Two days after the accident and the school was still under a spell of tense, uneasy peace. Margot was in the San, having cried herself sick over May-Lou while Emerence was in another room having done the same in addition to having a broken collarbone and a sprained ankle. The school at large was still in shock from dreadful outcome of the accident so that mealtimes were quiet and subdued while in lessons themselves the girls had no desire to make mischief.
The main reason for this was that, if even Emerence would soon be her usual self, Mary-Lou herself had still not come out of the coma into which she had sunk when the accident happened. Her head was swathed in bandages and her back was badly damaged while the doctors were still unsure as to whether any internal damage had been done.
Joey Maynard sat by Mary-Lou’s bed. She had sat by the bedside for most of the two days, leaving only when pressed, saying that if Doris Trelawny was unable to sit there then someone must be there. As she remarked to Jack, “I could never forgive myself if Mary-Lou woke up and there was no-one there. Or…if…if the worst were to happen,” she continued with a catch in her voice, “how could I face Doris and tell her that her only child died with no-one by her side? I just couldn’t do it.” And Jack, wise in his generation, agreed to let Joey stayed, although he remarked to his colleague that if this went on for much longer he would have to put his foot down before they ended up with two patients instead of one.
A slight movement form the bed made Joey start. She looked more closely. As she watched she saw it again - Mary-Lou’s eyelashes had fluttered gently on her cheeks. “Jack,” Joey called quickly, her lovely voice harsh with tiredness and strain.
“I’m here, my darling,” he replied, instantly coming over to the bedside. He followed her gaze and his eyes widened as he saw the faint movement. Quickly, he administered a stimulant as he checked that his wife was positioned so that she would be the first thing that Mary-Lou would see when she woke up. The pair of them waited with bated breath as the fluttering became more pronounced and finally the eyelids lifted. “Auntie Joey…” the faint whisper came from pale lips. “What… where…”
“Shh now,” Joey said gently, “You haven’t been well. Just go to sleep now, like a good girl, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time.”
Mary-Lou moaned softly. “I hurt all over and I am so ti-i-ired,” she ended with a yawn before closing her eyes again.
Jack hastily hustled Joey out of the room. “No hysteria!” he warned.
“No. But, oh Jack! Will she be all right now?” Joey asked, almost stumbling in her weariness.
“She has made a good start but she’s not out of the woods yet, old lady. Now, I want you to lie down and go to sleep. I’m not having you ill on my hands as well! Go with Nurse and you’re not visiting Mary-Lou again until you’ve had your sleep out! I mean it,” as Joey looked about to protest, “You need to catch up on your sleep quite as much as Mary-Lou does. Now scram!”
Joey needed no second telling but went meekly with Nurse. Jack turned back to Mry-Lou’s room and raised his eyebrows at his colleague. “Any developments?” he asked.
The other doctor looked grave. “I think you should look at this, Herr Doktor. It does not look good for the little girl.”
Jack hurried over, a worried frown on his face. “What is it? Internal damage? O-oh-h, I see.” He was silent a moment. “How long can we leave the operation?” he asked, face serious.
“Not long, I am afraid. And she is not yet strong.”
“No, she isn’t. Well, we must wait as long as we can and hope she pulls through.” Jack hesitated. “I don’t like it but we must let the mother know in spite of her own illness. We can’t leave it any longer.”
* * *
Hilda Annersley got off the phone feeling considerably happier than she had a moment before. Her great friend and co-head, Nell Wilson, saw this immediately.
“Who was that? Good news?” she asked anxiously.
Miss Annersley smiled. “Better than we had before anyway. That was Nurse. Apparently Mary-Lou has finally regained consciousness- Nurse rang us as soon as she woke. We have no more news as yet but- “
“It’s the best news we’ve had in two days!” her friend finished for her. “When will you let the girls know? They’ve been very worried about her.”
“I know,” Miss Annersley replied. She looked at the pretty clock on the wall. “It is just 1600 hours now so there’s no point in interrupting their lessons. I’ll make the announcement at Kaffee und Kuchen. For now, I think I must go to the San. to tell Margot and Emerence the news. It is not good for either of them to stay up there, brooding over things.”
Miss Wilson looked grave. “Of course not, but what can we do? Margot must, of course, rejoin her classmates but Emerence? She is still badly injured and this latest accident has really shown her just how far-reaching the consequences of her constant disobedience can be. It is no wonder that she is upset- I would be far more disturbed if she were quite calm and unrepentant.”
“Oh, of course! So should I be, but I think she needs to be around people now. Much as I dislike doing it, I may suggest to Matey that Emerence rejoins lessons as far as possible. It should, at least, leave her with little enough time for moping.” So saying, Miss Annersley flashed a smile to her friend and walked out of her study, up to the small set of rooms where both Emerence and Margot were staying for the present. First checking with Matey that the patients were fit to be talked to, she knocked on the door and entered the bright, clean room which had been Margot’s for the past two days.
Margot looked up as her Headmistress entered. She had finally been allowed a book to read that afternoon but had found it difficult to become gripped by the story. Looking at her closely, Miss Annersley could still see faint tear tracks on Margot’s pale cheeks and she looked far from her usual happy self.
Miss Annersley smiled at the girl. “Margot, I’m glad to see you’re feeling a little more like yourself. You’ll be pleased to hear that your mother will be coming to see you later this evening.”
Margot’s eyes widened. “Mamma will come here? But she’s with Mary-Lou! Oh,” as comprehension slowly dawned in her pale face, “does that mean that- that...” she ended with a falter, hardly daring to hope.
“Mary-Lou regained consciousness a few minutes ago- Nurse rang as soon as it happened,” Miss Annersley said gently.
“Oh! Then, will she get better soon?” There was an unconscious emphasis on the last word.
“We all hope so. This is just the first step but tonight I’m sure we will all pray to Our Lord for Mary-Lou’s continued improvement in health and hopefully one day soon she will be back among us. And Margot,” Miss Anersley continued, still in that curiously gentle tone of voice, “tomorrow you must go back to lessons. I am certain that Mary-Lou would be very unhappy if she knew that you had missed out on school because of her accident.”
Margot lowered her eyes but said nothing.
“I am glad that you have been upset for it shows that you know how serious the accident was but now you must go and join your friends. And I must go and deliver the good news to Emerence!” Miss Annersley clasped Margot’s hand for a moment before leaving the room and quietly closing the door.
Outside the door, she breathed a sigh of relief that Margot, at least, seemed well on her way to a full recovery. “And Joey will visit tonight, which will be all the better,” she thought to herself. Then she took a deep breath and opened the door to Emerence’s room. A pitiful sight met her eyes. If Margot looked not quite herself, Emerence seemed to be a mere shadow of a girl. Pale at the best of times, Emerence looked completely washed out as she lay back on her sheets, crumpled in spite of Matron’s best efforts to keep them tidy. Miss Annersley’s heart went out to the girl whose disobedience had had such tragic consequences for everyone concerned. As Miss Annersley approached the bed, the girl turned listlessly towards the sound, her red eyes showing unnaturally against the pallor of her face.
“Emerence, my child. From your face one would presume that your whole family had been killed and that you were in the last stages of consumption!” Miss Annersley began gently, in an attempt to raise the girl’s spirits even just a little. She looked around the room and, spying the washbasin in the corner, rose briskly to fill a bowl with water and bring it across to the bed. “Here, now. Bathe your eyes and face with this while I try to sort out your sheets.” Duly urged, Emerence sat up and obediently bathed her face and hands while Miss Annersley straightened the sheets and then set to work Brushing out Emerence’s tangled hair. After a minute or so, Miss Annersley spoke again, “That looks a little better! I expect it feels it too, does it?” Emerence nodded but was too busily engaged in trying not to start crying again at her headmistress’ unexpected kindness to reply. Miss Annersley looked at her keenly. “I have some good news for you, Emerence. A little while ago the school received a phone call from the San. Mary-Lou has finally awoken from her coma. We have no more details as yet but that will come later. Don’t you think you’ve done enough crying, Emerence?” This last as Emerence gave up trying to control her tears and they spilled onto her cheeks. Miss Annersley was gentle but firm. “I know that you’ve had a dreadful shock because of the accident and the consequences of it but you really should try not to cry quite so much; you’ll upset your own health.”
Emerence made a valiant effort to control herself, “I’m just- so- so- sorry about- about what happened. It’s all my fault!” she cried out, unable to stop herself.
“It was a terrible thing to happen but you are all much better than you were,” Miss Annersley answered calmly. “I’m glad that you realise just how disastrous the consequences of direct disobedience can be and I hope that you will use that lesson in future but it helps no-one if you make yourself ill, especially at a time like this. Don’t you think you are being rather selfish by continuing in this way? It makes Matron’s job a lot harder when her patients upset themselves to this extent and everyone is worried about you.”
Emerence’s eyes were open wide. She had not thought at all about this side of her conduct, being too much absorbed in her own guilt and misery to pay much attention to anything that was going on around her. “I’m sorry,” she gasped, “I hadn’t thought.”
“I know you hadn’t,” Miss Annersley replied, more gently still, “But now that you have do you think that you could try to be a little more like your usual happy self? It helps everyone around you when you are cheerful and will help to speed your own recovery if you don’t keep upsetting your nerves as you have been. I hope that you will be able to rejoin the others for a time tomorrow but I cannot allow that if it will only upset you further. Do you think you can manage that?”
There was a moments silence, then a determined expression crossed Emerence’s tear-stained face as she brushed a hand impatiently across her eyes. “I’ll do my best,” she promised.
Miss Annersley smiled. “That is all we ask of anyone,” she replied. “And don’t forget that whenever you are in need of help, Our Lord is always there to listen and lend support, whatever your trouble.” With a final smile, Miss Annersley left the room. On her way out, she bumped into Matron, who raised her eyebrows questioningly. Miss Annersley nodded in reply.
“I think that both of your patients will be able to return to school soon,” she said. “They have both had a difficult time but I think that they will be happier for it in the long run.”
Later that evening the rest of the school was quietly rejoicing at the good news. Many of the girls thought that everything was fine now and Mary-Lou would soon be back among them but the connections to the San were too close for all the girls to feel this way. Just among Mary-Lou’s own friends, Lesley Buthane and Josette Russel were doctors’ daughters and Vi Lucy was a doctors niece and these girls knew that this was only the first step in a potentially long recovery.
The Gang, as they had always called themselves, plus Jessica Wayne were sat together in the Common Room that evening after Prayers. As Mary-Lou’s closest friends, they had found the time since the accident harder than most and had grown even closer than they had been of late. Some of the girls objected to Jessica’s presence among them, as Hilary said, “Jessica’s a new girl this term, and a nuisance one at that. She doesn’t know May-Lou like we do.” However Vi Lucy insisted that Mary-Lou had been helping Jessica and it would be “Jolly unfair of us to abandon her now!” The rest reluctantly agreed and so Jessica was sat between Vi and Barbara, smiling slightly and trying not to feel as though she was intruding where she wasn’t wanted. Jessica was a sensitive girl, which had probably contributed to her problems at home, and she knew that not all the girls really wanted her with them but when she had said something of the kind to Barbara Chester she had been greeted with incredulity and the words: “We shouldn’t have asked you if we didn’t mean it. Don’t be such a goop!” and so she stayed. It was true that Jessica was still not the chattiest of girls but the others were beginning to discover that she could be friendly and funny enough when she wanted to be. Now she listened to what Vi’s reply to Hilary’s remark about winter sports the following afternoon.
“Of course we’re expected to continue, what did you think would happen?” she demanded. “We might choose not to go sledging as usual but you can’t stop the Juniors from wanting to. Health comes first here as you well know and no-one would hear of us staying up at school all the time without any fresh air or exercise. Besides, can you imagine what the Juniors and Middles would be like if we did? Even now they’d be like little rockets about to explode.”
“They could let us stay behind then, in case there was any more news. I don’t see why we should have to go- I’m hardly in the mood for sledging at the moment!” Ruth objected.
“Use your head, do!” Vi retorted, “How could they? If we were to stay behind just because we wanted to discipline would be impossible! The Abbess couldn’t very well have one rule for us and one rule for everyone else.”
“Vi’s right,” Barbara spoke up unexpectedly in support of her friend and cousin. She began to tick points off on her long fingers. “One, discipline would be awful if we didn’t go because all the other little ninnies who didn’t feel like going at any time could say it was favouritism if we were allowed and they weren’t. Two, the health point is just as true for us as it is for everyone else. Three, have you forgotten that we’re Seniors this term? We have to set an example to the others. If we start moping around, doing what we feel like doing, then the younger ones will copy us, and then the school will be in a fine state!” she would up energetically.
Vi smiled at her gratefully. “Exactly. Just because our form and dormy prefect isn’t here doesn’t mean we can act like small, selfish children. This is hard for the Staff as well as us, you know. Ruth, if you don’t want to sledge tomorrow then don’t; I know I won’t be,” she tried to hide the shudder that went through her as she said it, “I’ll be using my skis and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same. I expect,” she added seriously, “there’ll be a lot of people tomorrow who won’t feel much like winter sports. What about Margot and Emerence’s form? I doubt they’ll want to do much sledging. Let’s just make the best of it and try not too put any more pressure on the staff than we can help.”
Again, the others agreed to follow her lead. Vi heaved a small sigh of relief. She knew now that even people like Ruth Barnes would not make matters any harder on the staff than they already were and would sort any Middles and Juniors out who tried to come to them for sympathy and support over the matters of winter sports.