“What are you looking at?” Hilda asked bringing in two cups of coffee.
“Some photos of the year of the accident.”
Hilda had no need to ask which accident, it was always the same one in Nell’s mind. “Are you on them?”
“One or two, I’m the one with the broken leg, “deadpan earning her a severe look from Hilda.
Hilda took the photos Nell passed her“Nell, you look awful.” She protested “Surely you weren’t fit to be back?”
“No, not at all. “Nell admitted “but Joey wouldn’t stop pestering me to return to get rid of Miss Bubb.She said, if I remember rightly, something like I had had heaps of time to get over the accident, was I on my feet yet, Jem said I should be, bring Jeanne too, even if I had to turn up on a stretcher. “
“I didn’t know this, that was not fair on you “Hilda said slowly.
“It was five weeks after the accident, my leg was in plaster, the bruises had hardly faded and I was still in shock after seeing the person I loved seemingly dead on the pavement.” Nell sounded a little bitter.”But she never considered that, nor apparently did Jem or Jack, I should be up….well I was but it was barely.”
Hilda sat beside her and took her hand, “Tell me about it Nell, I didn’t know.”
“No, well we decided not to tell you, after all when you came back it was a year later.”
“Tell me about it now please darling.”
“It was quite frankly the worst time of my life, yet one good thing came out of it.I realised just how much I loved you, how, until I met you I had been so lonely, so alone, and now I wasn’t. So that was a good thing and I decided that when you were well I would tell you.”
“You had faith I would get well?”
“After God let you live through that first awful night, yes. I have never known time go so slowly, how slowly the dawn came up. I prayed Hilda, all night, for you. And when the sun rose you were still there, still fighting, and I knew in my heart you would live.”
“Oh Nell, that must have been so hard for you. “Hilda said quietly.
“The hardest bit was the not knowing, the feeling so useless, that I could do nothing. So I refused painkillers so that I could be there, think of you, pray for you.” Nell wiped a stray tear from her eyes. “You know my faith is strong Hilda, it got stronger that morning when you were still alive. I didn’t make promises to God that I would do things, or give up things, I just said thank you, thank you.”
“That’s all He would want Nell.” Hilda said gently.
Nell nodded and was silent for a moment, her eyes dark as she remembered that night, so many years ago but she could remember it clearly, too clearly. She smiled weakly at her partner “Yes, that’s all He wanted. And I kept on praying and thanking Him for every single day, every moment you were still with us, every moment you gained a little something. And you kept on improving, slowly, minute by minute, day by day, I watched you.”
“What do you mean?”
“As soon as I could, as soon as they let me, for as long as they let me, which wasn’t long at first, I sat with you, holding your hand, talking to you. They said it was a good thing to do, that they didn’t know just how much you understood or might hear, but that you might. And that might was all I needed.”
“What did you tell me?” Hilda gently stroked Nell’s hair.
“That I loved you, lots of times, that you could do it, you were brave, and silly things, things about school, about trips we had taken, people we knew, things that were special to both of us. Anything and everything Hilda, even the bad jokes some of the youngsters sent to cheer you up. Some were very bad, “with a wry smile.” I read out your cards and your letters to you.”
“And what about you, when did you do your healing?”
“Oh Hilda, I couldn’t have stayed in bed all day knowing you were alone, I did rest, they made me, but I was there whenever I could be. I never knew if you heard me, but it was important for me to do it.”
“I would love to say I remember you doing it, but I can’t, but , and this is honest, I can remember hearing your voice once and a feeling a love and safeness at times, and I strongly suspect those were the times you were there.”
Nell smiled “I would love to think that.”
“I’m sure of it.”Hilda said firmly. “Go on if you can please.”
“Well you got to the stage where it wasn’t likely that you would, would….anyway you got stronger slowly. But the doctors all said it would be a long job, it would take time,and”in a whisper “that there was no guarantee that you would come out of it the same. “Nell gulped “that perhaps the damage was irreversible.”
“Oh Nell, and did you have to bear that thought alone?”
“No, not totally, but they were focussed on you, I had a broken leg, I would be ok in their eyes.”
“And you weren’t were you?”
“No, I was a wreck, I confess I had nightmares, about the accident, about you, and no one, except a nurse, saw that, no one came to me, and I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to take any care away from you, and I was scared.”
“That if they knew I was struggling then they would say it was too much for me, stop me sitting with you, and I didn’t want that, I loved you, I needed to be there, doing the little I could.”she paused “I had to be there.”
“Is this too hard for you to tell me my love?” tenderly.
Nell thought” No, no I think I need to tell you, wanted to talk about it, otherwise why would I dig out those particular photos.”
“You may well be right.” Hilda agreed.
“Anyway I did that for weeks, stayed with you. I knew from letters that things were not going well at school but I didn’t care, that was a distant thing, it didn’t matter, all that mattered was you.”
“So what made you finally change your mind?”
“Well you were making progress, very slowly, but they had hopes about you, and the letters from Joey became more demanding, hysterical almost. She certainly wasn’t thinking clearly to write to me like that, she really had no idea if I was fit enough or not. Jem telling her I should be on my feet was sadly then, typical Jem, thankfully he has changed 100% since. What did she expect me to do, I couldn’t teach, could hardly walk, I was still in pain,still struggling over you, and she tells me I had had plenty of time to get over it.”
“My darling.”murmered Hilda.
“But , it was our school, yours and mine in a way, we had worked together there for so many years, I knew how much it meant to you, that its welfare was important to you. And I realised it was one more thing I could do for you. I could go back to the school , for you, and do what I could to keep to safe for your return.”
“And so you did.” Softly.
“I did, I hated leaving you but they assured me you were out of danger, it was a matter of time now. And I wanted to give you that time without worry. If you could remember, and worried about the school I wanted you to know that I was there looking after it, just how you wanted it looked after.”she smiled slightly “so I went back, leaving my heart there with you, and the first thing I had to deal with opened my eyes to the issues, I had hardly got through the door.”
“What was it?”
“Joey having a bit of a tantrum to be honest, I’m not saying there wasn’t some reason for it but it annoyed me. There she was begging, pleading, demanding I return for the good of the school and she was set to walk out because her kid had been left to cry a bit.”
“Never did really understand babies did you Nell?”
Nell laughed slightly.” I admit that, and my sympathies weren’t really with her, I’d met Miss Bubb, wasn’t impressed, but I was comparing her to the best head mistress I knew and she didn't come close.”
“So what did you do, about Joey I mean, I gather she didn’t walk out?”
“Gave her a bit of a speech, appealed to her better instincts, told her she would be letting me down, and you down, it worked, she stayed. And the rest is history really. But you know, I didn’t like the woman but she wasn’t all wrong in what she wanted. She hoped the position, your job, would be permanent and she would keep it, she was wrong because Madge had asked me if, once I was fit, if I would take it on. I said yes, to keep the chair warm for you. So she , Miss Bubb, would never have been head. She wanted good scholarly results and that has its place. What she did wrong was trying to make her mark, change things to her way only and not understanding just what a unique place you had made the Chalet School”
“I can see that, perhaps understandable, but unfortunate. But I want to correct you, we made the school, you and I together Nell. Not just me, never just me. Without you beside me as my friend, supporter and later lover, I would never have succeeded. “She kissed Nell. “Thank you for telling me all that, for sharing painful memories, and thank you for just being you.”
Author's Chapter Notes:
This is just a one off story with Nell talking to Hilda after their retirement.