He held up his hand, shielding the bright sunlight, and watched as she approached. After today he wouldn’t see her again. The thought was almost unbearable and yet it would mean his journey was complete. She came to him slowly, as if reading his mind and willing time to stand still.
Behind her he could see the glimmer of the boating lake, and beyond that the vast stretch of moorland and rocky crags. Over the last long months, he’d watched the seasons turn from the purple hues of autumn to the snow-capped winter hills. Now a fresh green haze hung over the valley and spring was singing in the brook.
Through all that time she had been his constant companion. There for him in his darkest hours when the winds howled and the horrors of the great war and his own screams had woken him from sleep. She had soothed him, tended his wounds, ridden shotgun with him through the pain and recovery, his protector.
He looked at her. His lady in white. Her hair had come loose, tumbling down below the nurse’s cap. Her cheeks were flushed. Tomorrow he would be back with his wife and the child he’d never met.
“Close your eyes,” she said sternly.
“Now hold out your hand.”
He felt her fingers touch his palm, as gentle as a whisper.
In that moment he wanted to close his hand over hers, to pull her to him. But he didn’t.
“OK,” she said, “you can open them now.”
“Are you sure?” he teased.
He looked down. In his hand was a small purple flower. He studied its simple beauty, the five delicate petals, the slender stem.
“It’s a wild dog violet,” she said. Her voice was soft. “They appear every April on the grassy bank by the lane.”
He couldn’t speak.
“We’ll press it later. A keepsake, to take with you.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I . . .”
His voice faltered off.
“Shh,” she held her finger against his lips. “There’s no need to say any more.”