|“Evening, ladies, are you coming to our shindig tonight?”|
Meg smiled at the young RAAMC Lieutenant. “The Anzacs always throw a great party, Rick, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world, would we, girls?” The group of nurses walking with her from the big Kure hospital to their quarters agreed with acclamations.
Rick White stroked his chin thoughtfully and decided another shave might not be a bad idea. There were some very attractive young women around and that Scottie doctor had a twinkle in her eye. With Christmas spirit in the air, not to mention in hospital issue tumblers, well.....?
“Is it me, Caroline, or are doctors getting younger?” asked Meg as they walked upstairs to their rooms.
“We’re getting older, Meg, though you don’t seem to do it as fast as the rest of us. And you are beginning to limp a bit – painful?”
“More of a pulling and a fair bit of itching! That was a long stand this afternoon – four hours and intense, too.”
“Well, I don’t think you should have been back to work so soon. You wouldn’t have let one of your patients do it! It’s only a week since the accident and just three days since we were flown back. I’ll dress it after you’ve had a shower. Half an hour?”
“It’s a deal! And I have some lovely Swiss chocolates to share that have cost my friend an absolute fortune to send by airmail!”
Meg lay on her bed reading Nell’s letter smiling at the doings of the young ladies of the Chalet School’s finishing branch ranging from the St Nicholas celebrations and an electrical failure on the train to the pantomime.
“.........I must confess, I did feel a little guilty at having rather manoeuvred them into a second performance. It was, however, just the spur they needed to take the production from being a simple event to amuse themselves to something they would be proud to show to outsiders and I am certainly proud of them.
There were some very witty parts in the script but, hopeless reprobate that I am, the piece I found most amusing was set to the tune of “The Campbells Are Coming”. Although, as I found on second hearing, their lyrics were very clever, when they sang it at the School all I could hear were those scatological verses you sang one wartime evening when we had looked upon the wine when it was red!”
Meg was still smiling at this fond memory when a rap on the door heralded the arrival of Sister Lacey armed with her supplies.
“You’ve good healing flesh, Meg, I will say. Even where Bobby had to stitch – and, you know, he is a very neat stitcher - I doubt if there will be much scarring.”
“Bobby needs to be good at stitching! He has to satisfy the aesthetic tastes of wealthy clients who would demand a refund if they had an untidy scar! Luckily, my scars are not going to be on view to the public.”
She began to laugh. “But you do have to see the funny side. Poor Bobby has been trying to remove my underwear since 1942 and when he finally succeeded, it was only so he could pick shards of glass and filament out of my backside! Ouch!”
“Sorry, that cut really is in a nasty place. A fraction of an inch lower and it could have been very serious. So you and he were never.........?”
“Good grief, no! We went to the pictures a couple of times but he wasn’t my type even when he was single! His wife’s a sweet woman, by the way, daughter of a baronet and very suitable for his society role!”
“Right, that’s you done but if they start playing the Can Can at the party, I would advise you not to start doing high kicks!”
“Why can’t I get properly heroic wounds?” Meg groaned as she slowly got up. “In Germany I step in a rabbit hole and sprain my ankle, in Korea I get blasted in the bum by an exploding bedside lamp!”
“If memory serves me”, said Caro sternly, “the rabbit hole was in a minefield where you went to stop a dogface bleeding to death and you were Mentioned in Dispatches for it. Battler Warrington and Butch Schneider were furious that you didn’t get the Military Cross they’d recommended.”
“I didn’t know that!”
Caro smirked! “Butch and I were very good friends! And you’ve 15 minutes to get ready before our Antipodean cousins set the standard for the Christmas parties to come!”
The party was a lively affair but was still in full swing when Meg slipped away. She usually enjoyed this kind of relaxation from her stressful work but dancing anything more active than a waltz was uncomfortable, sitting was worse, alcohol was totally forbidden to her at the moment, the music and chatter made it impossible to have any conversation. Adroitly diverting the amorous Rick White’s attentions to a pretty physiotherapist from New Zealand, she waved to Caro and left.
Back in her room, she had another look at the Christmas card from her parents, smiled fondly at Kate’s underlined “Wish you were here!” and sighed to see that there was no signature from Stella. Less than a week until the wedding and her heart ached at the thought of the turmoil at home. She picked up a letter from Gren which had come by the long sea mail, hoping that her friend would bring her some cheer.
“........We had a short trip to Englandshire last month and managed to have afternoon tea with Hilda Annersley who was visiting her cousins in Gloucester. She was looking well, if a little tired. I think running the School without Nell has been harder than she expected and the worry over Molly Bettany wasn’t helping.
I don’t know if she’s told you about their new Australian pupil. It seems that Rosalie Dene had some choice words to say about her from the get-go and they had another contretemps over the little madam’s disinclination to obey rules about which stairs to use.
According to one of the maids who told her mother who told her neighbour who told her friend who told Mrs Christie, for whom she cleans, who told Hilda, (I hope that’s clear!), the child thought Rosalie was a pushover, literally, and was very surprised to be easily repulsed, firmly grasped, marched to the correct stairs and told she stayed there until she decided to go up and down. I was tempted to tell Hilda that her secretary and several other members of her staff had taken instruction in unarmed combat at Hexington but thought better of it! It was after that odd episode when Rosalie was found out for the count in the drive and someone suggested training in self-defence might be useful. I remember Grizel was very good, and so was Hilary, but Rosalie, for all her slightly fragile appearance, was the star pupil. Anyway, if - and it is still if - Rosalie is involved in some way with what my father calls The Dead Letter Box Brigade, I suppose it behoves us to be careful what we say!”
A sudden rap at the door startled her. Who on earth would be calling at midnight?
“Come in!” she called and her shy and rather nervous batwoman poked her head round the door.
“Message from the Colonel, ma’am, he wants you to report to him at 0700 hours tomorrow morning, no this morning I mean. What time do you want to be called, ma’am?”
“I don’t want to be called at all!” Meg smiled at the girl. “No need for both of us to be up before dawn, my alarm clock will do nicely. Good night.”
Meg stifled a yawn as she knocked on the C.O.’s door. She hadn’t wasted sleeping time speculating about why the CO wanted to see her but she hoped he wasn’t going to stop her working.
“Ah, good morning, Major Kelly, I am sorry to say we are going to lose you!”
“The Army has decided that you would be more usefully employed in Millbank preparing the next wave of regulars and reservists for what they are going to meet here. Sergeant Gibson has your papers and you are due to report to QAMH at 0900 on the 8th of January. Your travel was rather tricky – we’ve nothing flying west before the 28th at the earliest – but the Americans have a medivac going from Tokyo to Walter Reed tomorrow morning. As they were only going to be able to spare one doctor for the flight they are very pleased to take you. There’s a nurse team and the Sister in charge will take care of your own honourable wound! ” His lips twitched and, in spite of herself, Meg’s did the same. “They have said they will transport you to Britain as soon as possible which means you should be there in time to have a few days leave. I have a meeting with my opposite number in Tokyo this afternoon and the chopper will be leaving at 1130. I’ll see you then. Thank you, Major.”
Meg saluted and left the room, her mind reeling. It barely registered when Sergeant Gibson handed over her orders and travel warrants and she was still in something of a daze when she walked into her room. Private Milton was carefully and efficiently packing up clothes, toiletries and books.
“All right, Betty, how did you know I was going?” Meg’s tone was resigned.
“Sergeant Gibson said, ma’am, and I thought I should......sorry, was that wrong?”
“Not at all. It just reminded me of World War 2 when my batwoman always knew what was happening at least twenty minutes before I did. No, don’t pack the chocolates, you can have what Sister Lacey and I left.”
“Are you sure, ma’am? They look very expensive!”
“I’m sure! I’ll let you finish the packing while I go and break it to my colleagues that I am deserting them.”
“Oh, I think they know, ma’am! I’m told the senior surgeon was swearing and Sister Lacey wasn’t happy either!”
Caro Lacey wasn’t pleased but was philosophical. “That’s the Army for you! I’ll miss you, Meg, but they are a good crowd at Millbank and you’ll be fine!”
Meg was at the helicopter in good time and watched as her kit was stowed. There was no sign of the CO but it was his privilege to be last and Meg was just about to climb aboard when she heard her name being called. Private Milton was racing toward her with a blue envelope in her hand. Meg’s heart skipped several beats. Was this Army telegram just early Christmas greetings from the family or was it bad news? She took it from the breathless girl, acknowledging her salute and returning her shy farewell.
Once fastened into her seat, she ripped open the envelope. The words danced before her eyes then she gasped as they came into focus.
“Wedding off STOP Letter follows STOP..Pat.”