(This is the WWII novel, the concept of which came to me in a dream, and I woke up in time to recall the concept and characters.)

Half a world away, Venetia Stoneman, third-year student nurse sat, kicking her heels on the Galveston seawall, with her bicycle propped against the inland angle of the wall, looking out on the shifting gray-blue waves in the Gulf of Mexico and considering things. Things like – what she would do with herself after graduating from the Sealy Nursing College as a qualified nurse.

Not go home to Deming, New Mexico – of that, she was certain. Not to hang around the home ranch, putting antiseptic dressings on her older brother’s hired hands when they had done themselves a physical damage, and riding with them in the bumpy back of a farm truck to the hospital in Deming, or more settled points. It went without saying that at some point in all the work that ranch hands were heir to simply spectacular medical emergencies. Bloody and near-fatal injuries. That was a given – and a situation with which Vinnie did not want to deal. Family obligations has limits, Vinnie told herself. Besides, Fred can deal with it all. I want to live my own life, a life on my terms. I love my brothers and sisters – but I’m almost twenty-two years of age. Free and white, twenty-one and all that. Spread my wings

Out over the blue-gray Gulf, the white gulls spread their almost-motionless wings, rising and falling on the thermal updrafts.

“I want …” Vennie said aloud and left the sentence unfinished. For truly – she did not know what she wanted, aside from a mildly envious wish left over from childhood to be tall and blond and pretty. Like Peg – but she was not at all structured physically in the same glamorous mode as Cousin Peg. Vennie had long ago come to terms with this. Vennie was slight and small, with tightly curly light-blond hair, grey eyes, and fine features. Also of an intellectual inclination, which had made the decision to attend nursing college a fairly easy one.

“What do you want, then,” a familiar feminine voice spoke from the sidewalk at her back. Vennie turned and smiled at the interloper to her private thoughts; Helen Drinkwater – her roommate at the Sealy nursing college. “I’m not interrupting, am I, Vennie? Privacy is so rare a thing for us …”

“Not at all,” Vennie smiled – no, Helen was a welcome interlocutor. Now the other girl climbed onto the seawall, her trouser-clad legs hanging over the edge. Helen was – as someone with a modicum of easy wit had remarked – a long tall drink of water: lanky and dark-haired, and of a cynical turn of mind. Helen fished in her handbag for a crumpled packet of cigarettes and her lighter. “Smoke?”

“Sure,” Vennie replied. “I was just looking at the sea, and wondering what I would do with myself, when we graduate the program.”

“Get a job,” Helen replied. She blew out a puff of cigarette smoke from her new-lit cigarette. “Things are picking up again. Jobs in plenty. Besides,” she applied the lighter to the end of Vennie’s cigarette. “You can always go back to your brother’s ranch, if everything falls through. Or work at the Sealy.”

“Ugh,” Vennie replied. “Three years is enough. I like the Island well enough, but not well enough to stay here. I want to go somewhere else. Anywhere else.”

They kicked their heels against the sea wall, regarding the ceaseless churn of blue-grey Gulf water, dashing against the sandy strand below their feet. Vennie privately relished being in the open air, alone but for a quiet friend, after a full week of confinement within walls, obedient and required to be silent. Nursing school, she realized early on, had a certain element of hazing to it, of the kind which she had observed on the ranch, with new hands. An aspect of being tried and tested by the older hands and with luck, eventually found worthy. She had shared this insight early on with Helen; Helen, who was inclined to stand on dignity, and demand why … why were the student nurses being required to do this and that humiliating task? Helen had nodded in acquiescence, upon seeing the sense of it all, and been accommodating, once Vennie had pointed out the real reason.

“I’m going to apply for a job with the Red Cross,” Helen said, abruptly. “Because there’ll be a war on, in a couple of years. The Red Cross is a reserve for military nurses. Have you considered that option, Vennie?”

“I have not,” Vennie replied, rather startled. “What reason do you think that there will be a war?”

“My brother is in the Army,” Helen replied. “Eugene. He works in … well, his specialty is in planning and strategy. He thinks that that this awful Hitler man in Germany is planning for a war in Europe. Eugene says that since Germany lost the last war, they are building up their military and spoiling for another round; one they think they have a fair chance of winning. He is quite serious about it. Haven’t you seen the newsreels?”

“I don’t see that it has anything to do with us in America,” Vennie replied, stoutly. “Why should we care? We got pulled into the last War over a lot of hooey over atrocities, atrocities which got played up in the newspapers! Why should we want a lot of our boys killed in a new one … all for nothing and in a fight that really wasn’t any of our business anyway?”

“A lot of people feel that way,” Helen acknowledged, frankly. “I can’t blame them in the least. Some bloody war in Europe ought not to be any of our affair, at all. Our uncle was a soldier in the AEF and died in a skirmish on the Western Front. Didn’t your people come from Germany, back in the day?”

“They sure did,” Vennie replied with heat. “A hundred years ago, and just to get away from being conscripted to fight in some stupid nobleman’s stupid bloodthirsty war with his equally stupid and bloodthirsty neighbor. We’re Americans now – and I’m an American, too. I don’t want to see us in America get caught up in another fight between who gets to be the big man in Europe.”

“Noted,” Helen sighed, and tossed the butt of her finished cigarette into the churning waves below. “Of course, no one really does. But Eugene says that there’s kind of a toss-up between those who really want to try out their new martial toys and theories and those who thing that we might be pushed to it, reluctantly. Do you even pay attention to the news, Vennie?”

“No – I’m too tired from cleaning bathrooms and patient rooms and staying up late, trying to catch up reviewing my lecture notes. That brother of yours seems like he has war on the brain, since he is a soldier, after all.”

“You ought to make a bit of an effort to keep up with current events,” Helen chided her. She took out another cigarette from the battered packet in her handbag and lit it. “Another? No … Well, I’ve never known Eugene to be wrong about this kind of thing. He has such a big brain; I’m surprised that bits of them aren’t oozing out of his ears. There are patterns to things, he says. Look at events, and how they fit all together, and follow the breadcrumb clues with an open mind. Herr Hitler is a nasty piece of work – you did see how his hooligans went out and began beating up and arresting Jews and smashing their shop windows, while the police stood by and did nothing at all? It was in all the newspapers, a couple of weeks ago,” Helen added with a touch of mild sarcasm. “Well, Eugene says that was just for practice. A warm-up exercise; preparatory to taking over the Sudetenland and annexing Austria. Who knows what the little maniac with the Charley Chaplain mustache will want next? Poland, Eugene says – on the excuse of claiming that the German elements there along the borders are being harassed and persecuted, or that those nasty Slavs are planning brutal war on the poor persecuted German minority, and that his noble master race must come riding to the rescue … and then Britain and France will have to do something, after having said ‘this much and no more’ so many times.”

“I don’t much care,” Vennie replied. “Let Europe go hang – we have enough troubles of our own. My folks left Europe a hundred years ago, and why should we feel any obligation to Europeans, if they didn’t have the nerve to get shed of a stupidly blinded ruling class and emigrate to America?”

“Your point is accepted,” Helen dragged deeply on her new cigarette. They watched the seagulls, wheeling over the grey-blue waves, rattling the shingle and sand at their feet, relishing the long ocean vista and the relative silence. “The thing is,” Helen observed after that long silence. “We might not be interested in war. But Eugene says – war might eventually be interested in us.”  

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