To See Her Face
Nell was dimly aware of people moving very quietly around in the half light. For a moment she wondered why her bed was so hard, the remembered, with growing horror, the situation they were in. The frantic escape through the tunnels, the desperate hiding ever since. And she knew, but could not say it, that the bravery of Vater Johann had probably cost him his life.
Her foot was aching badly now after days on the run, and she knew she could not go much further. Not one for self-pity, but tired, hungry and in pain with the responsibility of the girls, she felt tears spring to her eyes. Not all for her but for young girls having to face harsh reality.
Then she saw in her mind a well-loved face, always calm, always steady no matter what the situation. She saw the gentle smile, heard her voice, all in her mind certainly, but the thoughts gave her the strength to face another day of anxiety and pain.
She whispered to the one person she knew would understand “Help me Hilda; give me your courage to get these children safe.” She knew it was probably wrong to ask her friend rather than God but she reckoned He would understand, after all He had given her Hilda’s friendship. She desperately wanted to see Hilda, to hear her lovely voice telling her that everything would be alright, and in her mind she did, and it helped. She gathered her courage for the difficult day ahead, with her friend behind her and God beside her she knew she could face it.
Jack came across to her then and she smiled at him, he returned it wearily. “Just wanted a look at your foot, see if we can do anything for it.”
“Thank you, how far have we to go?”
He lowered his voice” we decided not to say, not get the kids hopes up but one more day, we think tomorrow we will reach the border.”
“Just one, “she breathed. He nodded “Now let’s see to your foot.”
Nell struggled on through that day but the two doctors knew that she could go no further and on the final day, they hoped, she must be carried. They slept in the mountains after a poor supper, but strangely the fresh mountain air did them all good .Nell lay thinking of her friend, hoping she was safe and that soon they would again meet.
In the morning the mood was almost light hearted, even after a very poor breakfast. The doctors insisted Nell be carried, both for her sake and speed of movement as they hoped today to cross the border. It was embarrassing but necessary Nell realised and made no complaint.
And then, after a breathless few moments, they were free, they were across the border and into Switzerland. Nell thanked God for their safety and saw Hilda smiling at her, and she smiled back whispering “Thank you.”
She suffered a lot with her foot and at first they thought she might be permanently lame, it didn’t worry her, it was a small price to pay. Later she was to wonder why she had not thought of Con during this time, but it only bothered her briefly.
And there would soon be the day she was waiting for, the day she was reunited with Hilda, she could hardly wait.
“Hilda.“came a soft voice gently shaking her awake.
“What, what is it? “waking in fear as she always did these days, fear that the day would bring the news she dreaded to hear.
Matron was there, in her dressing gown because it was early morning. “There’s a phone call, from Jem.”
“Did he say why?” fear in her eyes.
“No, he wanted you.”
Hilda rose, put on her gown, looked at Matron LLoyd “Will, will you come?” hesitantly.
Knowing her fear, her dread, Matron nodded and went to the office with her. Pausing a moment Hilda picked up the receiver. “Hello, its Hilda.”
The line was bad “Hilda, can’t say much, but they are safe….did you get that, damn this line, they are safe.”
“All, all of them?” Hilda almost whispered.
“Yes, Yes, all, all are safe. Can’t say more right now, just wanted you to know.”
“Thank you, oh thank you. “she replaced the receiver, Matey was shocked to see her go pale, and quickly helped her into a chair.
“Is it, bad news?” she asked hesitantly.
Hilda turned tear bright eyes to her “No, no, it’s the best news ever, they are safe, all are safe. He couldn’t say much, but he wanted me to know.” And she gave in to the tears of relief the news brought her. Matey, shedding tears of her own, held her.
The next morning brought a call from Jack, again brief, but heartening “We are all safe, tired, hungry but safe. Nell’s foot is bad, giving her pain, we are making her rest, but she sends you her love.”
“Oh Jack, this is the best news I have ever received, and please, give Nell my love too. We so want you all back with us.”
“As soon as we can.”he promised.
Hilda stared out of the window at the blue sky, never had it seemed so blue. “Thank you.” She whispered. “Thank you.”
Today I Will See Her
Hilda felt an excitement that was quite unusual for her, at first she couldn’t realise why and then it struck her. Today was the first time she would see Nell again after all the horrors of the escape from Austria. She had heard Nell’s hair had turned partly white, but found that difficult to believe, did that really happen? Also Nell’s already weak foot has caused her problems; Hilda knew they had been worried about it, was it alright now?
Anyway today, soon she would see for herself, she would see how her friend was, how she had coped, how she looked. This excited fluttering was just for that surely, nothing else.
Nell had Con, they were a couple, Hilda did not know what would happen between those two, these feelings she had of, surely not, jealousy, were not connected to that, were they? She frowned; she had long known the two were a couple, at times she had felt hurt by that, why? She and Nell were friends, good friends, but Con had come first with Nell in recent years leaving Hilda feeling a little lonely, and yes that word again, jealous. Con had been staying with Nell, and that was good, wasn’t it? Good for those two, to be able to be close. Yet Con still spoke about marrying Jock, surely that was confusing, surely that wasn’t fair on Nell?
Today she would see Nell again, and her heart lifted, looking forward to giving her the biggest hug ever, feeling her, smelling her…whoa surely those thoughts were more than just friends? She frowned, confused at herself, then shrugged it off, it didn’t matter, how she felt didn’t matter, today she was going to see Nell, and nothing else mattered.
“Nell, oh Nell” whispered Hilda, taken her friend into a tight embrace. They hugged each other tightly for a few minutes “I was so worried we had lost you.”
“You know me “Nell replied her voice muffled “turn up like a bad penny.”
Hilda stroked her hair, noting its whiteness was not total, chestnut still showed through. Eventually they loosened their embrace, tears on both cheeks and sat down on the sofa, Hilda still with an arm around her friend’s shoulders. Nell leaned into her “You have no idea just how much I’ve missed you, how much I have looked forward to this moment of seeing you again. “the normally unsentimental Nell whispered.
“I think I might understand Nell,” Hilda told her” I was so scared for you when you were fugitives, and since I knew you were safe this moment is all I’ve dreamed of as well.”
“I used to think how you would cope you know, tried to draw on my memories of your calmness and courage, it helped.” Nell admitted quietly.
“From what I’ve heard you had courage of your own, how is your foot?” taking Nell’s hand.
“Sore, it may never totally improve but that’s a small price to pay for our lives. The girls were so brave Hilda, you would have been proud of them.”
“I am proud, proud of you all. Oh Nell’” she whispered tears running down her cheeks.
You Must Go
“Hilda, you can’t do this, this is not fair to the rest of you. “Nell protested fiercely.
“Yes, I can do it, and I have Nell, there is a chance we will be invaded. We are obviously making arrangements to once again get the school away.”
“But why should I go sooner than the rest of you? “Nell demanded.”Damn it Hilda, you need me, what good am I as your deputy if you feel you need to send me away.”
“I don’t want to send you away, but I must, I must “Hilda said softly. “I cannot risk you Nell, I cannot risk you being caught, you must go. “she rose and went to her friend. “I don’t want to, I need you, but more I need you to be safe.”
They looked at each other “I feel I am letting you down. “Nell said softly. “That once again I am leaving you to do all of the work, take all of the responsibility whilst I do nothing.”
“It wasn’t your fault last time, and its not your fault this time. “Hilda told her “It’s this war, Nell, I can cope alone, and I will cope better knowing you are safe. You are a dear friend, my closest friend, and I will not risk you just to make life easier for myself.”
Nell stared at her then nodded “I will go Hilda, reluctantly but I will go.”
“Thank you. “and they hugged tightly.
Later Hilda worried even more, but that was after the boat Nell was on was attacked and only expert seamanship saved the little boat from being sunk. Hilda was pale as Nell related the journey to her later. “I sent you away, and you could have been killed.”
“I wasn’t Hilda, so don’t dwell on it. I didn’t like you sending me away but you were right.”
“Con has gone, you know that?”
“Yes Hilda, I know. “Nell sat, her face closed, her eyes in pain.
“If I can help Nell, I think I understand how you feel a little. “she took Nell’s hand “I will try to be there if you need me.”
Nell nodded “thank you. “was all she said.
“Are you ready? “Nell asked Hilda.
“Yes, “Hilda smiled. “Let’s just get me out of here.” She was being released into Nell’s care for a weekend and was looking forward to different scenery from the hospital. “Where are we going?”
“I’ve booked a hotel. “Nell picked up the case “by the sea.”
“Can you manage?” Hilda queried.
“Of course, my leg is near enough healed. “Nell smiled offering Hilda her other arm.
Hilda stood at the hotel window looking out over the sea, it was windy and a little choppy but she loved it, wanted to go out onto the beach. She smiled, Nell was fussing slightly so probably wouldn’t react well to that idea.
Nell came into the room quietly and saw the look on Hilda’s face. “Get your coat. “she said “we are going for a walk on the beach.”
Hilda turned delighted , a smile on her face. “Can we?”
“Well I am.” Nell grinned” You can come if you wish.”
Shortly they were walking arm in arm on the beach, enjoying the special smell of the sea. Hilda was savouring it, and Nell was watching her friend closely. She knew now her feelings were not just friendship, but love, she loved this woman, wanted to be with her, wanted to spend her life with her.
So different to Con, Con was a live wire, vivacious, Hilda more sensible, quieter but with a courage beyond compare. She loved her, simple as that, but how did she tell her. Yes they were friends, close friends, but was that all it was on Hilda’s part. She didn’t know, couldn’t tell, but Nell knew if friendship was all Hilda could offer then friendship is what she what she would take. She could not see there being any other in her life now.
Hilda turned to her, eyes glowing “Thank you for this, I needed it.”
“I know. “Nell smiled.
“You always know, you are a dear friend.”
The fire crackled in the grate, sending flickering shadows around the room. Apart from the scratching of pens and the rustle of papers it was silent, but the silence of companions used to working together.
She glanced across at her companion, noting the firelight reflecting in her eyes, the slight frown as she concentrated on the form in front of her. Looking down again at her own work she smiled, a tender soft smile, perhaps not in keeping with the situation but one in keeping with her feelings. Feelings she had not exactly fought against, but had not allowed to surface fully. Now, today, this moment these feelings had won, and now she wanted to know if they were reciprocated. She felt they were but how to find out without risking their special friendship.
She murmured “I love you “almost without realising it.
The others pen stopped, they froze, then surprised eyes looking up, meeting hers “What? “softly, a hopeful note in the voice.
“You heard, “quietly.
They exchanged looks, reading each other’s eyes, seeing the feelings behind them. Then Hilda rose and moved to the other “I love you.” She repeated softly.
Nell stared, then smiled and stood. She took Hilda in her arms “Is this real?”
“Then may I?” at Hilda’s nod Nell reached across and gently, lovingly kissed her.
No Longer Alone
Hilda lay next to Nell, holding her in her arms, lightly bushing stray hairs away from her face. “You said last night how you had always felt lonely, been alone, do you still feel that?”
Nell sighed “I was thinking of my parents, Cherry, wondering why, so soon after she died they left me too, like I didn’t matter. Sometimes it hits me, something small will remind me, even after all these years.”
“I felt the loss when my mother died, nothing was ever the same after that, there was no one to really understand me in a houseful of men.” she gently kissed Nell’s forehead. “What reminded you last night?”
“I’m not sure.” Nell admitted “It just suddenly sprang into my head, and you, of course could tell.”
“Of course.” Hilda agreed softly.
“I know Cherry was the youngest, that she had always been delicate, but , but what about me? Just because I was me, the sensible older sister, did I not matter. “She buried her face into Hilda’s shoulder who held her gently.
“You do matter Nell, you matter a great deal. I’m not your parents, but your partner, and you matter to me. How much I cannot really tell you, even as an English teacher I cannot always find the words. You matter every single day in the ways you tease me, you support me, you help me, and of course, the way you love me. I do not have the words to say just how much your love means to me, from a lonely head teacher to a loved partner, I still find that so amazing, I wake in the night and just say thank you.”
Nell stirred beside her, then lifted tear bright eyes “I can’t say either just how much you mean. I know I tease you but it’s in love, because I love to see you smile, or to get exasperated at me, I love to see your sense of fun. When I said I was lonely it was a was, if that makes sense, with you beside me I no longer feel that, I feel complete, as one, there are not enough words Hilda, to express my love.” And they held each other, two once lonely people no longer alone.