“And I want to know now,” said an angry upset 16 year old girl. “Mum said you would be able to tell me all about it.”
Hilda had wondered if this day would come and was relieved Phoebe Peters had rang to warn her that her daughter was coming to see her in regards to her adoption.
“Lucy,” she said softly. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know. Where do you want me to start?”
“At the beginning,” said Lucy in a hard voice.
“This is going to take awhile,” said Hilda, “how about we sit down over here?”
When they were seated Hilda began, “Your Mother’s name was Elizabeth Annersley. She was my niece.”
“Your niece,” said Lucy stunned. “You mean you’re not my mother.”
“No,” said Hilda quietly. “I take it you saw the birth certificate.”
Lucy nodded. “I just assumed she stammered. It’s not like Annersley is a common name.”
“No I can understand that,” said Hilda reflectively staring into space. “I first got to know Elizabeth when she was seventeen. Her Mother had died two months earlier and I was there for the reading of the will. She was angry and upset. Understandably so, she was well aware her Mother had left her to me and she thought I would push her into Medicine, which was what her Father wanted. Her heart and soul lay in Games. She wanted to become a Games Mistress. I told her I would support her in her decision.”
Lucy sat speechless.
“Her Father didn’t agree but then my brother John and I rarely agreed on anything least of all on what women’s role in life was. His wife was of a similar mould but she loved her daughter and knew what she wanted and knew I would support her, something John didn’t seem to realize. He thought I would be all for academia.” Hilda gave a short laugh. “You look so like her Lucy. You even have the same prickly personality, her stubbornness, and her determination.” Hilda touched Lucy’s cheek.
“There are times I feel like Elizabeth is here again.”
“What about my Father?” whispered Lucy, close to tears.
“I don’t know,” said Hilda carefully. “I never knew him.” She smiled sadly at Lucy.
“I can tell you about Elizabeth if you like though and how you ended up with your parents.”
“Please,” whispered Lucy a tear sliding down her cheek. “I don’t know who I really am.”
“I only really started to get to know Elizabeth when I met her at the will reading as I said, but we stayed in touch by letters since then. I tried to see her at least once or twice a year after that, which became easier when she went to Bedford University. She visited me at the Chalet School once or twice during the holidays. She wanted to see what the school was like where I taught. This was when we were in Armshire.” Hilda’s voice trailed off.
“What happened then?” asked Lucy, “How did she come to have me?”
“I received a letter from her about a year after the school was on the island.
Dear Auntie Hilda, I’m in the most awful trouble. I need you. I don’t dare go to Father or any of the others and Mother is no longer here to help. Please come-Elizabeth.
“What did you do?” asked Lucy half guessing she was the awful trouble.
“What do you think?” asked Hilda, “I went. She told me she was expecting and was unable to marry the Father.”
“Was he married?” questioned Lucy the hardness coming back into her voice.
“Not all reasons for not marrying someone is because they’re married,” said Hilda gently, “some are simply because the man dies.”
“Oh,” said Lucy simply. “I’m sorry,” she said going red. “I’m glad it was because of that.”
Hilda didn’t say anything; a lifetime of holding her feelings in and never showing what she truly felt was holding her in good stead. Not for words would she ever tell Lucy about the almost hysterical conversation she had had with Elizabeth, the heartrending explanation how on her way home one night someone had pulled her behind some bushes and forced himself on her. She had no idea who it was and had somehow made it back to her room sobbing. It had taken three of the longest days of her life before Elizabeth had managed to tell her the whole story. Hilda had listened and comforted her and had enabled her to have Lucy without her having to go to a single mother’s home. Nell Wilson had helped there. She had given her the loan of her cottage in Exeter where Elizabeth had stayed and given birth to Lucy with the aid of a midwife and Hilda.
“I was there when you were born. You had the same thick dark hair of your mother,” said Hilda softly, staring into space as though she could see the event unfolding before her eyes. “Elizabeth held you crying, she named you Lucy Hilda after her friend Lucy who had helped her so much and me.”
Lucy stared at her in shock. “But my name is Lucy Elizabeth,” she said stunned.
“I know,” said Hilda with a sad smile, “Your Mother wanted to give you your Mother’s name. She said Elizabeth had given her the greatest gift anyone could give her, a little girl of her own. She and your Father had waited seven years before they were able to adopt you. It was a dream come true for them.”
Lucy felt overwhelmed by the whole story. “But I was over a year old before I came to live with them and I was always told my both my parents had died in a train crash,” she said stunned.
“That was a story your parents made up to hide the truth. People can be extremely judgemental over single mothers," said Hilda her voice shaking slightly, “Elizabeth hadn’t wanted to give you up.
“That was a story your parents made up to hide the truth. People can be extremely judgemental over single mothers, said Hilda her voice shaking slightly,
“Elizabeth hadn’t wanted to give you up. She cared for you in Nell Wilson’s cottage for over a year. Nell had started the school here in Switzerland by that stage. She had her inheritance from her Mother, but then her brother Joseph came to visit her unexpectedly and discovered you. He was shocked and told Elizabeth she should give you up for adoption, said you needed a Mother and a Father and asked what kind of life would you and she would have with her being unmarried. He was right. It was around 1950 and society was extremely unforgiving towards unmarried mothers. Up until then Elizabeth had pretended she was married but she realized she couldn’t keep it up indefinitely. So she asked me if I knew anyone who would be able to adopt you. It was the right thing to do she said, but she wanted her baby to be close to someone in the family. I knew your parents and so spoke to them about it. They were stunned but agreed immediately. Your Mother was so lovely with Elizabeth. She didn’t judge her and put Elizabeth at her ease.” Hilda’s voice trailed off.
She could remember the argument Elizabeth had with her Father. John had come to visit with Joseph and had been furious over what he discovered. Fortunately Hilda had been visiting and enabled Lucy to be adopted out with someone she knew and she was able to protect Elizabeth from being permanently put away which was her father’s idea. His fury had been unabated and he never forgave either his daughter or Hilda. Elizabeth fell into a deep depression after giving her daughter to the Peters and was heartbroken she was over it all. She felt she had lost both her daughter and her family all at the same time. Hilda had contacted Pam Slater and had asked if she could help Elizabeth get a job at the school she was teaching at. Pam somewhat surprised agreed. The Chalet school was obviously out. Hilda had wanted to protect Elizabeth as much as possible. She did not want John turning up there and causing problems. She knew Pam would keep a friendly eye on her niece and more importantly John would never know.
“What happened next?” asked Lucy in a whisper.
“Elizabeth was a qualified Games teacher and she was able to get a job in Selling at a large day school there. She and her friend Lucy spent the next summer at the beach. Two little boys got into difficulties when their boat capsized and Elizabeth swam out to save them. She was successful in getting them to safety. She nearly drowned herself when she was dashed up against the rocks. Her friend Lucy wired me, but by the time I got there it was too late.”
Hilda fell silent remembering the last words Lucy had said Elizabeth said. 'That no Mother should lose their child and at least the boys Mother would still have hers.' She had also added it seemed to her Elizabeth had not cared if she lived or died.
“So my Mother was a hero,” said Lucy with shinning eyes.
“Both your Mothers are,” said Hilda close to tears, “Elizabeth and Phoebe.”
At Lucy surprised look Hilda said wearily, “It takes a lot of courage for a Mother to tell her child that the only tie that binds them is love, not blood. People hold so much onto blood tie, that they forget that the tie of love is far more important.”
Lucy flushed at Hilda’s words. “I just wanted to know,” she mumbled.
“I know Lucy,” replied Hilda touching her check gently, “just don’t forget you already have a pretty good Mother already.”
“I won’t,” promised Lucy, “and I have a pretty good Auntie now as well,” she added shyly. “Thanks Auntie Hilda,” and gave her a kiss on the cheek before racing off embarrassed. Hilda felt unexpectedly touched.
“You would be proud of her Elizabeth,” she whispered.