Betty Anstruther walked briskly down Knightsbridge towards Harrods. Her mind was on other things, which was how she managed to walk straight into a lady coming the other way.
"I say, I'm most awfully sorry!" she exclaimed, bending to pick up a parcel the other had dropped. "I wasn't looking where I was- Elizabeth!" She stopped talking abruptly, convulsively clutching the parcel she held. The other young woman, a tall, handsome creature with a pale complexion and deep red hair, looked back at her in astonishment.
"Betty Wynne-Davies! Of all the people!" After this, she too stopped, biting her lip. It was evident, to Betty at any rate, that her old school friend had no idea of what to say.
"I- It's good to see you again, Elizabeth." Elizabeth Arnett grasped this polite offering with relief.
"Yes, you too. It's been too long." And she stopped again, blushing slightly, remembering exactly how long it had been.
"Seven years," Betty said, stiffly.
"Yes." Elizabeth was deeply uncomfortable, but the thought of the friendship they had shared, first at the Tiernsee when they had gone out to Austria as pupils of St Scholastika's School and then of the Chalet School, and their time in Guernsey and Armishire, drove her on. "How are you, Betty? Really?" For the first time, Betty smiled, a genuine smile.
"I'm very well." She stuck out her left hand. "I'm married: for two years now. He's a captain in the Army."
"Congratulations! Are you living in London?"
"Yes. How about you?"
"Just visiting. Biddy O'Ryan's here; she just got back from Australia - you remember Biddy, of course."
"Yes, of course. How is she? And all the others?"
"Fine. She got her degree from Oxford, you know. History. Nicole went back to the Channel Islands; she's married too. Enid too. And Robin's doing settlement work, of all things!" Betty laughed.
"That sounds like Robin. I'm surprised Madame and Dr Jem would let her, though. They've always been so fearfully concerned about her."
"Oh, I think Rob was determined to get her own way." Another silence drew on, until Elizabeth suddenly burst out, "I wrote to you, Betty. Why didn't you ever write back?" Betty flushed, but looked straight at Elizabeth.
"I always thought you were more perceptive than that," she said, with a short laugh. At Elizabeth's expression of confusion, she continued, "I made such an awful mess of things, Liz, you know that! I- I was embarrassed. No, ashamed. Horribly, horribly ashamed of what I'd done. I couldn't bear to speak to you, any of you."
"I betrayed my country!" cried Betty, only to be hurriedly hushed as Elizabeth caught her arm and almost pushed her into Wilton Place.
"Shut up, you idiot! Do you want everyone to hear you?"
"But it's true, Liz." Elizabeth shook the slight figure before her.
"You didn't mean it, old thing, I knew that." Betty looked at her sorrowfully.
"It doesn't matter if I meant it or not; I still did it. When I think what could have happened..." She tailed off, biting her lip and fighting off the tears. "Charlie - my husband - is in the Army, like I said. I had to tell him the truth, otherwise I could never have lived with myself. I almost thought I'd ruined it between us - he fought in the war, of course - but he said I was just a kid who didn't really know what she was doing."
"Well, he was right," said Elizabeth, bracingly.
"No he wasn't." Betty overrode her brutally. "I was eighteen, Liz. That's not a kid. And it was my own stupid temper that got me in trouble. I was so mad at those kids from the Highlands. Then, when that man followed me, I was too scared to do what I ought to have done - gone to the authorities, or at least to Miss Annersley or Madame." There was yet another silence: Elizabeth couldn't deny the truth of Betty's words. Then she spoke, hesitantly.
"Does it bother you a great deal, Betty?" Betty considered for a moment, then shook her head.
"Not so much, not any more. Telling Charlie helped. And no one was injured or killed because of what I did; I'm not sure I would have been able to live with that. But it helped, in a way. It certainly did my character a power of good! I've never been 'mad, bad, Betty' since then, at any rate!" They both laughed, and Elizabeth said reminiscently,
"Do you remember how they always used to say, 'Elizabeth thinks of things, and Betty does them - with bells on'?"
"Don't I just! We did lead them a merry ride when we kids, that's for certain! Do you remember when you wrote that play, and we practised it at night on the roof..."
"And Lulu Redfield and half the prees caught us at it..."
"And Joey Bettany was there as well..."
"And Corney Flower..."
"And we ended up having to perform for the whole school!" More laughter ensued, and before either knew quite what they were doing, they were having tea in Harrods and reminiscing quite thoroughly, the silence of the last seven years quite forgotten.