No Peace on Earth?
The CBB -> St Agnes's House

#1: No Peace on Earth? Author: CBB Secret Santa PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 11:30 am

To wish you a very happy, peace-filled Christmas, Liz, with all my love, Santa.

No Peace on Earth?

She woke with a start, wondering where she was. Slowly consciousness returned. She was in the library, lying on the settee, tucked up under a blanket. Darkness had fallen while she slept and the only light came from the fire glowing in the hearth. She must have slept for several hours!

Stretching lazily, she rolled onto her side, tucked her hand under her cheek and stared into the glowing embers. She felt relaxed and at peace. There was nothing that needed her immediate attention; there was no place she needed to be, no one she needed to see. The Nativity play had taken place the day before, heralding the ending of term, and since then the girls had been in an excitable mood, so much so that the staff who were remaining in school for a few days had heaved a sigh of relief as the coaches and cars had departed at midday. Now, for a few days, her time was her own.

Peace had descended after everyone’s departure, and over coffee Nell Wilson had eyed her friend’s white, shadowed face anxiously. “You’re absolutely exhausted, love. It’s been a hard term, hasn’t it? In fact it’s been a hard year, moving here so soon after settling in Sarres. You didn’t need all that stress and strain twice, did you? And what with air raids and the worry of keeping the girls safe, plus all the usual alarms and excursions, the wonder is that you’re still sane and sensible.”

Hilda Annersley had wrinkled up her nose at her closest friend, but she had had to admit she was very tired. Nell had continued firmly, “We’re not going away ourselves for another couple of days, so I suggest you get your head down right now – before you fall down!”

Hilda had had no energy left to argue against this bullying – though she might have tried, had she noticed the mischievous twinkle in Nell’s grey eyes!

Now she wondered idly where everyone was. The place was silent, almost too silent! There were, after all, some mistresses and girls still remaining. Her “mother hen” instinct kicking in, she was about to move when the door opened quietly and a dark figure glided towards her and leaned over.

“Hilda? Are you awake?” came Nell’s voice in a soft whisper. Without answering, Hilda reached out a hand to grasp Nell’s – and felt her jump violently. “Ye gods, woman, don’t ever do that again. You gave me the fright of my life. I thought you were still asleep.”

“No,” answered Hilda sleepily. “I was just considering moving. Where is everyone? You haven’t murdered them all, have you?”

“Now why didn’t I think of that?” said Nell, chuckling away to herself, more at the thought of what was to come than at Hilda’s words. “No, they’re all still in one piece, love, despite my reputation. But I do need for you to come with me right now, if you can bear to go into the cold after lying here in the warm all afternoon.”

Hilda sat up and lowered her feet to the floor. “To misquote Shakespeare, Lead on, MacDuff,” she said imperiously. “Where’s the fire?”

“I’ll light one under you if you’re not careful,” teased Nell, as she helped Hilda find her shoes. “Go and wrap up warm – and I mean warm, as in boots, scarf, hat, the works, or you'll have Matey after you, Headmistress or not!” and she ushered Hilda from the room, trying to keep the excitement from her voice.

Guessing she would get nothing further out of Nell in this mood, Hilda complied, but she got a shock when she stepped outside. White flakes were spiralling down lazily, glowing translucently like stars in the lights from the school windows, and there seemed to be a deep, expectant hush everywhere.

Each star… holds frozen loveliness a moment, suspends itself in time….

Nell glanced at Hilda as she heard the murmured words, but remained quiet, leading the way round the side of the large, graceful, Palladian mansion. Hilda followed on behind, wondering just what mischief her quixotic friend had planned now.

Nell eventually turned away from the house and its lights to forge a path across the gardens, seeming to know exactly where she was going, even through the dark and snow. Hilda stumbled at one point, and Nell stopped and tucked her arm through her puzzled companion’s.

“Nell, why are we doing this?” Hilda whispered, the hush in the air bringing a sense of awe. It would have been sacrilege to break such peace.

“Will you be patient, woman!” Nell whispered back, her own sense of awe very much in abeyance at this point. “This snow is the perfect finishing touch,” she muttered mysteriously to herself, leaving a very frustrated woman walking along beside her. However, patience usually brought its own reward, especially where Nell was concerned, so Hilda just grinned wryly and said no more.

Suddenly, she became aware of a lessening in the darkness just ahead of her, but peering through the thick snowflakes made clear vision impossible. Then - miraculously - she saw, and heard, and stopped….

“Nell?” she whispered wonderingly, but could say no more. They were at the limits of the grounds now, where was to be found a large, open-fronted shed that had not yet been designated for use. But tonight someone had found the perfect use for it!

Nell, grinning broadly, guided Hilda forward slowly as the latter gaped in delighted amazement. There before her was a Christmas crib – not only life-sized but alive! There were even angels singing, she thought to herself dazedly, as the strains of As with gladness men of old floated to her through the snow-filled air. It was magical!

There were Mary and Joseph, Robin’s lovely face tenderly smiling down at the babe in her arms, Vater Bar standing there as her husband Joseph, holding high his lantern to show off his newborn Son. There were the shepherds, one even carrying a tiny lamb, born too soon. She recognised men from the village amongst them. There were the three kings – Jack and Jem and Colonel Black. How stately they looked in their borrowed finery!

There were even angels, Lorenz and Amy, gauzy wings curving over their shoulders, faces glowing and eyes shining in the dim light coming from the lanterns hung here and there in the shed. All around were gathered people from the village, holding lanterns and singing. Even as she gazed at the beauty of it all, the carol ended and she heard instead the gentle strains of Once in Royal David’s City.

The finishing touch to the magic was a little donkey, curled up peacefully beside one of the shepherds, and Joey’s Rufus, lying at the feet of Robin and looking up adoringly into her tender face.

It was such a medieval scene that Hilda trembled, feeling she had been transported back several hundred years, far away from these present uncertain times. Her fingers were gripping Nell’s arm hard even as she stared, transfixed, and eventually she whispered, “It’s like that very first crib scene created by St Francis….”

“Way back in 1223 in Greccio, when he brought together live animals in a cave and told the villagers the story of the Nativity,” finished Nell, the lover of facts, nodding her head and smiling delightedly at Hilda’s amazement and awe.

“One could even imagine we were there on that very first Christmas night. How silently, how silently, The wondrous gift is given. ” Hilda’s rich voice was intense in her response to what lay before her, the snow falling gently, softening the hard edges of the scene and enhancing the loveliness of it all. Her fingers dug harder, making Nell wince. “But why, Nell, why?”

“To thank you,” Nell said quietly, gently loosening Hilda’s grasp and holding fast to her hand. Matey appeared at Hilda’s other side, a lantern lighting up her smiling face, as the villagers began to sing Joy to the World. Hilda turned to stare wide-eyed at Nell at the latter’s words.

“We wanted to thank you for all your hard work, for your devotion to the school, and to everyone in it, over the years. But most of all for giving us such a strong lead since we left Austria, for making us all face up to the terrible things that are happening, for refusing to let us be afraid, for your own courage. Oh, for so many things, my dear girl, so very many things. There are just no words, so we thought this would speak for us,” and she gestured to the live crib in front of them.

Hilda was unable to believe what she was hearing. They had done this glorious thing just for her? Moved beyond words by it all, she just stared at Nell, but then softly, achingly beautiful in the snowy darkness, came the sound of Joey’s golden voice singing the first verse of Silent Night – and suddenly tears were trickling down Hilda’s cheeks at the tender love being showered on her. What a truly miraculous Christmas gift!

As Nell’s arms went round her, Hilda knew just who had organised this breathtaking scene for her. The one who always seemed to know just what she needed, the one who sustained her in her moments of weakness. Blowing her nose, she leaned into her friend’s strong arms and, letting down her guard for a moment, kissed her gently on the cheek.

Nell smiled back lovingly, thrilled with the success of her venture, and then, arm in arm, they turned as one to watch the scene unfolding in front of their eyes. They felt the first stirrings of true Christmas joy and peace as they absorbed it all – the soft snow silently falling, the reverence of the dark figures lit by the old lanterns, the radiant tenderness of Robin’s face, the gentle glory of the singing.

As the carol drew to a close, Nell felt her own eyes watering for, in the hush that followed, Hilda’s deep, sweet voice was heard reciting Longfellow’s poem, softly reminding them that *good news of great joy* would not come to many millions of people in war-torn Europe that year.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.....

…..In despair I bowed my head,
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

Hilda’s rich voice suddenly swelled, utterly compelling in its quiet surety, and the people gathered there began to hum softly as she finished:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth He sleep.
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!’


Last edited by CBB Secret Santa on Mon Dec 19, 2005 10:02 pm; edited 1 time in total


#2:  Author: JoeyLocation: Cambridge PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 12:16 pm

That's so beautiful, Santa! Liz is lucky. And so is Hilda!

I've always loved that poem, too.


#3:  Author: KatyaLocation: Mostly Bradford PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 12:45 pm

Santa, that is so beautiful - powerful enough to get into even the hardest of hearts. A really lovely scene - thank you so much for sharing it, and lucky Liz to have received it!


#4:  Author: Elder in OntarioLocation: Ontario, Canada PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 1:17 pm

What a wonderful, beautiful scene, Santa - so filled with peace after the tumult of that first term after the move from Guernsey. The image of Joey's voice singing "Silent Night" brought tears to my eyes, too - I could well imagine that 'golden voice.'

Don't know how you did it, but you picked quotations from some of my favourite carols, and I only knew the first verse of the Longfellow poem, so I'm glad to know others too.

Liz is very lucky to be the recipient - as are the rest of us to have the privilege of sharing it.


#5:  Author: LizBLocation: Oxon, England PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 1:18 pm

How beautiful!

Thank you Santa Very Happy



#6:  Author: Alison HLocation: Manchester PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 1:56 pm

That's beautiful, thanks Santa.


#7:  Author: ChairLocation: Rochester, Kent, England PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 3:02 pm

Thanks, Secret Santa. That was lovely for Liz.


#8:  Author: JustJenLocation: Dorval, Quebec PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 3:12 pm

That was very touching.


#9:  Author: RobinLocation: London PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 4:45 pm

that's so lovely, lucky Liz.


#10:  Author: RuthYLocation: Anyone's guess PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 5:43 pm

that's so lovely thankls santa.


#11:  Author: Identity HuntLocation: UK PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 6:45 pm

Dear Santa
This is *so* lovely - thank you for posting it Smile
Lucky Liz !!!!


#12:  Author: LesleyLocation: Allhallows, Kent PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 8:09 pm

Beautiful, thank you Santa - Liz and Hilda are both very privilged.


#13:  Author: Cath V-PLocation: Newcastle NSW PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2005 10:25 pm

Magical, beautiful, eerie, and touched with that divine something of a perfect moment.

Thank you Santa


#14:  Author: PadoLocation: Connecticut, USA PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 1:16 am

:blinking back the tears:

And I don't even celebrate Christmas.
Well done, Santa.


#15:  Author: Kathy_SLocation: midwestern US PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 2:42 am

Thank you, Santa!

I especially like the introduction of the poem/carol at the end.


#16:  Author: gaityrLocation: Singapore PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 2:49 pm

Thank you Santa - such a lovely example of Hilda and Nell's friendship, and a wonderfully touching Christmas story.

Lucky Liz!


#17:  Author: VikkiLocation: Sitting on an iceberg, freezing to death!!! PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 6:15 pm

That was lovely Santa.


#18:  Author: francesnLocation: away with the faeries PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 10:12 pm

What a tender touching scene. Very evocative.

Thanks Santa


#19:  Author: Elisabeth PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2005 9:00 pm

Oh how beautiful. It made me feel all weepy.


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