Big Book Of Lesbian Horse Stories (5 page)

BOOK: Big Book Of Lesbian Horse Stories
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“You begin to see, don't you?” said Flora.
Before they debarked at Calais, Miss Barnard gathered the volunteers by Emma's stall. She spoke briefly, but forcefully, of the work that lay ahead of them, ending, “Remember, girls—Rule Britannia!” Pauline thrilled through at Miss Barnard's words, and when she stole a quick glance at Flora, she saw that, though her face was averted, her bosom rose and fell with emotion.
The weeks that followed were busier than Pauline could have imagined. The work was hard, as Miss Barnard had promised, and unrelenting. No sooner would the unit have succeeded in safely transporting a sea of wounded soldiers, left in the wake of battle, from the front to the field hospital, than the call would come that there had been more fighting and once again they would set about their grim task. Sometimes, Pauline would come across a wounded German soldier on the field, but she knew, much as it pained her, that it was all the overtasked unit could do to help their own. Still, she could not help thinking that groans of pain sounded the same in any language. In the midst of all that Pauline saw, she soon forgot about Flora's German correspondence—her earlier suspicions now seemed like some child's game, dreamed up for amusement when there had been time for such things.
In the rare quiet moments, Pauline enjoyed the gay companionship of the other girls and, whenever possible, that of Flora. Flora, however, was not popular with the rest of the unit. The girls found her habitual haughtiness off-putting, and were vexed by her imperious demands for a solitary berth, for the rest of the unit cheerfully doubled up, owing to a chronic bed shortage. Valerie, who was as popular as Flora was disliked, would sometimes sleep three-a-bed with two of her special chums. Even Miss Barnard, who could have easily demanded privacy as just compensation for the rigors of command, shared her bed with Millicent, one of the new recruits, who was said to bear a striking resemblance to Miss Barnard's dead protégée.
Yet with Pauline, Flora was almost friendly at times, particularly when they met for a quick chat in Emma's stall. Flora was eager to share her horsemanship with Pauline, and the result was that Pauline had become terribly fond of Emma. Yet her early riding failures were still vivid in her memory, and whenever Flora suggested they ride, Pauline would find some excuse to refuse. Her cowardice shamed her, for it seemed that everyone in the unit was at least a competent rider and Valerie had entertained them all with some trick riding she'd picked up from “
une amie de la cirque
. ”
Whatever petty squabbles might divide the girls, they all shared a concern for their beloved leader. The girls had soon realized that Miss Barnard was not fully recovered from her illness, which seemed to have little to do with pneumonia. In times of crisis, no one could be more relied upon than their stern-faced commander, yet in those few quiet moments when the need for discipline was relaxed, and the unit could rest and daydream, Miss Barnard's behavior would grow increasingly queer.
It was during one of these spells that the superintendent from London paid a visit. The girls were frantic with worry. If the superintendent were to see Miss Barnard in her current state, she would surely be sent back to England, yet they could not imagine continuing their work without the special guidance and understanding of their captain. Much to everyone's surprise and relief, Flora stepped in and distracted the snobbish woman with society gossip while the other girls hastily spirited Miss Barnard out of sight.
Pauline glowed with pride at Flora's quick thinking, and Georgina spoke for all the girls when she clapped Flora heartily on the shoulder, crying, “Jolly good show, old egg!” Flora thawed to a distant friendliness under this new warmth, and only the hot-tempered Valerie still resented the society girl. “Pauline,
ma chérie
, you know I have a
tendre
, an affection for you, as I have for all women, but I worry. I do not understand how you can be so entranced by that
princesse de neige
, that how you say, snow queen. A girl like that, I would not trust.” Even as Pauline laughed off the French girl's dramatic warning, she thought, for the first time in weeks, of the mysterious letter to Berlin.
Shortly after the superintendent's visit, orders were sent for the unit to move still closer to the front. That evening, before they were to pull out, Flora invited Pauline to join her in a visit to Emma. Pauline was only too glad for a chance to spend time with the two, but was dismayed when she arrived at the old barn to find that Flora had already saddled up the hunter and was thrusting a pair of trousers at Pauline.
“It will be too dangerous for riding once we move closer to the front. This may be your last chance,” said Flora with a bluntness born of wartime.
“But Flora,” Pauline pleaded, “I simply can't. I've tried and . . . and . . . oh, it's just too horrible to talk about!”
Flora put a comforting arm around Pauline. “But Pauline, what happened?”
“Oh, Flora! I've only ridden sidesaddle and both times it was a perfect disaster! I simply couldn't stay on the horse, much as I tried. The horse was made perfectly miserable and I looked a fool,” sniffled Pauline.
“Oh, silly Pauline,” laughed Flora, with more gaiety than Pauline had yet seen her display. “A woman like you was never meant to ride sidesaddle. Put on these trousers and get on that horse. You will ride astride, and unless I am quite mistaken, you will like it.”
Pauline was doubtful, but determined to try this thing, if for no other reason than to preserve her newfound closeness with Flora, a closeness Pauline had been yearning for, almost since first they had met. Once Pauline, now jauntily attired in the trousers, had mounted the waiting animal, she knew of an instant that Flora's judgment had been sound. Pauline had never been the problem, nor had the horse been at fault. It was only convention, convention and custom and tradition, all the things so highly prized by those who made up society and formed its judgments, that had kept Pauline from riding, that which was so natural an occupation for a woman such as she.
As Pauline rode, she felt a surge of power and excitement, discovering for herself at last that feeling which drew those such as Flora and Miss Barnard to the saddle. “Is it to be a horse,” Pauline pondered, “rather than a woman, who is to be the key to my discovery of myself as a woman?” Yet Pauline could not forget that it was none other than a woman who had led her to this horse, and that woman was Flora. And then the ride was over, Emma was cooled and groomed and bedded, and there were only Pauline and Flora.
“I have never seen one take to the saddle so naturally as you,” Flora said.
Pauline blushed at the compliment, but Flora was not yet done. In an awed tone she added, “Why, Pauline, nearly all of the girls in the unit are experienced horsewomen, yet I would wager that none has a better seat than you.”
Pauline marveled that the intimacy she had longed for from Flora was now at hand. If only she had dared to mount Emma from the first! Pauline silently cursed society, for its unnatural restraints on the relationship between woman and horse.
That night Flora joined gaily in the suppertime chatter, and as the girls straggled off to bed, yawning, she put a hand on Pauline's arm and said almost shyly, “Won't you come to my room? I want to tell you more about the hunt at Rotherhithe.”
Flora and Pauline arose later than the others the next morning, and came downstairs to a scene of bedlam. They were to pull out in less than an hour, yet no one could find Miss Barnard, and leadership was forthcoming from no other quarter. Pauline immediately set the girls about packing rolls of bandages, cases of foie gras, and other necessities, while Flora made straight for the barn. By the time the unit was ready to leave, Flora had returned with Miss Barnard, and no reference was made to her strange absence.
Later, Flora confided to Pauline that she had found their commander in the barn, trying to saddle up Emma. When Flora had pulled the saddle away from her, Miss Barnard began to call for Mary, her dead protégée, and babble that she didn't want to do her embroidery or French, that Nurse had said she could go riding. Flora had pleaded with her, barked orders at her, and finally, in a fit of desperation, delivered a bracing slap to Miss Barnard's cheek. This final measure had brought the older woman back to herself.
The girls had scarcely settled into their new quarters, a small French farmhouse, which might have seemed quite charming under happier circumstances, when the call to duty came from headquarters. Pauline and Flora were sent out in different vehicles and twice that day Pauline nearly drove her ambulance into a ditch, so distracted was she by thoughts of Flora. Finally, as dusk was falling, Pauline gathered up her last load of wounded.
For a moment, before starting back to the field hospital, Pauline surveyed the stark landscape of the battlefield. As the shadows lengthened and enveloped the once fertile field, Pauline felt as if she were witness to death itself on its inexorable march across Europe. Pauline was about to start the motor when she noticed two figures in the distance, nearly hidden in the shadows. It was Flora, some hundred yards off, tending to a fallen soldier on the field.
“I won't be a moment, lads,” Pauline reassured the groaning soldiers as she jumped out of the auto and hurried across the field. Flora's name was on her lips when Pauline pulled up short. Flora was conversing with the soldier in rapid German! Instinctively, Pauline shrank behind a shattered tree, watching and listening in astonishment as Flora carried on an urgent conversation with the wounded Hun, then gave him bandages and a small amount of whiskey. Pauline's mind was in a whirl. Keeping herself concealed from Flora, she crept back to the waiting men.
Once back in the ambulance, even the moans of the wounded could not drown out Pauline's thoughts as she drove automatically to the hospital. Yes, Pauline herself had felt sympathy for those young boys whom the men who sat in comfortable rooms far from the front had labeled her enemy, but she could not think it right to give away items that were in such short supply. And was there some connection between the urgent conversation Pauline had just witnessed and Flora's troubling letter to Berlin? Pauline resolved that she would have it out with Flora that night.
Flora had gone to bed when Pauline arrived at the farmhouse. Pauline hurried up the stairs, and knocked timidly at her door. “Flora? It is I—Pauline. May I come in?” she queried anxiously. A muffled voice responded, “I'm sorry, Pauline, I have a terrible headache. I must rest.” Unhappily Pauline went downstairs to join the rest of the girls around the supper table. The voice had sounded like the old Flora—cold and reserved. Pauline's friends watched her sympathetically as she picked at her coq au vin without appetite.
After the meal was over, Valerie took her hand and urged gently, “
Viens
,
ma chérie
, tonight you will sleep with me.”
But Pauline only shook her head. “Thank you, Valerie, you're very kind,” she said, summoning a brave smile, “but tonight I somehow feel I must be alone.”
Pauline hurried away to sleep in Emma's stall, while Valérie's expression darkened. “
Cette princesse de neige doit être punie!
” she spit out, and the other girls agreed with her, although they didn't understand her.
Thus when Flora came downstairs the next morning, she found herself surrounded on all sides by unmistakable hostility. For her part, Flora immediately resumed her haughty air. Pauline longed to speak to the other girl, and it seemed to her that as they headed out the door, Flora hesitated a moment, and would have waited for Pauline, but Valérie quickly linked her arm through Pauline's and gestured toward Flora as she spoke with mocking politeness, “
Après vous!

But now, the battle of Compiègne raged and the wounded piled up all around them and that was all that there was. Who should share a bed with whom was of no importance when there was to be sleep for none. Flora worked beside the other girls, and none could have faulted her dedication. As for Miss Barnard, as was her nature, when the work was hardest and danger closest at hand, she was at her finest. Miss Barnard remained splendidly calm, maintaining radio contact with the front and sending the ambulances back and forth between the field hospitals and the battlefield. And when Millicent collapsed in nervous exhaustion at the end of the third day, Miss Barnard turned the radio over to one of the less severely injured officers and drove an ambulance herself until the last wounded soldier had been taken away.
Afterward, when it was no longer necessary for Miss Barnard to command, the girls once again found her in the barn, with Emma. This time, she spoke directly to the horse in a manner which left the girls aghast. “Dearest Mary,” Miss Barnard said softly, “you've come back. It is so good to see you. You cannot know how pleased I am to find that I did not kill you. Now we can be together always, as I promised we would be.” At this last, Miss Barnard moved closer to the puzzled horse, lips trembling, but before anything further could transpire, several of the girls grabbed hold of Miss Barnard and pulled her back.
Millicent gently led their babbling commander away, while Mabel, who'd been with the unit from the first, related to the others what had become of Mary. The unit had all been gathered at the field hospital when word arrived that a skirmish had broken out and they must set out at once for the volatile area. Miss Barnard had insisted that Mary stay in the relative safety of the hospital, while the others returned to the front. No one could have predicted that a stray mortar would hit the hospital, and that Mary would be the unit's only casualty that day. Shortly after that, Miss Barnard had returned to England to recover from “pneumonia.”
BOOK: Big Book Of Lesbian Horse Stories
7.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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