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Author's Chapter Notes:
Welcome to Vol 7 and thanks to all you kindly people who've been posting or simply reading the last six volumes. You keep me going...

Karita, I hope this is quick enough for you, although I'm not too sure it will relieve your anxiety! Thank you for coming fresh to this story and becoming so involved.

I'm sorry about other readers giving you spoilers, Karita, but this volume should see the end of all the re-posting, and then no one will know what comes next! *grins* There are still roughly 100,000 words to go, however - about the length of a book!

Hilda turned to Gillian in the back seat. The Games Captain looked as white and desperate as she herself felt.

“Tell me,” Hilda commanded.

Gillian wondered where to begin...


*****

It all started so well. When the girls gathered outside for their walk, Linda Stone quickly sorted them into line, not wanting to stand around for long in the freezing air.

“Mireille, you and Gillian lead off. Carmela and Jean, in the middle,please, to keep them moving. Emilie and Marie, please take your place just in front of those two big girls. Tonia, with me at the back.”

A mutinous look on her face, Tonia joined her form mistress. That good lady ignored her pupil's ill-humour and searched among the girls still not in line. “Marie-Luce and Christine, come and walk immediately in front of us where I can keep an eye on you.”

Tonia’s two cronies took their allotted places, looking no happier than Tonia herself but, again, Miss Stone ignored them. Once the twenty-two girls had sorted themselves into line she indicated to Mireille they might start. They were all shivering in the icy air but, after negotiating the treacherous side road from the school and reaching the main road, Mireille was able to set a fair pace and they began to feel warmer. The snow was piled high at either side of the road, reaching up almost two metres in places. The girls felt as though they were walking through a tunnel, and being unable to see round bends gave some of them a feeling of claustrophobia. All the same, it was good to be in the open air with the sun shining down on them out of a deep blue sky. Mireille kept up a steady pace and they were all soon chattering and laughing amongst themselves. They had pointed sticks and nailed boots so they felt fairly secure.

Now and then, Linda Stone would warn the younger girls to keep well into the side of the road. “I know we'd most likely hear any traffic in this clear air, but it does no harm to be extra careful with the snow piled so high.”

Linda was feeling somewhat aggrieved. She had tried talking to her three sinners, but Tonia replied only in curt monosyllables, so her two cronies felt obliged to do the same. Linda was tempted to call them to order for their rudeness, but decided they were in enough trouble already. No point in fuelling their resentment. They were drawing near to a bend in the road when Emilie, one of the twins, appeared to trip over her own feet and gave a great yell as she fell over, a yell that seemed to echo all around them inside the snow walls.

Linda quickly moved up the line and joined Carmela in leaning over the Junior. “Are you hurt, Emilie? No? Well, let me help you up, then.”

She and Carmela each took one of Emilie’s hands to pull her up. At the same moment, the sound of a car engine could be heard approaching from the other side of the bend. No one moved, at first, for they were all standing well to the side of the road and assumed that the car would give them a wide berth as it went by.

“It seems to be moving very fast, Miss Stone,” Mireille called out.

“Too fast,” snapped Miss Stone. “Quickly, girls. Right back against the snow as close as you can get, one beside the other.”

The girls scattered in panic and flattened themselves against the wall of snow. Carmela and Mireille went to oversee them, while Linda pulled Emilie up to move her back out of the way. A large, black car shot round the bend as she did so, and it seemed to Linda it was heading straight for the girl and herself. She froze. The driver was struggling, seemingly in vain, to control the steering wheel. They were going to be crushed! But at the last moment, to Linda's vast relief, the car wheels gained some grip and turned away from her. Alas, only seconds later the car veered straight for the banks of snow on the other side of the road.

“It’s going to crash!” Carmela yelled, and many of the girls squeezed their eyes tight shut in fright.

At the very last moment, the wheels re-gained some purchase on the icy road and the car slammed into the snow mountain sideways on, rather than bonnet first. It kept going at the same high speed, tearing snow down in great chunks as it passed, then pulled out slightly onto the road again and took off round the next bend. The mistress and the older girls expected to hear the metallic sound of a crash, but gradually the engine noise faded away. Silence descended once more.

“Is he completely bonkers?” Gillian erupted suddenly, furiously angry now the danger was over. “He could have killed us all.”

“His guardian angel seems to have been working overtime, like ours,” gasped Linda, Emilie still clutched against her. “Let’s hope he makes it safely to wherever - ”

She got no further. There was an almighty shriek behind her. Unbeknown to the rest of them, who had all been scrambling madly towards the packed ice at the side of the road, Marie-Luce and Christine had not done the same. In a fit of fright and perversity, they had climbed up the crusty exterior of the piled-up snow so as to be completely out of the way. Once at the top and the danger over, they had made the mistake of trying to stand upright - and sank straight through the frozen outer layer. This had loosened the softer snow underneath, which catapulted them straight back down to the ground in double-quick time. Linda tried to turn, but had no chance of escaping with Emilie in her arms. The two girls cannoned straight into her. She and Emilie flew through the air and all the girls heard the crack as their mistress’s head hit the frozen tarmac.

There was a moment’s awful, stunned silence. Then Emilie began to wail. From Miss Stone herself there was neither movement nor sound. Mireille and Gillian were the first to recover and react.

Gillian hauled the two bigger girls off Emilie with rough hands. “You stupid, mutton-headed idiots,” she yelled. “Stand over there and don’t dare move, not one centimetre. Haven’t you caused enough trouble this week?”

She lifted Emilie to her feet, calmed her down and examined her for injuries. Mireille, meanwhile, had thrown herself down beside the mistress and was looking fearfully into her grey face. One or two of the younger girls began to whimper, but she was deaf to everything except the figure lying so still on the ground. Surely Miss Stone was dead!

She was unaware of Carmela kneeling beside her until she heard her voice. “Don’t look like that, Mireille. She’s still breathing. See!”

They watched the slight rise and fall of Miss Stone’s chest. Mireille gulped. Dread fell on her. The mistress might not be dead but she was unconscious, and Mireille realised, with a jolt, that it was up to her, as Head Girl, to sort out the situation. “Do you think we dare move her?”

“Better not,” Carmela warned. “Suppose she’s hurt her back? Mind, she could freeze to death lying there.”

Mireille looked up and saw the others had gathered round them. “Get back against the snow, all of you,” she cried out. “Do you want to get knocked down by some other lunatic?”

They scrambled to do her bidding, shocked by this anger from their gentle Head Girl. She looked at Gillian in desperation. “We need an ambulance.”

“For Emilie, as well,” Gillian replied. “I think she’s broken her arm. Shall I - ”

“Blood!” a voice shrieked.

Gillian stared down at Emilie, who was doubled over, cradling her left arm with her right. “Rubbish! She’s broken her arm, that’s all.”

Mireille looked down at Miss Stone and caught her breath in horror. “Oh, mon Dieu! Que faire?” she moaned.

There was, indeed, blood. It was pooling onto the road under the mistress’s arm, where it lay outstretched. Blood was also staining the sleeve of her coat. Even as they watched, the pool and the stain grew and spread.

“Vite, Mireille.”

The sound of a sharp voice in the still air startled the girls. It was Ellie. The blood had galvanised her and she now stood on the other side of Miss Stone, facing the two prefects. She spoke in rapid French. “You have to find the injury and stop the bleeding.”

Mireille was frozen to the spot, staring at the blood which just seemed to keep on coming. She didn’t even hear the words. Ellie leaned over the prone body and shook Mireille's shoulder hard.

“Reveille-toi, Mireille!” she cried. “If you don’t stop the bleeding, she will die. You must do it – and do it now!”

She shook her Head Girl again and saw she had broken through the stunned fear. Mireille leaned over Linda, eased off the blood-saturated mitten and tried to push up the coat sleeve. Instantly, blood spurted over her hands and her own coat. Some of the girls shrieked, but Mireille, all concentration now, clamped her fingers over the bloody wrist, pressing as hard as she could.

“It’s not working,” she cried. “My hands are slipping in her blood.”

“The first aid kit? Where is it?” Ellie asked. Nita came forward with the box, but Ellie looked at it in despair. “I cannot do this with only the one hand. Find the bandages and something we can use to keep the pressure on the injury. Vite! Vite!”

With fumbling fingers, Nita rooted through the box and brought out bandages, lint and cotton wool.

“Hold up the arm, s’il te plait, Mireille,” Ellie ordered, her voice urgent. “Bend it at the elbow so the injury is raised but keep pressing on the inside of the wrist. Nita, pass the lint to Carmela. Please to make a thick pad with it, Carmela. C’est bien! Give it to Mireille. Press it against the wound, as hard as you can, Mireille. Carmela, you must roll the bandage round it several times and tie it but tightly, you know.”

It seemed to take several hours for the prefect to roll the bandages round and round over the thick pad of lint. To Mireille and Carmela it seemed a lifetime, and Mireille had to bite her lip to stop herself yelling at her friend to hurry. Finally, the knot was tied and Carmela sat back on her heels, her eyes totally focused on the wrist. In seconds, the bandages were stained bright red and Mireille’s eyes frantically sought Ellie’s.

“It’s nor working,” she moaned." She's still bleeding!"

“Attend un moment,” Ellie reassured her, though her own heart was beating furiously. Suppose she was wrong!

Where are you Madame? I need you. Everyone is relying on me, but if I do this wrong Miss Stone will die.

“I’m off,” Gillian decided, as though reading Ellie’s thoughts. “You don’t need me, but we do need an ambulance. I’m the strongest and fastest here, so…” Mireille gave her a quick glance and nodded. “One of you look after Emilie for me and I’ll get going.”

Ellie held out her good hand. “Viens là, petite. Toi, aussi, Marie.” The twins stumbled over to Ellie, who wrapped her good arm round Emilie, holding the shivering body close.

“Ça te fait mal, oui?” she whispered and Emilie nodded. It hurt so badly she wanted to scream, but was too overawed by what was happening to make a sound. Marie clung to her sister’s coat and pressed herself against Ellie. Gillian turned to go when she saw Ellie had the girls in hand, but then stopped and took off her coat, which she laid over the mistress’s prone body and tucked under her. Taking off her scarf, she eased it gently under Miss Stone’s head to provide some extra cushioning.

“You’ll freeze to death,” Mireille warned, without looking up.

“I’ll soon warm up. I’ll try not to be too long, but I daren’t run on this ice. It’s just a pity another car hasn’t come along while we’ve been here. It would have saved so much time.” Gillian was shivering violently as she rose to her feet.

“Wait! I’ll come with you” It was Meg’s voice. “Better to have two people. If one falls or something, the other can keep on.”

Meg was laying her own coat and scarf over the mistress as she spoke. Gillian nodded, grateful for the company, and they set off together at speed, using their sticks to good effect.

“I think we try some more bandages, Carmela,” Ellie said. “Again, to pull them as tight as you can.” Alas, those bandages were also blood-soaked in just a few seconds. “We will wait a few more minutes. The blood takes the time to clot. It might do that faster in this cold.”

“How do you know so much?” Mireille murmured, awe in her eyes as she glanced up.

“I am afraid to not know enough, Mireille.” Ellie tried to sound as calm as she felt her guardian would have been in the same circumstances. “I was une éclaireuse* at my other school. I did the First Aid badge and took other courses outside school because I enjoyed it, you know.”

Her calm demeanour was having its effect. Mireille took herself in hand. Time to behave like a Head Girl! After another check on Miss Stone’s wrist, she searched the line of terrified girls for the other Sixth formers and beckoned them over.

She spoke first to her Deputy. “Jean, I think you should take the rest of the girls back. There’s no point in all of us catching cold out here. They need hot drinks and they need them soon.”

“If you’re sure we can’t be of any use here.” When Mireille shook her head Jean set about marshalling the girls into line.

Ellie looked down at the twins. “I think Emilie should stay, Mireille. She needs to go to the San. But Marie...” She stopped. Marie was clinging to her tightly, her face pressed into Ellie's body.

“I think we’ll let Marie stay with Emilie, for the moment,” Mireille said. “Jacquetta and Nita, I wonder would one of you go to each bend and try to warn any cars coming along that there are people in the middle of the road? I think it’s highly unlikely any more will come, given how quiet this end of the road usually is, but better safe than sorry after that last maniac. I just wish another one would come along….”

Jacquetta and Nita didn’t argue. Mireille’s face was white and grim. Disobeying her was not an option. Anyway, moving might get the blood flowing again. They pulled their scarves more tightly around themselves and moved off to guard the bends in the road.

“Please, may I stay with you?”

Mireille jumped when she heard the voice behind her. Turning, she saw Tonia standing there, her face strained, her eyes deep wells of distress. “I won’t get in the way, I promise, but please, I need to know…”

Mireille saw behind the misery. “Is this because of what you tried to do to Carmela?” Tonia nodded, ashamed to be so easily understood. “Very well, I’ll allow it, though I’m not sure the Abbess would agree. You might as well make yourself useful. Go and put your arms round Marie. She’s freezing and worried sick about her sister. You can keep each other warm.”

Tonia nodded her thanks and drew Marie away from Ellie. The warmth of the small body against her own was very welcome. Ellie moved Emilie and herself closer to the other two and smiled at Tonia. “Four of us huddled together should be even warmer. Just mind Emilie’s arm.”

She was worried about the younger girl. Her eyes were closed and she was leaning more and more heavily against Ellie. The icy air and the shock of a broken arm were not combining well.

“Ellie, the blood is seeping through the new bandages.” Carmela’s voice held a note of panic.

Ellie frowned. It wasn’t just seeping. The bandages were sopping wet with blood, and it was running in rivulets down the mistress’s arm, which was still held up by Mireille. Ellie checked her watch. She had planned to leave the pad on for fifteen minutes before trying anything else. The freezing temperature should have slowed down the flow of blood. She still felt she should wait a little, but the others were so frightened by the quantity of the blood. What to do? The enormity of their reliance on her very small fund of medical knowledge was terrifying her. She breathed a silent prayer to Madame for courage.

“I think we should apply a tourniquet.” She kept her voice calm and relaxed to hide her panic. Carmela immediately began to undo one of her boot laces, but Ellie shook her head. “Non, that is too thin! It would cut right through her arm and do a lot of damage. Your tie, perhaps. But I cannot do it myself with this finger….”

Without more ado, Carmela pulled off her tie and whipped it round Miss Stone’s arm, just above the bandages.

“Non, pas ici, but round the upper arm, I think,” Ellie commanded, although she wasn’t really too certain herself. For the first time, she grew agitated. “Mais, c’est impossible! The coat is too thick to get a good grip and we must not move her arm to pull it out of her sleeve because she would bleed more. We must cut the cloth – but how?”

Everyone despaired. The coat material was much too thick to rip open with bare hands.

“Would this help?” Everyone stared at Tonia. She was holding out a sturdy-looking penknife. She shrugged her shoulders when she saw Mireille’s frown. “My brother’s… just like the pea shooter. Against the rules, I know, but do you have any choice?”

Her voice wobbled on the last few words, but Carmela answered her question by snatching the knife from her. “For once, I am absolutely delighted you disobeyed the rules, Tonia. Thank you for being brave enough to admit you had it.”

She pulled out a blade and began to slit the sleeve. It was thick material, but soon yielded to her fierce attack. She laid aside the knife, pulled open the sleeve so the upper arm was exposed, picked up the tie and raised her eyes to Ellie. “Over her sweater?”

“Perhaps halfway between the elbow and the shoulder. You must pull as tight, tight, before tying it.” Ellie saw how hard Carmela struggled to tighten the tie. “Non! Non! Ça ne suffit pas! It is not enough! We have need of a piece of wood to help you to make it very, very tight. But where, in all this snow?” She looked around despairingly while Carmela hung on with all her might.

“J’ai un crayon dans ma poche,” whispered Marie, having heard the rapid French.

“Bless you, ma petite,” Ellie murmured, giving her a quick hug. “A pencil from your pocket is the very thing. Voici, Carmela! Tie a knot as tight as ever you can. Your tie is quite thick so it will not be easy. Mais ça, c’est bien, très bien. Now, push the pencil into the middle of that knot.”

The prefect was puzzled, but tried to do as Ellie ordered. This proved even more difficult than cutting the sleeve. Her fingers were frozen and felt as thick as sausages, unwilling to obey her. Finally, however, the pencil slipped through the knot.

“Now, turn the pencil round and round until it is impossible to move it more, like turning off a tap. It will tighten the tourniquet even more,” added Ellie. “Ça y est! Now, please to hold it there as still as you can. Do not allow it to untwist.”

“The bleeding – it’s slowing,” Mireille cried, making them all jump, so focused had they been on Carmela. “I d… don’t think the bandages are getting any wetter.”

“Fingers crossed,” muttered Carmela. “I wouldn’t want to go through all that again.”

“I think it’s stopping,” Mireille whispered, after a few more minutes.

Ellie bit her lip as she watched Miss Stone with sharp eyes. Should she suggest they loosen the tourniquet now and then? Or leave it and risk Miss Stone developing gangrene? It would be a nightmare to loosen it all and have to do it up again in the freezing cold. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be on there long enough to do real damage. Gillian must surely be nearly at the school by now. But when she glanced at her watch she saw, to her horror, that Gillian and Meg had been gone scarcely eight minutes. It had seemed like hours as they struggled to stop the bleeding. She saw Mireille and Carmela glance at their own watches, then at each other, and could read their distressed thoughts.

Now they had done all they could, time seemed to pass agonisingly slowly, and they felt increasingly cold. Mireille and Carmela took it in turn to hold the pencil in place, scarcely daring to take their eyes off the mistress. Emilie buried her face in Ellie’s coat and began to whimper. She was shivering violently, which Ellie knew must be making the pain worse.

“Sh, little one,” she murmured reassuringly in French. “It will soon be all better.”

She unbuttoned her coat and pulled the girl inside it against her own body for a little extra warmth, and brought the ends of the coat back round Emilie. Tonia did the same for Marie. Ellie shook her head when Mireille opened her mouth to remonstrate. What was the point?

“How like your guardian you are, Ellie,” murmured Mireille. “So quiet and calm and caring. You’ve saved Miss Stone’s life, you know.”

“But we do not know that yet, Mireille. En tout cas, you and Carmela did the saving – along with Tonia and Marie.”

You saved Miss Stone’s life,” Mireille repeated. “Not only that, but you’ve also looked after Emilie and Marie. The Abbess will be so proud of you.”

Ellie knew Mireille was only talking to take everyone’s mind off what was happening, but her heart still glowed at the praise. Feeling embarrassed, she searched the ground with her eyes. “I wonder what cut her wrist.”

Carmela tapped the tarmac near Miss Stone’s body. “Here. It must be a bit of tree root growing up through the road surface. I think it’s also what Emilie tripped over. It’s very pointed and as sharp as a dagger. If your wrist slammed down on that… “

No more was said. Time dragged by on leaden feet and the cold seeped into their very marrow. Tonia walked Marie up and down, but Emilie was in too much pain for Ellie to do the same, so she just hugged her close and whispered comforting words. Mireille kept feeling Miss Stone’s face and the fingers of the bandaged hand.

“She’s going to die,” she whispered. “Her face feels like a stone statue, it’s so cold… What else can we do for her?”

“Don’t give up,” Carmela said. “We have to hope. We’ve done all we can. We daren’t move her – and, anyway, where could we move her to? You know, the Abbess would tell us to pray, now there’s nothing else to do”.

They knew she was right, but they were too numbed by the cold and could find nothing to say to break the feeling of doom. How much longer could they hold out, wondered Ellie. How long would it take Gillian to reach school? How long to get an ambulance? Too long, she thought, beginning to agree with Mireille.

Darkness was about to fall and all she wanted to do was lie down and sleep. But she knew it would be fatal, although she couldn’t remember why. All they could do was endure…


*****
Chapter End Notes:
* une éclaireuse - a French Guide

The title The Dew of Hope comes from Hildegard of Bingen

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