Helen Graves stood by Hilda’s bed watching Jack check their patient over, feeling unable to assimilate all they had seen in the last few hours. Did miracles truly still take place in this modern age? She smiled joyfully, tears stinging her eyes. A miracle had most definitely been delivered to this room earlier, without fanfare, perhaps, but in a beautifully-wrapped box labelled ‘For Hilda.’
Matey stood beside Helen, still in a state of shock. She was surprised how fearful she felt when Jack’s fingers settled on Hilda’s wrist. After a few tense moments, he looked across the bed and nodded, unable to stifle his smile. Matey crossed her fingers. Where there was life, there was hope, surely.
Please, Heavenly Father…
“Oh, where have the butterflies gone? They were…”
Hilda’s fragile whisper startled them. All eyes focused on her face, waiting for they knew not what. Her eyelids lifted slowly, oh so slowly, and she caught sight of Vivien’s mobile at the end of the bed.
Her face relaxed. “There they are! They’ve come with me…” She blinked several times as though to clear her vision.
Helen leaned over her. “Hey, there,” she murmured softly. “How are you?”
“Hey, there yourself!” Hilda’s whisper was practically non-existent.
“How’s the pain?”
Hilda thought about it. “No pain...”
“Still feeling ill?”
Without turning her head, Hilda’s eyes looked Jack’s way. She seemed to be searching. “I don’t feel ill at all, not like I did during the night. I don’t feel anything, actually. Am I better? Or worse?”
Jack laid his hand gently on the cheek that had been so swollen and inflamed. It was now as white as the other cheek, with just a few faint lines showing where the scratches and stitches had been. There was no reaction from Hilda to his touch.
“Remember how you thought I was using a cheese grater on it, because it hurt so much? Like molten lava, you said.”
“It doesn’t hurt at all.” Her brow creased in a puzzled frown. “What’s happening? Why... no pain? Why don’t I still feel cold? I'm just… warm and comfortable,” she whispered.
Jack took her hand gently. “You no longer have that dreadful temperature, that’s why. In fact, love, damned if I know why, but you have no symptoms at all! You seem to be cured.”
Tears sprang to her eyes. God had kept His word! He said He wanted her here, helping His wounded ones. Well, here she still was! All desire to join Nell had evaporated. Goodness only knows why she had been such a coward!
Her lips twitched at Jack’s perplexity. “But you told me I was seriously ill.”
He sat down, her hand still in his. “You were! Extremely, gravely ill! Six hours later, at four o’clock this morning, you were dying.” Her eyebrows shot up. “Your temperature climbed so high it was off the scale. Your pulse was non-existent. You were scarcely breathing. To all intents and purposes, we’d lost you. There was nothing else we could do. We’d tried everything. The antibiotics weren’t working – or else they’d been the wrong ones.”
His face was grim. He wouldn’t soon forget those dark moments. She gazed at him in consternation, more tears welling up. God had so nearly taken her at her word! She recalled the nothingness. Was that the moment when she was dying? Was traipsing through the grey mist her journey to the beyond, to meet with her Saviour? Had that meeting been to offer her a choice? Forward or back? He’d certainly made His points forcefully.
“Then why am I still here?” she whispered. How weak she felt! Lifting her eyelids had been a huge effort. Lifting her head off the pillow would be impossible.
He grinned, giddy as a young lad, simultaneously ecstatic, scared and in awe. “I’m still pondering that one, my feisty friend! Your body shut down, organ by organ. your breathing, your pulse, your heart… all stopped. You were dead! The battle was over. How on earth were we going to tell Ellie or the school?”
He felt her trying to squeeze his hand, but not making it. “We woke Gwynneth so she could say goodbye… and you suddenly began to speak! Something along the lines of, ‘You, O Lord, are my rock and my redeemer.’ But you were dead! Weren’t you?”
Her eyes widened. That hadn’t been quite what she had said to Him, but… they had heard her? Did they guess the rest?
He saw her shock. “Believe me, love, you gave us the fright of our lives. You’d stopped breathing. You’d died, so how could you possibly be speaking? Our own hearts nearly stopped from shock when you spoke so suddenly, much as yours had done from the blood-poisoning – only yours began again almost on the instant! I felt your pulse re-start under my fingers. I watched your chest begin to rise and fall – yet I’d watched it stop. Your off-the-scale temperature began to plummet. It wasn’t possible, but it happened. We three saw it all! I don’t think we’ll ever forget it.” He took a deep breath to steady himself.
She had died! And now she was alive! It was beyond understanding! She closed her eyes, recalling vividly to mind the moment He laid His hand on her cheek, when intense pain had rocketed through her whole body, beautiful peace following after. She had spoken those words to Him just before it happened. Had His hand jolted her heart back to life? Was that why it had been such agony? Had he cured her in that moment? Or had the butterflies done it? They had rested on the cheek a long time. Oh, Nell!
You, O Lord, are truly my rock and my Redeemer. Thank you for that most amazing day, and for this most amazing miracle. I’m not sure why You think I’m worthy of such whole-hearted healing, but Your words will be even more my guide from now on, and I’ll take all Your wounded ones under my wing. Were you waiting for me to choose life before you acted?
Jack had paused, seeing her so overcome. He needed to keep in mind how very frail she was.
“You okay?” he murmured. She tried to nod. “For the last three hours your temperature’s been tumbling, and is now back to normal. Don’t ask me how! I’m only the doctor! I don’t understand any of it.” He shook his head. “I shouldn’t be telling you all this. It would be enough to shock most of my patients into a heart attack, but I know you believe in giving people the truth, so there it is!” He winked. “As for your painful pink pancake, it slowly faded, as though something was eating away the dreadful infection.”
God’s beautiful blue butterflies, she thought. Or were they Nell’s? Is that why they rested there so long? Her eyes turned to the mobile at the end of her bed. What had made Vivien bring it? A nudge from Him? Something made her look at Matey, and she saw the raised eyebrows. Matey guessed! Not surprising, really, since she’d heard about the other dream the Friday before.
She tried to smile, but her eyes closed of their own accord. Her Saviour had rescued her from all her distress – there did seem to have been a lot of that lately! - and had given her caregivers the shock of their lives. Was she going to have to explain? Hopefully, they would just accept it, as they had accepted her turning back from death after the car accident. But how do you accept someone coming back from the dead? It wasn’t necessarily the same!
Her eyes were damp when she opened them and saw their glowing faces, their awe-filled eyes. They knew something out of this world had taken place, but were at a loss to understand. Who could understand something that went completely against the laws of nature? No one, except the miracle-giver Himself! She softly recited words from Psalm 107:
“You’ve certainly been under a great deal of stress for days, if not weeks! So yes, I’d say He heard you and saved you!” said Jack, his eyes searching her face. “Blood poisoning doesn’t cure itself at that speed, and dead people don’t come back to life, even if they are speaking to Him at the time. Perhaps you’ll explain it all one day, when you understand it yourself. His ways are truly incomprehensible, especially to weary doctors.”
“And nurses,” added Helen, enveloping Hilda in a loving smile. “’His eye is on the sparrow’, and there is truly no sparrow more deserving.” She stroked Hilda’s tangled hair. “Welcome back, my friend. We missed you.”
More tears brimmed in Hilda’s eyes. She was overwhelmed by the love surrounding her. Helen was such a good friend! She mastered the tears by reminding herself of the dolphins. They were enough to bring smiles to the saddest eyes.
“Ellie!” she gasped. How could she have forgotten? “How is she now?”
“Relax,” Helen murmured, her hand cupping Hilda’s cheek. “No worries there. She’s slept peacefully through the night.”
Another miracle, she reflected, knowing how Ellie would have reacted to the sight of Hilda dying in front of her.
“Her finger seems to have stopped swelling,” added Jack. “We kept an eye on it during the night, but we’ll check again when she wakes up – and cross our own fingers that moving it doesn’t make it swell again. It will be sore, though,” he warned. “She won’t be using it for a while.”
Hilda made to turn her head Ellie’s way, but it was slow work. Her head felt like a heavy boulder, impossible to move. “Why am I so weak?” she asked in a panic.
“Squeeze my hand,” Jack ordered. All he felt was a slight pressure. “See? You might be on the mend, but you’re as weak as a kitten. You’re a long way from healed. That infection and the high temp have stolen all your strength, so you’ll have to take it easy, I’m afraid. There’ll be no school for a while.”
She lay looking up at him, her expression neutral. “I did want to welcome Meg home tomorrow. You did say tomorrow, didn’t you? I didn’t dream that?”
He tapped her lightly on the nose. “Yes, tomorrow, but I doubt you’ll be able to get out of bed, never mind wend your merry way back to school.” He saw the dismay in her eyes, which she tried to hide it by closing them.
Matey laid her hand on Hilda’s. “Stop fretting about the school. I’ll get Vivien and young Jeanne to look after Meg. That do you?” Hilda’s head moved slightly.
“As for the school, you’ve done enough this half-term to enable you to take the rest of the year off!” teased Jack. “Madge says you’re not to worry about anything, by the way. The school will still be there when you get back.”
Her eyes flew open. “Madge?”
So Nell had been right!
He shifted uncomfortably. “I thought she ought to know she was about to lose her favourite Headmistress, as well as a good friend. She and Jem spent the rest of the night in prayer, from what I can gather.”
“The convent, too!” added Helen. “All the convents, actually! Even Boston! Mother Abbess says your only tasks for the moment are to listen to us, to rest and to get better. If you start fretting, and take another turn for the worse, she promises to come after you with the frying pan when she next sees you.”
“And she would!” whispered Hilda, her eyes too weary to stay open. She retreated into her dream that had been no dream at all to her, but a sweet reality. She recalled the words she had heard when Nell tucked her back in her bed. It hadn’t been Nell’s voice, but a deep, rich, compelling voice that commanded her full attention:
He had given His orders! He had returned her to life, but she had to rest and stay quiet if He was to heal her grief and anxiety and return her to school. No fretting, no fighting Jack, just compliance with her orders, whether they came from Him or from Jack. She had to trust Him, and He would strengthen her in His own good time. He’d brought her back from the dead, but he hadn’t mended her completely. She had to wait upon Him, allow Him to follow His own timing. She had to sink into His depths and let herself be carried.
“Now you’ve taken all that on board, I want you to eat and drink a little, so we can wean you off the drip. You’ll stay on the antibiotics, until I’m sure the infection’s gone for good.” Jack took her hand again. “You okay? Something’s going on in that very inventive brain of yours.”
“Nothing exciting!” The heavy eye-lids lifted. “I hear what you’re saying, Jack, and will do my best not to fret or plead to return to school, but as for eating… I’m just not hungry.”
“It’s perfectly normal, but you have to try,” he said gently. “You’re fading away.”
“We’ll keep it light, Hilda,” put in Helen. “We could try some yoghurt, or fruit fool. I won’t force soup down you just yet.”
“Ice cream?” Hilda asked hopefully. “There’s a horrid taste in my mouth.”
“Baby!” giggled Helen. “Ice cream it is.”
Hilda had barely swallowed three mouthfuls, however, before her eyes closed and she slept! Helen and Jack smiled at each other. Having strolled back from the dead, she needed sleep more than anything, to combat her extreme weakness.
Alas, a noise startled her awake less than an hour later. A gentle hand covered hers. “It’s okay, Hilda,” came Helen’s soft voice. “Relax! Ellie dropped her spoon.”
Spoon? It had sounded like a small explosion!
“She’s awake?” Hilda whispered.
Another face popped up beside Helen’s, a face beaming joyously. “Madame! Oh, Madame, you are so much better!”
Ellie leaned down to kiss her, tears streaking her cheeks. Hilda tried to lift a hand to wipe them away, but lacked the strength.
“Please don’t cry, child,” she whispered. “I’m back now. I’m sorry I scared you.” She saw the terror still lurking in Ellie’s eyes, and looked at Helen. “Would you mind very much if she lay beside me?”
Before Helen could reply, Ellie carefully scrambled on the bed, and lay down on the very edge so as not to hurt Hilda. She leaned up on one elbow, her eyes devouring the thin, white face. A few more tears trickled down.
“Hey, hey,” Hilda said softly. “Don’t weep, chérie. You don’t get rid of me that easily.”
Ellie’s finger tips gently touched Hilda’s scratched cheek. "It's all gone," she whispered in surprise.
Hilda kissed the palm of that loving hand. “I won’t break if you give me a hug, dearest.”
Instantly, Ellie’s arm crept across Hilda’s waist. She lay flat and snuggled closer, her cheek against Hilda’s. Their faces told you all you needed to know about their relationship, thought Matey, moved to tears by Ellie’s gentle care of her guardian. She removed Ian’s blanket from the vacated bed and wrapped it gently round Ellie.
Hilda stared at it, her face creasing in a smile. “Is that Mr Stuart’s blanket, little one? He described it to me once. All those little animals… they’re exquisite.”
“He gave it to me yesterday, to comfort me, you know, when I was so…” Ellie buried her face in Hilda’s shoulder.
Hilda looked up at the two women, who explained the events of the evening before, when Vivien had come to occupy Ellie. “I’m sorry, child,” she whispered.
Ellie peeped at her. “But, you know, even when you were unconscious, you lifted the hand and laid it on my head.” Hilda stared at her. “It seemed to me you knew how very frightened I was in the middle of your sleep. It made me to smile, you know.”
Hilda’s heart thundered in her chest. “That was a very special gift from God, I think.” Yet another one! “See how much He cares for you, sweetheart.”
Thank You, my Saviour.
She closed her eyes to force back the weak tears. Ellie kissed her again and nestled closer, her cheek once more against her guardian’s. Hilda savoured the closeness, even as she wondered how she could ever have been so spineless as to ask Him to take her home, away from this precious child who meant so much to her; a child who loved and needed her.
Never again, Nell! Never again will I show such weakness and cowardice! I am utterly ashamed of myself. Thank goodness He knows better than I do what’s needed.
She drifted off once more, content to sleep in Ellie’s loving arms.
An exhausted Nancy had been lying awake for an hour or more when the phone disturbed her fearful musings. Glancing at her clock, she saw it was quarter past seven. More than time she was up! But she and the mistresses were all tired, for Jack had phoned near to four o'clock that morning, to warn her Hilda was gravely ill and needed prayers, that there was nothing more he himself could do. She had heard the grief in his voice, and wept. She called the main school and spoke to Jeanne, at which point they decided to gather the staff of both schools in prayer. Jeanne had suggested the two sixths join her group, and Nancy had given permission. She herself had woken her own girls. There had been many tears and some very fervent prayers.
Picking up the phone now, she listened to Matey’s tale with bemused astonishment. Hilda had died, despite their heart-felt prayers – but had come to back to life almost immediately! She was now firmly in the land of the living! It didn’t make sense, but, like Matey, she’d take a miracle any day, if it would save Hilda’s life. Her heart danced for joy. Did prayer make so much difference?
“I’ll let everyone know, Gwynneth. Thanks so much for phoning, when you must be feeling exhausted. I’ll try and pop along later, but…” She sighed.
“But running two schools at once takes some doing, and you've been very worried. She means a lot to you.”
“And to you, Gwynneth! I know how close you are. You’ve been a wonderful prop to her this past year.”
“I don’t think I could have borne to lose her.” Matey’s voice trembled. “Nancy, talking of props, is there any way you could spare Vivien for the day? Hilda’s very weak, can scarcely talk or move, can’t even turn her head. She needs to sleep, not worry about things, but Ellie wants to be with her. Hilda wants that, too, but it’s too tiring at the moment. If Ellie can’t have Hilda, then Vivien’s the next best thing where she’s concerned. Would it hurt the school to lose her for the day?”
“Not if it means Hilda gets better sooner, no! Not if I can help it, anyway.” Nancy spoke very firmly. “Kathie can show she means her apologies by replacing her in the lower forms, and I’m sure Vivien will give the senior forms some work to be getting on with. Leave it with me, Gwynneth. How soon do you want her?”
“They’ve both gone back to sleep now, so perhaps after prayers and assembly.”
“Consider it done. Would you do me a favour in return, and ask Ian Stuart to call me? I’ll be here for the next half hour, and then over at the main school.”
“The poor man’s been up all night pacing the floor. Like me, he couldn’t have borne to lose her. Getting out for a while will do him the world of good.”
“That’s my intention, although I’m betting you, Jack and Helen were also pacing that floor.”
“No, they insisted I got my head down for a bit, until…” Matey’s voice trailed off.
“She’s alive, Gwynneth! That’s all that matters. Try and put those dreadful moments out of your mind. Not easy, I know. It’ll be rattling around in my own head today, and I wasn’t there.” Nancy sighed. “Give Hilda my love, tell her we all miss her, and we're rooting for her to get better. Oh, and tell her all’s well here. You know how she frets about her chicks.”
“I will, even if all isn’t well!”
“But it is!” Nancy crossed her fingers.
“Vivien told me about Kathie’s apologies yesterday.”
“Well, let’s see if she really means them, shall we?”
Nancy’s voice was harsh, and Matey could sense she had lost her trust in Kathie. She thought of her own anger the night before and understood, but her heart was sad for Nancy. She and Kathie had been so happy together. Now Hilda was out of danger, and not in need of so many prayers, Matey determined to put in a good word with God for Nancy.
“Gwynneth, do I tell the staff what you’ve just told me? I won’t tell the girls anything, except that she was close to death. I don’t want to unnerve them.”
“You could tell the sixth forms, though. Hilda would say they’re near enough to adulthood to hear the truth. She did that for them up on the Rosleinalpe, several months after Nell died. It was very moving to watch their response to her admission of weakness. She was teaching them how to grieve, as she’d been taught by Mother Abbess in the summer holiday.” Matey paused, debating the decision. “Yes, tell the staff, and the sixths, but not the younger girls.”
Before she left for the main school, Nancy gave the news to Gill and Julie, who were shocked and tearful. Both had known Hilda a long time, Gill as Head Girl, and Julie as a teacher who joined the school when Hilda became Head.
“Julie, I’d like our staff and girls to be at the main school by half eight. Can you arrange that, since I’m going over now? A word of warning, though! Say nothing to the girls. I’ll give the staff all the details at half eight, when you’ve arrived, and then the two sixths and our own girls after assembly. The rest of the school will only know how ill she’s been.”
When she walked into Hilda’s study later, she was greeted by Rosalie’s anxious face. Rosalie was very close to Hilda, Nancy knew, so gave her the unexpurgated version.
Rosalie went white. “We lost her?” she gasped. “Dear God, how can such a thing happen? People don’t come back from the dead!”
“But she did, Rosalie! Believe me, I’m not about to question it. That’s between her and God.”
Rosalie walked over to the window, arms wrapped tight around her slim body. “Do you think Kathie’s and Helen’s behaviour affected her so much that she just gave up?” she whispered, her eyes fixed on the mountain peaks.
Nancy went across and put an arm round Rosalie’s shoulder. “It’s possible, I suppose, but she was very, very ill, Rosalie. You saw her. Not ill just with blood poisoning, but in great distress mentally, as well. She came close to a breakdown yesterday. Remember those unstoppable tears? That’s not the Hilda you know, is it? She’s been pushed to the limit by the events of this term, especially Kathie’s and Helen’s behaviour. But God thought she deserved another chance, which shows how much He loves her, and I for one can’t thank Him enough. Losing Nell so suddenly was bad enough. Losing Hilda, too, would have been catastrophic. Just think what her death would have done to poor Ellie!”
A shocked Rosalie leaned into Nancy, tears falling as she absorbed the gentle words. Nancy hugged her closer. “You going to be okay? Good! Well, keep it to yourself for now. I’m not telling the girls, except for the sixths, but I’ll inform the staff while the girls are doing dorm duties after Früstück. There’ll be no assembly, just prayers in the Hall, Catholics and Protestants together. Ian’s coming over to do it with me. Poor man!” Nancy sighed. “He’s worn out! He’s been awake all night, apparently, in and out of Hilda’s room.”
A small giggle erupted from Rosalie. “Did Gwynneth tell you what I thought on Saturday night about him and Hilda, when he was so supportive?” Nancy stared at her, then spluttered and shook her head. “It’s okay. Gwynneth put me straight. But they do seem very close.”
Nancy leaned her head against Rosalie’s. “Mother Abbess is his sister, and we all know how close she and Hilda are, so I think Ian became family, too, by default. Then Ellie joined the mix. They all look after each other now. He’s brilliant with Ellie, and she loves him almost as much she does Hilda, it seems to me. I saw that on Saturday night. Perhaps he makes up for having had no real father for so many years. I think Ian does love Hilda, but accepts that she’ll never give up the convent. She knows his feelings, and is very gentle with him. She trusts him absolutely.”
Rosalie lifted her head and gave Nancy a wan smile. “Thanks for sharing that with me. It won’t go any further. They’d have made a lovely family, though.”
“They would! But life isn’t always what we want, is it, love? Hilda could tell you that.”
“So could you, Nancy. I’m sorry about you and Kathie. Now, what can I do to help?”
Nancy shook herself, looked at her watch. “Three things. I’d love a coffee. I need to speak to Vivien as soon as possible, and then to Kathie. All before Frühstück!”
Rosalie drew away. “I’m on it! I’ll get Vivien while the coffee’s brewing.” She pulled a face. “I don’t know whether to dance around the room, or hide in a corner and weep.”
“I have those same mixed feelings, my poppet, but she’s still with us, which is cause for thanks and celebration.”
Rosalie flew from the room. Nancy walked over to Hilda’s desk. She still found it hard to accept that Hilda had died, then sprung back to life. She picked up the photo on the desk. “Your doing, Nell? It wouldn’t surprise me a bit! I can see you ordering Him to get on with it, or else! But however it happened, tell Him we’re truly grateful.” She gurgled. “And yes, I know I’m going mad talking to someone who’s not here.”
She lifted her head. Was that a sardonic laugh floating in the air?
An apprehensive Vivien was shown into the study five minutes later. “How is she?”
Nancy gave her a beaming smile. “Much improved, all blood poisoning gone. I’ll let Gwynneth give you the gory details, but don’t cry all over her when you hear them, because she’s very tired. I’ll just tell you that Hilda woke up at seven, demanding answers. She’s very weak, but apparently wondering why she can’t come home tomorrow to welcome Meg.”
Vivien rolled her eyes. “Heaven help us! Or them! But it sounds to me as if she’s travelled a long and winding road between our prayers at four o’clock and the present moment, Nancy. That’s a miracle. Who knows if He won’t give her another one tomorrow? I’m so glad you woke us up. Storming heaven’s always a good idea, even if the Lord decides in the end it has to be His way. He knows better than us. But tell me why I’ll be seeing Matey.”
“She asked would I be willing to spare you for the day to look after Ellie.”
Vivien gaped. “I’m honoured, but what about my lessons?”
“I’d do anything for Hilda, so if this will help her, then off you go, no matter how many lessons you miss. One day won’t hurt! Hilda’s very weak, too weak to do anything but sleep, apparently, and Ellie wants to be with her, which means Hilda will start fretting. That’s where you come in. If anyone can keep Ellie entertained for a whole day, it’s you. You could leave work for your classes, couldn’t you? Golly, I haven’t even checked your timetable.”
“I’ve one lesson with my upper sixth group, and one each with Inter V and VA. They’re all doubles, so eat into the afternoon, but I could sort out stuff for them, mostly revision, which they do need. I also have a Scripture lesson with Upper IVA, but, again, I'll leave work.”
“No, Kathie will do that one. She has to earn her keep while she’s here.”
Vivien was surprised by Nancy’s harsh voice, but knew how shocked she had been by Kathie's abuse of Ellie. “She was very sorry yesterday, Nancy,” she said softly. “Could you find it in your heart to give her the benefit of the doubt? Hard, I know, after all she’s done.”
“She had her moments yesterday afternoon, Vivien, in spite of all those apologies. I’m not ready to dance a jig just yet, but she and I are not the priority right now. Ellie and Hilda are. Will you do it?”
“Need you ask? I’ll sort out stuff for those forms and write it up on their boards. I’ll also leave some work for Kathie to do in Scripture, as a follow-up. Then I need to sort out what to take to entertain Ellie, and possibly Marianne.”
“Don't forget to eat something! You can write on the boards while I’m speaking to the staff and taking prayers with Ian. Just go when you’re ready. Take my car or... would you like to wait for Ian. He’s offered to help me tell the school about Hilda. We’re going to have another service, one of thanks this time, with both schools together here. You’ll find out just what sort of thanks, when you speak with Matey. Believe me, Vivien, a mighty big miracle took place during the night.”
Vivien’s eyes lit up. “He came through for her! Oh, how wonderful! She deserves a miracle, because she sees everything as a gift from God, and lives in a state of perpetual gratitude. Einstein once said:
‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is a miracle.’
She follows that last sentence to the letter, and has a truly thankful, contented heart. That’s what she’s been trying to teach Kathie - to thank Him for what she already has, instead of always demanding more and being discontented. Kathie simply doesn’t get it that we can do very little on our own account, that every good gift comes from Him.”
“I think Hilda’s fighting a losing battle,” Nancy said bitterly.
“We can always pray for another miracle. Hilda’s constant refrain is that everything is grace, His grace. Well, it strikes me miracles are most definitely due to His grace, since they’re outside the natural laws.” She smiled. “How much my faith has grown and matured since meeting her! But good for you, for having another service, Nancy! You’re a bit of a miracle yourself. I know the thought of doing such a service scares you.”
“Not this time it doesn’t! What happened to Hilda has galvanised me, and Ian will help.”
“Okay, I’ll get going with stuff. Thanks for the offer of your car, but I’ll go back with Ian, I think. I’ll pop into Prayers when I’m done, and join in.”
Vivien gave Nancy a hug and departed. Nancy wondered why Kathie didn’t have that same easiness about her. Like Hilda, Vivien made you feel comfortable and at home in her presence. She was always willing to listen or comfort, or just be there with you in your pain. For all her jollity and love of jokes, she had the same inner stillness that Hilda possessed.
Hilda roused suddenly. In her confusion, she thought it was Nell holding her. She opened her eyes, and saw Ellie tucked up against her, wrapped in that wondrous blanket. Of course! She remembered, now. For a moment or two, her eyes blurred. Such love this stranger child had gifted her! She tried to lift her hand to stroke the black hair, but was again defeated by her own weakness, so dropped a kiss on the soft cheek.
Her eyes wandered round the room, and found there the same ’dearest freshness deep down things’ she had found in her dream on the cliff top. The morning, the room, the bed, the very air seemed freshly minted, when she thought about being dead and never seeing it – or anything! – ever again. He had chosen life for her, when she was too weak and cowardly to do it for herself, and had sent her back to live out that life, depending on Him for everything. How gracious He was!
Her eyes continued to explore the room, but stopped dead when she saw Ian sitting silently beside the bed, tension written all over him. His skin seemed stretched tight across his face with weariness. She smiled tenderly.
He leaned forward. “It’s good to see you back in the land of the living, my friend. How are you feeling?” He spoke very softly, so as not to disturb Ellie.
“I gather I gave you all a terrible fright,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry, dear man. I know how much you care, and what it will have done to you. You look so very weary, and should be in bed.”
She tried to move her hand, but, yet again, it was impossible. He saw it twitch, guessed her problem and lifted it into his own warm one. “That better? I can’t go to bed. Kate says I have to find out the state of play – in other words, how you’re feeling – and phone her.”
“Once a bully…”
“Always a bully! Ain’t that the truth!” They smiled at each other in perfect amity.
“Tell her I’m feeling better than yesterday or last night. Better in every way! Tell her… it was the Lord who intervened. Tell her… I had a dream. She’ll understand.”
“Going to tell me?”
Her eyes searched his. “You’ve been so good to me this past year that you deserve to know. So I might, one day very soon, when I’ve come to terms with it myself. It’s not every day one is gifted with quite so powerful a miracle. Oh, Ian,” she whispered brokenly. “He’s so good, but very firm on what He wants from us. If I could sort out my addled brain, I’d pray properly, instead of just chanting ‘Thank You, thank You’ over and over again.”
His eyebrows rose. “You mean it, don’t you? It really was a…”
“A miracle? Oh, yes! No question!”
He gazed at her for long, curious moments, saw the cheek with only a few faint scratches on it, where less than ten hours ago it had been swollen and red and complete agony to her. He saw the joy and puzzled wonder in her heavy eyes, but he also saw shame, and asked himself why. He felt the same puzzled wonder himself. She was alive and speaking to him and cuddling Ellie, yet at four o’clock that morning she had died. Jack was a doctor. He wouldn’t mistake the signs.
She was right. It was a miracle, but he wondered where a dream came into it. Then, as he watched her, her radiant joy spoke to him. “You met God, didn’t you? In that dream?”
“Was it a dream? Or was I in another reality?” She stopped to gather some strength. “No, Ian, I didn’t meet God, but His Son - also God, of course, but infinitely different. Gentler? Perhaps, but also demanding and determined – and so very, very forgiving.” She paused in thought. “The Jesus I met was the Jesus who confronted the Samaritan woman by the well, and brought her very gently to a sense of her own sinfulness.”
He saw her eyes change, the joy eclipsed by shame. “You’re not sinful,” he gasped.
“We’re all sinful, Ian, I more than most. But He sweetened the pill, afterwards…” She saw the question in the green eyes. “No, I’ll only cry if I tell you now. Another day, when I have more control. I’ll tell you this, though: it was beyond anything your imagination could conjure up.”
She closed her eyes and pictured the dolphins and their antics to calm herself. Telling him now, giving into her emotions, would only do away with what meagre strength she had. She felt him gently squeeze her hand. He was such a loving man, and asked so little of her, that she felt guilty for remaining silent.
He changed the subject. “The other reason I can’t go to bed is that I’m going over to the school. Nancy wants Prayers this morning to be a service of thanksgiving to God for saving your life.” He saw how stunned she was when her eyes flashed open. “You said it was a miracle. Jack said the same. The staff at both schools got up before four o’clock this morning, to pray for you when you were sinking. The sixth form girls joined them. I think they deserve to know their prayers had an answer, don’t you? A huge, unbelievable answer!”
Tears slid from the corner of her eyes, soaking into the pillow. “Make it about God, and not about me, Ian. I’m deserving of very little right now, certainly not special prayers ‘at wakeful midnight’! If you only knew…” More tears escaped, and he wiped them away gently. “I’m behaving very badly, aren’t I? Tell them I’m intensely moved by their prayers, and I’ll be with them in spirit this morning. Tell them, also, that their prayers had more than one answer, that God blessed me in very many ways, thanks to them.”
Her voice was weaker. She was growing frailer by the minute. He thought about her words regarding prayer and clasped her arm. “Would you like me to pray this morning’s Office out loud, since you haven’t the strength to read it yourself. It might take the edge off whatever’s bothering you.”
Her eyes lit up. “Yes, please, but be careful not to wake Ellie.” She looked at the blanket tucked round her ward. “Thank you so much for lending her this, dear man. It’s as beautiful as Kate’s shawl. I love the little animals. You’re kindness itself where Ellie and I are concerned.” He smiled tenderly. “Ellie calls me her guardian angel, but you, Kate and Gwynneth have become my guardian angels, watching out for me, keeping me going in the bad times, loving me… As for Jack, he’s more like the recording angel, keeping a tally of my disobedient ways.” Ian snorted. “Although he was so good to me over the weekend, wasn't he? Vivien’s a companion at arms, like Nancy, but she’s become another guardian angel for Ellie. She and I are so blessed in our friends.”
Her eyes closed abruptly. He lifted her book off the cupboard and opened it where the ribbon marked the day’s readings. At first she tried to give the responses, but his voice gradually faded in her ears and she slept. He closed the book and surveyed the gaunt, white face, praying there would be no relapse and she would soon be herself again. Ellie and Meg both depended on her, and would be lost if she were to disappear from their lives.
“Oh, Hilda,” he whispered, “who am I kidding? You’re necessary to so many of us, not just the two girls. Even the Lord must find in you His heart’s treasure, for you cherish so many of His children for Him. How would He manage without your loving heart enfolding us all?"
"'Long may thou joy in His almighty love,
Long may thy soul be pleasing in His sight.
Long mayst thou have true comforts from above,
Long mayst thou set on Him thy whole delight;
And patiently endure when He doth prove,
Knowing that He will surely do thee right.
Thy patience, faith, long-suffering and thy love
He will reward with comfort from above."'
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thanks so much for all the lovely words on that dream sequence. I did so enjoy writing it...