My story continues… For a brief introduction and a link to the beginning, go here.
It was eight o’clock on a blustery evening in late November. Sister Helen Anderson switched off the main lights. Annie Fraser and Evie Jamieson were quietly moving between beds and cots, taking pulses, listening out for cries of pain, alert for signs of dangerous fever or any other crises among their young charges. It would be a long night. Many diseases of childhood could still be fatal; the right nursing could save a young life.
As Annie and Evie worked out on the ward, Helen sat in the office, checking reports and other paperwork left by the day shift, working by the light of her reading lamp. Then, satisfied, she quietly joined the two dedicated young women at their duties.
Tonight, there were only the three of them; night shifts did not, as a rule, warrant many staff. There was little hustle and bustle, in contrast with the hectic schedule the day shift had. Except, of course, when there had been raids. Emergencies had occurred back to back and side by side for hours at a time. Helen blinked and shook herself at the memory…
The night wore on. The coordination was almost uncanny. Little needed to be said, just a few words of counsel, now and then, would pass between Helen and the other two. She made them take it in turns to have short breaks, making sure they had drinks and a bite to eat.
“Sister,” whispered Evie, as she re-entered the ward, “You’ll need a drink, yourself… Annie and I will call you if there’s trouble. Promise.” She spread out one hand, holding it over where she knew her heart ought to be, and winked. Many in Helen’s position would not have tolerated the familiarity, but there was a special bond here; maybe some good could come out of a war, after all…
Helen sighed appreciatively. “Thank you, Evie. Just give me a few minutes.”
As Evie and Annie kept up their vigil on the ward, Helen was thinking as she drank her tea. It so happened that, at the end of this shift, they would all get a break until Monday morning. Now was as good a time as any, she thought…
Back on the ward, she looked around, taking fresh note of the condition of the more seriously ill children, then returned to the office to make her own notes for the day shift. She made one last tour of the ward, then beckoned to Evie and Annie with a nod.
“Ladies, when we finish, I’d be glad if I could have a word on the way out. Is that all right?” Then, noticing their concern, she added “It’s all right – you’re not in trouble, either of you!”
With the dawn came more wind and rain. The two younger women were waiting in the lobby of the staff entrance as Helen met them.
“Thank you, both. Sorry to detain you like this. You see, it’s nothing to do with this place. I just wanted to ask you both a favour.”
The other two looked up questioningly in response.
“It’s like this. I’ve been invited to a wedding, and I’ve been asked to bring a couple of friends. It’s a good few weeks away, yet – after Christmas – but I’m a bit nervous about it, to be honest. I’ve never really been used to parties and such, and… I’d really appreciate it if you’d both oblige.”
Evie looked at Annie, then spoke for them both. “Oblige? It’d be our pleasure. But… Do we know the couple getting hitched?”
Helen’s eyes melted into her trade-mark twinkle. “I think you know the bride-to-be. And the groom, just a little. Helen Anderson’s getting married to Archie McGeoch.”
The two young women gasped, and then visibly rocked. Annie’s eyes seemed to grow stalks. For once, she was dumb. For several seconds, the scene was reminiscent of an old silent movie; the picture was striking. Annie’s lips began to move, but the sound just didn’t come.
Evie reached into her pocket for a handkerchief. “Oh! Sister! I’m… so happy for you… Both of you!”
Annie just nodded. Helen looked into the faces of the other two with appreciation. “Thank you, both. And, er, off duty, it’s ‘Helen’. OK?
Just after mid-day on the same day, at the end of an early shift, Archie and George Baird were walking together in the direction of the bicycle sheds. “George,” said Archie, in a querying tone, “I want to ask ye something.”
“What’s that, Archie?”
“I’ve a little job needin’ doing.”
Now, George was well-known for his skills at such things as setting up wireless sets, or checking and testing accumulators. Generous by nature, he was sometimes unfairly taken advantage of, but rarely declined to help. And, anyway, he’d have done anything for Archie. He began to imagine what his friend might want.
“How can I help ye?”
“Well, George, it’s no’ for a wee bittie yet, but I was wonderin’… Would you be ma best man?”
This part is the end of section two of the whole story. I never expected to get this far. That’s why it’s a magic moment for me. The content of this part also has a magic moment in it. So I’m linking up with this week’s ‘Magic Moments’ hosted by Jaime at The Oliver’s Madhouse.
Update: part thirteen, which opens the third and final section of this story,
is now published here.
Oh, and… To Helen at All at Sea… Thanks again!
First of all, a note to new readers: Thank you for coming along. If you haven’t done so already, take a look here, which explains how this story came to be written, and then gives you a link to the beginning. I hope you like this story – and the rest of this blog. Take a seat… 😉
Now, those of you who’ve followed this story so far: Yeah, all right, all right, I know it’s been a while! Mojo didn’t dry up, but available opportunity did. But here we are, back again
by popular demand because I now have time. You’re up to part ten…? Then read on! 😉
Now that Archie had been back at work for several days, everyone who knew him – from the apprentices who had sometimes borne the brunt of his recent morose state, to the shipyard managers – could hardly fail to notice his new lightness of mood and general good humour. Some put this down to the enforced period of rest he’d had, even suggesting that the accident had been a blessing in disguise. Others, perhaps facetiously, suggested that the bang on the head that he’d sustained had actually put something right in his brain. All of them welcomed the change, however. Archie would nod, even smile, as he passed those he knew. He’d even joined a few mates one evening for a drink at a nearby pub.
Not long after this, on a Saturday evening, Archie took himself off for a walk to clear his mind. He had been wondering for some days now how he should thank Helen for her concern for him. At least, that was what he asked himself. Somehow, he found himself heading for the infirmary. Perhaps she’d be on duty, or he might enquire at the children’s ward. He was well-known there, after all. He looked around as he turned in at the gates and approached the main entrance. Inevitably, the grounds weren’t as well-kept as they had been before the war…
And then it hit him. The heady scent of buddleia, still in flower. Just by a low brick wall at the edge of a path, a few remaining blooms trembled slightly in the gentle breeze. He walked over, once again lost in all kinds of thoughts, as he had been on that day over two years before. And then, for the second time in only a month or so, he found himself roused from his swirling thoughts by a voice he knew.
“It’s been beautiful, this year. I… Oh…!
As Archie turned to face the speaker, Helen jumped as she recognised him.
“Archie! What are you doing here?”
“Ha! Your turn to ask that, now! Well, actually, as it happens, it was you I’d come to see. I… just wanted to thank you… for coming to see me that evening. It was a life-saver, Helen. Really…”
“Och, Archie, what else could I have done?”
“Listen, Helen. I’d like to tell you why it meant so much to me. I take it, you’ve just finished for today?” As Helen nodded, Archie went on. “Have you time to share a cuppie with me while I tell ye? It willnae be anything fancy round here, after what this war’s done, but I’d be glad if you’d spare me a chat…”
In a tiny, but clean and cosy, side-street café nearby, Archie talked of how losing Jenny had made him think back over his life so many times. He talked about his flying days in France, about what he’d seen of war, first hand. It occurred to him that he’d never talked to anyone like this before. It was as if some massive knot inside his mind was slowly coming undone. As he paused now and then, to ponder, Helen gently replied with accounts of her own experiences as a young army nurse during the same years.
At length, it was time for the café to close. As they left, the evening air struck cooler.
“Helen, I’m sorry. I should have asked how you were getting home. I hope I havena’…”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll easy get the next tram.”
They walked together to the tram stop, still talking, but about life as it was now, right up to date. It never occurred to either of them to think that there was anything at all odd about how this chance meeting had gone. Sharing the twists and turns of a curious web of life, how Helen had cared for her own parents until they both passed away, how Archie had got back into work after leaving the army, when so many other men had been left on the streets… and then they both stood silent for a few moments.
“I was wondering… Could we have another chat like this, some time? Maybe go for a walk someplace, if you get a day off… A Sunday, mebbes…?
Archie looked hopefully into Helen’s face. He almost jumped as he saw the characteristic smile that started in the corners of her eyes.
“I… I do get some Sundays off, Archie. Next Sunday, I’ll be off, as it works out. And, you know… I’d like to do that. I’d like it very much.”
As they heard the hissing and clanking of the tram in the distance, Archie and Helen arranged where to meet, in eight days’ time.
* * *
Archie turned up his jacket collar as he headed home. He was tired, but easier in his mind than he’d been for some time. And then he realised: it had been a very long time indeed.
And meanwhile, a very thoughtful middle-aged nursing sister was going home on a tram, dabbing her eyes.
You can read part twelve here.
This part of my story took a bit more thought to write than previous ones. Also, there is more thinking involved for the fictional characters. So, once again, this post is linked to
‘Prose for Thought’ hosted by Vicky at ‘Verily, Victoria Vocalises’.
Over the last year or two, there has been a lot of debate (not, I would add, without good cause) on the justification, cost, and effectiveness of our country’s involvement in military action. I came across these lines by Chesterton:
The men that worked for England
They have their graves at home:
And bees and birds of England
About the cross can roam.
But they that fought for England
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.
And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874 – 1936)
Note the time in which Chesterton lived. What’s changed?