Authors: LeeAnn Whitaker
The plot, characters, names, and locations, are a result of the author’s imagination, and in no way to be misinterpreted as otherwise. If any similarities are noted, it is purely an unintentional coincident.
This novel is not to be copied, redistributed, altered, or use in any other context, without permission from the author.
In war-torn Canterbury, another influx of soldiers were brought through the doors of All Angels Military Hospital. The bloody combat had finally peaked across the border, leaving many injured. Some gravely. It was now the time for the clean-up. A clean-up as frenzied and disturbing as those beaches, where the battle of Operation Overload had turned the sea red for a month. It was a sensitive time, at home and over the water. With thousands upon thousands fighting their last ever fight. And even worse for loved ones, those who were missing in action, leaving families with no closure at all.
At the forefront, twenty-four year old auxiliary nurse, Nell, ushered men injured in mind, body, and soul, to an empty wing that had been purposely prepared. Already she had sent fifteen poor soldiers to section D. A cordoned off area for those who were beyond help. Injuries ranged from infected missing limbs, which had been scrappily removed out in the field. To shrapnel, which had penetrated flesh like razor sharp glass rain. Bullet wounds, in some cases reaching double figures. Also men with lungs burned so badly from gas, they only had a few shallow breaths left in them.
“Miss, Miss!” a young soldier with a bandage wrapped around his head, yelled above the mad panic.
Nell wiped her wrist across her sweaty forehead, and caught a brief breath. She had been on her feet for near twenty-four hours, and her good nursing intuition was beginning to fade, fast. Each of her toes throbbed and she was now deeply fatigued.
For two years she had been volunteering at All Angels. An old carbon stained weaving mill that had been converted into a medical outpost. Its main purpose was to treat soldiers that were finally shipped home. In the cities near the key ports, these makeshift military medical units, were created to take the strain from the civilian hospitals. The risks made in transporting the injured, were often as dangerous as the war itself. And there were times that ships and planes carrying patients, didn’t make it home.
For Nell, this day was the most upsetting and bloody one yet. Her usual silky long auburn hair was tied up tight beneath her cap, with stray wilting strands sticking to her face. Her green eyes were bloodshot, puffy, and tired. And the dry cracked skin on her hands was stained with blood she couldn’t scrub off. Taking a lungful of air, her achy legs moved toward the stretcher the young soldier held with four others.
“Miss, please, you have to help him… he’s a hero,” the soldier begged. “He’s not been seen to right in days Miss, and now he won’t wake up.”
Nell hadn’t looked down at the stretcher yet. Her eyes were busy taking in the crowded entrance, as more and more soldiers and civilians joined the mass.
“I will see to you in a moment,” Nell said with compassion. “Sister Mary,” she called in desperation.
There were now seven auxiliary nurses working through the injured, but it wasn’t enough. The plans Sister Mary had made for this to be an organised operation, and flow as smoothly as possible, had not come into play at all. And Nell was now on the verge of breaking down into an exhausted heap.
Sister Mary hurried across, rubbing her blood stained hands on her pinafore with an unimpressed look in her eye. She was a stern character, and did not like bedlam. Her hard features lined as she scowled at Nell. Normally, Nell would avoid asking Sister Mary for assistance. But today was her hell, and if Sister Mary had any way of making it stop, she would gladly take a tongue-lashing.
Nell remembered her first encounter with Sister Mary quite vividly. One tiny mistake of giving a patient who was supposed to be nil-by-mouth a sandwich, nearly caused Sister Mary to have an aneurism. She yelled and screamed, turning a brighter shade of red by the second. So since, Nell made sure she checked every patient file. Twice.
“Sister, we need more beds,” Nell held back a tear. “We need more help. Can some of these men not be taken to another hospital?”
“No, so you do what you can,” Sister Mary snapped. “Blubbering like a baby is not going to help these men.” With a swift turn Sister Mary stormed away, leaving Nell to deal with anarchy alone.
Nell closed her eyes and thought of her father. In many ways, Sister Mary was very much like him. Strict, ordered, and uncompassionate. He was a leader. A major key player on the home front in the war, Brigadier Walter Haughton. Though Nell wasn’t close to him, she now wished she could muster some of that point blank precision he had. The sight of all the poor souls needing assistance, was effecting her ability to help.
“Miss,” the soldier yelled for her attention again.
Nell turned to the stretcher, took a deep breath, and peered down at the unconscious war hero. Immediately, a painful hollow feeling grew inside her, and her heart swelled with emotions from a time gone by. Even with the thick bandage across his eyes, she recognised this man. It was Jack Montgomery. Her pulse boomed as she paled with sickness. She gripped her wedding ring nervously, twisting it around and around, wondering what to do.
“Please, follow me,” Nell ordered, taking the lead through the uproar.
Her eyes fell onto section D, and she knew if she led him into that area, he wouldn’t get the help he needed. It had been six long torturous years since she said goodbye to him on that station platform, and it wasn’t on good terms. She never once thought she would see this man again. The one who always had her heart. The one she thought of when being punished. The one she had to push away. Now she had been suddenly thrust into his unconscious presence, she couldn’t possibly take him to where the reaper waited.
“Here.” She shuffled around an empty bed. “Put him down on here, carefully.”
The soldiers laid Jack’s lifeless body down onto the squeaky bed, and hovered around in worry. Nell picked up his wrist, and used her watch to check for a pulse. He was warm to the touch, and the feeling of his skin on her fingertips made her sigh out. The appeasing beat of his heart made her remember things, which she had buried down deep in the crevices of her wounded mind.
“His name is Jack Miss.” The young soldier lingered, fretting. “I’m not sure where he came from, but I’m sure glad he appeared when he did. He saved my life Miss,” the soldier said. “Please look after him.” Nell looked down at Jack’s body.
“We’ll do what we can.” She nodded at the soldier, “Now go to Nurse Teresa over there, and she’ll deal with you bandages.”
It was as though her time stood still. She was alone with him in this bubble, and she knew it was the wrong place to be. After everything that happened, the heartache she never got over, being near him again was only going to add fuel to the flame she always held for him.
“Nell, he’s a mess.” Teresa, who was not only a Nurse, but a close friend, appeared over Nell’s shoulder. “He’s a gas victim isn’t he?” she asked.
Teresa took Nell under her wing on her first day, and taught her a trick or two on how to deal with Sister Mary. She’s what you would call, a good time girl. And before the war, Nell would have never associated herself with such a person. With red blazing hair, red painted lips, and rather partial to stealing a dance with the yanks who were posted in town. She was the complete opposite of Nell, who was raised to be a lady. To be dignified. To have no fun whatsoever.
Nell inclined over Jack’s head and gently lifted the bandage. She sighed loudly with concern, studying the tiny blisters and redness around his eyes.
“Yes he is.”
“Well, he’s not awake… shouldn’t he be in D?” Teresa questioned, rummaging her gloved hands through the pockets of his uniform.
“His chest sounds clear,” Nell said, adamantly. “He’s in need of care, not euthanasia,” she barked.
“Okay,” Teresa pouted, placing a book she found in Jack’s pocket onto the bed. “I’ll go get some fresh bandages and a gown. You can get him ready.”
Nell closed the screen around the bed. Normally she would talk to her patients, try and coax them to wake. But she was frightened. Frightened that if he heard her voice, he would know it was her. So she quickly put protective gloves on her hands, unbuttoned his torn dirty shirt, and checked his torso over for any more injuries. His skin was completely blister free and as soft as she recalled. She took note his jacket as she stepped away from the bed. The carefree boy she once knew, was now a fully-fledged sergeant in the Royal Artillery corp. She dawdled, staring at him, pondering over that magical summer.
Teresa slipped back through the screen holding a gown, yelling at a soldier demanding her help. She laid the gown out on the bed, frowning at Nell’s inability to move.
“We haven’t got time to daydream Nell,” she clapped. “We’re nearly there girl… the second shift starts in ten minutes, and Sister Mary said we can grab a couple of hours.” Teresa took Jack by the arm and pulled him upright, waiting for some help. “Come on then… what on earth has gotten into you?”
Nell hurried to assist. “I’m just tired,” she sighed.
“Aren’t we all?”
After they cleaned his body and dressed him in the gown, Teresa pulled a grey blanket over Jack’s chest, while Nell tidied the area. She slid his bloody torn uniform into a labelled laundry bag, while struggling not to weep. Other than that goodbye six years ago, it had been the hardest thing she had ever done in her life, tending to Jack in such a way. She recalled how full of life he was. How he never gave up on her. He was the most spirited boy you could ever meet, and it took a lot to break that. Nell broke that.
“Right he’s done, ready to meet his maker if needs be.” Teresa brushed her hands together as though it was Jack’s final moments on earth.
Nell couldn’t bear the thought of that. Not now he looked so peaceful. His dark hair full and combed neatly. His pale skin clean and unspoiled. The only thing missing, were his bottomless brown eyes that she once loved gazing into.
“Don’t say that,” Nell said in a tense breath.
“Honey, you know Sister Mary makes the calls around here, and Doctor Stanton won’t treat lost causes… not when there’s men here that can be helped.”
Nell’s eyes fell onto the thick tatty book teetering on the edge of the mattress, as Teresa attempted to tug her away from Jack. She flicked her arm free and grinned, trying to be professional.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Nell said. “Just going to check on his eyes again.”
“Well, you don’t want to keep Alistair waiting.” Her shaped brows bobbed flirtatiously. “Thought he had this special treat planned for your anniversary.”
Nell rolled her eyes at the uncomfortable thought. Lt Alistair Jenkins. Her husband. The man who her father thought were a more suited match for her than Jack.
Several months after Jack left in the farewell parade, and after losing the will to live because of it, Nell agreed to court Alistair. She had known him for many years. His father was a Chief Coronel in the forces, and both Brigadier and Coronel would go hunting for leisure before the war. As a child, Alistair and his family would often visit the Haughton estate. She never really had a choice; it was going to happen eventually. The joining of two well-known, prestigious, military families. And as her heart was in pieces over a forbidden love, she wanted to forget that summer with Jack. She needed to carry on. To abide by the rules and please those around her.
“After today Teresa, I don’t feel like celebrating a thing.”
It wasn’t the whole truth. The fact her heart had never been able to love Alistair was a major factor. Her marriage was based on suitability. At the beginning of their coupling, Alistair would wine and dine Nell. Take her to grand functions and show her off. He would buy her expensive jewels and clothing in return for her affection. But it wasn’t long after the wedding that the true colours of Alistair Jenkins began to emerge. He had a temper. A terrible rage. And Nell had to figure out a way of pacifying him when he started to simmer. She never confided in a soul about her troubles and woes. She blamed herself. If she had been honest with him from the start, told him she could never love him, then he would have been free to find the right girl. So Nell remained dutiful, and made excuses for the odd push or strike here and there.
Teresa left Nell behind the screen with Jack. Now alone, she picked up the tatty black bound book. She flipped open the first yellowing page to see Jack’s handwriting. Running her fingers across the blotted ink, she read the paragraph he wrote:
My sanity is this book. My heart is the pen. It will keep my feet on the ground, and give me the will to live for what once was perfect. The thoughts of my Nell, are all I have. I relive them over and over during this hell for strength. There was no greater thing than what we had. The truest kind of love. And that love, even though now gone, filled me for a lifetime.
Tears spilled down her cheeks as she watched Jack’s firm chest rise up and down slowly. She wanted to forget all about her feelings for him. She didn’t deserve his love after what she did. But now it all flooded back through her like an unstoppable surging tide.
“Eleanor,” Sister Mary’s head poked through the screen. “You have disobeyed my orders, and this bed is needed for a more worthy soldier.”
Nell angered. What right did she have to decide who lived or died? But Nell knew she couldn’t speak what was on her mind. It would only make matters worse. She would have to use her peace-making skills on her; the way she would do with Alistair. Sweet-talk.
“Sorry Sister. He’s a war hero and I didn’t want to upset those who brought him here,” Nell said openly. “His lungs sound clear, and I thought he would benefit from seeing a doctor. If I have made a mistake, then I am sorry.”