Laying down the booklist she had been checking, Nell took a quick look at her wristwatch, then fixed her gaze hopefully on Hilda. Her friend gave no sign of noticing, however, but merely continued writing her letter. After a few seconds, Nell cleared her throat experimentally, and received such a glare that she instantly decided not to interrupt Hilda again.
Finally, Hilda signed her name, blotted the letter and slipped it into an envelope, then turned to Nell with a smile.
"I think we've finished for the day... Unless you'd like to keep going?"
Nell snorted. As soon as the word 'finished' had left Hilda's mouth, she had leapt out of her chair, and was already halfway across the study.
"Keep going? I should think not! You're a hard taskmaster, Hilda Annersley."
"You're just lazy," Hilda retorted, following her out of the room.
Nell turned to pull a face at her. "I'm tempted to sit back and let you do all the cooking for that, but I'd quite like an edible meal!"
Bickering amiably, the pair made their way to the kitchens and began inspecting their supplies. The place was well-stocked; Karen had made sure of that before leaving on her own holidays.
Closing the larder door, Nell looked at Hilda. “Well, we won’t be having a typical Christmas dinner, but we certainly won’t starve! There’s enough food for weeks in here.”
Hilda sighed. "Christmas dinner? Do you think it'll come to that?"
"It may not, but it's better to be prepared," Nell said practically. "There's still half of the chicken pie from last night left, we could heat it in the oven and cook some vegetables to go with it."
"That sounds fine," Hilda replied rather abstractedly.
"What's wrong?" Nell asked.
"Well, it may have escaped your attention, but there's a slight snowstorm outside! I know the School has been a home to us, but I still don't particularly want to spend Christmas here… At least if the phones were working we could talk to people... Oh, don't mind me, Nell, I'm just feeling sorry for myself." Rather ashamed of her uncharacteristic outburst, Hilda began hurriedly pulling potatoes out and piling them on the table.
Nell reached out and squeezed her arm comfortingly, then started to search for some carrots. "I know what you mean - though since I am stuck here, I'm glad you're here too. After all, Christmas should be spent with the ones you love..." she paused a second, then continued mischievously, "And since Gaudenz isn't here, I suppose you'll do!"
"Oh, so I'm second choice? How very flattering!" Hilda retorted.
"Well, I don't know if I'd say second..." Nell pretended to deliberate, then had to make a hasty leap to catch the cushion Hilda had intended to throw at her but had aimed badly. "I certainly wouldn't pick you for a cricket bowler! Lucky I caught that, Karen would have killed us if it had broken anything."
"I'm a perfectly good cricketer, I'll have you know, Nell Wilson," Hilda replied.
"I'll believe it when I see it. Now do you intend to peel those potatoes before next week?"
Hilda rolled her eyes, but picked up her peeler and started working, recognizing that they should start cooking if they wanted to eat at a reasonable hour.
"You know I was just joking, don't you?" Nell asked suddenly, looking at Hilda with a worried frown.
"About Gaudenz? I rather suspected it," Hilda said drily. "Why, were you hoping I'd have a fit of jealousy like the one you had over Michael Christie?"
Nell went bright red at the reminder. "Are you never going to let me forget that?"
"If you will make an absolute idiot of yourself, you can't expect me not to tease you about it."
"No, I suppose not," Nell said in resignation. "But what I meant was... When I said about you not being second choice... You're first. Always. You know that, don't you?"
Hilda’s eyes were bright as they met Nell’s, and her smile was very tender. "I do, my love, but I like to hear you say it."
They worked in silence for a while, then Hilda spoke again. "Nell?”
“Even for a cricket team?"