STELLA MARIS

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Submitted Date 01/02/2021
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Hopital Belneaire was known by its present patients and staff by the English name of Seaside Hospital. At present the hospital held only British casualties of the ongoing Great War. Treated by both British and French doctors and nurses these casualties were mainly amputees, burn victims, or with some other serious injury that would require their return to England.

Anna Venteuse felt it was her patriotic duty to work as a nurse. Originally born in the Scottish lowlands, Anna had been raised in a small chateau in France, by the sea. Not far from the hospital itself. That was why Anna had begun to work at the Seaside Hospital when the war had begun back in 1914.

Anna had seen men come and go through the hospital over the last four years. Bullet wounds, shrapnel from artillery and grenades, chemical burns from gas now being used on the battlefield. Anna found it was amazing how mortals learned new ways to kill each other. If that wasn't enough, there was infection, disease, and accidental injuries.

Anna's ward contained patients who were stabilized. Those ready to be shipped out on the next ship that left the nearby port city of Lestelle. There were twenty patients in all, lined up ten beds along each wall of the ward, with only Anna and the new nurse Britain, Susan Miller. To care for them until they were shipped to England. Some of the men never made it.

Anna stopped by the bed of a young amputee. Joseph Cornel. A private in the British army. His leg had been amputated at the knee. Joey as he called himself was fortunate. No infection had set in. In the past century someone like Joey might have to settle for a peg leg. These days they were doing wonderful things with artificial limbs, making them look more realistic.

"How does it look, Nurse Anna?" Joey tried to sound stoic, but Anna could hear the worry in his voice.

"It is not infected." Anna assured Joey. "You will be going home soon, with the American's in the war, it will be over soon."

"Haven't much to go home to." Joey looked down across at where the stump was. I'll never walk again. Not without crutches.

"Nonsense, when you get home, buy an artificial leg. Your leg is only amputated at the knee, you may limp, but you should be able to do whatever you were doing when you joined the army." Anna didn't say to the young man that he was lucky, that there were others who had been much more badly wounded than he was. "Now, you get some rest, Joseph, you will be going home. You will need your strength."

Anna moved to the next patient checking the bandages on his face. Timothy Lloyd woke up suddenly. "Uhh, uhh."

"It is alright Timothy, it is only Nurse Anna. You are in the hospital, we are caring for your burns from a gas attack." Anna held the man's hand, stroking it.

Timothy Lloyd had barely survived a gas attack. It was most likely mustard gas, but there were other caustic chemicals that were used. It had gotten through Timothy's mask. Eating away his face, his eyes, ears, and scarring the man for life. Timothy was fortunate he could still hear the gentle, calming voice Anna used.

"I know you can't see, but that may change in time." It wouldn't, Anna didn't have the heart to tell the truth, that Timothy was blind for life. "You cannot talk, that too will change as you heal."

According to the doctors, Timothy could talk again. That would be a blessing, since his eyes had to be completely removed. At least Timothy would not see his face in a mirror and realize how badly his face had been scarred during the gas attack.

"I only wanted to check your bandages, I must go now. I or another nurse will come by later to check on you again." Anna gave Timothy's hand one last squeeze. "Get some sleep, it is late."

Doctor Woods was checking the progress charts that hung at the foot of the beds in the ward. Henry Woods was impressed with Anna Venteuse as a nurse. She seemed competent, kind, efficient. There was something odd about her though.

Susan Miller was not the usual aristocratic lady who had taken to nursing as a patriotic duty. She had been a nurse in a hospital ward in England before the war. Susan tried hard to hide her cockney accent, but it slipped through now and then.

With Anna Venteuse it was hard to tell. She had an unusual French accent, her French was somewhat accented as well. As if she had not been born in France, America, or England. Her accent didn't seem to fit either place.

Anna said she was French, Doctor Woods had talked to her. She said she was raised in a seaside chateau near Lestelle. Anna was Catholic, claiming her Mother was as well. Anna never mentioned her Father, but an Aunt Coral Read was remembered fondly by Anna.

"You handled Timothy Lloyd well." Henry said to Anna as she walked past him. "Your shift is almost up, would you like me to give you a ride home. Doctor Mechant will be here soon to relieve me."

"You are most kind, but I have walked home before. I shall be fine." Anna had walked the lonely road plenty of times during the night. There was no one from the town who came this way.

Elise Panne came in the other end of the ward, along with another British Nurse Susan Mitchel. "I'd feel better if you'd stay here at the hospital like the other nurses."

"I spend enough time here, as it is. I desire to go to my home, to be surrounded by my things which comfort me." Anna waved at the wounded men in the ward. "Sometimes it is too much for me."

"You wouldn't know it from the way you've handled yourself." Henry never noticed Anna crying in private when she dealt with a burn victim or amputee. No hesitation, no biting her lip, no look of disgust at the maimed limbs or chemically eaten faces of gas attacks. "Is that your secret, getting away from this place at the end of the shift."

"I suppose it is." Anna put this place behind her when she stepped out of the building. At home Anna relaxed, listening to a windup phonograph, reading, or swimming in the ocean.

"At least let me drive you home. There is no moon tonight, it will be awfully dark." Henry was attracted to the mysterious young woman who didn't seem to fit in with the other staff at the hospital.

"If you insist." Anna decided to take up the doctor's offer. It might annoy the man if she didn't. "First, I would like to pray to Mary, Mother of Mercy, to offer her protection for the young men in the ward."

"Of course, in the meantime, I'll make arrangements to drive you to your home." Henry went to the main administration offices in the hospital to arrange to borrow a car.

At one far end of the chapel was Mother Mary with her cloak held up by angels. Jesus in her arms. At the foot of Mary were smaller Patron Saints. Saint Agatha of Sicily the Patron Saint of Wet Nurses, Saint Catherine of Siena, Patron Saint of Nurses, Saint Camillus of Lellis, Patron Saint of Hospitals, Saint Elizebeth of Hungary, another saint of nurses and caregivers. There was one statue that had to do more with the sea than healing. That was Saint Stella Maris. Star of the Sea.

"Mary, Mother of Mercy, hear my prayers." Anna had noticed that Susan had been sitting at the pews. Rarely were the British that came through the hospital Catholic. More often they were prostestant of some form or another. "Oh, Stella Maris, star of the sea, Patron of my kind, please guide my thinking, my actions to do the most good."

Finished with her prayers, Anna rose and turned to see Susan leaving. "Mademoiselle Miller, forgive me, but are you Catholic?"

"No. I just felt like sitting in your chapel for a few moments to collect my thoughts. I hope you didn't mind." Susan hadn't prayed to God much since she came here. As a protestant by birth, Susan didn't know if she had done wrong by intruding in a Catholic sanctuary.

"No, you did nothing wrong, Mademoiselle, I was merely curious. I do not know many English who are Catholic. Most are Irish who are Catholic who come through this hospital." Anna had not talked to Susan Miller much. "I am glad you felt you were able to commune with God in our little chapel."

Susan decided not to mention that gathering her thoughts was not the same as communing with God. "I don't think I will ever forget some of the men who pass through here."

Anna put an arm around Susan's shoulders. "Mademoiselle Miller, it is often hard to watch the men suffer, but we always have each other to lean on. When that is not enough God, His Angels and Saints are there for us."

"Please call me Susan."

"I shall, if you call me Anna."

 

Henry Woods had been walking back towards the chapel to let Anna know that he had obtained a car to give her a ride home. He saw Anna and the new British nurse Susan standing outside the chapel. Anna had her arm around the other girl, as though consoling her. Henry was glad to see that his nurses seemed to be getting along.

"Ah, Doctor Woods, you have returned." Anna slipped away from Susan and walked towards Woods. "I shall talk to you later, Susan, Doctor Woods has been kind enough to offer me a ride home."

Susan gave a small wave. Watching the couple turn and walk away. She wondered if the two had formed merely a bond of friendship or if it ran deeper than that.

 

"Was Susan alright?" Doctor Woods asked as they walked out to the waiting car.

"She seemed fine to me, but you do not know what is in another's heart and mind. Susan could be sad, disturbed by the injuries of the men, or perhaps the men harass her. These things are hard to know, I just encourage her to talk if she wants to."

"That is kind of you." Henry said.

"So much we hold within ourselves. What we see here eats at our soul and if we do not share the burden between us it becomes unbearable."

"That is very insightful."

Anna simply shrugged her shoulders.

 

"You live here?" Henry had not expected to find Anna lived in what was essentially a ruin. It had been some sort of chateau, but had fallen into ruins possibly during the last century. "It's ready to collapse, one good storm might knock it down."

Anna smiled at Henry. "It is stronger than it looks, it has survived two hundred years, and many storms. I live in only a couple of rooms, they are quite comfortable."

"All the same, you should move into the hospital with the other hospital staff, this is no place for you to live." Henry didn't understand why anyone would want to live in such a building.

"I prefer my privacy." With that Anna walked into the old ruin.

Henry rolled a cigarette, shoved it in his mouth. He decided that he'd have a quick smoke before driving back to the hospital. It wasn't that far, so taking a few minutes to have a smoke wouldn't make a difference.

Just as Henry had finished his cigarette, he saw someone on the beach. It was obvious she was naked. It wasn't a full moon, but the moon was still bright enough to see the silhouette of the young girl on the beach. It look like she was wrapping a cloak around her, then she dived into the waves.

Had that girl been Anna? Swimming naked in the dark ocean? Had she been putting on the cloak? Did she dive in with the cloak on? Perhaps she had been taking the cloak off? Henry waited in the dark. Some hours later Henry thought that he had seen someone crawl onto the shore. It was the girl, she stood up with her cloak in hand. Walking to the chateau.

Henry drove home, thinking about what he had seen. It had been dark, it was obvious the girl was Anna. What she did, was not so obvious. Henry decided that Anna hadn't been putting on a cloak, she had been taking one off. She later picked up the cloak and carried it back to the chateau with her.

 

Doctor Woods approached Elise Panne that evening. "How well do you know Nurse Venteuse?"

"We grow up in the same town. Her Mama and her Aunt, they are a little strange. Her Aunt, her skin is too dark, Anna's Mama, she is speaking French with a funny accent. Anna's Mama, she have the red hair, gray eyes. Anna, she is not as dark as her Aunt, not as fair as was her Mama. She have the dark hair that Mama did not."

"Are you suggesting that Anna is colored." Henry was surprised, Anna didn't seem to be of mixed race.

"Colored? No. Her Aunt, yes, but not Anna. I don't think either is their Mother. Although Anna says that her Mama is her Mother. I wonder though, if it is true. They both look very different from each other."

"Perhaps Anna takes after her Father."

"I would not know, never have we seen Anna's Father. Her Mother, she never mentioned him."

 

Anna was holding Timothy Lloyd's hand again. It was close to the middle of her afternoon shift. Timothy had woke up, trying to talk, thrashing in the bed. Anna talked soothingly to him. Doctor Woods gave the man a sedative. Anna stayed with Timothy, talking to him quietly while the sedative took effect.

Susan came up as Anna stood and placed Timothy's hand on his chest. Susan helped Anna straighten the sheets and blankets on Timothy's bed.

"Did he have another bad dream or was he panicking about not being able to see?" Susan tucked the blanket beneath the mattress.

"I do not know. Timothy cannot tell us. It is that he cannot see, I think. I cannot imagine being completely blind. That and the pain from the burns on his face and in his throat. It must be horrible for him." Anna moved on to the next patient.

Anna examined the sleeping patient for any signs of distress, made sure the linens were unsoiled.

"A lot of these poor men have nightmares. I wonder if Timothy has nightmares about the attack? Reliving the horror and pain." Susan had tried to comfort many men who woke up with nightmares. "Some of the men aren't even asleep. It's as if they are reliving their traumas while in some sort of trance."

"It is called shell shock." Anna moved to the next patient. He was awake. She smiled at him.

"How are you today?" Anna picked up the man's chart and looked at it. "It says here that the wound to your chest is healing nicely. No infection. It is a good thing,"

"I've got to go back, don't I Nurse?" There was a resignation to that voice. "Back to the trenches."

"I do not know. That is the Doctor and the General's decision, not mine." Anna wouldn't lie to the young man about his going back.

The man sighed. "I knew it. I'd hope that when I was put in this hospital I'd go home. You know a lot of patients put here do go back."

"I know. Maybe it will be so. Maybe you pray it will be so." Anna suggested.

"No, I can't do that. If I can fight, I've got to. I can't slack or ask God to send me home when others have got to fight for their country. No, Nurse, can't ask Him to do that for me."

"Perhaps I can pray for you." Anna moved to the other patient down the line.


Susan sympathized with the young man. He wanted to go home, but he would continue to fight if he had to. Susan wanted to leave this hospital and never see it again. Men burned, men eaten away, men maimed, men dying. She never wanted to be a nurse again. Never wanted to see a hospital again.

"Bad as it is for England. I forget it must be worse for you." England had been bombed, blockaded, but no soldiers had landed on its shores. France had the Germans on its front steps.

Only the trenches had mired the Germans the same way it had mired the Allies. Both sides seem to be at an impasse for some time. Now, with the new tanks, America entering the war, the Allies were beginning to drive the Germans back to their homeland.

"I do not like what war does to the country I love." Anna sounded sad. "My sisters are upset by the German submarines hunting down ships, so many drown. We can save some, but not all."

"Your sisters? You never mentioned you had sisters." Susan had thought Anna was an only child from what Elisa Panne had told her.

"Not the traditional kind. Rather we are alike. My sisters have much in common. You may not understand because it is the sea that connects us together." Anna didn't know how to explain to Susan that she was different from mortals. As were her sisters.

"Like we have a connection as nurses." Susan tried to understand, she had to admit that she didn't. "Your sisters and you have a connection with the sea."

"Yes, like that." It wasn't like that, but Anna decided that it was best not to disagree.

"You know, you are welcome to stay at the hospital nurse dormitory. I heard that where you are staying is a ruin." Susan hoped that she was not being too forward.

"You have talked to Doctor Woods." Anna laughed. "I tell Doctor Woods, it is not so bad as it looks. Maybe you come by, have some tea."

Susan decided to accept the offer. After all, Doctor Woods was concerned about the old ruin where Anna was saying. Perhaps Susan could ease his mind if the house was in better shape than it looked as Anna said it was.

"I'd like that. Perhaps in the morning." Working the afternoon shift Anna and Susan were usually ready to go home during the evening. The only real spare time either woman would have was in the morning before going to work.

 

"Where are you going?" Doctor Henry Woods asked Susan as she took one of the communal bicycles that the hospital staff often used to rude down to the nearby town.

"Anna has invited me to tea." Carol mounted the bike and rode off.

Doctor Woods watched the young nurse ride away. He had come out for a smoke. He had been at the Seaside Hospital for nearly a year. Susan had stood out with her cockney city accent. It didn't surprise Henry that she might befriend Anna who didn't seem to fit in with the aristocratic daughters of England and France.

Anna seemed to be one of those aristocratic daughters from the way she walked, talked, but her actions were caring. Some of the nurses saw their occupation as an unfortunate consequence or duty of their social class. Anna seemed to genuinely care for the patients with an empathy that some of the nurses lacked.

Susan saw people of her own class who were maimed in a war that really involved upper class politics. Her accent marked her as coming from London or some similar large community. It also marked her as coming from the newer middle class. Susan had earned her skills through hard work. Her title of Nurse was not given to her because she volunteered as was her duty, she had earned it through working.

Doctor Henry Woods came from a practical, upper middle class, proud family. There were no titles of 'sir' or 'lady' in the Woods family. It was possible there was some ancestor who had a title of two, but the Woods family didn't care if there was. They didn't need inherited wealth, titles, they had money they had earned through hard work. Henry Woods' title of Doctor had come from that earned wealth, which had allowed Henry to earn the title of Doctor through his own hard work.

Yet, both Susan and Henry had been attracted to Anna. Who outwardly appeared to be an aristocrat, Anna had openly said that it was her duty to be a nurse. Not one of her social class, but one to her country. Perhaps that was what attracted Henry and Susan to Anna was that patriotic duty they all three felt.

With that patriotic duty in mind, Henry dropped his cigarette butt to the ground and extinguished it with his boot. Henry turned around and went back into the hospital where his duty waited for him in the form of the patients that were being prepared to be shipped home to England.

Susan wasn't sure that she had the correct house. From the outside it seemed to be overgrown for several years. It certainly looked like a ruin from the outside. Like it had been abandoned a few years ago. Perhaps Anna's family had fallen on hard times a while back and she couldn't afford to keep up the chateau.

There was a path through the briars and tall grass that led to the back of the chateau. It was an older mansion, but only recently had it begun to deteriorate from what Anna could see. The path led to a patio, french doors which were boarded up led onto the patio. They would have been beautiful with their unbroken panes of glass, painted white, looking out onto the sea beyond.

You could smell the sea on the air. Looking out at the waves from the patio Susan could see why someone would stay in this ruined house. Simply for the view of the ocean was reason enough. Susan noticed that there was a old stone patio table that was still intact. There were other tables that lay around the patio in pieces. It was as if these tables had been smashed in some storm.

Susan heard one of the patio doors open. Anna, wearing a bright blue silk dress was standing in the open door. "You came, I am so happy, I have just made tea."

"Can we drink it on the patio. It's a lovely day and the ocean is so beautiful." Susan had seen the ocean from the hospital windows, but it seemed far away, mysterious, and just a little frightening. Here it was less intimidating, more intimate.

"Certainly. I have a tin of biscuits as well. We shall enjoy some time in the sun, before we go back to the dreary hospital with it's unfortunate occupants." Anna went back into the chateau, Susan followed her and was surprised what she found.

It was once a glamorous dining room. It was now a bedroom. With the bed near the fireplace. There was a scarred, old wooden table that might have adorned a much cheaper house. Possibly some peasant hut. There were four chairs. Usable, yet not much better than the table. A rolltop desk sat against the far wall. A bookcase with several French and English books on the shelf. There were two old, faded overstuffed chairs near the fireplace.

Anna went through a door at the end of the dining room. Anna followed her into an expansive kitchen with a woodstove at the far end. There were long counters, plenty of cupboards and cabinets. There also seemed to be plenty of pots, china, and pans that were gathering dust.

There were no cobwebs, no dusty counters, but what lay behind those cabinets Susan could only guess, she didn't think some of the cabinets had been opened in years.

Anna grabbed the pot of boiling water off the wood stove, poured the water into the teapot, letting the leaves diffuse into the water. Covering the pot, she carried a tray with the pot and two cups, cream, sugar, and with butter and a salt shaker.

"Could you carry that tin of biscuits out for me?" Anna pointed to the bright decorative tin.

"This is American." Susan commented as she noted the design was the Statue of Liberty. An Iconic American monument.

"Ahh, yes. My Mother brought it to me during her last visit."

Anna noticed there was a dampness in the rooms. It smelled of the ocean mist, mildly of fish as well. Even near the sea, the chateau seemed to be almost a part of it.

As they sat drinking the tea, enjoying the view of the sea, Susan couldn't hold her curiosity any longer. "Anna, what happened? It's obvious that your family was wealthy at one time."

"Nothing. Our wealth we made from the sea. My Mother gathered wealth when she raised me here. She felt it was important that we have such wealth. Now that I am grown, I live simply. As my Mother and Aunt Coral Read do. Wealth is only important when impressing others, there is no one I feel the need to impress."

"You're not communist are you? Not that I'm judging, just curious." Susan was surprised that someone who appeared to be an aristocrat would have such a nonchalant attitude towards wealth.

"I do not have a political affiliation unless it is for France itself. Not the government, not the politics, not the social classes, but the people and the beauty of the land we call France." Susan heard in Anna's words a simplistic patriotic view. She was proud to be French because she loved the people and the land. The culture itself.

"If you still have wealth, why live this way?" Susan wondered why Anna didn't afford herself a few more luxuries.

"I do not need more than this. I have learned from my Mother to live simply. I would rather travel as my Mother does, than be held down by possessions and property."

"This chateau has been decaying for nearly a decade, after a while it will be too late to restore it." Susan felt it was a waste to let this chateau simply fall apart when the money existed to restore it to its former glory.

"In time my Mother will return here, or possibly Aunt Coral. They may restore it then. Until that time, I will live here, simply. Happy." Susan realized that this was the reason that the rest of the chateau was being neglected. Anna was happy living in just the two rooms. "Lets have a swim before we go to work."

"I didn't bring a bathing costume." Susan said.

"Silly girl, you don't need one."

"What if someone sees?" Susan was shocked by the thought of swimming nude, in the open.

"What will they say? That they spied on naked young girls? Let them look, we will not always look so beautiful." Actually, Anna realized, she would always look this beautiful. Like her Mother. Like Aunt Coral. Only Susan would grow old and die.

Susan dried herself off and dressed again. Feeling exhilarated. There was something about swimming in the nude in daylight, and the chance of getting caught, that seemed to energize Susan. Excited she found herself giggling unnecessary. Anna simply smiled as she put on the nursing clothes she wore to the hospital.

 

"She lives in the two back rooms of the house. She has turned the dining room into a bedroom. She only seems to use a small corner of the manor's kitchen. The rooms are clean, but who can say what the rest of the old manor looks like." Susan was talking to Dr. Woods.

"It appears that our Anna has fallen upon hard times." Dr. Woods replied.

"That is the strange part. She acted as though she had the wealth to open the house up again, to repair it, if she wanted to." Susan got the feeling that Anna liked living simply. "She acts like she doesn't need to."

"Pride, my dear." Woods replied. "Anna didn't want to admit that she had fallen on hard times. These French, they have a great deal of pride in that respect. Especially an aristocrat."

"Commoner's contempt for royalty?" Susan said teasingly.

"Not at all." Royals had the contempt of some Commoners in England, that was true. Commoners were beginning to think that the Royal class were no longer necessary. "Oh, I think like my Father, that the Royals have outlasted their usefulness, but I have a great deal of affection for Anna. I'm sorry she has fallen on hard times."

"I just don't know. Perhaps Anna is financially strapped, but she doesn't seem unhappy about it. So why would she hide it?" Susan couldn't think that Anna could really care. "Why invite me to tea, knowing that I would see how financially strapped she was?"

"Perhaps she was trusting you wouldn't tell anyone." Henry wasn't chiding Susan, just thinking that Anna might not have thought that Susan would tell anyone.

"I know you were concerned about her." Susan was somewhat angry. "I'm hoping that you understand that I wouldn't spread idle gossip. I consider Anna my friend."

"I hope you consider me a friend as well." Henry could understand why Susan was upset. "I'm just saying that Anna trusted you to keep her confidence, and be assured I do not engage in idle gossip either. You can trust me not to say anything about Anna's financial situation."

"Stella Maris, soon, these poor souls who cannot fight again will return to England. Bless them. Let my friends who sail with them arrive safely to their destination. If this is not to be, then Patron Mother, Star of the Sea, please let me be there, so I may possibly save at least one of them should the German's sink their vessel."

Anna was concerned about Susan, Doctor Henry Woods, and her patients she had tended to over the last several days. Getting them well enough to sail back to England. Poor wounded men, crippled in this horrible war. It would be tragic, if after healing them, they would all fall victim to a German U-boat.

 

Doctor Henry Woods drove Anna home again. If Henry wanted an invitation he was disappointed. Anna thanked him then retreated to her home. It wasn't that Anna wasn't interested in the young doctor, it just wasn't time. For Anna and her kind there was a time for this sort of thing, and wasn't the time.

Henry was disappointed as he watched the beautiful young woman walk away. He sat on the fender of his car smoking a hand rolled cigarette. A common habit he picked up in medical school. Some medical journals suggested tobacco was good for you. Henry found the leaves soothing.

Had Henry arrived at the chateau a little earlier, he would have seen two women arise from the sea. Covered only by what appeared to be a towel in the dark. What they really had in front of their bodies to cover their nakedness were seal skins.

 

Anna had almost called Henry when she saw a fresh fire in the hearth. Candles were lit. Until she heard the laughter of her Mother and Aunt. With a delighted squeal Anna launched herself into her Mother's arms.

Coral Read smiled as she saw Kenna Gale and Anna embraced. Coral had worried that the hate, anger, frustration that had been caused by physical abuse before Anna had been reborn might carry over when she had been reborn.

"So, where have you two been lately?" Anna sat down on her bed, letting the two other women sit in the overstuffed chairs.

"It has been over twenty years since we left Aila. I moved back into the little house I was living in. Do you remember Aila?" Kenna was dressed in a robe she borrowed from Anna's closet.

Tall, with an abundant bosom, trim waist, and wide hips, Kenna could not fit in her daughter's dresses. She barely fit in the smaller Anna's robe. Coral on the other hand, not quite as tall, and although abundant in certain areas that strained against Anna's dress, could fit in Anna's clothes if necessary.

Anna had cold, distant memories of Aila. "It's as if Aila was another lifetime. I remember my Father beating me, you being kind to me, and that you took me to the ocean. I do not remember drowning at your hands, which must have been done. Only being in your arms and then one day I remembered my other life."

Memories were strange things for the Silkies, different Silkies had different memories. Some never remembered their past life before they were drowned. Some were traumatized by the drowning, others remembered being drowned, but nothing beyond that. Others remembered their past life clearly, some had a few images. Kenna had forgotten her past life. Yet, she guessed what she was, because she had apparently retained some noble manners and still had a slight Scottish Highland accent.

"Do you remember the Mayor and his wife Isabelle? They are still alive, Isabelle thinks I am my own elder daughter. You could go back and introduce yourself to Isabelle as Emma Doyle." Isabelle had labelled Anna as a 'bad seed'. Kenna wanted Anna to go back to Aila and show Isabelle how wrong she had been. "I know it's just a matter of pride, but I want her to see what a remarkable young woman you have become."

Anna had not given her old life any real thought. Her life as Emma Doyle had ended when Kenna had drowned her in the Atlantic Ocean so that Emma could be reborn as Anna. She had grown up as Anna Venteuse. Emma Doyle was a bad memory. But, coming back to Aila as a changed woman to show what a child could become if treated with love and kindness instead of anger and hate, that appealed to Anna.

"I think I will." It would give Anna the excuse to travel on the hospital ship to England, so she could protect her two friends.

"I wonder if you might be willing to help me." Anna laid out her plans. "You know that the U-boat are attacking Allied and Neutral ships indiscriminately. Would you be willing to help a hospital ship filled with injured soldiers heading for Britain?"

"I am Scottish, but part of the British Empire all the same, my loyalty lies with Britain." Kenna assured Anna.

"I am African. But Britain is my adopted country. Even if that was not so, I would still agree, because a hospital ship should not be a target for the enemy, no matter what the circumstances." Coral had hated this war from the beginning. "I would save that hospital ship even if it was a Hun ship."

Satisfied that Mother and Aunt were in agreement with her. Anna laid out her plan.

 

It had surprised both Henry Woods and Susan Mitchel when the Colonel in charge of the Seaside Hospital said that Anna Venteuse would accompany them with the soldier to Britain. It appeared that Anna had British relatives and she was leaving France to visit them. The fact that Anna was an experienced nurse made it possible for Anna to hitch a ride on the hospital ship back to Britain.

The hospital ship HMS Restoration was a converted cruise ship built in 1912. Two years before the war. It was not the same quality of luxury liner as the Titanic or Lusintaina, not as large, with none of the excessive decoration. It had been stripped down to become a practical hospital vessel, it was still comfortable.

Anna and Susan shared a cabin. Henry had a cabin he shared with another doctor on the opposite end of the ship towards the bow. They all attended the same patients who were in a cargo hold converted into a hospital ward.

The ship was in sight of the English coastline when the U-boat fired a torpedo at it. It should have hit near the waterline amidship. Instead it exploded near the stern. It destroyed the propellers and buckled the stern plating. Restoration was crippled, it was taking on water, but it had survived the initial attack.

After the initial attack the U-boat attempted to fire another torpedo. It exploded inside the U-boat's torpedo tube. Destroying the bow. The U-boat sank with all hands. Kenna who had blocked the torpedo tube had barely escaped injury after she had shoved a large rock into the open tube. The noise of the explosion had disoriented her and caused her to surface to get her bearing again.

Coral gently nudged the torpedo away from its original target, but she was uncertain how the torpedo would react being bumped into and changing course. Coral knew it could explode. Coral had lived for a few hundred years longer than most mortals. She was not afraid to die, but she was glad to live.

"Our engines were crippled. We have slow leaks in the plating of the lower decks all along the stern of the ship." Henry explained to his two nurses. Both Susan and Anna appeared worried. "We will help the patients to the upper deck and into the lifeboats. You ladies, the patients, will go first. I am assured that everyone has enough lifeboats to get off the ship. So, I will be right behind you."

"We have time." Anna said. "We can get the patients on deck and into the lifeboats. Oui?"

"Oui." Henry smiled at Anna.

"Bien." Was all Anna said. Helping the more mobile patients up onto the deck. Timothy and Joey, her favorite patients went first.

Joey had been learning to use crutches, so he led the way, hobbling along. Anna guided the blind Timothy behind Joey. It wasn't long before the medical staff had all of the patients on deck.

Commander Thomas Carrol was directing the loading for the patients into the lifeboats. Each lifeboat needed at least two able bodied men and one medical staff. As he directed the men and women into lifeboats, he saw a red headed nurse he didn't recognize. She had to be a nurse, yet she was dressed in seaman's clothes, it was odd. She so closely resembled his former lover in Aila that it pained him. She was being assisted by a dark skinned woman who also resembled someone Thomas had met in his past, but it was not possible. He had met these two women twenty years ago, and neither of them seemed to have aged.

Kenna and Coral had found seaman's clothes soon after they had climbed aboard the sinking ship. Anna had left a knotted rope at the stern of the ship that allowed them to board. Most of the crew was up towards the bow, the leaking stern of the ship was abandoned.

Everyone was too busy loading the lifeboats and evacuating the ship to notice the two naked women with seal skins, as they climbed aboard the stern of the ship. The women changed into seaman's clothes because it was the first clothes they had found.

Loading the patients was not hurried or sloppy. It would be some time before the hospital ship would sink. Restoration was doomed, but people had learned from the Titanic that a doomed ship would not sink right away and panicking about it would only cause unnecessary chaos and eventually lives.

Anna led Henry away from the orderly evacuation and to one side. "It is important that we make love. At this moment."

"That would be totally irresponsible." Henry insisted. "We are medical personnel and need to be present to help out patients. To keep them calm."

"Things are being handled by the crew, we will have some time before our patients are loaded into lifeboats. We are the last to be loaded. Let us go now, make love quickly and come back."

"Are you afraid you are going to die? Is this why you want to do this? Now. Of all times. While the ship is sinking and being evacuated." Henry asked.

"Go. Both of you. I will make sure you get in a lifeboat." It was Commander Carrol. The first mate. He had overheard the conversation and remembered a similar conversation with his former lover, Kenna Gale. He didn't understand it, but he knew that the two lovers needed this brief encounter.

 

"Thank you." Thomas had watched the couple leave to find a cabin below decks. He turned to see who spoke.

"Kenna. I don't understand what happened to you after we made love." Kenna faced him, her face unaged after twenty years.

Kenna explained how she had taken Emma Doyle and fled to France. "That young woman was Emma Doyle. If I had not run away with her, she would have been imprisoned or left with her abusive Father. I cannot explain everything to you, but it was important that she be allowed to make love to that young man."

"I just knew it was important." Thomas said. "I thought of you and me, how I never saw you again after, but I had waited years for you to return. Hoping you would. We don't know what might happen when we board the lifeboats, I wanted those two young people to make love just in case."

"Such a romantic you are, Thomas." Kenna kissed her former lover.

"Kenna, it's as if you haven't aged. You look as young as I remember you. So does Coral Read, yes I saw her on the ship." Thomas kissed Kenna back. A long lingering one.

"I should tell you that I liked you, but I was not in love with you. That is why I never tried to contact you again, I didn't want to lead you on. To make you think that it was anything but a one time thing." Kenna wanted to be honest with Thomas.

"I married, I lost my wife a few years back when the Zeppelins were bombing England. I did miss you, but I eventually got on with my life and found a good woman. I hope you appreciate that."

"Of course, I am glad." Kenna smiled and gently caressed Thomas cheek. Lined and older than it had been since the last time she had touched it. "I am sorry you lost your wife in this awful war. I hope you find someone else some day."

Kenna walked away from her former lover. Thomas watched her disappear in the crowd of patients and crew. It felt like they had ended something that had been started twenty years earlier, in a different century.

"I loved you." Thomas thought. "But it was long ago, I no longer feel the same." Perhaps it helped to know that Kenna had never really loved him.

 

It was Anna and Henry's first time at love making. Strangely awkward, yet intimate. Soft, gentle love making, with a little clumsiness and some laughter as well as they learned how to make love to each other.

Afterward they lay together on the narrow bed in the cabin, forgetting that they had to go back on deck. It was when they ship lurched that they were reminded they were on a sinking ship. Restoration's stern was filling with water. It was beginning to sink stern first, the ship began to tilt.

Henry and Anna rushed to the deck. There were still four more boats to be loaded. The fourth boat being loaded as they came on deck. It was lowering as the two lovers appeared. Carrol had assured the Captain that the two lovers had went back to see if any medical supplies had been left behind that they might need in the lifeboats. They had come up on deck just in time.

Susan was standing to one side as the third lifeboat was being loaded. She would go on last. Allowing the patients to be made comfortable by the crew before she came on board. The ship lurched. Susan had been too near the rail, she tumbled over the deck's railing and fell overboard. Anna ran forward, diving over the rail.

Shocked, Henry had yelled for her to stop. Thomas was caught by surprise as both the young nurse fell overboard and Emma dived afterward, but he suspected that both might be okay.

Thomas had begun to expect there was something supernatural going on. Emma Doyle's body had been found on the beach after Kenna had left. That young woman may have resembled Emma Doyle, but couldn't be. Just like Kenna Gale couldn't have looked so young after twenty years. He didn't have to understand, just accept that neither woman would really die.

Anna had hit the water as Susan was being sucked beneath the water. Pulled under by the suction of the sinking ship. Anna dove into the water, she had left her skin with her Mother to keep safe. Anna pulled Susan away from the sinking vessel.

Anna didn't want Susan to die and be reborn if it wasn't necessary. She pulled the gasping woman to the surface. They were drawn away from the lifeboats. Which were not floating away from them. The water was cold, Anna was shivering. Coughing out water from her lungs.

"They are moving away from us, the ship is sinking. I cannot even swim towards them without getting caught in the suction of the sinking ship." Anna could feel Susan suffering from shock, cold, and knew she couldn't survive long in the water. "I want you to know, I am doing this because I love you and want you to live."

Susan barely heard Anna as she was held by the French woman, shivering from the cold. She was dying, hypothermia, Susan thought distractedly. Suddenly Anna pulled Susan under the water.

Shocked. Susan struggled, held her breath, she didn't want to die. Obviously Anna felt they were both going to die and she was pulling them under to drown quickly. Only Anna wanted to live, to see if they would be rescued.

At long last, after some weak struggling Anna let Susan's body drift away. The woman's body began to sink. It would later float and be found by the rescue ship.

Kenna and Coral found Anna who had stayed away from the lifeboats and ship. Kenna gave Anna her seal skin. Kenna couldn't see Anna's face, but she knew that there were tears. Anna told them both about drowning Susan so she could be reborn. It was her only choice, Susan would have died quickly of hypothermia if she hadn't.

All three women changed their form using their seal skins. They swam in seal form to Aila. Anna would spend nine months there, pregnant with the child who would eventually become Susan within a year after being born.

"I think it is because a seal pup grows up within a year. So, we become the age we were when we died within a year." Coral explained as they sat in the tiny cottage in Aila. No longer a village, but a large industrial city. "If, like you, that person was a child when they died, they only age until they reach the year they died. You were ten, I believe. So, you aged from ten years like a human would until you reached the human age of twenty or so."

"Will she remember?" Anna put a hand on her belly. It would be anytime that Susan would be born.

"We won't know until she is fully grown. Within nine months at least. She either remembers or she doesn't. She will tend to think of you as her Mother. Susan will feel no real resentment or anger because of it. But she might leave and never return, simply because Susan may not be able to face the memory of the drowning itself. That is difficult for us.

"I never remembered the drowning." Anna said. "Is that why I stayed with Kenna, and still want to be around her."

"Perhaps. We will see."

*END*

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