- Text Size +

Author's Chapter Notes:
Don’t forget to Favourite this new volume. Click on 'Add Story to Favourites' written above the little box at the bottom, and then click 'Submit'. A new page will appear, and again you need to click 'Submit' beneath the little empty box. I know some people have trouble trying to Favourite and get alerts.

I must thank some of you for your kindness in faithfully posting reviews on my re-posting. There are two more old chapters, and then we can finally pick up from where I lost the volume, and begin the new, unread stuff in Chapter 4, which I will post this coming weekend. Fingers crossed I never again do such wholesale deleting!

How long does nothingness last? Hilda never knew when it finally gave way to simple darkness, which gradually grew into a dim grey light, almost mist-like in substance. Silence was all-pervading. Pain was now non-existent. A feeling of expectancy buoyed her up. She waited with baited breath, and became aware of a gentle hand stroking her hair, a quiet voice praying over her, yielding her to God’s mercy. She yearned to speak to Ian, but was voiceless, her eyelids too heavy to lift. His footsteps went softly away. Then, fingers on her wrist, a pressure cuff on her arm, cream smoothed into her cheek. Pain edged its way back in, flirting with her.

Left alone again, she drifted in the grey mist, the feeling of expectancy expanding. Light mushroomed far away on the other side of the mist. Her heavy eyes fixed on it, but it remained stationary. Pain ebbed and flowed, ebbed and flowed. As it reached its worst, she heard a call, although she heard no voice. Strength seeped into her, enabling her to creep out of bed and step into the greyness. The light ahead drew her on. She walked towards it with slow, measured pace, and it softened into a mellow light that was kind to her eyes, easing her pain.

Without warning, she walked straight through the light, and away from all pain. She heard the sweet singing of unseen birds. The cold earth under her feet gave way to the springiness of grass. The grey tunnel led into the glory of early morning, where ‘there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.’ She looked up and hailed the deep, translucent blue of the sky. She cocked an ear and heard the gentle swish of unseen waves, though had no idea from which direction came the sound. An unseen hand led her across the grass. Sunlight touched her cold skin, warming her through and through. So much kinder than those icy chills! Taking in deep breaths of salty air, she closed her eyes, held out her arms and spun slowly round and round in rapture, free from all pain and weariness.

Her eyes opened as she spun round. Her arms fell to her sides. She gazed round in all directions, and what she saw stopped her dead in her tracks! Her heart faltered. Icy fingers ran up her spine. How stupid she was! She knew where she was!

Her heart pounding, she walked over the grass towards the black marble slabs, telling herself not to be afraid. The memory of this beautiful, peaceful place brought unalloyed joy to her heart every time she recalled her dream, so why fear it now? Nothing had changed, as far as she could see. Her eyes searched in all directions. No Nell! But she was here, nonetheless, her broken body lying under the shining marble. Tears in her eyes, Hilda fell to her knees by the golden words of Nell’s dedication and traced the letters with gentle fingers, whispering her name the while.

Yearning for a closer connection, she laid her unscratched cheek on the cool marble, and imagined, in her mind’s eye, those cool, amused grey eyes. What would Nell have said about the deep trough into which her friend had fallen these past weeks? She smiled to herself, even as more tears welled up. Oh, she knew exactly what she would have said!

But then, if you’d been still alive, friend o’ mine, there would have been no trough. Your strength would have upheld me. Your common sense would have fired alternative solutions at me. Your irascible comments would have leavened the dreadful events of the last week. Would you have tried to annihilate poor Kathie with one scorching glance?

There was no answer, of course! How could there be? God wasn’t going to send Nell along at every needy moment of hers. Huddled against the grave, her cheek warming the marble on which it lay, her eyes searched the sky, the trees, the flowers, even the grass. Where were those vivid blue butterflies? Was it the wrong season? Or were they a once-only miracle, never to be repeated? Her heavy eye-lids fell, and she listened to birds calling sweetly on high, to smaller birds cheeping in nearby bushes, to the rise and fall of the waves below, to tiny insects scurrying through the grass. Her thoughts drifted. She thought she might well fall asleep, warmed into somnolence by the mellow sunlight…

No people! Why were there never any people? Her sleepy senses awoke. Did no one ever visit these mass graves, or the sea shore below the cliff? Why was it only Nell she met here? Were people too afraid to come, too overwhelmed by pain?

Wait! There was someone – or something – nearby! There had been no sound to alert her, no footstep to alarm, no word spoken, but someone had approached, and was now hovering nearby in silence. Was it Nell? Or another lost soul like herself, searching for a loved one?

She made to open her eyes, but some sixth sense forbade it. Her whole body trembled. Her soul stirred within her, sensing with awe who was waiting there so quietly, not one blade of grass disturbed by His feet. In the words of Frederick William Orde Ward:

‘I felt a Presence though I saw no face,
And it was boundless Love.’

If she opened her eyes, she knew she would see nothing, except possibly the air leaping and dancing for joy at His presence. All she longed to do was grovel at His feet and beg forgiveness for so many things. Would He be very angry at her lack of faith, her cowardice, her betrayal of Ellie?

Fear not, Daughter.

The words were gentle, the voice rich beyond compare. Her spirit was calmed.

Why should I not tremble in the presence of the Lord my God? You are mighty beyond all knowing, yet You love me as tenderly as a mother loves her child. I’ve been a great trouble to You this year, but ‘You have been my constant shield and held me up in stormy waters.’

You are never a trouble to me, Beloved. It is other people who have been a great trouble to you. I’ve wept with you many times since Nell died and grown angry with those who torment you. But you contained your angry feelings and offered only forgiveness and mercy.

Because You strengthened me. You sheltered me under Your wing when I needed it most – or else sent someone with a loving heart to do it for You. I have been truly blessed, despite all my sorrow and struggles.


His love permeated the air around her. There was no need to open her eyes or speak aloud. Heart spoke to heart.

You aren’t taking me home, are You?

No, Beloved. I would rejoice to have you with Me, but there are so many who look to that loving-kindness of yours to lighten their heavy hearts and reveal to them how precious they are. What would they do without you?

Am I a great coward, for wanting to leave Ellie and be with Nell?

Daughter, you are pure courage. You’re still grieving, you’re very ill, and you have had so very many worries. Why would you not want to come home? But your inner strength, your vast courage and tenacity, your tender mercy, will see you through, if only you would lean on others a little more. The school and your many friends need you, as never before, but they also want to help you, walk with you, carry you when you stumble.

The school and her friends needed Nell. I needed Nell. You took her home.

It was done for her own sake, Daughter. Her courage in the earthquake enabled me to set her free. Very shortly you will discover the reason and be glad I did so.

How could I ever be glad she’s gone? There’s still an empty hole inside me where she lived.

Call on me in those empty times, Dearly Beloved. I’m only a heartbeat away, but you can find me even closer if you bring your pain to the Cross, where it will meet My own suffering. As for Nell, I know your wise and loving heart will be glad for her, if not for yourself, when the truth slips out. I also know it will make you even more willing to stay and care for my little ones, my wounded ones. Yours is such a quiet, peaceful soul.

Mine?

Yours! You are My peacemaker. You quieten troubled and wounded souls as very few can, and give them the strength they lack. You warm their aching hearts with such tender love, and bring peace to fraught situations. You try to persuade people to look on each other with love and give up their grievances. Even Kathie will find peace eventually, once she lets you in properly. Then there are My wounded ones who will seek your peaceful spirit in the convent, where your gentleness and loving-kindness will open their hearts to their own value and they will learn to live again, as you did. The world cannot spare you yet, Daughter. Yes, you will suffer, will be weary and in pain at times. Just remember, I am always with you.

And Ellie? Please tell me all will be well with her, that she will re-gain her lovely light-heartedness and her burgeoning trust in people.

It will take time, and she will have need of all your patience and compassion. How could I bring you home, when it would mean taking away from her all she’s only just found in your arms? She would never recover from such a blow, after all she’s already lost. You are her rock, her guiding light, until the day she learns from you how to trust Me for everything. She’s happier than she has ever been, for she knows how much she is loved, and you will nurture her many gifts as no one else can.

Forgive my cowardice, Lord.

No cowardice, Daughter. Only a great love for Nell and Me, and a terrible depression brought on by those who failed you. Continue to be merciful and gentle and you will win them round. Your relationship with Ellie will grow ever stronger and deeper, and you will have your reward very soon for your selflessness. In years to come, Ellie will bring your life full circle. You will wonder at the coincidence and weep for joy.

There are no coincidences in life, my Saviour, only Your beautiful plans working out for us. You do me too much honour. You have blessed me times without number in my life. Now You make me a promise of more blessings to come. ‘May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.’ (Ps 19)

Your words and your thoughts are always pleasing to Me, Beloved Child. Have courage, and know I am with you in all your troubles, and in all the perils that come your way. ‘Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor fear the dangers of the day, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.’ (Ps 91) I am with you in them all, even to the end of time.

I love You, my Saviour, and will trust Your promises, even when I walk through the darkest valley. Please tell Nell I love her, too.


Without warning, a hand was laid on her infected cheek. Intense pain exploded there, then rocketed like fire throughout her body. She never knew how long the agony lasted, but it was followed by a great tidal wave of love and peace and joy flooding into every corner of her mind, her body, her mind, her spirit, and healing the very pain His hand had ignited.

You may tell her yourself, Beloved. Go well! Be well!

For long moments, she was aware of nothing but the love streaming into every nook and cranny of her being. How great a reward He offered for her puny efforts to help people! Surely her cup runneth over! Overwhelmed and fighting tears, she asked herself why He made so much of her. And what did He mean about Nell?

Still in shock, she opened her eyes, thinking the world would surely be completely changed after such a visitation. But no, it was as it had been. Except - there they were! That host of dancing, blue butterflies!

Entranced, she laughed softly and stretched her right arm along the black marble, holding it very still. They rose and fell in their hundreds, swirling this way and that in a blue cloud, some mounting higher and ever higher, others settling on the grave-stone. A goodly number came to rest on her outstretched arm, warming her skin. Some surprised her and flew to cover her injured cheek, stroking it with their delicate wings and tickling her. They gradually grew still and quiet, seeming at rest there. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could nibble away all the damage? But butterflies didn’t nibble, they sipped, she told herself, and smiled in quiet delight. She knelt there motionless, unwilling to have them leave. Such peace! Such joy! Such beauty! Such a loving, giving Saviour!

St John of the Cross spoke it much more tellingly, she thought: ‘God passes through the thickets of the world, and, wherever His glory falls, He turns all things to beauty.’

“Thank You, loving Lord, for this most amazing miracle of Your Divine Presence,” she whispered. “All is grace with You, nothing but heavenly beauty and unearned grace.”

Still the butterflies basked lazily in the sun on her cheek, on her arm, on the marble slabs.

“Are you going to sit there all day, dear girl?” Her heart jolted. Her sleepy eyes opened. She smiled at the sarcasm she could hear in the beloved voice, but was unwilling to move and disturb her gentle guests. “Hmm, I think you should start a new fashion. Wearing a cheek of butterflies to match your eyes would surely catch on.”

Hilda chuckled softly and wiggled the ends of her fingers. Nell knelt and covered them gently. The butterflies took no notice, remaining where they had settled.

“So this is what He meant!” whispered Hilda. “My joy is now complete. How are you, dear heart?”

“All the better for being able to touch you, and speak with you face to face!” Those clear grey eyes examined Hilda carefully. “Your pain and distress show, despite the joy.”

“Why would He honour me with such extravagance and beauty?”

“Why not, dear girl? He appeared to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, and revealed His heart on fire with His love for us all. His mother appeared to Bernadette and to the children of Fatima to tell them secrets kept from the great and the good. His Father moved as a living flame before the Israelites to guide them. So, why not you?”

“I’m no saint, nor even a good person.” A tear trickled down among the butterflies.

Nell kissed her gently on the forehead. “I know all, sweetheart, every drop of pain and hurt. He does but honour your courage.”

“Courage? What courage? I wanted Him to take me home a little while ago. Where’s the courage in that, when Ellie has need of me?”

“Your courage was never in question. You’ve been laid low and weakened by severe illness, and by sorrow, and by selfish people caring nought for the hurt they cause. Unfortunately, you’re the one who’s had to make it better, and that takes guts. Your forbearance and generosity are incredible, even to my eyes, and I know you well.”

As though to emphasise her loving words, the butterflies rose as one from Hilda’s cheek and arm and fluttered gently round her head, creating a blue halo.

Nell gurgled with delight. “I wish I had a camera.”

The larger mass of butterflies lifted off the black marble and flew towards the sea. The others fluttered away from Hilda and followed behind. Hilda sat up slowly, her eyes never leaving Nell, absorbing the beauty of that dear face, and storing it away in her heart for the dark days that still lay ahead. Nell drew her close with a gentle murmur.

She laid her head on Nell’s heart. “Oh, I’ve missed you!” she whispered. “I’ve needed you so much.”

“Why? You’ve coped magnificently without me.”

“But not on my own! I’ve needed the help of so many others. I’ve certainly not coped with Kathie. Why not let me come home and allow someone stronger to take over?”

Nell held her away and searched the troubled eyes. “You really are in a bad way, aren’t you? You are strong, dearest! You’ve dealt admirably with Kathie, doing it with such love – okay, some justice, but mostly mercy and love. I’m not sure how you keep your temper.” She laughed softly. “Anyway, there’s no way He’s allowed to bring you home. You’re literally knocking on Heaven’s door right now, but so many people are praying for your life, not just the school. Madge and Jem have been told you’re close to death, and they and the convent are all praying. That bossy friend of yours has spread the word as far away as Boston! If He didn’t spare you, she would really have something unrepeatable to say to Him!” Hilda’s astonished eyes stared at her. “He knows how lonely you are, sweetheart, but He wants you to go on spreading His love throughout the world in that uniquely gentle way of yours.”

Hilda hid her face in Nell’s shoulder and trembled. She was not this person they all described. Nell bent her head to touch Hilda’s. “I know you want to come home, that you miss me, but think of all those friends drawing closer and offering their love, now you’ve opened your heart to them. Take their love, revel in it, let it carry you, as I sometimes carried you. Ellie and Kate, Ian and Gwynneth, Vivien and Nancy, even Jeanne, all love you so much. Let their love fill your heart to its fullest now. Just keep one small corner of that heart for me, so your grief no longer defines you. You are so much more than your sorrow and loneliness.”

She held her close, waiting for the trembling to cease, her heart breaking for Hilda. She was in such turmoil! But Hilda was to surprise her.

The blue eyes were wet with tears when she raised her head. “Thank you for reminding me of all I still have, dear heart. Your loss sometimes overwhelms me and robs me of my peace – but it won’t, if I give Him my pain and loneliness, my discouragement, as I told Him I would last year. As for you, I’ll leave you far more than one small corner of my heart, but I should open it up even more to the friends I’ve discovered recently, shouldn’t I? And lean on them, which seems to be what they want of me. ”

Nell smiled. “You’ve been leaning recently, even on Jack, and made Gwyneth and Nancy very happy by your openness with them. You must lean even more, though, if you’re going to do as He says and help the wounded children He sends to you. You’ll need strength and an uncluttered mind, which you won’t have unless you do that leaning. You can’t do everything on your own. It’s too much!” She held up a warning finger. “One more thing! Once you’ve made a decision, take it to Nancy or Jeanne for discussion, then leave it in God’s hands and put it out of your mind. You’ve come close to a complete breakdown because you’ve fretted so much about recent events, and tried to cope on your own. Kathie hurting Ellie was the nail in the coffin, wasn’t it?” Hilda nodded. “Trusting Him is the answer. He walks beside you, giving you His strength, even for the Kathies and Helens of this world. Try and find a diversion when horrors are rattling around in that addled brain of yours. Dump whatever it is in His arms and do some origami or read a book. Don’t pace the floor worry-gutting.”

Hilda choked. “So much for heavenly anthems! I do worry too much, now you’re not there. He’s only a heartbeat away, isn’t He? Near enough to slip my hand in His, like a child.” She stroked Nell’s cheek with a delicate finger. “Are you willing to help me forget my worries while I’m here? Then why don’t we follow the butterflies down to the beach? I want to paddle in the sea this time.”

“It’s cold,” warned Nell.

It wasn’t! It was warm and silky, refreshing not just to the feet but the whole body. They walked arm in arm through the shallows, foamy waves ebbing and flowing as they splashed each other just for the fun of it, and keeping an eye out for pretty shells.

“This is heaven,” whispered Hilda.

Nell snorted. “It doesn’t even come close. Heaven is as different from this as… as a coal mine is different from the peak of Everest.”

“Trust you to come up with such an earthy comparison,” chuckled Hilda. Nell poked her. “I don’t care if it isn’t Heaven. My mind returns here whenever I’m sad or weary. While I have the sea, the butterflies, the absolute peace, the black marble and the gold letters praising your courage – then I have you.”

Nell put an arm round her as they splashed through the creamy foam. She turned her head and examined Hilda with such keenness and anxiety that Hilda was astonished.

“What is it, dear heart?”

Nell took a deep breath. “Remember in Matthew, chapter twenty, when the mother of John and James asked Jesus if her sons could sit on His right and left hand when He came into His kingdom. Can you recall His answer?”

Hilda frowned. “He told her she didn’t know what she was asking, and put this question to the two men, ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’”

“Why did He ask them that?”

“He wanted to know if they were willing to suffer all He was about to suffer.”

“Would you be willing?”

Hilda stopped dead. “I don’t understand.”

Nell’s eyes demanded answers. “Three times now you’ve lost someone who meant the world to you, more than the world. Were you willing to have it so, to drink the cup of sorrow and loneliness?”

Hilda’s eyes filled with shame. “You know I wasn’t. I railed at Him when mother died. I turned my back on Him when I lost you.” Tears gathered on her eyelashes.

Nell drew her close. “But not for long, and you’ve been willing, since, to accept the pain, and use your grief to show ever more love to others. You were willing to drink the cup when James died. You wept for such a very short time, then came to the school, hid your pain and showed us your calm strength and peaceful nature. I know you were willing to drink the cup when you took on Ellie, never counting the cost.”

Hilda smiled. “No cost!”

“I don’t agree! There’s always a cost to loving someone. What if she stopped loving you for some reason? Or there was a permanent rift and you never saw her again?”

“You’re frightening me, Nell.” Hilda’s lips quivered.

“I don’t mean to, love, but girls and mothers, you know! Think of Meg, and Helen.”

“I’m not her mother.”

“As good as!” Nell was listening for a wrong note. “Could you drink that cup?”

“I would have no choice, if it should happen, but I’ll never stop loving her. It’s part of who I am now, just as loving you is. We had our moments, didn’t we, but we supped them up and survived.” Nell’s lips twitched. “It would be painful beyond belief, but yes, I would drink it, for I could never turn my back on her. My door would always be open, and my heart.”

“What about the cup of physical suffering? Would you be willing to suffer whatever life sends, worse even than the coach accident, or the car crash last November? What if you had to spend the rest of your life on a bed of pain?”

“Why are you asking?” Hilda’s eyes were fearful.

“Could you?” Nell insisted, her eyes seeming to look deep into Hilda’s soul. “Could you drink the cup of physical pain as much as you could drink the cup of losing Ellie’s love?”

“Did I drink it after our accident?”

Nell’s face relaxed. “And how! I never understood how you could withstand that terrible pain for weeks on end without one complaint. It took its toll, but your patience and mental strength astonished everyone. You drank that cup to its dregs, and the cup that followed it, when you learned how much had been taken away by that blow to the head. Not to be able to read – when reading is an addiction of yours – nor to be able to walk properly ever again, felled you for only a very short while. When you finally revealed it all to me, I knew I couldn’t have drunk that cup myself. It seemed so unfair. I cursed God.”

“His grace was there, Nell,” Hilda murmured. “He produced the cure for my disabilities almost immediately, didn’t He? He’s no slouch!”

“But you were the one who had to endure those months of grinding physiotherapy so you could walk again, and the months of re-learning how to read. I can’t imagine the sheer tedium, and frustration, although I never saw any.”

“Oh, it was there!” Hilda gazed out to sea with a miserable face. “But you didn’t know it all, Nell. You didn’t know the terrible anger that would sweep over me, even when I returned to school. It could boil up in a second. If I’d given in to it, even once, I would have lost friends, or hurt a child badly, perhaps even lost my position. Jem and other doctors told me it was normal after a head injury, but every day - every day, Nell! – I pleaded with Him to take it away.”

Nell stared in astonishment. “And did He?” Hilda shook her head. “So you drank that cup, too. But how?”

“It was a daily battle, but He gave me the grace and strength to master it. I’d be shaking each time the rage was over, but gradually learned to control it.”

“And became even quieter and stiller, in the process!” Nell stroked Hilda’s cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Hilda picked up a large, pink shell, turning it round and round in her hand. “It was a battle I had to fight and win on my own. No one else could do it for me, so why trouble them with the details? The struggle was hard and bitter, though, and there were times and seasons when I deeply regretted going away with you. In His mercy, He showed me that the only way through was acceptance, just as Mother showed me that the only way out of my grief was to walk through it, and weep. Trying to avoid it wouldn’t help, hadn’t helped!”

“And now?”

“The anger went long ago, grâce à Dieu – but not the grief of losing you, not yet!” Hilda looked up with anxious eyes.

Nell embraced her with a groan, the shell falling unnoticed. “I’m so sorry, love. Sorry you had to go through it then, and sorry you’re going through even more pain now. I’m even sorrier I didn’t know any of it. I could have helped.”

Hilda smiled at her. “You couldn’t, so don’t grieve over it. It’s done! But God is allowing you to help me through this grief. Think of all the times we’ve talked! Such a miracle! I’ve found He never leaves us helpless if we turn to Him, no matter the depth of the cup of pain He offers us.”

“One more,” whispered Nell, guilt written all over her face. “What if Mother Abbess died? Could you drink that cup?”

Hilda’s eyes stared steadily into Nell’s. “I would drink that cup, too. With your death, I finally accepted that the price of love is always pain and grief. I’m willing now to pay that price, since I want the love.” She picked up the shell again, cupped it in the palm of her hand where it glistened in the sun. “I lost one mother. It would be very hard to lose another, but she isn’t the reason I’m entering, dear. If God diverted me to another convent, I would accept it as His will. No matter where He places me, He knows I have to be where there are long periods of silence now, so I can be alone with Him. I want to help His wounded ones, because I can’t live just for myself any longer, but He comes first, not Mother. He’s rescued me many times in my life, so I’m His now, wherever and however He wants me. Ellie and the school are my last great human attachments, but I’ve done my best for the school and Ellie has me for as long as she wants me.” She gave a quivering sigh. “Gosh, I never meant to talk about myself at such length. But you did ask! Are you satisfied? ”

Nell drew her close, hiding her own face. “More than satisfied, but I never expected any other answer. You’re courage personified. You’re certainly braver than I was, and have far more trust in Him.”

“You were ready to drink the cup when you went back into that hotel. You would have been crippled if you’d lived.” Hilda tried to see Nell’s face, but it remained hidden.

“Perhaps I was trying to make up for the cup I refused to drink, the cup I dashed from His hand and wouldn’t even consider. He’s forgiven me my cowardice,” Nell whispered.

Hilda heard the depths of her misery and put her arms round her. “Going to tell me?”

Nell shook her head. “Although I think He’ll make sure you find out before you come home, so there’ll be no barriers between us.”

“There are no barriers, Nell. Whatever it is, there is only compassion, and I’ll tell you so when I’m finally called home.” Hilda’s voice was very gentle.

Standing in the shallows, they held each other tight, their hearts aching at how soon they would have to part, but filled with joy at this very precious gift.

Hilda searched the damp grey eyes. “No tears,” she whispered. “We love each other. That’s more than enough. God repaid me for the sorrows of my life when you became my friend, and more than a friend - a mother, a sister, a playmate, a fellow pilgrim… Oh, so many things you were, dear heart.” More tears fell at Hilda’s tender accolade. “Have you finished scaring me?”

Nell buried her face in Hilda’s shoulder. “I wanted to make sure you’d never again sink into that numb despair my death caused you.”

“I learned my lesson the hard way, Nell. Love is all He asks of me. Giving into my sorrow and loneliness for you made me spurn Him and all my girls. I’ll spend the rest of my life making up for that sin, by loving others as best I can.”

“That’s why you’ve been so patient and merciful with Kathie.”

“I’ve tried, and He showed me what I had to do for her when she hurt Ellie, so how can I not trust Him?” Hilda stroked the shining white hair and led Nell back into the foam. “Come on! I’m here to get better, not be quizzed to death.”

Nell smiled, albeit sadly, and they splashed through the frothy waves. A little further out, the waves were growing higher, crashing onto the shore ahead of them.

“That nightie will get soaked!”

“It’ll soon dry in this heat. I love you, dear heart, love you and miss you, and I know I’ll still have some bad times, but one day we’ll be together. He won’t let us down.”

Nell smiled into Hilda’s shining eyes. The butterflies were once more dancing round the brown head. “They seem rather attached to you.”

“Oh, I have some of my own now, crafted by Vivien. Such a beautiful reminder…” Hilda had been staring out to sea, but now stopped dead and stared in wonder. Her eyes shone with a fierce rapture. She pointed. “Look, Nell, look! Dolphins! Three of them! Just for us! Oh, how good He is! I can’t believe it! Goodness, they’re beckoning to us. Come on!”

Before Nell could stop her, Hilda had stripped off her nightdress, thrown it to Nell and plunged into the pounding waves, leaving Nell stranded on the beach, staring after her with open mouth. She laughed out loud as Hilda ploughed steadily through the waves, the dolphins swimming towards her. She knew Hilda was a strong swimmer. James had insisted she learn before their long voyage to India, a voyage Hilda never made. She and Nell had done a lot of swimming on their world cruise, so Nell had no fears there. It was on that cruise that Hilda had seen dolphins following the ship, diving and leaping from the water beside them, a great attraction to all the travellers. Hilda had become an instant dévotee.

With a huge smile on her face, Nell watched the dolphins swim towards Hilda, dancing around her, diving under her, flying in great arcs over her, nudging her with their noses and rolling over and splashing her with their tails. Laughing for sheer joy, she patted their noses, rolled over in the water with them, caught hold of their fins and allowed them to pull her through the water at top speed, her head thrown back in ecstasy as she trusted her life to them.

Thank You, Heavenly Father, for giving her this beautiful, perfect miracle. I’ve never seen her so happy, so uninhibited and playful, and I appreciate the great love that created it for her. It may only be a dream to her, but she will never forget. She’s walking on cloud nine. You’ve created a wonderful, wonderful memory for her to bring to mind some lonely evening, and, when she does, she’ll be so very glad she was here.

She deserves every good thing I do for her. It’s a privilege to see her so happy and filled with life. You have done well today, Daughter, strengthening her spirit about so many things.


Hilda’s frolic with the mysterious dolphins continued, as they sailed up the high waves and danced down them, Hilda hanging on for dear life. Nell would have liked to join in, but decided it would be a shame to spoil the bond so evident between the four of them. It gave her joy to see Hilda playing so freely, all worry fled for the moment.

But all things come to an end. The dolphins grouped round Hilda, and swam with her nearer to the shore, where they gently opened out and allowed her to float towards Nell. One of them swam right into the shallows and nudged her playfully in the back, and she sank beneath the waves with a shriek. Recovering her equilibrium, she swam to him and blew gently into his face, gazing into those knowing eyes. She held onto his fin and he swam round in a complete circle with her, before nudging her back into the shallows. Nell heard the clicks as he returned to the others. The three of them slapped their tails in the water in farewell, and swam out a little way before plunging beneath the waves. Moments later, they exploded out of the water in great leaps, rolling over and over in mid-air, water dripping from their sleek, shining bodies. Hilda cried out in awe at their beauty. They repeated the performance, including the rolls in mid-air, before disappearing for good beneath the waves.

Hilda remained in the foam, peering out in hope across the empty sea, but eventually realised it was all over. She danced across the wet sand to Nell, her eyes a radiant blue. Nell held out the nightie, but she ignored it, flung herself down flat on the warm sand and sighed in exultation.

“Idiot! You’re wet through! The sand will stick all over you.”

“Let it stick! Oh, Nell!” Hilda gave an ecstatic sigh. “Wasn’t it wonderful? How generous He is! Such a sweet privilege! A dream of mine perfectly realised.”

“I wonder what the dolphins thought of your nudity. Have you no shame?” Nell asked with a laugh.

“Oh, they didn’t care, did they? It’s wonderful to be naked in the sea. The water was so silky, and their skin like shiny rubber, but so sleek and soft. It was just magical!” Hilda whispered. “You’ve seen me in my birthday suit before now, when we’ve shared a room, and there’s no one else around.” Her head suddenly popped up and swivelled round. “Is there?”

Nell snorted. “Relax, we’re all alone. No, you’re right, it wa….”

She fell silent in wonder. The butterflies were returning, and settling the whole length of Hilda, covering her completely in blue. Nell noticed one small group settling back on her cheek.

“Oh, they’re tickling!” Hilda said softly. “More magic!”

“They’re hiding your shame!”

Hilda wrinkled up her nose at Nell and relaxed, scarcely daring to breathe in case she disturbed the delicate creatures. Her eyes closed to contain the joy. A tear rolled down the bare cheek. “How did I ever deserve all this?” she whispered. “Why would He do it for me? I won’t ever forget it, couldn’t ever forget.”

Nell reached out and clasped the chilly hand, but stayed silent, allowing Hilda to come to terms with the whole experience. Hilda opened her eyes, turned her head and smiled joyfully at her friend.

Nell returned the smile. “As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted by those beauties, you’re right. It was a privilege, and one you truly deserved. I know how much you’ve wanted to do that since the cruise, and am thrilled for you. You looked so happy out there,” she added wistfully.

“I was happy, deliriously so! It was a time out of time… Well, you know what I mean. I’m out of time here, aren’t I? Oh, dear heart, I can’t believe it happened. Was it selfish of me, though, not to wait for you to join us?”

“No, it was just for you, lovely girl.” Nell chuckled. “I wonder what the girls and staff would have made of their sedate Headmistress flaunting herself naked in the sea and on the beach.”

“They’ll never know, thank goodness! Anyway, the staff did enjoy our uni-cycle tricks a few years ago. Not much dignity there, either! So what’s the difference?”

“You have to ask?” Nell shook her head in disbelief.

She lay down beside Hilda and took her hand. They watched the sun slowly disappear into the sea, painting the clouds gaudy shades of pink and orange and lilac and turquoise, which eventually faded, all brightness leaving the sky. The butterflies lifted from Hilda’s body. Their day was over. They gathered together, hovering over her, the blue mass shifting and swirling. She held up an arm and they slowly fluttered round it and away into the gathering darkness.

“So beautiful… and their memory will stay with me for the dark days.” Hilda’s quiet voice held a poignant note.

Nell helped her into her nightdress, since she was beginning to shiver, but they sat on as the moon rose into the black depths of the sky, making the silvered waves sparkle and dance. Hilda searched in vain for one last glimpse of her friends, the dolphins.

“It’s time to return to your hospital bed, dear girl.”

“It went so quickly, didn’t it?” said Hilda sadly. “But I can’t complain. He’s more than made up for the difficulties and dramas of this term. Oh, Nell, it’s been an exquisite, perfect day.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” murmured Nell. “And there will be many more exquisite, perfect moments when you’re finally called home into His safe haven.”

They rose to their feet, Hilda's eyes still skimming the waters. “Will you come with me, at least part of the way?” she whispered.

“I thought you’d never ask!”

Nell took Hilda’s hand and led her back across the sand, up the steps cut into the rock, and along to the black slabs. Hilda stroked the cold marble, her eyes searching the area. Had her Saviour really spoken to her here earlier? Had He really provided this wonderful day out of the simple goodness of His heart? Nell heard her whispering:

'i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes.'


“That’s rather fine, dear girl.”

“It’s from a book of poems you once gave me by e e cummings. It fits the day perfectly, don't you think?”

They walked on. The soft grass gave way to hard wooden floor. The moonlight disappeared and they walked in darkness, until they came to a door. Nell led her straight though the door and over to her bed, tucking her in with gentle hands.

Hilda’s eyes gleamed at Nell. “I don’t want you to leave,” she mourned. Nell took the slim hand between own two. “Thank you for this most amazing day, dear heart. Will you thank Him for me?”

“He knows, lovely girl, He knows what His precious gift meant to you. He wanted to show you how very much He loves you.” Nell bent to kiss her friend. “Sleep, sweetheart, and may you soon be well again.”

Hilda slept. Nell smiled at the suddenness of it, and stood watching the sensitive face she loved so well, reluctant to leave. But leave she must! She glided silently over to Matey, lying on a small cot between the two beds.

She leaned over to stroke the lined cheek. “Thank you for looking after her so lovingly, Gwynneth. You deserve the reward she has in store for you. Be well.”

She drifted to the other bed, where the sight of Persephone in Ellie’s arms gave her a shock. She smiled tenderly and laid a hand on Ellie’s black hair. “Your guardian always knows how to make things better, doesn’t she? She was right to give you Persephone, and I hope you now know that you belong to both of us, little one. I can never thank you enough for all the love you give her, for being the daughter she always wanted. You suit each other so perfectly. Look after each other, and be happy.”

A few tears dripped on Persephone as she stroked the doll’s rosy face. She could feel her mother’s love there, even now. She admired Ian’s animal blanket, and could sense his mother’s love crocheted into it.

“Mothers are important, aren’t they, Ellie? Treasure yours while you have her, as I always did. She’s worth treasuring, as are you. God chose such a beautiful daughter for her, and gave you the kindest, most exquisite mother in all the world.”

She held her hand out to the room and spoke a blessing on its occupants. She and God had done their best for Hilda this night.

May she keep and savour its memories, Heavenly Father, and be assured that both You and I are very close.


*****
Chapter End Notes:
The sentence I split to form the titles of the last chapter and this one, Dark Is A Way and Light Is A Place is from a poem by Thomas Hardy.

'Can you drink the cup?' is an idea taken from a small book by Henri Nouwen, called indeed Can You Drink the Cup? although nothing in this chapter is taken from the text of that book. If you enjoy Nouwen, it's well worth a read.

I owe the mention of Hilda's loss of the ability to walk and read to Lesley's fill-in. The continued rage was my own invention.



Enter the security code shown below:
Note: You may submit either a rating or a review or both.