|Nell Wilson rubbed a hand over her forehead, trying to smooth out the frown she knew had settled there. It had been a long term, but she was happy with the way that it had turned out, after a difficult start. Coming to Switzerland to run the finishing branch of the Chalet School had been a good way to try to move on from the rut that she had settled in recently. The busy days had meant that she didn’t have as much time to miss the old school and staff (Hilda) as she had thought she might. |
However she was overdue for a break, overdue for some time as an adult, well away from school girls, however near adulthood her current charges were.
The paperwork in front of her did not have to be done really, her secretary Gillian having achieved a huge amount more than Nell had expected. The head of the finishing branch had found that she could work well with Gillian Culver, despite the fact of the young woman relatively recently having been one of her students. Those extra few years after leaving school were a steep learning curve for most people, and the growing up that they did then always amazed Nell when the girls returned as staff.
The first term was finally over, and the girls were beginning to settle to the changed systems and responsibilities that they had here. Nell herself was only now realising how much tension she had been under herself for most of the term. She sat back in the chair and tried to decide whether to try to continue with the paperwork, or to go to bed.
The paperwork didn’t need to be done. But now that it was just her and a few of the kitchen staff in the building, she didn’t have enough distraction for her brain to be able to go to bed as early as this. Her brain would run onto topics that she did not really want to think about, like how she should pass the time while the holiday period was going on, and how far away all of her friends (and Hilda) were at the moment.
The paperwork swam before her, she couldn’t concentrate on it, there was no point in doing any of it now, she would just have to repeat it tomorrow if she did.
Nell stood up and stretched. She looked over at the bookshelf, trying to convince herself that she just felt like reading. Even as she went over and picked up the copy of The Origin of the Species, she knew that she had no intention of reading it. She knew that it was unhealthy. She was in her forties. She should be past behaving like a school girl with a crush. She should be able to move on. She should be chosing the book for the topic, for distraction or education. Not for the incription in the front. That should just be something that she noticed once, when receiving the book. There was no need to look at the handwriting there, see the words that she knew would not have changed since the last time that she looked.
“To my dearest friend Nell, I noticed that your old copy has become a little battered. With love at Christmas 1948, Hilda”
The words didn’t mean anything. Hilda just wanted friendship, nothing more.
Nell knew this, and that the word ‘dearest’ just meant the close friendship that Hilda felt for her. Nell had tried for so long to hope that this might change. Kept the secret hopes that she had for the relationship within her, although she was sure that at least Joey suspected, after her own unguarded words when Hilda had the head injury.
Then about a year ago, a rare moment of weakness, a drunken night and the comfortable rut had filled with dangerous water. That night Hilda had seemed more relaxed, more talkative than she had been for a while. Nell had suddenly found herself spilling the words out, telling Hilda how she felt.
Nell closed her eyes, trying not to focus on that memory. Then finally, as ever, giving into it.
The silence from Hilda after the confession. The kind voice, one of Hilda’s greatest assets normally, here almost painful in the memory. The carefully chosen words of reply, trying to let Nell down gently, acknowledging finally that she had known, known for years, that there was a chance Nell felt that way. The voice going on to say how carefully Hilda had tried not to give any suggestion that she could offer any more than friendship.
Nell, despite her drunken state, finally realising that there was just no hope, there never was going to be any more than this. Having to just run away, leave the room to avoid breaking down, her personality couldn’t cope with showing such a weakness.
Nell pushed her way back out of the memory. It did no good focusing on why she was here, why she had jumped at the chance to put distance between her and Hilda. She needed a distraction, and this focussing on the past was not healthy.
She was about to give up and start on the paperwork again when the telephone rang. Surpised, Nell answered.
“ Hello ?” came a voice down the rather poor line. “ I’m sorry, I know that it is late, but is Gillian Culver there?”
“ She is taking a short break, did you want me to take a message for her?” said Nell.
“ Oh no, it isn’t really her that I was looking to contact really” said the voice again. “ I just found out that there was a branch of the Chalet School nearby and thought that I would ring to see if there was anyone there that I knew. I got Miss Culver’s name from the friend that I was visiting in the area”
Nell was intrigued. This sounded like an old girl, or a mistress, but the voice was not really familiar. She decided that she would have to take the initiative, since the voice seemed to have forgotten that it was normal procedure to at least introduce oneself on a phone call.
“ Well my name is Nell, if that helps? Nell Wilson ?” she said.
“ Oh hello Miss Wilson!” the voice replied. “Are you well?”
Nell thought furiously. The voice was still unfamiliar, but the use of the respectful term meant that it had to be an old girl rather than an old mistress. It seemed unlikely to be one of the older old girls, since she had long since graduated to being Nell in their form of address to her. So she was estimating it must be an old girl of no more than 5 years standing. It seemed unlikely to be a recent old girl, since the new school had been discussed for some time, so the girl/woman would have known about her being the head there.
“ I am very well thank you, and...er how are you....er..”
“ Oh did I not say?” came the irrepressible reply “ Nancy, Nancy Wilmot. I used to go to the Chalet School. Only for a while though, so I don’t really expect you to remember me, after all I’m not sure if you even taught me for more than a term. I was one of the girls from St Scholastikas”
Nell thought back, and a plump, cheerful person came to mind. Quite laid back, from memory, which certainly fitted with the casual lack of attention to details such as providing her name from the beginning of the conversation. She thought back, and did some quick sums. Nancy must be in her mid twenties by now, if not a little older.
“ Well Nancy,” she said. “Were you wanting to come up to see anyone in particular ? I’m afraid the girls have gone back for their holiday. You might have remembered a few of them, although as mere babes perhaps. One of them is Peggy Bettany, Madge Russell’s niece? She was the head girl at the Chalet School before coming here”
“ Oh help!” was the rather startling reply. “ Peggy Bettany is old enough to be Head Girl? Who stole all of those years !”
Nell was beginning to find it hard not to laugh. While she had little memory of the school girl Nancy, this breezy young woman sounded most entertaining. Surprising herself, she suddenly asked Nancy if she would like to come up to the school anyway, to see the area. She was fully expecting the young woman to say no, after all there must be far more interesting places for her to visit on her holiday. So it shocked her to hear Nancy happily accept the invitation and say that she would be up there the following morning.
After Nell put the phone down, she stood looking at it for a while, then chuckled at the cheery way that the young woman had dealt with everything. It would be fun to have some company, even if it were only for a few hours. She had seen barely anyone other than the girls and staff for some time, and the prospect of not only a visitor, but one that she did not know much about, was something that lifted her spirits. Some new conversation would be a welcome change, and they would surely know enough people through the school connection to be able to have a good gossip the following morning.
Nell went off to bed, smiling at the memory of the friendly voice, and quite excited at the change of routine.
Nancy Wilmot visits the new finishing branch of the Chalet School. Nothing deeply exciting, but Kathy FileSpace wouldn't move forward until I at least started this story, so hope it works ok as a little drabblet !