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Story Notes:

This is a work of fiction. All characters created by and the property of Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Chapter Notes:

The aftermath of the accident; Mary-Lou is told; Emerence apologises to Margot; Commander Carey travels to Switzerland.


 

 

(text in italics from “Mary-Lou of the Chalet School” by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer)

 

Joey Maynard sat by Mary-Lou’s bed. It was five days since they had carried the girl to the big Sanatorium at the end of the Görnetz Platz and though she still lived, never once, during those five days, had she shown any signs of rousing. The blow she had received when Emerence’s weight flung against her full force had crashed her into the tree trunk, had set up deep concussion. Just what other injuries she might have sustained was more than the doctors could say yet. The head injury was so bad that they had not dared do more than make a superficial examination. They were afraid of spinal damage, but this they kept to themselves for the present.

Joey had gone to her the same evening when Jack Maynard had brought the news to Freudesheim. Mrs. Carey was in the throes of a severe attack of influenza and was too ill even to be told. Commander Carey had offered to fly out to see his stepdaughter between whom and himself existed a warm friendship, but Jack had refused the offer. He could do no good and Mrs. Carey might begin to wonder and worry if he were away at a time when she herself was so ill.

The two Heads of the school — Miss Annersley and Miss Wilson — came in turns to relieve Joey; but she would not give up her post except for needed rest. “If Doris can’t come, then her girl is my responsibility,” she had said.

The doctor came in quietly and stood beside his wife. This morning he had noted a little restlessness and he thought the concussion was beginning to pass off. The big question was whether Mary-Lou would wake up her natural self; or would it be fever and babbling delirium? And if they missed that last, how had she been hurt otherwise? Her back was very badly bruised around the spine. The bruises stood out black against her white skin. Had she damaged the spine itself? So far, all he had seen had been a light fluttering of the long lashes which lay so heavily on the waxen cheeks; a tiny shifting of the heavily bandaged head.

Joey looked up at him, apprehension in her face. “What—what have we to look for, Jack?” she asked fearfully.

“I don’t quite know. I think she is beginning to come round. Until she rouses fully neither I nor anyone else can tell you anything more.” Then he added, “Thank God she’s always been a sturdy, healthy specimen! If the brain itself is not affected, we should have a good chance of mending her well. There’s nothing to do just now but just wait — and pray.”

“Do you think I haven’t done that the whole time?” Joey asked as her eyes went again to the deathly white face against the pillow.

They had had to cut away part of her hair to dress the wound at the back of the skull and Jack had insisted that the rest of the long, beautiful locks must go, too. It might make all the difference between fever and sanity later. But nothing was to be seen of that just now. The bandages hid it.

He bent now and took one limp wrist in his hand. “The pulse is stronger,” he said when he laid it down. “Ah! She’s really beginning to rouse now! Look, Joey! Her eyelids lifted then. Nurse Frandsen! Call Dr. Graves and Herr Doktor Courvoisier!”

The nurse sped from the room to the house ’phone which was just outside and a few minutes later when the fluttering of the eyelids was becoming marked, the doctors were standing at the bedside. Joey herself had got up and gone to stand at the foot of the bed so that the first thing Mary-Lou saw when she woke to full consciousness would be the face of “Aunt Joey” who had been trying to take her mother’s place these past days.

Matron arrived a moment later, warned by the Sanatorium telephonist. There was silence in the room. It was broken by a little gasp as Mary-Lou yawned. At long last the heavy lids lifted and she looked straight at the foot of the bed where Joey was standing.

There was no recognition in the blue eyes, which stared blankly and with puzzlement at the white room and all the people round the bed. Then her mouth opened to speak, they thought, but she vomited, and Nurse Frandsen was in time only to catch the last of the result. Joey was really frightened now, but she kept her station in the hopes that it was merely confusion arising from the concussion. When the paroxysm has ceased, and the nurse was cleaning up the patient delicately, Dr Maynard bent over the girl, a frown creasing his brows.

“Mary-Lou,” he said quietly.

“Oh. Where am I? Who are you?”

“You’re in a hospital, the San, at the Görnetz Platz. You had a bad accident. I’m Dr Maynard,” he replied, calmly, though worried by the lack of recognition. “Do you feel pain anywhere?”

“My head – hurts,” Mary-Lou responded.

Jack exchanged a concerned glance with Dr. Courvoisier. “How are your legs and arms, Mary-Lou? Try to move them a little for me, please.”

There was a feeble movement of the arms, and Mary-Lou’s face creased with pain so that she looked old beyond her years. But the legs did not stir. 

Matron Lloyd, who had glanced briefly away from the young patient, caught a glimpse of Joey Maynard’s face, now whiter, if that was possible, than Mary-Lou’s. Hastily, she went to the younger woman’s side, and caught her as she fainted. Dr Graves assisted her to carry Joey to another room, and summoned a probationer to tend to her, warning the girl to let him know if Mrs Maynard did not rouse in a minute or so.

When he returned to Mary-Lou’s room, Jack was testing Mary-Lou’s responses, but it was the same: the arms could move, but the legs could not.

Mary-Lou was at present unperturbed by this lack, since her head was hurting so much that she could not notice anything else, and the lack of pain elsewhere was a blessed relief. Presently, an injection was given which soon killed the pain and sent her to sleep again, and Jack and his colleagues withdrew to discuss the situation.

“This does not bode well,” he said, heavily. “I fear very much that there has been damage to the spine after all, and Mary-Lou will not be able to walk again.”

Dr Courvoisier nodded agreement. They were none of them experts in spinal injuries, and were also concerned about the head injury. “Should we not send her down to the university hospital in Bern?” he enquired. “If the driver is careful, and one of us goes with her, there should be little risk in moving her.”

Dr Maynard considered this suggestion. “What I’d rather do at present is to have a spinal specialist examine her, and advise us what to do for the best.” The probationer came in softly, and spoke briefly to Dr Graves, who excused himself with a muttered word. Jack barely noticed the interruption. “I’d like van Oord to look at her – he’s in Geneva at present, and he’s an expert in this field.”

Courvoisier found that his chief merely wanted his opinion endorsed – and who was to say it was not the right decision? – and agreed quietly. “What will you tell the school? And the Careys must know.”

“I’d rather leave the Careys in ignorance at present, at least until van Oord pronounces his opinion. With Doris so ill, I don’t want them worried for nothing,”

Dr Courvoisier nodded. “Best to give them definite news, you think?”

Phil Graves returned, looking sardonic. “Dr Maynard,” he said formally, “your wife is asking for you.”

Jack nodded, said “Tell Graves what we’ve discussed,” and quitted the room, only now realising what anxiety Joey must be suffering.

The young probationer, who was hovering uncertainly around Mrs Maynard’s bed, fled gratefully when Herr Doktor Maynard entered the room. Joey was sitting up, but her colour was dreadful, and her face strained. “What does it mean, Jack? She didn’t know me! She didn’t know any of us.”

Thanking God that Joey had not seemed to have noticed the more serious matter, Jack said reassuringly, “I think that she may have lost some memory with the head injury. If we can relieve the pressure, then her memory will return.”

“You think so?” Joey was looking calmer already.

“Yes. I’m going to ask Professor van Oord to look at her – he’s in Switzerland and he’s an expert in these injuries. Hopefully he should be able to give us guidance about how best to treat Mary-Lou’s injuries.” Joey nodded, and he added, “Why don’t you try to sleep a little? I’ll ask Gwynneth to break the news to Hilda and Nell.”

“Alright,” Joey replied. “I’ll pray for her.”

“Do that,” he said, smiling, and kissed her as she lay down on the bed. “I’ll send someone to take you home when you wake up, and warn Anna.”

Comforted, Joey set herself to slumber, and such had been the strain and tension of the last few days, that despite her anxiety she was very quickly asleep.

 *

Meanwhile, her husband put through a call to the hospital in Geneva, and was lucky enough to find Professor van Oord available. “Guten Morgen, Maynard,” the professor said, when he had come to the telephone. “I hope I find you well.” His English was excellent, though tinged with a Flemish accent.

The polite preliminaries dealt with adequately, Dr Maynard said, “I’m hoping you can give some advice, sir. We have a patient at the San here who was recently in an accident which had damaged her spine and caused a serious head injury. She woke today, after five days of unconsciousness, and does not recognise people she has known for several years. She also appears to have lost all movement of her legs.”

The professor considered for a moment, then asked some pertinent questions which Maynard did his best to answer. “You have no spinal specialists at your San, I think?” he asked. “Then perhaps it would be best if I came up to look at your patient. Such injuries are difficult to treat. You may expect me tomorrow afternoon.”

He cut off Jack’s thanks politely but definitely, and the conversation ended. Considerably relieved by van Oord’s offer, he gave the news to Matron Lloyd, asking to tell the co-heads of the school, but asking them not to reveal Mary-Lou’s condition to the other girls. Matron was experienced enough to have grave doubts about Mary-Lou’s likely recovery and agreed with alacrity that the girls should not yet be informed of what might happen “For one thing,” she said, as she put on her coat and hat to return to school, “Emerence Hope is in enough of a state without making her feel any worse.”

Dr Maynard’s expression hardened. “I can’t say I’ve any sympathy for Emmy at present, Gwynneth. Mary-Lou is very dear to us.”

Matron said nothing to this unchristian sentiment, and made her way along the cleared paths to the school at the other end of the Platz. Her heart was heavy, for she, like most of the school, was very fond of the girl. She made her way immediately to the Headmistress’s study, not even pausing to take off her coat.

Bade enter by Miss Annersley’s low, pleasant voice, Matron Lloyd opened the door and faced her colleague and friend. Miss Annersley looked up with eager anticipation. “What news, Gwynneth?” she asked.

“Not good,” Matron said, sitting down in a chair as though her knees had given way. “At least she’s woken and was lucid – there was no fever there, thank God! But the head injury is cause for concern, and they fear – well, they fear that she may not walk again.”

Miss Annersley stared, unable to speak for a few moments. “Paralysed? Mary-Lou? Oh, the poor child. Does she know?”

“As yet I think she was in too much pain to have realised that there was anything wrong. But Dr Maynard has called in a Professor van Oord for an examination tomorrow.” Matron explained, and Hilda nodded, slowly. “What will you tell the Careys? Dr Jack was against having them told just now – he wanted to wait for van Oord’s examination.”

“Then I shall defer to his opinion. One day the more can’t hurt, and Mrs Carey is exceedingly ill. I shan’t tell the girls yet, merely that she has roused up and is not feverish, but is still in pain – will that do, do you think?”

Matron shrugged. “Some of the quicker ones may guess, but I’d advise you to say nothing more – at least until tomorrow.”

“Very well.” They spoke briefly of other things, before Matron added, “And we had better watch out for Emerence if the worst happens. She will blame herself terribly.”

“Yes, of course,” Miss Annersley replied softly. “Poor Emerence.”

*

It was mid-afternoon the following day when a large car wearing snow chains crawled up the Platz road and parked outside the Sanatorium. The woman at the wheel was casually dressed in slacks, and followed her tall passenger into the warmth of the building. Dr Maynard had been passing when they arrived, recognising that deep voice, and paused to introduce himself to the Professor.

“Good. This is my colleague, Marije Visser – Jack Maynard.”

Jack shook hands with Dr Visser, unsure why she had accompanied the eminent specialist, but accepting her presence, nonetheless. “Is the girl awake?” Prof. van Oord asked.

“She was not when I last looked in, about a half hour ago, but we can see.” Jack led the guests to Mary-Lou’s room. Matron Graves was sitting with the patient, who was still asleep. She spoke briefly to update them on the girl’s condition: she had been given plenty of water to drink, but no food as yet, since there had been another episode of sickness when she woke.

The sound even of low-pitched voices seemed to rouse Mary-Lou from her light doze, and she opened her eyes. Prof. van Oord and Dr Visser introduced themselves scrupulously, and asked if she might answer some questions. 

Then there was a long, careful examination, Dr Visser concentrating on the head injury. Mary-Lou looked at them both with interest: the Professor was very tall, and broad in proportion, with fierce fair hair and pale blue eyes, and very gentle hands. Dr Visser was younger, in the early thirties or so, with dark hair cut short in curls, and warm brown eyes which twinkled a little at the patient.

Then they thanked her, and Dr Visser said that they would return in a few minutes to talk to her, and then withdrew with Dr Maynard to discuss the case.

“The lower spine is injured without doubt,” said Prof. van Oord, “perhaps even fractured, and this leads to the paralysis of the lower limbs you have noted. An X-ray will help to determine the exact injury. If you have the facilities here, you may move her carefully, lying flat all the while. The back may heal in time, leading to recovery of motor facilities, but it is extremely rare, in my experience, for this to happen, and I think you must prepare her for life in a wheelchair. She should retain use of her arms and hands and upper body. Marije, what did you think of the head injury? Is there risk of brain damage?”

“There is a definite brain injury,” Dr Visser said. ”The skull fracture should be opened and cleaned. I can do this procedure, or else recommend one of my colleagues at the university. But I recommend that it is done as soon as possible, or the damage may become permanent.”

“When could you undertake this procedure?” Dr Maynard asked, concerned.

“Directly, if you have an anaesthetist. Are her parents here?”

“Her parents are in England, since her mother is ill at present. Flu. Dr Courvoisier generally acts as our anaesthetist.”

Dr Visser nodded. “If she has not eaten, it is all to the good. I will speak to Miss Trelawney.”

“About what?” Maynard asked, curiously.

“About the procedure,” said Dr Visser, astonished. “She is old enough to understand what it is that we attempt. It is always best that patients understand their treatment, we think, children no less so.”

“No.” Jack Maynard was horrified. “Absolutely not.”

“But why? I assure you that if I cannot speak to her, I could not undertake the operation.” She looked at the older man seriously. “She will feel more reassured if she knows exactly what is going on – she strikes me as a young woman who has great strength of mind.”

While Jack could not refute this, he was still unwilling to let Dr Visser talk to Mary-Lou. Van Oord made his own contribution, saying, “Of course you will tell the girl about her other injuries, so why not this?”

Jack capitulated, though insisting that he should be there when the news was broken. In the short time they had been away, there had been more sickness, and Mary-Lou was more listless. Dr Visser explained simply what had happened to Mary-Lou’s head, and what she planned to do during the operation, and saw understanding in the young face, even if the words which came out were slurred and barely recognisable.

Then, leaving Mary-Lou to sleep while she could, Marije consulted with Eugen Courvoisier about the operation, and all was set astir to prepare an operating theatre and check equipment. Matron Graves herself would assist, since she had a good deal of experience with surgery, and van Oord would also lend his advice during the operation.

It was a couple of hours later that Mary-Lou was wheeled into theatre, glanced at the friendly face of the surgeon, and then woozily saw Dr Courvoisier disappear above her as she sank into unconsciousness.

She woke, some hours later, feeling considerably less strange, though her head was aching, and her throat was sore. She opened her eyes, and saw Joey Maynard sitting beside the bed. “Auntie Joey,” croaked Mary-Lou.

She was at a loss to explain the tears that started, despite the smile Joey could not help smiling. “Good evening, dearest,” she said.

“Thirsty,” Mary-Lou said, and a glass of water with a straw in it was passed to her. She drank, gratefully, and some of the ache in her throat was eased. Then she could take notice of what was going on around her. There was Nurse Frandsen, who had brought her the water; and there was Dr Jack, looking relieved. Beside him was an exhausted-looking young woman, who yet smiled at the patient: “Dr Visser,” Mary-Lou said, suddenly remembering the name. She put up her hand slowly to her head, grimacing in pain, and felt the bandages which encased it. “It’s done?” The voice was clear, if very quiet, reassuring her audience.

Dr Visser nodded. “I’ve cleared out as much as I could, and drained the fluid that was pressing on your brain.” She looked closely into the girl’s eyes, moving her finger, and was pleased to see the eyes follow it easily. “You’re a lucky girl, Miss Trelawney.”

Mary-Lou smiled. “Thank-you. I shall go to sleep now.”

Dr Visser laughed. “Good. Sleep well.”

She watched as the girl shut her eyes and moments later, was still and sleeping. She rubbed her face wearily, and yawned.

“I can’t thank you enough for your help,” Dr Maynard said quietly.

Dr Visser shrugged. “It is little enough when the girl will not walk again,” she said bluntly. They were talking quietly, so as not to wake Mary-Lou, but Joey, sitting by the bed, with the girl’s hand in hers, turned her head, horrified.

Jack saw the look and his heart sank: he had been hoping to break the news to his wife more gently than this. Dr Visser headed off to a bed which had been hastily prepared, leaving the Maynards alone with Nurse Frandsen and the patient. Jack beckoned to his wife to come outside, and they stood in the corridor, while he explained van Oord’s diagnosis. Joey nodded, unspeaking, as though she found it impossible to comprehend the news. “I’ve a call booked to England in a few minutes,” he said. “I hope Doris is well enough to be left.”

She nodded again, and suddenly put her arms round him, drawing a few shuddering breaths. Jack stroked her hair gently. Then she stood straight and wiped her eyes. “I’ll go back to her for a while, then, in case she wakes again.” She returned to the room, her heart aching.

It was a difficult call to make, Jack thought, as he listened to the operator, and at length heard Carey’s tired tones saying, “Arthur Carey speaking. Is that you, Maynard?”

“Yes. Sorry to call you so late, but it’s important.”

“How’s Mary-Lou?”

“Not well. She underwent an operation this evening to help the head injury – all seems well there now, God willing – but Prof. van Oord, who’s a spinal specialist, and who I asked for advice, thinks that her spine is so injured that she probably won’t be able to walk again.”

“Oh God,” Carey breathed. “Not that for Mary-Lou.” There was silence for a moment. “And how shall I break it to Doris?”

“Is she fit enough to be left?”

“She’s on the mend, but if I tell her, she’ll worry, and probably relapse. I wish we had someone who could stay with her.”

“Hasn’t Doris any friends in the neighbourhood who could visit her? And you can call her, or leave messages.”

“I’ll arrange something, Maynard. I’ll try to get to the San as soon as possible, and will call you when I know when I shall arrive. Give my love and her mother’s to Mary-Lou, please, and let her know I’m coming to see her.”

“Will do,” Jack said, then added. “I’m so sorry, Carey.”

“Thank-you. Good-bye, Maynard.”

There was an audible clunk, as the line disconnected, and Jack put the receiver back gently on its cradle. He did not envy Carey’s task of breaking the news to his wife. He yawned, suddenly feeling the effects of the long day. While it always felt bad to see patients in dire straits, to see Mary-Lou like this was strangely affecting, almost as though she was his own daughter.

He returned to her room, and found his wife fast asleep by the bed. So far, she seemed to have taken the news surprisingly well, and for the sake of their unborn child, as well as her own sake, he was grateful. He woke Joey gently, and took her home, after instructing Dr Graves, who was on shift until the next morning, to call him if anything urgent cropped up.

*

Miss Annersley announced the news to the assembled school after prayers that evening. “Girls,” she said. “You will all be pleased to know that Mary-Lou woke at last this morning. She is in a great deal of pain, but was not feverish as was feared. I know you’ll all continue to pray for her, since she has a long road to recovery before her.” She paused, surveying the young faces before her, most of which looked relieved at the news. “When Dr Maynard lets me know that she’s well enough for visitors, perhaps one or two of you may see her.” She went on to other topics, and dismissed the girls for their evening pursuits.

One or two of the senior girls were quiet after the announcement, having noticed that their headmistress had not given all details of Mary-Lou’s condition. Jessica Wayne, who through her exposure to her step-sister Rosamund’s invalidism, was more suspicious than most. She was thinking about Mary-Lou’s own words of not long ago – an urging to think about what it must be like for Rosamund to have to rely on everyone else, not to be able to walk or run, or play games – and her thoughts of what Mary-Lou might have to endure horrified her.

Emerence Hope, the unwitting cause of the accident, had not been as badly injured. Her broken collarbone had been set and her sprained ankle bandaged, and she was lying in the school San under Matron’s care, only now having come out of a feverish delirium. With the recession of the fever had come tears, and Emerence had cried her regret and unhappiness until Matron had forcefully stopped her crying and bathed her face. Even the news that Mary-Lou had finally roused was not enough to comfort her, and by the time she finally fell asleep that night, her handkerchief was sodden, and fresh tears marked her pale cheeks.

Matron stroked back the fair hair from her forehead and kissed the hot skin kindly. “Sleep is the best thing for you now, Emerence,” she said, softly, then switched off the dim lamp, and quitted the room to make her bedtime rounds.

*

Mary-Lou was roused in the morning by a slight noise in her room, and opened her eyes. Matron Graves smiled at her and opened the curtains. It was bright, outside, the sun shining strongly and reflecting from the snow which still lay thickly. “Good morning, Mary-Lou,” Matron said. “How are you feeling?”

“Hungry,” Mary-Lou replied, suddenly realising that this was so.

“Not feeling sick? It can be a reaction to the anaesthetic sometimes.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I can bring you something – bread and milk, I’m afraid – for you’ll have to stay lying flat for a while. When you’ve eaten, I’ll fetch Dr Maynard and Prof. van Oord to you.”

The girl nodded, and turned her head so that she could look out of the window. A young man with fair hair was shovelling snow, and Mary-Lou watched him for a while, content that she could see. Presently, Nurse Frandsen came in with food, and fed her patient gently and slowly.

Dr Jack came in as the nurse was tidying up, and heard Mary-Lou’s greeting with some relief. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

She grimaced horribly. “I ache everywhere, apart from my legs, which is a relief.”

“I’ll give you something to help that, shortly. Your mother is ill at present, so your step-father will be coming out to see you alone. It’s flu, and she has been very bad, but the doctor thinks that she’s through the worst of it.”

“I’m glad,” the girl said seriously. Since her grandmother’s death only a couple of months earlier, her mother was the only blood relation Mary-Lou had left, and they were very close, despite being very different people. Of course she was very fond of Verity and Commander Carey, but they weren’t hers as her mother was.

Nurse Frandsen took her leave, quietly, and was almost immediately replaced by Prof. van Oord, whom Mary-Lou recognised from the previous day.

“Now, Mary-Lou, we’ve decided that we must tell you this now, rather than wait for Carey to arrive – mainly because we’re not sure when he’ll be able to get away,” Dr Jack said, wishing that he had not been pushed into this by his visitors. But, having invited them to give opinions, he could not now reject their advice to give Mary-Lou the most accurate prediction about her recovery.

“You feel no pain in your legs, Miss Trelawney?” said the Professor, in a gruff, kind voice. She shook her head, suddenly frightened. “If you try, you will find that you cannot move them, and if I touch your foot with my pen here, your foot does not twitch.” He demonstrated. “This is because your spine is injured, and has disrupted the nerves transmitting impulses to your muscles and ligaments. The injury is low enough on the spine that you can move your upper body, but you will not be able to walk.”

“Will I get better?” she asked, desperately.

“It depends on exactly what injury your spine has received. It is sometimes the case that people injured in this way have recovered sufficiently to walk with crutches, but I do not want to give you false hope, Miss Trelawney: I think it unlikely that you will walk again.”

Mary-Lou stared. “Never again?”

“I am so very sorry.” Prof. van Oord was sincere in his sympathy, and she felt it. She nodded, speechlessly. “We will take an X-ray of your back later, and I may be able to make a more accurate prognostication after that.” He paused, then added, “Do you have any questions for me? I will do my best to answer them.”

“What will I be able to do?”

“I can give you directions for exercises to strengthen your arms and upper body, and many of my patients have been able to use a wheelchair to get around. They are specially made with a set of large wheels which you can propel yourself.” He took out a notebook from inside his jacket, and sketched a diagram of the chair, which he held out so that she could take it. “You will be able to read and study, certainly.”

“I’m glad of that.” She was remembering what Jessica had told her about Rosamund Sefton’s invalidism, and was desperately afraid that Rosamund’s life would be hers from now on. But she has Mrs Sefton to look after her, Mary-Lou thought bleakly, I’ve always looked after Mum. And she’s not in good health herself, so I can’t expect her to run around after me. I must just get well. “May I have visitors?”

“I don’t see why not, as long as they do not tire or distress you,” Prof. van Oord said, glancing towards Dr Maynard.

“Tomorrow, perhaps, Mary-Lou,” he said. “Who would you like?” 

“Jessica Wayne, please,” Mary-Lou said, surprising Dr Maynard. He knew about Jessica and her family from his wife, but he had not realised that she was a friend of Mary-Lou’s.

“I’ll ask Miss Annersley if she can be spared.”

“But you should sleep as much as possible,” Prof. van Oord added. “It will only help your recovery.”

Dr Jack gave her an injection of painkillers, and stooped to kiss her forehead gently; then he and the other man left her alone.

She thought about what the news would mean to her. No more skiing and tobogganing, no games, perhaps no more school – or having to go to a new school, where she would be one of many crippled, where no-one knew her. Having to depend on others instead of being the strong one, the one on whom others depended. How did Rosamund Sefton bear it? How would she bear it? Suddenly, she wanted her mother very badly. Mary-Lou wept, furious with herself for giving in to tears, even if there was no-one there to see her.

Presently, she calmed down, mopped her wet cheeks, and became aware that Dr Visser was standing in the doorway. “May I come in?” she asked.

Receiving a tired nod, the older woman stepped inside and sat down on the chair beside the bed, positioning herself so that Mary-Lou could see her easily without straining her head. “You are upset, of course,” she said, kindly. “It is hard news to bear. My sister had this happen to her, too – she fell from a horse and was lucky not to break her neck and become completely paralysed. I don’t know if you know anything about anatomy?”

“Not much,” Mary-Lou admitted, becoming interested. The low voice with its slight accent was easy to follow.

“It seems strange that one cannot move the arms or legs without the spine, doesn’t it? Your legs aren’t injured. We think that electrical impulses are sent by the brain to the muscles by the brain to make them move, and when that transmission is disrupted, by an injury to the spine, no messages can be sent or received.” She smiled a little. “Imagine it like a telephone line, perhaps.”

“Tell me about your sister, please. What does she do?”

“Anneke trained as a secretary before her accident. Now she has a wheelchair, and an understanding boss: she organises his diary, and takes dictation, types his letters and answers his telephone. She lives close to the office, and can take her chair from home to her place of work. She lives on the ground floor, even though there’s an elevator in her building, and has a cat called Niki. It took her about a year to learn to use the chair comfortably, and it was hard work at first, but now she can use it to go shopping, and visit her friends who live close by.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” said Mary-Lou, cautiously. 

“Anneke’s life isn’t so different from many disabled persons. It is possible to live independently – because that’s what you fear most, isn’t it?”

The girl stared at her. “How did you guess?” 

“Your friend, Mrs Maynard, spoke to me about you,” Dr Visser said apologetically. “She was worried about you. Is still, frankly. You’re always the one in charge, yes? You may have to suffer being dependent for a while, Miss Trelawney, but it is perfectly possible to learn to do things for oneself.”

Abruptly, Mary-Lou found herself talking about Jessica’s step-sister, and her fear that this would become her lot, too.

“I see. I don’t know what ails Miss Sefton, of course, but she is likely to have some other condition, as well. Apart from the paralysis, Dr Maynard tells me that you are a sturdy girl with no health problems, so I doubt the cases are comparable. Does your friend know what is wrong with her step-sister?”

“I don’t know. She just said that there was something wrong with her back.”

“Then don’t worry about it. How does your head feel?”

“It aches a little, but not enough to complain about.”

Dr Visser smiled at that. She rose from her seat to examine Mary-Lou’s eyes, explaining what she was looking for, and finding that none of the signs were there. “I can pride myself on doing a good job with your head, at least,” she observed wryly, sitting down again.

“What’s a brain specialist called?”

“I’m a neurologist and surgeon.” She was about to say more, but was interrupted by a knock at the door, and the entrance of a couple of nurses, Dr Maynard and Prof. van Oord. “Ah, time for your X-ray,” she added, and moved aside so that Mary-Lou could be transported to the radiology room.

Mary-Lou took her mind off the procedure by asking questions about it: the radiologist answered them courteously while setting up the machinery with the professor’s advice. The scanning took less time than she had feared, and the radiologist volunteered the information that he would develop the films straight away, since he had no other pressing cases at present.

*

Miss Annersley, despite Matron’s warning, had found Emerence’s tear-stained and woebegone countenance rather a shock. She sat beside the bed, and said gently, “There’s no need to ask if you’re sorry for your disobedience, is there?”

Emerence shook her head dolefully. “I knew I was being naughty – and I tried to make Margot do the same. She wouldn’t, though. She told me.”

“I’m glad that Margot is making attempts to curb her tendency to wilfulness, and it’s time you did, too, Emerence, my dear. You knew that such a prohibition was not set in place without cause.”

“I just wanted some fun,” she replied, sadly.

“Yes, and that fun has cost you your winter sports for the rest of the term, hasn’t it, not to mention Mary-Lou’s. She was trying to stop you from colliding with Blossom’s sledge.” Miss Annersley had spent some time over the past few days trying to sort out for herself how the accident had happened by quizzing the various people involved.

“I know.” Emerence sniffed back the tears and blew her nose loudly. “I am so very sorry. I shan’t do anything like that again. Do – do Mum and Dad know?”

“Yes, I called them yesterday, when you came out of your fever. They sent their love, though they aren’t happy about your behaviour, my child.”

Emerence felt this gentle chiding was almost more than she could bear.

“Now, I’ll leave you presently. I don’t think we shall punish you, for I feel that you’ve certainly punished yourself, but I’d like you to think carefully what the school would be like if everyone did as they pleased. Would you like to see Margot after Mittagessen? She has been wanting to talk to you.”

“Yes, please. I want to apologise to her for being so horrible.”

“I’m glad of that. Now, why don’t you let me plump up those pillows, and you can read for a while? Touch the bell if you’d like to sleep, and Nurse Martin will come to see to you.” She did as she suggested, and in a moment, Emerence was comfortably propped against a number of pillows, and a book left in her lap. She was feeling considerably better after this treatment, and glanced gratefully after Miss Annersley as she left the San. Emerence was warm-hearted, even if she was reckless and disobedient, and she had been reliving the terrible things she had said to Margot – would Margot even want to be her friend after this? Presently, Nurse Martin brought her a light meal of boiled egg, toast and a delicately-flavoured junket, which Emerence ate with revived appetite.

After she had eaten, she took up the book, but it was only a few minutes before the door opened gently, and a red-gold head peeped into the gap. “Emmy, how are you?” Margot said, relieved to see her friend sitting up and looking alert. She came into the room and perched on the chair beside the bed which Miss Annersley had lately occupied.

“I ache rather,” Emerence said, wryly. “I’m so sorry, Margot, for being so mean to you that day. I should never have tried to make you follow my lead like that. Do say you’ll forgive me.”

“Of course I forgive you,” her friend said impulsively. “I might have done the same thing myself, not so long ago.”

“Have you heard how Mary-Lou is? The Head didn’t tell me.”

“We haven’t heard, except that she woke up yesterday morning, and was in a lot of pain.”

Emerence’s face crumpled, but she fought the tears bravely. “I blame myself,” she said, quietly. “I don’t know how I can face her again.”

“I see why you think that,” Margot said, leaning forward and taking one of Emerence’s hot hands in hers, and patting it reassuringly. “But it was an accident, Emmy, even if you shouldn’t have been going down the slope there – if Blossom’s sledge hadn’t overturned, Mary-Lou wouldn’t have been trying to stop you so urgently.”

“I know, but it is my fault, isn’t it.” Emerence looked up at Margot’s face, sympathy and concern showing plainly.

“I suppose so,” Margot said reluctantly. “It’s like one of those horseshoe nail stories, isn’t it? If Mary-Lou hadn’t tried to stop you, or if Blossom’s sledge hadn’t overturned, or if the tree hadn’t come down to spoil the run...”

“Or if I hadn’t decided that fun should come before responsibility,” said Emerence with a sigh. “I will do better, Margot. If you ever see me doing anything stupid or reckless again, you just say the word ‘toboggan’ to me, and that will stop me.”

“Oh I know how you feel, Emmy! It’s what I’ve done too, so many times before. Listening to my devil because what he says is easy, and fun, and it’s so easy to ignore conscience.”

They sat together sadly, but both comforted a little by the sympathy and understanding between the two of them. Very alike in temperament, though vastly different in upbringing, the two girls had shared a close friendship almost since Emerence’s arrival at the school.

After a while, Margot stirred, and said ruefully, “I must go, Emmy. Miss Annersley excused me lessons this afternoon, but I have prep from this morning. You get better soon, won’t you?”

Emerence smiled at this. “Alright.”

Margot returned the smile, and left the room to go to her prep, feeling considerably calmed and much happier. Emerence lay back on her pillows, and felt better having apologised to her friend. Now the only thing which remained was to apologise to Mary-Lou. But how long would it take before she was up and about, and able to visit the Sanatorium to see the older girl? And how would she be received?

*

Mary-Lou had spent most of the afternoon asleep. Funny, she thought to herself in one of her brief waking moments, that I should be so tired after spending so long unconscious. There was the sound of melodious whistling from someone outside in the snow, though she could not see anyone. Presently, one of the nurses came into her room with food and drink: she swallowed it down, although she was not very hungry, and once she had finished, Prof. van Oord and Dr Maynard entered.

They greeted her, asking her how she was feeling, and then the older man leaned forward in his chair, saying, “The X-ray film shows that your twelfth thoracic vertebra – the nineteenth – has cracked across, and there is much bruising and inflammation. This has disrupted the nerves and caused your paralysis. I think it will be best if we put your back in plaster to prevent movement, for the bone will heal in a few weeks, left to itself. You will need to lie flat for at least two weeks to aid the first bone growth, but after that you may sit up a little – not upright, but supported on many pillows. Once the plaster has come off, it will be a long process until you can sit upright, once the muscles have regained their strength. Then you can begin learning to use a wheelchair.”

“I see,” said Mary-Lou, quietly.

“Your step-father called me not long ago,” Dr Maynard added. “He expects to be with us tomorrow morning.”

“Did he say how Mother is? When will she be able to travel?” Mary-Lou asked. She hesitated a moment, and then said, all her usual bounce and insouciance gone, “I want her, very much.”

“Of course you do,” said Prof. van Oord, kindly, “and she will come to see you as soon as she is well. But take heart, Miss Trelawney: the injury is bad, yes, but you will retain control over your arms and trunk,” he gestured at his own body to indicate what he meant, “and once the bone has healed, you will be able to live a relatively independent life. A few vertebrae higher, and you might not have been able to move even your arms.”

Mary-Lou considered this fearfully, trying to imagine what it would feel like to be completely paralysed. She looked up at Prof. van Oord. “I can’t be glad about that – yet,” she said, seriously.

“But you must concentrate on getting well, lying still and patient. It will be very dull, but the quieter you are, the quicker the bone will heal.” She nodded, suddenly looking weary, which the doctors noticed immediately. “But we are tiring you. Sleep once more, and we hope that, when you wake, you will have your step-father with you, at least.”

They withdrew, and Mary-Lou fell asleep again without noticing. Dr Maynard rubbed his face wearily: a weariness of spirit rather than of body. “Thank-you,” he said, briefly.

“It is little enough,” said the professor sombrely. “It is always sad to see a youngster struck down by an accident of this sort. I will make a list of instructions for you, for Marije and I must return to Geneva tonight, and of course you will telephone me if there are any questions you wish answered.”

After drafting the instructions, and taking farewell of the San, Prof. van Oord and Dr Visser departed cautiously on chained wheels.

*

It was not until noon the next day that Commander Carey arrived at the San, and was taken straightaway to an interview with Dr Maynard. He was tired, for he had been travelling all night, and was weary with anxiety. “How is she?” was the first thing that came out of his mouth, before greeting Maynard, before any politeness. “I’m sorry,” he added, “but you must know how worried I am about Mary-Lou.”

“Of course.” Dr Maynard hesitated a little, then said, unwillingly, “I’m afraid the news isn’t good, Carey. One of the lower thoracic vertebrae was broken, disrupting all the motor function below the waist. We put her in plaster this morning, so it will take time for the fracture to heal, but it is very unlikely that Mary-Lou will be able to walk again.”

“Dear God!” Carey said, slumping in his chair, all the hope that had been buoying him suddenly gone. “Has she been told?”

“Yes. She has taken it well, so far, but I think she hasn’t yet realised what it will mean. Van Oord was keen to stress the positives – she should be able to use a wheelchair, and probably have some independent life. But she won’t be able to continue her schooling here – there aren’t the facilities. And then archaeology would be impossible for her. Her plans for the future are all up in the air.”

Carey nodded. “I see.” He was silent for a few minutes, thinking. At length, he sighed. “I must see her. Will you take me to her?”

“Of course.” Dr Maynard accompanied his visitor to Mary-Lou’s room. She was awake, and seeing her smile painfully at him gave Carey a stab of relief. He sat down beside the bed, “Hello, Mary-Lou. I won’t ask you how you feel, but you will be glad to know that your mother is over the worst of her attack of flu. She’s getting stronger again, but it will be several days before she’s able to get up. When she’s fit enough, I’ll bring her here for you.”

“Auntie Joey is so kind, but it’s not like having Mother with me,” Mary-Lou replied, clutching his hand rather tightly.

“She will come to you as soon as she can,” he said, trying to be reassuring, and wondering how soon Doris would be well enough to make the trip. “Tell me what happened, won’t you? Dr Maynard just said that you’d been in an accident with a toboggan.”

Mary-Lou told him what she remembered – which was not much. “Emmy was coming down the hill and there was another sledge-load of people who had fallen off – she would have driven right into them! I tried to get her to steer away. I think something must have hit me. Anyway, that’s the last thing I remember: haring up the hill yelling at Emerence!”

“Well, I’ll find out – I’ll have to see Miss Annersley this afternoon, anyway. She probably knows the full story. But don’t fret: I shan’t leave you until you sleep again.”

Mary-Lou smiled, and listened as he talked a little of her mother, and their activities at home before her illness, and then described some of the Amazonian fauna he had seen and described on the expedition. Listening to his quiet voice was rather soothing, and she fell asleep in the midst of a description of a tiny tree frog. He found it hard to believe: Mary-Lou, always so bouncy and full of life, now subdued and paralysed.

Dr Graves gave him a lift to the school, at the other end of the Platz, for it was coming on to snow again, and Rosalie Dene was there to greet him as he stepped into the warmth of the hall. “I'm so sorry about Mary-Lou,” she said, ushering him to the Headmistress's study. “I hope you've had some more news. Miss Annersley has asked me to make sure that you are not disturbed, so please don't worry on that score.”

She knocked, heard a brief, “Come in,” for it was English day, and ushered   Commander Carey into the study. She closed the door behind him, and went off to her own work, not unnaturally wondering what news he would have to tell.

Miss Annersley greeted her visitor gravely. “I hope your journey was uneventful,” she said. “Have you eaten?”

“Not since breakfast, at Basle,” Carey answered, almost impatiently, “but I'm really not hungry” -

Miss Annersley rang the bell and asked for coffee and cakes when the maid arrived. “Forgive me,” she said, turning to her guest, “but you will feel a good deal better with some refreshment. It is almost time for Kaffee, anyway, so you won't have to wait long.”

True to her word, only a few minutes had passed – where Miss Annersley had enquired of the health of Mrs Carey, and expressed relief at her recovery, and sympathy that she had to stay in England when her girl needed her – before Anneli returned with a tray with Karen's compliments. Miss Annersley poured out coffee, and Commander Carey had to admit that the delicious smell tempted his appetite.

“Perhaps you'd tell me what happened – the accident, I mean. No-one at the San seems entirely sure, and Mary-Lou doesn't remember.”

The Headmistress nodded. “One of the girls took her toboggan up to the top of the run, and set off. Mary-Lou realised that another sledge had overturned, and the first girl had not seen the accident, and would likely land among them. I believe all might have been well had not Emerence's sled not hit a hidden snag in the run. She was thrown off the toboggan, straight into Mary-Lou, and then the two of them hit a tree beside the run.”

“I see.” Carey considered Miss Annersley's words.

“Emerence was also injured – a broken collar-bone and sprained ankle – but was spared more severe injury. She's in our San.” She paused, wondering what she could say which might comfort. “I am so sorry, Commander Carey, more than I can say.”

“I understand. Thank-you.” He paused. “Dr Maynard has told me that Mary-Lou has a cracked vertebra, and that even after the bone has healed, she will not be able to walk. She may be able to use a wheelchair.”

“Poor Mary-Lou,” she said, horrified. “I can only imagine what this will mean to her – and how it will affect you and Mrs Carey, too. My prayers will be with you.” There was a long pause, before she added, “I had planned to tell the school of any change to Mary-Lou’s condition, but I am not sure that this will be good for them. Emerence, in particular, will blame herself grievously.”

“I would not want that on my conscience, certainly, however much of an accident it was,” Carey agreed sombrely. “But I think that Mary-Lou would want her friends told, at least, even if you don’t make a general announcement. She needs – we all need – your prayers and good wishes now.”

“Of course. We have been praying for her since the accident, before we knew how serious it was.” The headmistress spoke simply but sincerely, and Carey nodded, finding an odd comfort in her words and tone.

“Could you let Jessica Wayne know that Mary-Lou would like to see her?” he said, abruptly, suddenly reminded of Dr Maynard’s last words before he had come to the school. “It’s probably too late, now, but tomorrow, if it’s convenient.”

“I don’t see why not,” said Miss Annersley, surprised by the request, since she did not know that Mary-Lou was so friendly with the new girl that she would ask for her before Verity or Vi Lucy. “I expect you’ll want to see Verity,” she added, glancing at the clock. “I’ll excuse her from prep if you’d like to take her over to the San.”

“Thank-you.”

Presently Verity, small and anxious-looking, was shown into the study and hugged her father rather tightly. She looked up into his face, and what she saw there was troubling. She said nothing about Mary-Lou, but thanked the headmistress for allowing her to visit the San, and she and Commander Carey ventured forth. The snow had stopped, and they walked along in the freshly fallen flakes, which squeaked under their feet.

“It’s something bad, isn’t it,” she said. “How is she?”

He explained, and Verity nodded, shaken. “Poor Mary-Lou. Of all the people to whom it could have happened... Will the Head tell everyone?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think Mary-Lou would mind anyone knowing.” He paused, and added, “I know that she has often looked after you, at school and at home – no, I’m not going to scold you for being slow, dearest. I just would like you to repay the favour, a little, at first. And don’t be discouraged if she’s cranky or bad-tempered – it will be because she’s frustrated with herself, not you.”

“I’ll try, Daddy,” Verity replied, honestly, and he squeezed her hand gratefully.

 

 




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