spoken to Peggy?" Rosalind said expectantly, putting the lid back on her pen and taking the glass that Ruth offered.
"No. Spoke to Biddy instead." Ruth took a sip.
There was a long pause.
"Biddy said she's not talking either of those...." Ruth's voice became very quiet, "...lesbians."
"Biddy's said she's not talking to who?"
"Those..." Ruth paused, and lowered her voice again, "...lesbians."
Ruth bit her lip. "Nancy and Kathie."
"No! That can't be true, can it? Kathie and Nancy?" Rosalind looked incredulous.
"No. Surely not...but...I don't know. Maybe?"
"Nancy and Kathie? No. I don't believe it."
"But why would Biddy make that up?"
"I don't know - because she and Nancy have had a row?"
"But what if this is what they've argued about?" Ruth cautiously suggested.
They looked at each other for a moment.
"No....but...but...that might make sense, mightn't it?" said Rosalind. Ruth nodded, and Rosalind continued, "She and Kathie, they do spend a lot of time together..."
Ruth shrugged. "Stranger things have happened." She chuckled. "Our Nancy a...a...a lesbian, eh? Who'd've thought it?"
Rosalind pulled a face.
"What?" Ruth demanded.
"Don't you think it's a bit - well - weird? Wrong? Unnatural? I don't know. Two women, I mean."
"You're not telling me you've never had a crush? When you were at school - on a teacher? On a prefect?"
Rosalind sat back sharply as if she'd been stung. After a few moments she said, "Well, even if I had...and I'm not saying I did...there's a whole world of difference between having an adolescent crush and what they're doing. Girls admire - idolize - older girls, sure, but that's something they grow out of. I'm not sure it's right for, well, two grown women. Shouldn't they be thinking of marriage?"
"Should they? Neither you nor I are married, and we're older even than Nancy."
"You're not saying you're...like that?" Rosalind looked at her friend, horrified.
"And if I said yes, Ros, what would you do?" There was something about the look of disgust on Rosalind's face that Ruth found she really didn't like.
"Well?" Rosalind stood up angrily. "Are you?"
"No, I'm not. But if I were, would that be a problem? And if Nancy and Kathie are, is that a problem?"
"I don't know. I just don't know." Rosalind sat back down in her chair. "Unless it is a kind of crush. You know, Nancy's a lot older than Kathie; maybe that's all it is. Just...excessive admiration on Kathie's part, or something." Rosalind looked relieved with this explanation, but Ruth shook her head.
"I don't think so, Ros."
Resignedly, Rosalind asked, "So what happens next?" She put down her glass.
"I don't know, but right now it seems like Biddy's the biggest problem. I told her not to go spreading rumours like that. Even if it is true - which, you've agreed, seems a reasonable possibility - it's not really the sort of thing that needs to be spread about. It...it might not look good for the school. And especially with this gala weekend, we're going to have to try to keep a lid on it, and somehow keep Biddy from talking. I'm going to speak to Peggy. I swear she knows about this. Will you come with me?"
Nancy wasn't to be seen at Abendessen that evening, and when Kathie couldn't find her in the staffroom, in her own room, or anywhere else in the school, she became increasingly anxious. Realizing that she'd be unable to settle until she'd found Nancy, Kathie decided to change her shoes and grab a warm jumper, and continue her search outside.
But as it turned out, when she got to her room to change, that was where she found the object of her quest: curled up, rather miserably, on her bed.
"There you are - I've been looking for you everywhere. You've missed dinner again." Kathie sat on the edge of the bed, and gently stroked Nancy's hair back from her face.
Wordlessly, Nancy shrugged.
"Come on Nance! Don't be like this."
Nancy struggled into a sitting position. "I've been thinking," she began. "Maybe it'd be best if I went away this weekend. Say I'm not feeling well, or something. Just to keep out of the way."
"You're not giving up the fight?"
"Be fair, Kath. Think about it - who's got the most to lose here, the staunch believer with the weight of the Catholic Church behind her and who's soon going off to get married, or the sexually deviant teachers whose future livelihoods depend on their reputations?"
"You're not a deviant." Kathie said with a slight chuckle.
"Nance! You're not." Kathie reached out for her hands, but before she made contact, Nancy stood up and moved away from her.
"Maybe we should cool things for a while."
"You're not serious."
Nancy nodded. "There's no point us both getting caught up in this. If we stay together, then you'll go down with me."
"Oh no, Nancy Wilmot, don't you even think about backing away from me. We're in this together. I love you. And even if I didn't, even if you weren't here, that wouldn't change how I am. I like girls, that's the way it is. I like you best of all the girls, but were you not here, I'd still like girls, and not boys. So you're not doing anything daft to save me. We're in this together."
Nancy shook her head. "It would only be for a short time. She's leaving the school in a month. And then this mess will be over, and we can go back to normal."
"But it's not going to be over, is it? Because even if Biddy goes, what about the next person who finds out?"
"Well, what else are we going to do?"
Kathie shrugged, but there was a slight gleam in her eye.
"Please tell me you're not thinking about just coming out and telling everybody!" Nancy looked at her like she was crazy.
Kathie grinned. "Can you imagine their faces? Oh, I don't know if that's what I'm thinking. Maybe some people? Right now it feels like she's holding a gun at our heads and it could go off at any moment. At least if we told some people we'd have a bit more control over our lives."
"Kathie, we can't tell anyone else. They'll all go ballistic, like Biddy."
Nancy ignored this.
"Sharlie knows? You told her?"
Rather crossly, Nancy asked, "What did you do that for?"
"Well...she guessed, really. And I wasn't going to deny it. Nancy, why did you tell Biddy?"
"Because she was going on and on about the wedding, and it just came out."
"No. I don't think that's why you told her. Oh, maybe that's what provoked you, right at that point, but I don't think you can live with this as a secret. You're not the secretive type."
"I can keep secrets. I've never told anyone before about me." Nancy folded her arms across her chest defensively.
"You didn't say anything before - well, before us - because you had no need. And because you were grieving and you weren't going to talk to anyone, and then, you were so thoroughly in the habit of not talking about it that it never occurred to you that you could talk about it. But you can't hide this. I've seen you. Now you've stopped - ignoring it - ignoring yourself - you can't keep it in. I think you told her because you've been on the verge of telling someone for weeks."
Nancy sat down rather heavily on a chair, and Kathie continued.
"And I've been thinking about why she reacted in the way she did. You know what you were saying, the other day, about thinking you know someone, and then finding out you don't? I bet she's thinking the same about us. I mean, it must have been a shock for her. She's known you half your life and then she finds out you're not who she thought you were."
"It's not like I was hiding who I was - not really - just that there was...no occasion to talk about it." Nancy said, in a small voice.
"You don't have to explain yourself to me, my love. And it's not just you, is it? It's me too - it's not like I've been waving flags and banners. I'm just trying to see where Biddy's coming from. I'm just thinking that maybe - on top of her obvious revulsion for people like us - is a whole load of...I don't know...betrayal?"
Nancy sat in silence for a while. And then she said, with a frown, "You're meant to be on my side."
"I am on your side. I'm always on your side." Kathie moved over to where Nancy was sitting, and knelt at her feet.
Things get even worse by jayj
With Kathie and Nancy having agreed to keep a low profile, and with Peggy and Ruth doing their best to contain and neutralize Biddy’s anger, somehow the weekend was reached without any further outbreaks of aggression. Saturday was a very busy day for everyone, with class reunions, guided tours of the school and local area, speeches from the Heads and from the first ever pupil, an afternoon concert, and in the evening, a new play by Josephine M. Bettany, entitled “The School in the Mountains (and on the Island, in England and Wales, and back in the Mountains again)”. Everyone present thoroughly enjoyed watching Chalet School legends brought to life on stage, and Vi Lucy surprised them all with her impersonation of Miss Wilson, Margot won applause for her creditable performance as Rufus, and the star of the show was universally declared to be Mary Lou as Matey.
Throughout all this, Rosalie’s careful timetabling of events kept the two warring women apart, and when, mid-afternoon, Eugen unexpectedly turned up to see his fiancé, he claimed all of Biddy’s attention so that Peggy and Ruth’s stress was eased considerably.
The following day was a much more relaxed and informal affair, and after Church the guests were invited to join with the current crop of schoolgirls in some traditional Chalet School weekend activities. Several parties set out on rambles to explore the local area, while others headed down to the lake for boating and swimming.
A group of mistresses, both present and former, were picnicking by the lake. As Hilary Graves started to cajole everyone into finishing their lunch and making a move for the boats, Sharlie caught sight of the half-eaten food on Kathie’s plate.
“You’re not hungry?”
Kathie shook her head.
“What’s up?” Nancy asked, concerned.
“It’s just a bit of tummy ache.”
“Time of the month?” Sharlie grinned.
“Nancy’s cooking?” Hilary suggested. Nancy had been placed in charge of organizing the picnic that the friends had just enjoying.
“Don’t think so...” Kathie just managed a grin.
“Hey!” But despite this cry of indignation directed at Hilary, Nancy looked carefully at Kathie, and worriedly, she said, “You really don’t look too well. Maybe you should go for a lie down?”
Kathie shook her head, but so unlike herself was she feeling that she couldn’t even raise a covertly flirtatious eyebrow at Nancy’s suggestion. “I’m ok. But I think I won’t come out on the lake with you.” As the others looked concerned, she added, “Oh, stop looking at me like that, and go on and have some fun! I’ll be ok.”
“If you’re sure...?” Sharlie asked.
“Go on, go!”
As the others set off, Nancy hung back.
“Do you want me to stay with you?”
“No. Don’t let me stop you having fun!”
“You’re sure you’re ok? Maybe I should get matron?”
“No, you can forget that. I’m not being dosed with castor oil. Nance, don’t look so worried. I’m fine. Don’t fuss.”
Reluctantly, Nancy set off to join the others. As she moved out of the glare of the sunshine to sit with her back against a shady tree, Kathie watched her partner turn and wave, and then, a few moments later, be herded into a boat by Hilary, and pressed into service at the oars.
Having rowed herself and Hilary out into the middle of the lake, Nancy paused for a breather, and looked up to see Hilary, arms folded, looking at her intently.
“So are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Hilary asked.
“Going on?” Nancy flushed red. Going on? Where ever to start...?
“Between you and Biddy.”
“Oh. That. Can we not talk about it now?”
“Look, we’re all having a nice time here, aren’t we? Let’s just leave it. It’ll be best all round. Trust me.”
Kathie watched Nancy’s boat head out into the lake, and couldn’t help but smile. She felt so lucky. Despite everything that had gone on in the last week or two, she couldn’t believe her good fortune. To have found someone like Nancy – it was just so beautiful, really, so precious. And today, Nancy was looking happier than she had in days, and Kathie had loved watching her as she interacted with her old school friends, and had enjoyed catching a glimpse of the schoolgirl she’d once been.
Suddenly, her smile became a grimace as a stab of pain in her side made her wince and breathe in sharply.
Oh Jesus that hurts...
No please God no not Kathie not Kathie not Kathie please God no please God no please no not again please not Kathie please no not Kathie no not again not Kathie not Kathie not again not again not again...
Nancy loved coming home. Or more precisely, she loved coming home to Meg.
As soon as you turned the corner of their street, you could see all the way down to number 23, and if the lights were on in the front room that meant Meg was home. Coming home to Meg, and their cosy little house, and their life together was something Nancy was sure she’d never get tired of. Nancy couldn’t work out what she’d done to get this lucky.
And today, the light was on, which meant Meg was in. And Nancy’s heart leapt like it did every day. She hurried down the street, keen to see Meg, keen to share her day, keen to see that face, that smile, that love.
Their cat sat on the doorstep miaowing. Nancy bent down to give his ears a quick scratch, then slid her key into the lock and opened the door to let them both in.
“Meg, it’s me!” she called.
It was nice to be in the warm after being out in the icy January evening. Slinging her satchel on the banister, she took off her coat, scarf and hat and hung them up.
There was a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. Nancy smiled to herself. For the last few weeks, Meg had been seized with something of a cooking obsession, and this week she had started on pies. Nancy half-remembered Meg saying something that morning about chicken and mushroom. She grinned; it was a good job she was reconciled to the fact she was never going to be particularly slim.
“Meg? Where are you my love?” She wandered towards the kitchen. “Meg? No. No....MEG? MEG?”
...no not again please God not again not again not again not Kathie please not Kathie please God please not Kathie please not Kathie...
“There’s someone who’s asked to see you, Nell. A...” Gillian looked down at the notepad in front of her “...Dr. Caroline Baker. From Cambridge.”
“Never heard of her. Did she say what she wanted?”
“No.” Gillian shook her head. “Just that it was important.”
Nell scowled at the pile of correspondence on her desk.
“I suppose you had better send her in.”
“Nell,” Nell held out her hand, and the other woman shook it. Nell motioned that she should sit down.
“Caroline Baker. I’m a friend of Nancy – Nancy Wilmot’s. You’re the one who offered Nancy the job here?” Nell nodded. “And how is she, do you think?”
It was a rather an odd way to be questioned, Nell thought, but then there was nothing about the woman in front of her that wasn’t odd...or rather, oddly attractive. Nell flushed a little.
“I’m not sure that’s something I ought to be discussing with outside parties.”
“Yes, of course, I understand.”
“Maybe you should ask Nancy herself?”
Caroline sat for a moment, then shook her head. “I wrote to her to let her know I’d be in the area, but she told me not to come. Understandable, I suppose, but –“ She trailed off. “There’s something I need to tell you. In strictest confidence.”
“In January Nancy suffered a...a...a major personal bereavement.”
Caroline hated herself for the way those words sounded, for how convoluted she’d had to make this. Meg would have laughed at her. But Meg also would never have forgiven her if she’d let Nancy run away without some attempt to take care of her.
“Her lo...” Caroline stopped. She’d thought about how she was going to say this all the way here, and she still wasn’t sure she’d worked it out properly. “...A very close friend of hers died.”
Nell looked at the woman carefully. “Her friend?” she asked. Her stomach lurched slightly, and she flushed red again. She had a feeling she knew where this was going.
Caroline returned Nell’s gaze. And she gambled that this was someone who might just understand. Someone she might just be able to trust with Nancy. And with Meg.
“Her lover.” Caroline confirmed. “Meg.”
“Oh no, Nancy – poor Nancy.” Nell turned rather white, and raised a hand to her mouth.
“She didn’t tell you.”
Nell shook her head.
“I knew she wouldn’t. And – and – Nancy wouldn’t want me to be doing this, but I think – it’s important for someone here to know what’s happened. To know what she’s been through. What she’s still going through. She doesn’t need to know that I’ve been here. But she does need someone...to keep an eye out for her. You understand?”
Nell nodded. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“...please no not Kathie not again please not Kathie please not again not Kathie not Kathie please God no not Kathie...”
“No, my child, it’s not going to happen again, not this time, no it’s not, it’s going to be ok,” Nell’s strong arms wrapped round Nancy’s hunched form, holding her, rocking her gently, soothing her. “No, my child, it’s not going to happen again, she’s with the doctors and she’s going to be ok, it’s ok, Nancy, it’s ok, it’s different this time. It’s going to be ok.”
But despite those words of reassurance, Nell had seen the look of concern on the faces of the doctors as they’d rushed the young teacher into surgery, and she was seriously worried.
Kathie thought she’d been clubbed round the head, several times, with a blunt and heavy object. Without even trying to move her limbs, she knew she was largely immobile. There was a peculiar pressure round her abdomen, and she felt very, very sick.
She decided not to open her eyes.
If only she could go back to sleep. If she could go back to sleep, maybe when she woke up she would feel less bad. Or at least, while she was asleep, she might be able to forget how bad she was feeling. Sleep was what she needed. Everything felt rotten. Sleep would make things better.
But. But. There was something else. Amongst all the bad and peculiar feelings, at the edge of her senses, she knew there was something else. A warm hand in her own. It felt good. It felt like home. She squeezed the hand, and through the fog of her brain, she heard something important.
“Kathie, darling, oh, Kathie my love, I’m here, I’m here.”
She smiled. Nancy. Nancy was here. Whatever had happened, it would be fine, because Nancy was here.
Nancy was here.
Kathie felt a hand gently stroke down her face. Nancy? Didn’t smell like Nancy. Who? And what could she hear? It sounded like a voice, a quiet voice. Praying? Who was praying? Why?
When Kathie opened her eyes some hours later, the ache in her skull had slackened, but what she saw didn’t seem to make much sense. There, to one side of her, was Nell Wilson, curled up in a chair, engrossed in a book. What on earth? Why was one of the Heads sitting by her while she slept?
Her brain was foggy, but two important questions were starting to form. She’d have to ask Nell. She’d be able to answer them. Kathie was sometimes a little scared of Nell, but as there was no-one else around, she’d have to forget her fear and forget that she was lying in a bed in her pajamas and ask Nell, and hope that Nell didn’t ask her why she was lying around in her pajamas in the middle of the day. Wait, were these her pajamas? Looking down at herself, Kathie decided they probably weren’t. Wrong colour. They didn’t look like Nancy’s, either. Whose were they, then? Kathie frowned for a moment, but decided this was a question that could wait.
Pulling her brain back to order, she thought hard about the two questions she had to ask.
“Nell?” she tried to say, but her voice was barely a whisper. That was no good. She tried again, this time clearing her throat first. “Nell?” she said, more loudly.
At the croaky voice, Nell put down her novel and moved quickly to Kathie’s side. Looking at her with concern in her eyes, she said gently, “Ah, there you are. How are you feeling?”
Kathie blinked. How was she feeling? She tried to think about that, but it seemed too complicated a question to answer. She decided to ignore Nell’s enquiry, and hope that the Head wouldn’t be too upset if she didn’t answer. Besides, she had questions of her own to ask, and they were much more important.
“Nell?” she said, in a shaky voice, as her questions came out in a confused rush. “Where’s happened? And what’s Nancy?”
Twisting the tap with a flick of her wrist, Nancy leaned forward heavily on the white porcelain basin and waited for it to fill. From the mirror above the sink, a pale and drawn face stared back at her. It was a face that was lined, strained and tense, but at least it was now a face that was no longer sobbing. The eyes looking back at her were bloodshot red but that was because of lack of sleep, and not because of the howling, the wailing fear, the desperate sadness that she’d feared was to engulf her once more.
Kathie was ok. The doctors had said. They’d said she’d be ok. They’d explained it all to Nell, as Nancy had hovered frantically, anxiously, in the background, they’d explained that it had been a close run thing, but that she’d been found in time, and she’d been lucky that it had been a doctor who had found her when she'd collapsed. She’d been found in time, and the surgeons had operated as quickly as they were able, and they expected a full and sound recovery.
They’d explained all this to Nell, who, as Kathie’s employer, was treated by the doctors as the nearest thing to next of kin Kathie had in this country. Nancy, too numbed by events to kick up any kind of fuss about this was simply desperately glad that she was allowed to stay in the same room, to stay with Kathie and not to be sent away. And somehow, Nell had seemed to know, and had stood by her side, strong and comforting, just as Nancy thought the world was going to collapse away from her. Nell seemed to know – not just about her and Kathie, but also about what had happened before. Nancy didn’t question it; she didn’t have the energy or the curiosity for anything other than Kathie. But she was thankful.
Kathie would be ok, that’s what the doctors said. And so Nell had sent her out of the room, having threatened her with disciplinary procedures if she didn’t leave Kathie’s bedside and, at the least, get something to eat and have a wash. Nancy had forced down the bread and cheese that Nell had pressed on her, and she had to admit that though she had no appetite, her body was much in need of sustenance. And now she was looking at her strange self in the mirror, she had to admit that she did need a wash too. If – she hastily corrected herself – when Kathie woke up, she’d barely recognize her.
The doctors had said she’d be ok, but there was a dark shadow of creeping fear in Nancy’s mind that meant that when she gets better kept flickering into an if she gets better and worse, a what if she doesn't get better. Kathie would be ok, that’s what they had said but she wasn’t inclined to believe them until she’d seen Kathie, awake and lucid. She needed to hear it from Kathie, not these white-coated strangers.
With a shiver Nancy thought back to the horror of the day before. How, laughing and joking with Hilary, damp-footed from where she’d misjudged how far the boat was from land and jumped too soon, she’d headed back to the spot where they’d picnicked, and rather than seeing Kathie, the solemn figure of Biddy had been waiting for them.
Biddy had stood there, had looked at her, and had begun to speak.
Nancy had flinched. Not another row. Not here.
“Nancy,” Biddy had said again, “There’s something...” Biddy had trailed off.
Nancy had raised her hands, palms open towards Biddy, almost offering herself up, showing that right now, she was not a threat. And it was only then that Nancy had noticed: Kathie was gone. At that moment it hadn’t struck her as anything to worry about. She must have just wandered off for a walk, perhaps gone for an ice cream....
“Nancy.” Biddy tried again, and this time Nancy had realized there was something very odd about Biddy, something not quite right about how she looked and how she spoke. And as Nancy stood there, her body open and defenceless, it was then that Biddy had stuck the knife into her and stabbed her, carved open her chest and pulled out her heart and lungs and stolen her breath and stopped her blood. Biddy had looked at her, and then, it seemed, had decided that she wasn’t able to say what she needed to. And so she had turned, very deliberately, extremely awkwardly, to Hilary, and keeping her eyes steadily averted from Nancy, said,
“Kathie’s been taken to the hospital. Eugen’s gone with her. He thinks it might be her appendix, and...well...and...it’s not...it’s not good.”
As Nancy stood there in the bathroom, the tears began to come again; not the awful contorting howls of yesterday, but tears that were silent and ceaseless. Suddenly, a splash of water pulled her back from that awful moment of the day before. The sink had overrun and water was now flowing down onto the floor. Nancy scrambled to turn off the tap, and to find a paper towel to mop up some of the mess.
That was how Nell found her, a few moments later, scrabbling pathetically and frantically, on her hands and knees.
“What the...? Nancy, dear, what’s going on?” Nell said, but without waiting for an answer, strode quickly over to Nancy and crouched down at her side. “Nancy. Nancy, now, look at me.”
Nancy raised her head but wasn’t able to lift her eyes to meet Nell’s. Tenderly, Nell reached out and tucked a strand of Nancy’s hair behind her ear.
“Nancy, listen to me. You’re going to stand up and you’re going to wash your face. And while you’re doing that, I’m going to tidy up this mess. And then – well – there’s someone who’s very keen to see you.”
Not even daring to hope, Nancy warily raised her eyes to look at Nell.
Nell nodded and smiled. “She’s awake. Groggy, but awake. She is going to be ok, Nancy. You have to believe me.”
Hurrying along the corridor Nancy and Nell met Frau Doktor Herzog, the doctor who was in charge of Kathie’s care, just as she was leaving Kathie’s room. Doktor Herzog stopped to speak to them, explaining to Nell that Kathie was doing as expected but had just been given something to help her sleep. Nancy paused momentarily to listen, but catching a glimpse of Kathie waving to her from inside the room, decided that she could find out what the doctor said later. Right now, it was Kathie she needed to talk to, before she drifted off to sleep again.
And so it was, a moment or two later, that Nell came into Kathie’s room to hear the confused and slightly indignant patient complaining,
“I feel like someone’s been rummaging round in my insides, and they’ve not quite put everything back where they found it.”
“Funny you should say that...” Nell murmured with a wry grin, leaning on the doorframe.
“Well, if your insides will go exploding everywhere, you can’t really expect them not to go rooting round,” Nancy said, slightly sternly, as she moved a chair closer to Kathie’s bed, and sitting in it, took hold of Kathie’s hand.
Feeling like an intruder on a private reunion, Nell decided to make herself scarce. “So now you’re awake,” she said, “I’m going to ring the school to let them know.” But she might have been talking to herself, the amount of attention Nancy and Kathie paid her. She shrugged, smiled, and left them to it.
“The nice doctor lady told me what happened. It’s lucky you found me when you did, the doctor said. I think. I’m not quite sure. Her English was a bit dubious, and my medical Swiss-German isn’t what it could be. You know, maybe we should do lessons in it at the school. I’m sure it’d come in handy, and there’s plenty of doctors around who could help with the teaching.”
Rather quietly, Nancy said, “It wasn’t me.
Kathie blinked, uncomprehendingly. "What wasn't you?"
“It wasn’t me that found you. By the time we got off the lake you were already in hospital.”
“So I was rescued by a good Samaritan, then? How very biblical. You know, I once met a Spanish boy called Jesus. Was it him?”
“Sorry. You know I get a bit incoherently voluble and verbally disjointed when I’m tired. And now I’m very tired. I think I’ve been dosed, like Matron does, only worse. Not her castor oil doses, the other ones, you know, the ones that make you sleep.”
“I know, my love.” Nancy gazed at Kathie, almost bursting with love. “You should sleep.”
“So should you. You actually look worse than I feel.”
“Hush now, my love.”
Kathie obediently closed her eyes. ”I love you Nancy,” she murmured quietly.
“I love you.” And with a heart full of relief, Nancy settled back in a chair to wait for Kathie to wake up once more. And, she thought, perhaps now she might be able to doze a little herself.
Meeting Frau Doktor Herzog in the corridor of the hospital, Nancy smiled a greeting, and was stopped in her tracks as the doctor, returning her friendly nod, said, “You’ve got better luck than your colleague – Frau Ferrars slept through her visit.”
Nancy looked at her, puzzled. “Colleague? Frau Wilson?” she asked, though she knew it couldn’t be her. Nell had gone back up to the school the evening before, various matters at St. Mildred’s requiring her urgent attention. Now that Kathie seemed to be on the mend, and Nancy had calmed down considerably, Nell had decided she could be spared from hospital duty, and (Nell hadn’t admitted this to Nancy) she also thought she needed to go back to calm the various grumblings that were emanating from her co-head about the entire Maths department going AWOL.
“Nein,” Doktor Herzog shook her head, “the other colleague, the one who was here before.” And as she proceeded to describe this mysterious colleague, recognition dawned on Nancy, and left her more than a little thunderstruck. But as soon as she entered Kathie’s room and saw her, lying in bed and frowning up at the ceiling, all thought of the mystery colleague was pushed out of her head.
“Hello you,” Nancy said with a smile.
Jumping slightly at the sound of Nancy’s voice, Kathie turned quickly and seeing her there, suddenly beamed happily. “Hello my lovely! What a nice surprise!” As Nancy leaned over to kiss her, Kathie continued. “I wasn’t expecting you. The doctor said it’s a Tuesday – I was imagining you wrangling with Upper IVa and was feeling rather sorry for myself that I wouldn’t get to see you today.”
“Got the day off,” Nancy replied, rather quietly. Kathie raised an eyebrow, and looked at her curiously. Nancy ignored Kathie’s unspoken question, and, forcing a smile, continued, “Back in tomorrow, though, so you better make the most of me now.”
“Not sure that I can, my love,” Kathie grinned naughtily. “I’m still rather sore.”
Nancy smiled, shook her head, and tried not to blush. “Well, it sounds like you’re feeling a bit better, at least.”
“Not as better as I’d like to be, but better than I was, I think. It all seems like a rather peculiar blur punctuated by pain and wooziness.”
Nancy nodded, a haunted look stealing across her face.
Catching that look, Kathie reached out for her hand and said, “I’m sorry, my love. For – well...” She gestured with her free hand in the direction of her abdomen, and shrugged.
“Don’t be silly! You don’t need to apologise. It’s not like you did it on purpose...and I’m sorry for leaving you. I should never have gone out on the lake while you were feeling ill.” Nancy looked guilty and unhappy.
“Now who’s being silly! You weren’t to know...! And anyway, you can’t wrap me up in cotton wool. I am a fully grown grown-up, you know.”
“But still, the thought of you, in pain, on your own...” Nancy silently cursed herself as the words slipped out. She was meant to be here to comfort Kathie, not to be the one needing comfort. She didn’t want Kathie to know...to know how badly she’d reacted over the last couple of days.
“Nancy! Stop that right now. It couldn’t be helped! And I’m fine. Really, I am. I’ll be up and running around before you know it.”
Nancy gave a small smile.
“I will! Anyway, it’s good of them to give you the day off,” Kathie said.
“Ye-es. Nell arranged it. I don’t think Hilda’s too thrilled about the whole Maths department being put out of commission, but I think...I think...I think Nell thought I was in no fit state to work, really.” Nancy looked guilty again. So much for keeping it from Kathie...
Kathie squeezed her hand. “You’ve had it bad, haven’t you?”
Nancy nodded slightly. And then, forcing herself to be cheerful, said, “So, thanks for creating this opportunity for me to have an impromptu holiday, but next time you want to give me an extra couple of days off work, can you try to do it in a less dramatic way?”
Kathie chuckled. “I’ll try. Anyway, so who was my good Samaritan? I don’t think you ever said. I’d like to thank them, whoever they are.”
Nancy pulled a face. “You might be closer to the mark with that Samaritan idea than you think.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Your good Samaritan – it was Biddy. Or rather, Biddy and Eugen.”
“What?” Kathie tried to sit up, but a twinge in her side told her this was not something she ought to be attempting just yet. She lay back down. “Well,” she said, looking at Nancy. Nancy’s face was oddly unreadable. A thought suddenly struck Kathie. “She’s been here,” she said, with a distant look on her face as the memory came back to her. “I...I’ve got a vague memory of waking up, and hearing a voice, praying I think, and I don’t think it was Nell, and it wasn’t you.”
With an expression that was somewhere between a grimace and a wry smile, Nancy confirmed this. “She’s been here a couple of times, apparently. I just found out from the doctor. But I haven’t seen her here. I haven’t seen her at all since Sunday, when she met Hilary and me as we came off the lake.” Nancy shuddered as the memory of that moment washed over her. “I...I wanted to thank her, of course, her and Eugen...but...I just haven’t seen her.” She shrugged.
“Well,” said Kathie again, still trying to take it all in.
“Indeed,” said Nancy. “The fact she’s just saved your life adds an interesting dimension to our current disagreement, doesn’t it?”
“Anyway, let’s not talk about that now,” Nancy continued. “I’ll be back in the lion’s den tomorrow, and that’s soon enough for me to start worrying about it.”
“I hope you’re not thinking of trying to hide things from me, Nancy Wilmot. I might be bed-bound, but I’m still here for you, and if you want to talk about this...whole situation...you can.” Kathie squeezed Nancy’s hand sympathetically.
“I know...it’s just, not now. We’ve got a day to ourselves, and I’d rather not spend it dwelling on that – it’s not like we can change anything.”
“Well,” Kathie nodded her agreement. They gazed at each other for a moment, and then Kathie’s face fell.
“If you’re back in school tomorrow, presumably that means I’m not going to see you again until the weekend? Oh – and you’re on duty all day Saturday. So that means I’m not going to see you until Sunday. If they let you come down and see me then...” Kathie looked desperately glum, and it was Nancy’s turn to give her hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Has no-one told you? You’re going to be moved up to the San on Thursday if they can sort out transport for you. So you’ll only have one day on your own, and then you'll be back up on the Platz and I’ll be over as often as I can, and on top of that I imagine you’ll have no shortage of visitors.”
Kathie looked relieved. “Really? Oh, that’s such good news. I thought I was going to be stuck here on my own...And it’ll be nice to have more company.”
“Am I not enough for you?”
“You know you are. But you won’t be able to be with me all the time, and it’ll be nice to see other people. And, you know, it was good to have Nell here, but I found it really hard to talk to her. I’ve always been a little scared of her, and when she was here I kept remembering I was lying in my pyjamas, and then I wasn’t able to speak properly...”
Nancy shrugged. “Nell’s been great, this last few days. I think...” A cloud passed across her face as she thought for a moment about the situation she wasn’t meant to be thinking about. “I think it’s good thing she’s on our side. She might be...” Nancy grimaced slightly, “...a good ally.”
“I don’t think I’d’ve expected it of her, really. She always strikes me as being...well, fierce and unsentimental, and it seems like she’s been...well...she’s been looking after you, hasn’t she?”
Nancy nodded, and after a moment or two's thought, decided to share with Kathie an idea that had come to her in the last few days. “Don’t say anything to anyone else, but I think...there might be a reason for that. I think,” here Nancy lowered her voice, “she might be on our side in more ways than one.”
Kathie looked at her, and then opened her eyes wide.
Kathie grinned and chuckled. “Actually, I can completely imagine that.”
“I don’t think I want to know what you’re imagining,” Nancy looked at her sternly.
“Nothing like that, Nancy! All that imagining is reserved solely for you.”
“Glad to hear it!” Nancy smiled at her, and then, resolving to put her anxieties to one side for the rest of the day, reached into her bag and brought out a rather large book. “And to reward you for that, I’ve brought you a present.”
Kathie looked at it and frowned.
“That, my love, is an atlas.”
“I did expect you to spot that, you know.” Nancy returned, “If you didn’t, I might’ve had to speak to Hilda and Nell about you having got your job on false pretences.”
“Well, since I didn’t get my job on false pretences and I know exactly what an atlas is, why have you brought it? It’s not really ideal present material, is it? Isn’t it a bit...hmm, insensitive...to bring the incapacitated geography teacher one of the tools of her trade? If I was a builder, would you bring me some bricks to taunt me with while I’m lying here? Or...if I was a plumber, some copper piping? Or if I was....a zoo keeper, a giraffe? Or if I was...”
Laughing, Nancy interrupted her at that point. “Oh my god, you’re so ungrateful...!”
“Well, come on, it’ll take a better present than that to win my gratitude.” Kathie frowned with mock-severity.
“Kathleen Ferrars! Do you want me to go and leave you here all on your own?”
“Yes! I’d like you to go and get me a better present. One that’s less about work, and more about...fun.”
“You are an outrage.”
“No, I am an invalid, and I need presents.”
“I don’t think presents are actually part of your prescribed treatment.”
“They are, ask the doctor.”
Nancy held up her hands, and sighed. “If you’d’ve let me finish before you launched into your diatribe about giraffes and turtles and antelopes...”
“I didn’t even mention turtles or antelopes,” Kathie huffed.
“...then you’d’ve found out that this atlas is actually a fun atlas, not a work atlas, because it comes with these train timetables, and this guidebook, and this list of campsites.” As she spoke, Nancy reached into her bag, brought out these items, and deposited them on Kathie’s bed. “And this notebook.” With a flourish, Nancy tossed the notebook in Kathie’s direction.
As Kathie reached up to catch it, she stretched and grimaced.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Nancy said, looking at her with concern.
Kathie shook her head. “It’s ok, my fault. And I’m fine. What is this, anyway?” Eagerly she flipped open the cover of the notebook to reveal the first page on which Nancy had written ‘Holiday Plans’ in big, bold script. Kathie looked up at her with a big grin.
“I thought, maybe, we could spend today doing a bit of daydreaming about what we might get up to this summer.” Nancy suddenly looked a bit worried, anxious that she was presuming too much. “That is, if you want to come away with me?”
“Nancy, you donkey, there’s nothing I want more. Now, hand me that fun atlas and I’ll show you how good I am with maps...”
“How is she?”
It had been late when Nancy had returned to the school on Tuesday evening, and after a quick chat with Nell she’d gone to bed, avoiding the rest of her colleagues. The last few days had taken a toll on her and though she was grieved to be apart from Kathie, part of her was relieved to be going back into the classroom. The classroom was, peculiarly, a place she could hide, and sometimes she felt herself disappearing as she stood at the front of the classroom. She could become a function, a voice, a performance. She could feel as if she was outside of herself, like she was watching someone else on stage. She could become Nancy the teacher, and all the other Nancys that she could be – the complicated, the confused, the desperate, the passionate - they all faded.
Being in the classroom was one thing. The girls knew nothing – or very little – about what had happened that weekend, and performing in front of them was something with which she was comfortable. But going back into the staffroom was something rather different. There would be the concerned colleagues, the nosy colleagues and the indifferent colleagues, and Nancy felt she had a row to start with all of them. She’d flinch under the pity of the concerned, become annoyed at the curiosity of the nosy, and be furious at the indifferent ones who didn’t seem to care that Kathie was lying in hospital. And on top of those, there was Biddy.
So she’d avoided the staffroom before school but now it was break and she was going to have to go and face it. That people might know about her – about her and Kathie – and about this peculiar situation with Biddy – wasn’t really the problem. The problem, rather, was that she felt...naked, defenceless, armourless... without Kathie there.
And so she loitered in the classroom. Could she stay here over break time? No-one would notice, surely? A pile of text books was stacked rather untidily on a low cupboard. How long could she stay here, pretending that she was tidying them up?
“Nance, did you hear me?” A touch on her arm brought her back to earth. “I said, how is she? And how are you?” Peggy was stood next to her, and Sharlie was standing in the doorway. Nancy looked carefully, first at one of them and then the other, guessed she had nothing to fear from these two, at least, and almost managed a smile.
“She’s...she’ll be fine.”
Peggy nodded. “Good, that’s what Nell said. And what about you?”
Peggy regarded her sternly.
Quietly, Nancy said, “I’m fine.”
“Fine?” Peggy looked at her sceptically, then shrugged. “Fine. Well, come on, let’s go and get some coffee.” Seeing Nancy’s hesitation, she said, “Look, come with us, and we’ll ward off the inquisition. It’ll be...well...fine...” She ended with a grimace.
Flanked by her two protectors, and letting them absorb questions about Kathie’s wellbeing, Nancy felt emboldened and even able to chip in a word of her own here and there. And thanks to her white knights, Nancy got through breaktime and lunchtime and afternoon break, and, so, exhausted and lulled into an odd contentment that came from the regular rhythm of the school day, it was without trepidation that she entered the staffroom at the end of lessons. But as soon as she opened the door she cursed herself for letting down her guard, for there was one person in the room and it was the one person around whom she needed to be most careful.
Seeing her come into the room, Biddy stood up. “We need to talk. Away from here,” she said tersely.
Unprepared, and fumbling desperately for words, Nancy replied, “Biddy, I wanted to say, thank you. For what you did. Or...rather, I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough.”
“Please don’t thank me. I didn’t...I didn’t do it for you.” They both grimaced. “I mean...I – we – only did what anyone in that position would have done.”
“Perhaps, but thank you anyway,” persisted Nancy.
“Nancy, don’t. I don’t...just...please.”
An awkward silence descended. “Let’s...” said Biddy, gesturing in the direction of the door. She set off out of the staffroom, and as if she had no will of her own, Nancy followed.
Just as they were leaving the school buildings, Biddy felt a weight crash into her, and propel her backwards into Nancy. As the two mistresses found themselves in a tangled heap on the floor, the weight revealed itself to be Con Maynard, who, late for prep, had been dashing into school without looking where she was going.
“Miss O’Ryan! Miss Wilmot! Oh, I’m ever so sorry...” Con, looking mortified, tried to help the two teachers to their feet.
“Constance Maynard!” Biddy exclaimed, as she dusted herself down. “Are you meant to be here? No? And are you meant to be running? No? Well, you better get to where you ought to be before anyone finds out you’re somewhere where you ought not to be. And don’t run!”
For one brief moment, catching each other’s eye as Con hurried away as quickly as she could without running, Nancy and Biddy forgot everything that had happened, and grinned at one another. But as quickly as that moment of collegial camaraderie came, it fled again, and remembering themselves, their grins froze, they looked away, and without speaking, they set off again on their steady walk away from the school buildings.
They walked until they reached the edge of the cricket field, and it was then that Biddy broke the silence.
“Nancy, I’m sorry.” They came to a standstill and stood looking at each other. Nancy opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came. Biddy continued. “For...all of this. I wish it hadn’t happened. Oh, if only we could turn back the clock!”
At those words, Nancy felt a little hope tug at her heart, but she saw that Biddy’s face was solemn and that hope ran away and hid somewhere dark.
“If only you’d never....Nancy, why did you have to say anything? Couldn’t you just have left it? If you hadn’t said anything...If I didn’t know, then maybe...things could have stayed the way they were.”
Biddy looked at her desperately, and Nancy saw that she was crying. “I wish...I wish I could give you a hug, and say ‘It’s alright’, and then everything could go back to the way it was before,” Biddy was saying. “But I can’t. I wish I could say ‘It doesn’t matter’. But it does matter. I can’t get over that. I can’t. I’ve tried, and I can’t. I can’t...condone...what you’re doing. I just can’t, Nancy. I don’t believe it’s right. You might believe it is, but that’s between you and your God. And...I’ll respect that, but I can’t do any more than that. I can’t like it, and I don’t agree with it. I’m sorry.”
Nancy looked at her, barely comprehending. Biddy continued,
“What I wanted...what I needed to say to you is this. We can’t be friends. But let’s not row. I’m going to go to Hilda and tell her that there’ll be no more trouble from me about...this. I won’t make things difficult for you. Or Kathie. But let’s just...let’s just stay out of each other’s way.”
For a moment, Biddy looked as if she had more to say, but instead she shrugged, then she turned and went back to the school, leaving Nancy stood there, staring after her.
Nancy stood there staring after Biddy for a several minutes. She knew that the outcome of their conversation shouldn’t really have been a shock to her, but it was. It was a shock to have Biddy renounce their friendship, not in anger, but in sorrow. There was no going back.
Eventually, she began to move in the direction of school but stopped after just a few paces. The school didn’t seem like a good place to be. Sharlie and Peggy had been great with her all day but Sharlie was Kathie’s friend, really, and Nancy didn’t want to trespass too much on that friendship. And Peggy... For the last week or so, Peggy had been attempting to maintain a careful balance between Nancy and Biddy, trying desperately to favour neither one nor the other. Nancy knew that Peggy didn’t want to side with either of her friends – but if this breach between herself and Biddy was to be permanent, and that was indeed how it looked – then Peggy would have to choose. No matter how grown up they all tried to be about this, one way or another, Peggy would have to choose. And Nancy feared that she wouldn’t be chosen. And then she’d’ve lost two friends, not just one. And when Peggy went, who else would go too?
So it was she found herself at St Mildred's, in Gill Culver’s office, asking if Nell was around, being informed that she’d just popped out, and accepting Gill’s offer of a cup of tea while she waited for her to return.
“Or,” said Gill, “You couldn’t actually make the tea yourself, could you? I really need to get this finished as soon as I can.” She gestured at the typewriter.
“Course I can.” Nancy smiled at her. “They’ve got you working late,” she added, conversationally.
Gill scowled and shook her head. “Yes, I know,” she replied through gritted teeth.
Seeing that Gill really didn’t want to be distracted, Nancy quietly set about making the tea. Once she’d done this, she placed a mug on Gill’s desk, together with a biscuit she’d found in a tin. Having gained a grateful nod in return, she settled herself in a chair to wait.
It wasn’t long before Nell appeared. “Gill, you’re not still working on that. Stop, woman! You are aware that we don’t pay overtime, aren’t you?”
“It needs to be done, Nell,“ Gill replied, not looking up, and continuing her typing.
“It can be done tomorrow. And Abendessen’s going to be called in a moment...oh, hello!” she said, suddenly spotting Nancy. “How are you?” Before the words were even out of her mouth, Nell registered the haunted look on Nancy’s face, decided it was unlikely that she’d get a positive answer to that question, so followed it immediately with another. “Join us for dinner?”
“I...um...yes?” was the best that Nancy could do in response.
“Good. Now, Gill, put that typewriter down and do come along,” Nell declared, and herded the pair of them in the direction of the dining room.
After dinner, Nancy found herself sat in a comfortable armchair in Nell’s study. The evening had grown chilly, and while they were at dinner, a fire had been laid and was now roaring merrily.
Nell poured her a gin. “Tonic?” she asked.
Nancy nodded, with a wry smile. “I think so. Things are bad, but they’re not quite bad enough for neat gin...”
Nell fixed her own drink, and sat down in the other armchair.
“So, do you want to talk, or...”
“...or what, sit here and get drunk?”
Nell chuckled. “Well?” she said, with an eyebrow raised.
“A bit of both?” Nancy offered. After a sip or two, and staring into the fire, she began to tell Nell of her most recent encounter with Biddy. “I’m sorry for...burdening you with this,” she concluded. “Maybe I should have spoken to Hilary or Peggy or someone. They’d be sympathetic, sure, but...you understand, don’t you? You understand.”
If Nell nodded, the movement was barely perceptible. She stared into the fire for a moment. “Nancy, I’ll help you – you, and Kathie – as much as I can. But you know this isn’t a good situation. Biddy might not say anything, but other people might. And,” Nell grimaced as she swallowed down the feeling of disloyalty that swept over her, “Hilda...” she trailed off.
“Will she want us to leave?” Nancy asked quickly, worried.
“No,” Nell said quickly, and then hedged a little, “at least...no...oh...I can’t say, to tell the truth. She’s...finding this whole situation rather difficult to deal with.” Feeling guilty for passing on this insight, but recognizing that so much was at stake for Nancy and for Kathie, Nell decided to be honest. “I think...it’s not something she’s ever thought of before. As far as I’m aware, no-one’s ever mentioned anything like...this...to her before....I think it’s all a bit of a shock. I mean, I suppose she might have known about it, in the abstract, but to have it in her school...”
“But...surely we’re not the first...this is a school full of female teachers, for God’s sake!” Nancy interjected. “Me and Kathie can’t be the only ones...” She stopped and looked at Nell. “I mean, we’re not, are we?”
Both of them were well aware that though Nancy’s question was couched in general terms, she was asking something very specific of Nell.
Nell looked back at Nancy, wearing an expression that ordered her to stop fishing. And then slowly, that expression softened ever so slightly, as memories of her younger self flooded back, and she shook her head. “No,” Nell agreed with a sigh. “No, you’re not the only ones.”
“Do – do you have anything stronger?” Hilda asked rather shyly, as she took off her jacket and hung it up on the back of Nell’s study door, before going to sit on the sofa.
Nell grinned, and went to open the cupboard behind her desk. “Of course,” she said, but as she picked up the gin she grimaced a little. There was a lot less in the bottle than there had been the previous evening. She and Nancy had given it a bit of a battering last night. No wonder she’d felt so rough this morning.
“I’ve just come from the San,” Hilda said, as Nell handed her a glass.
“How is she?”
“Kathie?” Nell nodded. “She’s looking quite well, considering she’s just had a major surgery. I spoke to Jack Maynard, though. He says there’s absolutely no chance of her being back before the end of term.”
“No, I thought as much,” Nell agreed. “But there’s only a couple of weeks left, and given it’s exam season, Nancy’s got fewer lessons with the upper forms, so it shouldn’t be too hard to tweak the timetable to make sure that none of Kathie’s classes miss too much.”
“Nancy was at the San,” Hilda said, trying to keep her voice calm and level.
Nell shrugged. “I suppose it’s going to be hard to keep her away from there.”
Hilda said nothing, but took a sip of the gin, and then sighed. After a moment, she said, quietly, “Oh Nell, I just don’t know what to do about all this. Biddy came to see me yesterday. She said she’s going to...well, that she and Nancy have...agreed to disagree over this.”
“Nancy came to see me yesterday.”
Hilda narrowed her eyes.
“I don’t want us to...to end up taking sides over this, Nell.”
Nell looked at her carefully. “It won’t come to that,” she said firmly.
“But even if Biddy has decided to drop this – that doesn’t really mean that it’s over, does it?”
“No. It just means...we all have to tread carefully.”
They sat in silence for a moment or two.
“Oh, if only they’d stop this...foolishness!” Hilda exclaimed.
“Is that what you think it is? Foolishness?” Nell asked tentatively.
“Well, how else would you describe it? They can’t be serious about this, surely? It’s just wro- well, it’s hardly sensible. And they’re putting so much at risk – their reputations, their careers, this school – for a passing, foolish whim!”
Nell put down her glass. “I don’t think it’s a passing foolish whim. Have you seen them together?”
Hilda sighed and nodded. “Yes, this evening. Oh, they weren’t being inappropriate, or even demonstrative, but you can see they’re clearly...well, they’re...” She trailed off.
“In love?” Nell supplied with a grin.
Hilda grimaced. “Oh, that’s what it looks like, but...isn’t it just that...well, that they’ve not met the right man yet?”
Nell folded her arms across her chest. “Hilda, that’s not really how it works. It’s not about...passing time until the right man comes along. It’s just...it’s just the way some people are.”
Hilda exhaled deeply. “Well, that may be the case. But, well, it’s not normal.” Fleetingly, a dark look passed over Nell’s face. “Or, no, I don’t mean not normal, but it’s not accepted. It’s not what society thinks is right. And if the parents find out...? But Nancy’s one of us. I can’t just...throw her to the wolves. So I don’t know what to do. I mean, is it even possible to sweep this under the carpet?”
Nell chuckled to herself, “In my experience that’s generally what happens...”
“It’s not all that uncommon,” Nell said, matter-of-factly.
Hilda took a deep breath. “Nell, what do you know...about this...this kind of thing?”
“I know,” Nell said simply, and as Hilda looked at her questioningly, Nell recognized the unspoken question, and nodded, ever so slightly, flinching inwardly as she did so.
But the shock, the disappointment, the anger on Hilda’s face – all the emotions Nell had expected to see there – they never came. Instead, a quiet sadness revealed itself, as Hilda realized that it wasn’t the situation with Nancy and Kathie that had thrown her so badly off balance this last week, but rather her growing suspicion about Nell. It was the dawning revelation that despite their closeness, there was something about Nell that she’d never picked up on and had never quite understood.
“Oh Nell, why didn’t you say anything?” Hilda looked at her imploringly.
“Say what, exactly? It’s not something that I wanted – that I want – to talk about,” Nell replied stiffly.
“But this is me you’re talking to, Nell.”
“What good would it have done to tell you? And anyway,” Nell laughed slightly, but there was an edge of bitterness to her laugh, “For a long time, frankly, there’s been nothing to tell.”
“Don’t you trust me?”
“I - I didn’t want to lose you."
There was a pause.
“I’d already lost too much,” Nell said. “I didn’t want to lose you too.”
“That wouldn’t have happened.”
“It happens. Look at Nancy and Biddy.” Hilda gazed at Nell for a moment, recognizing the truth of her words. “Anyhow,” Nell continued, “We’re not going to get anywhere with this whole situation by discussing my...my...past.”
Hilda looked at her sympathetically, and then, with a slight glint of mischief in her eye said, “No. But...you might have some valuable insights which will help us sort this out. So, let’s say you have experience of...relationships like this?”
“Taking place in a school...?”
Nell nodded again.
“In this school...?” Hilda asked, the mischief in her voice tinged with incredulity.
After a couple of moments, Nell nodded once more. Then, despite herself, she chuckled. “One or two,” she admitted with a grin.
“Nell!” Hilda’s eyes opened wide, and she thought furiously. Suddenly, something clicked into place. “Con?” she asked tentatively.
“Con,” Nell agreed, with a slight frown. She stared hard at the carpet.
Hilda gave vent to a low whistle. “And I had no idea...You said there was more than one? Who else?”
The gloom that had settled on Nell when Hilda had mentioned Con’s name lifted slightly. Leaning back in her chair, Nell said, “Oh, she left before you arrived. It was a glorious – well, glorious and rather complicated – fling in my first year in Tyrol...” Nell’s eyes became distant.
Hilda shook her head ever so slightly, and smiled to herself. She’d never seen Nell looking so whimsical before.
“Did – did Madge, or Therese, ever know?”
“Madge? No. One or two other people did know about that first one – Sally Denny did, would you believe? Therese, I think, might have had some idea about Con and I, but she never said anything.”
Hilda contemplated this. “So, from that, one might infer that there is a precedent for sweeping...this kind of thing...under the carpet?”
Nell nodded and then breathed in sharply. “I suppose so. But I feel...oh, a bit like I’ve got a big vested interest in what happens to Nancy and Kathie. As in, am I trying to save them to save my own skin? So...I don’t know if you can rely on my decision-making here.”
“But you think they should be allowed to stay?”
“Of course. Nancy’s an excellent teacher, one of our best. And like you said, she’s one of us. And Kathie’s very promising – she’s had one or two bumps but she’s looking like a real teacher.”
Hilda nodded her agreement. “But is their relationship likely to affect their work?”
“I’d say...ordinarily not. Obviously, this week it has, but in the normal run of things, I’d say, probably not. And I think they can be trusted to be fairly discreet. But...getting involved with someone you work with...it’s not always a good idea. When it goes wrong, it’s...it’s hell, frankly.” The dark gloom returned to Nell’s countenance.
“With Con? You mean, why did she go off with Jock?”
“You’d have to ask her that, I suppose.”
“Oh, Nell. I just wish that you’d been able to talk to me.”
“I couldn’t have told you about it, Hilda. It was...complicated enough as it was, without anyone else getting involved.”
“Stop ‘oh Nell’-ing me! I’m fine about it, now. It was a long time ago. And back to the matter in hand...I’m not going to be the one to stomp all over their current happiness just because further down the line one of them might get their heart broken...don’t say it, Hilda!”
“I could see you were about to ‘oh Nell' me again! Don’t.”
Hilda sheepishly grinned an apology. “Right, we want them both to stay. And we can’t stop them being together, as long as they’re discreet. But we need to keep this very low key. Will – will you have a word with them, and let them know that? I want to keep this unofficial, I think, and if I speak to them, it risks becoming official doctrine.”
“You want to keep it deniable, you mean?”
“No! Yes...perhaps...no...oh Nell, just pour me another drink, will you?”
There's an implied crossover here with Finn's wonderful Tea and Militancy, so if you're not sure what it is that makes Nell so uncharacteristically whimsical, I'd strongly urge you to go and read that!
“My stitches itch,” a voice growled from the bed.
“And it’s lovely to see you, too, my love,” Nancy replied with a smile, as she came into Kathie’s room.
“It is lovely to see you. But my stitches itch. And I can’t do anything about it. And it’s been driving me mad all day,” said the impatient patient.
“Well, I think I know a cure for that,” Nancy said, approaching the bed.
“Yes. Now, close your eyes.”
Kathie obeyed, and as she did so, Nancy bent down and kissed her gently.
“How are your stitches now?”
“Mmm, better,” Kathie said. “Oh, no wait, they itch again. You better do that again.”
“I think so, yes. Mmm, that’s better.”
Nancy perched on the edge of the bed, taking her partner’s hand in her own as she did so.
“How are you? Apart from the stitches?”
“Much the better for seeing you. Are you here on your own?” Kathie asked.
Nancy shook her head. “No, Sharlie and Ruth are here too. They – er - tactfully decided to visit the bathroom, and sent me on ahead.”
“How very nice of them.”
Nancy nodded. “It was. I think we better take some more advantage of their niceness,” she said, leaning down to kiss Kathie once more. She was interrupted by a knock on the door, and quickly she moved from the bed to the chair at Kathie’s side.
“Are you both decent?” Ruth said, peeking her head round the door. “I’ve heard about you two and unlocked doors.”
Kathie and Nancy both flushed red.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Nancy said, mustering as much dignity as she could at the same time as looking very shifty.
“Oh, I’m fairly sure you know exactly what I’m talking about,” Ruth breezily retorted as she came into the room.
Sharlie, following Ruth into the room, looked at her enquiringly. “Am I missing something here?”
Ruth leaned over to Sharlie. “When you get a quiet moment, you might want to ask Peggy what she saw in Geneva.”
“Or, you know, you might not,” Nancy responded. “It’s not at all interesting...I’m going to kill Peggy.”
Ruth smirked, and Sharlie looked confused.
“What? What happened?”
“Oh, for God’s sake, all that happened is that she walked in on us! Can’t we all...grow up a bit? It’s not like it’s the biggest scandal in the world!” Kathie said, from the bed.
“Walked in on you...?” Sharlie said, and then, as her confusion lifted, she turned pink. “Oh...!”
Having successfully managed to turn her three colleagues three different shades of embarrassment, Ruth decided to change the subject. “So, are we playing cards then, or what?”
“Come on you ‘orrible lot, it’s time you were off.” Several hours later, Matron Graves stuck her head round the door of Kathie’s room.
“But Helen, it’s a Friday...” Ruth turned to look at her imploringly.
“Yes, I know it’s a Friday, but this is a medical establishment not a...drinking establishment,” she said, spotting the bottle that Sharlie was hastily hiding. “Ruth, you’ve not brought alcohol into my Sanatorium!”
“Of course I haven’t,” Ruth said, smiling sweetly and quite glossing over the fact that she’d bought the bottle of wine, but had handed it to Sharlie to carry into the building. “Be nice, Helen. You’re only grumpy because you’re working on a Friday night.”
“There may be some truth in that, Ruth Derwent, but the fact that I’ve had to come down here three times to tell you off for making too much noise hasn’t been particularly beneficial to my mood. And rules is rules, and the rules say you all have to leave now.”
“But aren’t you in charge of making the rules? Couldn’t you be...a little flexible?”
Matron Graves folded her arms, and glared at Ruth.
“Ok, ok...we’ll be going,” Ruth capitulated.
Helen Graves stood in the doorway as they packed up their various belongings, keen to ensure that the raucous visitors were actually leaving. As Ruth and Sharlie said their goodbyes to the patient, Ruth caught Nancy’s eye and winked. She’d seen how Nancy and Kathie were, respectively, becoming increasingly anxious and forlorn at the prospect of saying farewell under the Matron’s eagle eye, and she decided to do something about it.
“Oh, but Helen,” she said, going over to her friend, “Are you sure you don’t have time for a drink? Come on, when do you finish work? 10? Why don’t you come over to the school with us....” That was all Nancy and Kathie heard as Ruth led the Matron away down the corridor. Sharlie gave them a knowing smile and followed close behind.
“Ruth’s funny,” Kathie murmured, as Nancy caught her hand.
“She’s rather ingenious, sometimes. Sometimes, though, she’s a nightmare. Poor Helen...! Now, are you going to be alright for the rest of the evening? We haven’t been too rowdy for you, have we?”
Kathie shook her head, contentedly.
“No, I’ve had a lovely time. But it’ll seem awfully quiet when you’ve gone. I’m going to miss you. I wish - oh, I wish I could just curl up with you, Nance.”
“I know. Soon, I promise. And I’ll be back tomorrow. Hilda’s given me the afternoon off, so, if you’ve no objections, I’ll come over and see you?“
“No objections at all. I love you, Nance.”
“I love you. Sleep well.”
“Nancy, how many times do you need to check that bag? The passports and the tickets are in there. You’ve checked. And you’ve checked again. And you’ve thrice checked.” It was early evening in Interlaken, and the two women had just climbed aboard the sleeper train destined for Paris.
Ignoring Kathie’s mockery, Nancy reached anxiously into her bag and rummaged around once more for the documents.
“What’s that, Nancy?” Kathie continued, “They’re exactly where you put them? Of course they are. Now, put that bag down, stop fretting, and come and sit next to me.”
Giving her a slight frown, Nancy stowed the bag in the overhead compartment, and sat down.
“If you’re fretting like this when there’s just the two of us, what are you normally like when you’re trying to transport a herd of schoolgirls across the continent?”
Nancy sighed. “Hmm, I’m not normally this stressed. I think – I think I’m just anxious to get away. I don’t really fancy having to traipse back up to the Platz all sheepish-like because we’ve forgotten something. I just want to be away from there.”
Kathie smiled sympathetically, and reached for her hand. Back up on the Platz, that very evening, Biddy’s leaving party was taking place.
“It’s going to be ok, Nance. One day – one day, she’ll come round. I’m sure of it. She’s a good person, underneath...” Kathie could see tears forming in Nancy’s eyes, and she squeezed her hand. “And we still have some very good friends.”
“Yes, we do.” With a slight sniff, Nancy agreed. Peggy, Sharlie and Ruth had certainly proved themselves as such over the last few weeks. Added to that, they’d received encouragement and understanding from Nell and (to their surprise) a slightly distant but altogether genuine reassurance from Hilda. All in all, it meant that despite everything, Nancy and Kathie knew that the Chalet School was still their home.
“I don’t know what was going on with Rosalind though,” Kathie frowned slightly. The Head of Geography had been distinctly chilly towards them as they had taken their leave of her earlier that day. “Have I done something to upset her? Is she annoyed that she’s had to cover my classes while I’ve been ill? Or,” Kathie suddenly turned pale. “She’s not...discovered that I’ve somehow been teaching them wrong...oh, what if they’ve all started spouting nonsense....I bet it’s IIIb. After all those battles we had about which capital cities belonged to which countries, I bet they’ve gone and forgotten. I bet they’ve gone and shown me up. Oh, they’ll be in such trouble when I see them...oh, if she doesn’t sack me first...”
“I’m sure it’s nothing like that,” Nancy said, a little distracted.
“You could try to sound a bit more convincing, my love.”
“Sorry!” Nancy said with a slight grin. “I’m sure it’s nothing like that,” she said again, this time with more conviction.
“That’s more like it!” Kathie said. Nancy suddenly looked distant again. “What is it?” Kathie asked.
“Something Ruth said. I think Ros might have a problem with...us.”
Kathie rolled her eyes. “Oh, it’s not all going to kick off again, is it? Why can’t people just mind their own business?” She rested her head on Nancy’s shoulder with a sigh. “Honestly, don’t they know I just can’t help it? It’s not my fault you’re too lovely for words and I can’t keep my hands off you.” She turned her face up to Nancy’s and with a glint in her eye, placed her hand rather high up on Nancy’s thigh.
Nancy bit her lip. “Kath...” she said.
Kathie grinned back. “Nance...”
With a rattle and a thud, the compartment door opened, and the conductor ushered some people in.
“Every bloody time!” Kathie muttered with annoyance, as she tried, as unobtrusively as possible, to relocate her hand to somewhere slightly less improper.
“Here’s room for you,” the conductor was saying to the new passengers as he stowed their luggage for them. Turning to Nancy and Kathie, he said, “You don’t mind, ladies, of course?”
Nancy and Kathie politely agreed that they didn’t mind at all, but, when it became apparent that these fellow passengers would be alighting at the first stop, they couldn’t help themselves from sharing a delighted grin.
“So, what platform does the train to Calais go from?”
Nancy, rooting amongst the travel documents she was holding, gestured vaguely. “That one.”
“Have we got time for something to eat before it goes? I’m starving, and I’m rather fed up of eating while swaying from side to side.”
“I should think so,” Nancy nodded.
“Good. When does it go?”
“Tomorrow? What? Are there no trains today?”
“Yes, there are trains today. But, I thought, since we were coming through Paris, we might, you know, spend a little time here...? I’ve booked us a hotel,” Nancy finished, a little shyly.
“You really are a romantic fool. You know that, don’t you?” Kathie said, tucking her arm through Nancy's.
“I’m going to miss you.” Nancy and Kathie were standing on the platform at Kings Cross. Kathie’s luggage had been stowed on her train, which was just a few minutes away from departure.
Kathie nodded. “It’s only going to be a couple of weeks. And then you’ll be coming to stay.”
“Have you worked out what you’re going to tell your aunt about us yet?”
“Not yet. But...whatever I do say, I think it’s going to mean separate bedrooms. I’m sorry,” Kathie looked up at her, rather sadly.
Nancy shrugged. “I didn't really expect anything different. And, ah, there are ways round that. To be honest, as long as I’m with you, that’s all that matters.” As a whistle shrilled down the platform, Nancy bent down and kissed Kathie. “Come on, you better get on the train before it leaves without you.” As she spoke, Kathie scrambled up into the carriage. “Take care my love. See you soon!” Nancy called, as Kathie waved, and the train began to shuffle out of the station.
It was a warm summer afternoon, and having come out of the station and not found Kathie waiting for her, Nancy put her case on the floor and sat on it to wait.
It had been three weeks since she’d last seen Kathie, and it felt like it had been three weeks since she’d been able to be herself. It had been good to see her family, and lovely to see her nephews and nieces, but her life was so different to that of her sister, and her sisters-in-law, and after three weeks of being on her best behaviour, bouncing from guestroom to guestroom, repeating again and again the same lies and half-truths about her life, she was tired and not a little lonely. It hadn’t seemed so bad when she’d had less to lie about, and to be fair, her family had become so used to her evasions that they thought those evasions were the truth. They’d stopped asking, years ago, when she’d be settling down with a nice man, and had completely bought into the story she told them about being too committed to her work to even think of such a thing. Nancy had herself, in recent years, begun to believe that story too, though in her version of the story, the lifestyle she’d rejected to devote herself to teaching didn’t feature a nice man.
And then Kathie had come into her life.
This year, as she stayed with her family, she’d been more uncomfortable than she’d ever been. It was good to see her family, she kept reminding herself, but as she watched her brothers and sister, and saw their families live their uncomplicated lives, she felt like her own life had been put on pause.
So it was with a light heart, and an eagerness to resume her life once more that Nancy sat on her case outside the train station, waiting for Kathie to turn up.
A little red car came to a halt just across the road and Kathie got out, wearing a beaming smile and a smudge of dirt across her face.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, as she hurried across the road to greet Nancy. “Got a puncture, would you believe,” Kathie briefly interrupted her story to say hello to an elderly woman who was passing by, and then continued. “I’d almost managed to change the tyre when a handsome doctor...”
Nancy choked a little. “Not really?”
“Yes really - a handsome doctor stopped to help. Well, he had no idea what he was doing, and by the time I’d managed to shoo him away and finish the job, I was late.”
“I didn’t know you were a mechanic. Aren’t you a woman of many talents?”
“I am,” Kathie grinned and nodded, pulling Nancy into what any onlooker – and there were a few, and most of them knew Kathie’s aunt – would have described as an innocent and friendly hug.
After a few minutes driving along, during which each woman kept sneaking contented glances at the other, Kathie turned down a leafy lane. The lane rather quickly became rather overgrown and Kathie pulled over.
“Something wrong with the car?” Nancy asked, concerned. And then, rather more wryly, "You've not got lost, have you?"
“No - and stop trying to slander me! I know exactly where we are,” Kathie replied with a grin. “It’s just, with all those damn public spaces filled with passersby who know my aunt, I haven’t had a chance to say hello to you properly yet. And I’ve been so wanting to, for so long.”
She leaned over to Nancy, and, as far as was possible in the little car, threw her arms round her.
“Oh, I’ve missed you,” she murmured, and the two spent several minutes in a joyful reunion, delightedly reacquainting themselves with each other.
“Thanks for lending Kathie your car to pick me up,” Nancy said later to Kathie’s aunt, as the three of them were sitting down to tea in the garden.
“It’s not my car,” Mrs Grayson said, looking at her niece in a pointed manner.
“Didn’t I say?” Kathie said, bouncing in her seat. “It’s my car. I bought it last week.”
Nancy turned to face her, a little gobsmacked. “What?”
“Didn’t I say?” Kathie said, now a picture of innocence. “We’re going to drive it back to the Platz.”
“You’re going to drive us back to the school?” Nancy looked at her as if she was crazy.
“Yes! Why are you looking at me as if I’m crazy?”
“Because you are!” Nancy turned from Kathie to Mrs Grayson, who seemed to be rocking gently with laughter, and then back again to Kathie.
“Come on, Nance, it’ll be an adventure!”
“But... ” Nancy scrabbled desperately to find a reason why driving across Europe wasn’t a good idea. “Surely you’re still in recovery from the operation? It won’t do you any good to be sat in a car for days on end so soon after you’ve been stitched up.” She looked to Kathie’s aunt again for assistance but none was forthcoming, for that lady was too busy laughing.
“Nope,” Kathie shook her head. “I’ve seen the doctor, and I’m fit as the proverbial fiddle, or at least I will be by the time we have to go back to school. Anyway, we’ll take it slowly, and maybe stretch the journey over a week? Come on, it’ll be fun!”
“I don’t know...”
“What is it Nance, don’t you trust my driving?”
After tea, Kathie announced that she was going to take Nancy on a tour of the local area, to show her what she rather grandly described as ‘the landscape of my youth’.
“You mean,” said Mrs Grayson, “you’re going to point out the tree you fell out of, and the stream you fell into, and the bus shelter in which you had your first kiss?”
“No!” Kathie said rather indignantly.
“She was only six, bless her,” Mrs Grayson continued, ignoring her niece and addressing Nancy, “And he was a lovely little lad, with the blondest hair and the brightest blue eyes. But she turned her nose up at him, and he’s never been the same since...”
“Honestly, I’m never bringing anyone here to meet you again,” Kathie stood up, scowling at her aunt as she did so. “Come on Nance, before she thinks of something else to embarrass me with.”
She extended a hand and hauled Nancy to her feet, and, keeping Nancy’s hand in her own, led her out of the garden.
“Thanks for tea, Mrs Grayson,” Nancy called, as she was led away.
“You’re very welcome, my dear,” Mrs Grayson replied. With a thoughtful look upon her face, she watched the two of them head out of the garden and along the lane.
A week or so later, Nancy was sitting in the window seat in the drawing room, writing to Hilary and waiting for Kathie to come downstairs. Mrs Grayson’s voice startled her.
“Oh, hello Nancy, I didn’t see you there. Kathie’s not down yet?”
“No. She’s still trying to work out what to wear.” Nancy coloured slightly, “...at least, I imagine that’s what she’s doing...”
“Still? Oh, she can be utterly exasperating, sometimes.” Mrs Grayson said, overlooking Nancy’s embarrassment. Nancy grinned her agreement. For a slightly awkward moment, the two of them held each other’s gaze and then Mrs Grayson smiled and said,
“You’re good for her, you know. You make her very happy.”
Nancy coloured again. “I try,” she said.
Suddenly making a decision, Mrs Grayson moved over to where Nancy was sitting. With a serious look on her face, she put her arms round Nancy and hugged her, dropping a kiss onto her forehead as she did so.
“Look after her, won’t you?” she said. “She’s all we’ve got.”
“I don’t even live in this village, so can someone please explain to me why exactly I'm behind this stall?” Nancy plaintively exclaimed later that morning.
“Because you have umpteen years’ experience of Chalet School sales and other assorted fundraising tomfoolery, and if you can wring money out of the pockets of that tightfisted crew who live on the Gornetz Platz, you can clean up on this tombola stall,” Kathie explained sweetly, while Mrs Grayson looked on in amusement. Nancy’s visit had coincided with the annual village fete, and to her surprise, she found that she’d been volunteered as one of the helpers.
Nancy was unmoved by this explanation. Kathie tried another tack. “It’s for a good cause – the church roof. You don’t want the dear old parishioners – old Mrs Morgan, for example –“ Kathie inclined her head in the direction of the frail-looking but rather fierce lady in charge of the cake stall, “getting her head all wet while she’s trying to pray, do you? Have a heart – think of her salvation!”
“I’m sure she’s got an umbrella,” Nancy replied. “Couldn’t I at least go on the hook-a-duck stall? Or the splat-the-rat one? Or couldn’t I be the fortune-teller lady?”
“Nancy, my love, those are the most sought after jobs. You have to live in this village for at least fifteen years to even be considered for one of those. Now, if you want to join in with our fete, you have to work your way up from the bottom.”
“Wait, there’s something wrong with your logic there. I’m sure of it. I think it’s something to do with the bit where you said I wanted to join in.”
Kathie shook her head. “My logic is impeccable. Now, get tombolling!”
Despite Nancy’s initial grumbling, the fete – and the tombola stall – was a great success, and she had enormous fun watching Kathie charm the villagers – most of whom had known her since she was a child – into venturing their luck on the tombola.
They were still laughing and joking about it that evening as they took a stroll, arm in arm, along the river. They were on their way to the village pub, where they were due to meet Kathie’s aunt and uncle to join in with the post-fete celebrations.
“You know what day today was, don’t you?” Nancy suddenly said.
“The wedding,” Kathie said quietly.
“You know, I wrote to her, a few weeks ago. I don’t know, I suppose I was hoping that somehow she’d relent. I had this daft little romantic fantasy that she’d change her mind, and tell me that that all was forgiven and forgotten and that I was invited to the wedding after all. I - I miss her.”
“I’m sure she misses you too. But she needs more time.”
They walked a little further.
“I think your aunt knows,” Nancy said.
Kathie stopped dead, and turned white. She unhooked her arm from Nancy’s.
“What do you mean?”
“I think she knows about us,” Nancy repeated, and explained what had happened that morning.
“Well, she’s right. You are good for me, and you do make me happy.”
“If that’s the case, why do you look so forlorn?”
“I think I’m a little freaked about her knowing. Do you think she seemed all right about it?”
“I think she loves you and she wants you to be happy.”
“I suppose I’ll have to speak to her,” Kathie sighed, anxiously.
“Only if you want to,” Nancy said.
“I think I ought to,” Kathie replied, and with a determined look on her face, she took hold of Nancy’s hand and led her in the direction of the pub.
An hour or so later, while the pub was filled with raucous singers and convivial drinkers, two people slipped outside for a quiet chat.
Twenty minutes later, aunt and niece returned to the pub. If you’d been one of the raucous singers or convivial drinkers in the pub that night, and if you’d been sober enough to observe them closely on their return, you might have noticed that while both seemed to have been crying they were now both smiling, as if something of momentous importance had just taken place.
The grand adventure by jayj
“Day one of Kathie and Nancy’s grand adventure,” Kathie announced cheerfully at breakfast, as she tucked into her bacon and eggs.
“Nancy, are you sure you want to be doing this?” Mrs Grayson asked, with a fond and concerned look at her niece’s partner. A good deal of time had been spent planning a rather tortuous route that zigzagged across France, once or twice bounced off Belgium and Germany, and ultimately, and perhaps more in hope than expectation, landed in Switzerland. Several times during the planning, Nancy and Mrs Grayson had uttered their disbelief that someone with such a pronounced disregard for geography as Kathie had was employed as a geography teacher.
“Not really,” Nancy replied, with a grin.
“I don’t see why you’re both so sceptical! The car’s been checked over by the mechanic, we’ve got oodles of food and the camping stove, we’ve got a tent in case we have to camp out, the toolbox in case of breakdowns, the first aid kit, the maps, plenty of clean underwear....And you know, you don’t have to come with me,” Kathie said to Nancy, wearing her saddest, most desolate face. “I could go on my own. I don’t mind...”
“Ok then, off you go. I’ll get the train, and I’ll see you in Switzerland. If you ever get there,” Nancy teased.
As Kathie squealed her discontent, Mrs Grayson got up. “I’m going to make some more tea.” And by the time she returned, it seemed that Nancy and Kathie were once more reconciled and eagerly contemplating their forthcoming adventure.
“You will ring if anything goes wrong, won’t you?”
“Nothing’s going to go wrong!” Kathie exclaimed, hugging her aunt thoroughly. Unconvinced by that reassurance, Mrs Grayson caught Nancy’s eye, and she nodded her agreement that yes, she would phone were any disaster to occur.
“There will be postcards, though, plenty of postcards,” Kathie said. “Thank you for a lovely summer! You must come and visit us in Switzerland. You’d love it. Convince uncle! I’d so love to be able to show you round.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Mrs Grayson replied, reluctantly untangling herself from her niece. And then, as Kathie went to get into the driver’s seat, and after a slightly awkward moment in which they both regarded each other rather nervously, she pulled Nancy into a hug. “It’s been lovely to meet you Nancy. It really has. I do hope you’ll come again. And – remember what I said. Look after her.”
“Of course. I will, of course,” Nancy mumbled into Mrs Grayson’s shoulder.
“Come on, Nance!” Kathie called from the car. “We better get going!”
Day one of Nancy and Kathie’s grand adventure didn’t actually get them very far, for a couple of hours after they set off, they arrived at their first destination, the Riverside guesthouse in Oxford, within sight of the River Thames, or at least, it was, Nancy declared, if you leaned out of the window at a rather precarious angle. The pair spent a happy evening revisiting some of Kathie’s student haunts.
The next day they got a little further, making it as far as Richmond where they were to stay with Caroline in her flat. After a contented afternoon exploring Kew Gardens, they went to the cafe in which Nancy had arranged to meet her friend. While Kathie was phoning her aunt to dutifully inform her that there’d been no punctures, deaths, or major rows, Caroline appeared.
“Well, look at you. You look about a billion times happier than you did the last time I saw you,” she said, as she greeted Nancy with a warm hug. Caroline went to order herself some tea, and as she did so, Nancy attempted to compose her features into a serious expression.
“What have I done?” Caroline said with a sigh when she returned and saw the look on Nancy’s face.
“You’ve got some explaining to do, young woman. I’ve been hearing about you and the tales you’ve been telling about me. To my boss.”
“Your boss? Oh, Nell Wilson,” Caroline smiled in recollection. “That was years ago.” She waved a dismissive hand, but a faraway look drifted across her face.
Nancy looked at her a little oddly. “Caroline!” she said in the tone of voice she normally reserved for errant middles.
“What?” Caroline replied, her innocent face betrayed by the mischief in her eyes.
“You didn’t! You did, didn’t you! Unbelievable! My boss! What, you got distracted from your mercy mission when found yourself a new conquest?”
“No, not then! Honestly, Nancy, you have such a low opinion of me!” Caroline looked affronted, but affront quickly gave way to teasing. “But...we – er – bumped into each other one summer in Italy, a few years later.” She grinned. “You’ll pass on my regards, won’t you, when you see her? She’s a fine woman.”
Nancy gawped at her, open mouthed with amused incredulity. “I can’t even be mad at you! You’re just....absurd.”
They both laughed, and then Caroline became serious. “You’re not really angry with me, are you? For telling her? I couldn’t...I couldn’t just leave you there on your own with no-one to look out for you.”
Nancy shook her head. “No, I’m not angry with you. Thank you,” she said, quietly sincere.
Just then, Kathie returned from the phone, and ever chivalrous, Caroline stood up to greet her.
“Well, unless I’m mistaken, you must be Kathie. I’m so pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Uh oh,” Caroline said, looking worried.
“It wasn’t all bad,” Kathie grinned.
“Though wait until you hear what she’s just confessed to....” Nancy said with a chuckle.
As Nancy went to fetch more drinks, the eyes of her friend and her lover followed her across the room.
“She looks happy,” Caroline said.
Kathie smiled and nodded.
“Just...be good to her, eh?”
“I couldn’t be anything but good to her,” Kathie confided.
“Hhhmmm Nance, what on earth are you doing?” Kathie said sleepily, barely moving her head from off the pillow. She’d fallen asleep against Nancy several hours earlier, delightfully warm and cosy, but now Nancy seemed to be fidgeting around and was disrupting Kathie’s comfortable bubble of contentment.
Sitting up, Nancy said, “Hush, my love, you go back to sleep. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Back? Where are you going?”
“Just outside. Go back to sleep.”
The campsite was quiet, and in the tent there was no sound other than the rain drumming on the roof and a muted rustle as Nancy rummaged for some clothes.
“Nance, are you mad?” Kathie was suddenly very awake. “It’s raining outside. Come back here and cuddle!” she ordered.
“I’ll be back in just a minute,” Nancy repeated, turning on the torch she’d just found and blinding herself and Kathie in the process.
“Well,” Kathie said, crossly turning over so the light was no longer shining in her eyes, “if you insist on going outside, just make sure you don’t bring any rain back in with you.” She snuggled under the blanket as a draught of chill air slunk into the tent as Nancy slunk out of it.
A few minutes later, and having shed her damp clothes on the threshold of the tent, Nancy was back under the blankets with Kathie. Kathie curled up against her once more, reaching an arm across her waist.
“What was that all about?” she murmured, slightly mollified now Nancy had returned.
“Oh, I woke up and heard the rain, and it made me remember what John and Susan said about the guy ropes, and how they can get tight in the rain, and how you ought to loosen them so they don’t pull the tent apart. So I did.”
“Right,” Kathie said. Then, curiously, “Your brother John? From what you’ve said about him, I didn’t think he was the camping type.”
“No, not my brother,” Nancy agreed. “John Walker,” she said, as if Kathie ought to recognize that name.
Kathie didn’t. “Who’s John Walker?” she said suspiciously.
“You know, John Walker. I think he says it when they’re camping on the island, but it might be in one of the later books...” Nancy said, trying to remember.
Kathie sat up, and turned to look at Nancy. “You got up in the middle of the night and went out in the rain because of something you read in a children’s book?”
“Just because it’s in a children’s book doesn’t mean it’s not...well...true...” Nancy replied, rather defensively.
“Oh, Nance,” Kathie said, lying back down with her head on Nancy’s shoulder. She reached up a hand to stroke Nancy’s cheek. “You wanted to be an Amazon pirate when you grew up, didn’t you?” she said, tenderly.
“Hmm. Never got the chance, though,” Nancy replied, leaning into Kathie’s touch.
“Well, tomorrow, we’ll find a shop that sells little red hats, and we’ll find a lake, and we’ll go sailing,” Kathie said with a grin. And she turned her face up towards Nancy’s, and kissed her.
Over the next week and a half, Kathie and Nancy pursued a meandering path across Europe. Whenever they seemed to be heading in a straight line for Switzerland, Kathie would veer away.
“Anyone would think you were trying to avoid going back to work!” Nancy exclaimed.
“Well, they’d be right. Let’s give it up and be nomads.”
Nancy shook her head. “I don’t think you’d be a good nomad. I think you’re a fair-weather nomad. Come winter, I think you’re going to want a nice warm house.”
Kathie was a little affronted, but had to accept the truth of Nancy’s words. “Ok then, I’m a fair-weather nomad. But we’ve got fair weather right now and that means we’re keeping on nomading.”
As she emerged from the forest and the path widened, Kathie braked ever so slightly so that Nancy could catch her up. Nancy drew level, they exchanged a happy smile, and in the bright sunshine, they freewheeled down the sloping path, with green meadows whizzing by on either side, pedalling occasionally to go even faster.
Their nomading had come to a halt for a few days, and they had set up camp in a little campsite somewhere along the Franco-Swiss border. It was, Kathie reflected, nothing short of blissful. Cycling in the forest, swimming in the lake, cooking on an open fire, sharing bottles of beer, lying back under the stars, falling asleep in Nancy’s arms. There was nothing more she wanted from life.
School would start soon, and undoubtedly there would be problems. Nancy kept saying that the second year would be easier than the first and Kathie wanted to believe her but that didn’t stop her worrying. And it seemed likely that Ros was going to be difficult, and Kathie didn’t relish the prospect of being at odds with her head of department. And on top of that, there were rumours from Peggy that no replacement had been found for Biddy, and that lady would be returning to school. Kathie didn’t fear any more rows from Biddy, but she knew that their dispute took a terrible toll on Nancy, and it would mean that a number of friendships in the staffroom were liable to be strained.
But right now, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all.
Kathie smiled at Nancy, and Nancy gave a grin, and accelerated down the hill.
“There she goes, my beautiful...” Kathie thought for a moment, considering a few options before settling for one. “...world. My beautiful world.”
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