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Professor Smythe sat behind his cluttered desk, peering over his spectacles at the girl sitting on the other side of it. A very pretty girl, indeed he considered her beautiful, with bronze hair piled on top of her head, a charming nose, a gentle mouth and large green eyes fringed with bronze lashes.
She looked up from her notebook and smiled at him.
He took off his spectacles, polished them and put them back on again, ran his hand through the fringe of white hair encircling his bald patch and tugged his goatee beard. 'I've a surprise for you, Julie.' And at her sudden sharp glance he added, 'No, no, you're not being made redundantI'm retiring at the end of the week. There, I meant to lead up to it gently'
She said at once, 'You're illthat must be the reason. No one would ever let you retire, sir.'
'Yes, I'm illnot prostrate in bed, by any means, but I have to lead a quiet life, it seems, without delay.' He sighed. 'I shall miss this place and I shall miss you, Julie. How long is it since you started working for me?'
'Three years. I shall miss you too, Professor.'
'Do you want to know what is to happen to you?' he asked.
'Yesyes, please, I do.'
'I am handing over to a Professor van der Driesmaa Dutchman widely acclaimed in our particular field of medicine. He works mostly at Leiden but he's been over here for some time, working at Birmingham and Edinburgh. What he doesn't know about haematology would barely cover a pin's head.' He smiled. 'I should know; he was my registrar at Edinburgh.' He went on, 'I'm handing you over to him, Julie; you'll be able to help him find his feet and make sure that he knows where to go and keep his appointments and so on. You've no objection?'
'No, sir. I'm truly sorry that you are retiring but I'll do my best to please Professor whatever-his-name-is.'
Professor Smythe sighed. 'Well, that's that. Now, what about Mrs Collins? Did you manage to get her old notes for me?'
Julie pushed a folder a little nearer to him. 'They go back a long way
'Yes, a most interesting case. I'll read them and then I shall want you to make a summary for me.' He tossed the papers on his desk around in front of him. 'Wasn't there a report I had to deal with?'
Julie got up, tall, splendidly built and unfussed. 'It's here, under your elbow, sir.' She fished the paper out for him and put it down under his nose.
He went away presently to see his patients and she settled down to her day's work. Secretary to someone as important as Professor Smythe was a job which didn't allow for slacking; her private worries about his leaving and the prospect of working for a stranger who might not approve of her had to be put aside until the evening.
Professor Smythe didn't refer to his departure again that day. She took the letters he dictated and went to her slip of a room adjoining his office, dealt with mislaid notes, answered the telephone and kept at bay anyone threatening to waste his precious time. A usual day, she reflected, wishing him goodnight at last and going out into the busy streets.
It was late September and the evening dusk cast a kindly veil over the dinginess of the rows of small houses and shabby shops encircling the hospital. Julie took a breath of unfresh air and went to queue for her bus.
St Bravo's was in Shoreditch, a large, ugly building with a long history and a splendid reputation, and since her home was close to Victoria Park the bus ride was fairly short.
She walked along the little street bordered by redbrick terraced houses, rounded the corner at its end, turned into a short drive leading to a solid Victorian house and went in through the back door. The kitchen was large and old-fashioned and there was an elderly man standing at the table, cutting bread and butter.
Julie took off her jacket. 'Hello, Luscombe. Lovely to be home; it seems to have been a long day.'
'Mondays always is, Miss Julie. Your ma's in the sitting room; I'll be along with the tea in two ticks.'
She took a slice of bread and butter as she went past him and crammed it into her pretty mouth. 'I'll come and help you with supper presently. Is it something nice? It was corned beef and those ready-made potatoes for lunch.'
'As nice a macaroni cheese as you'll find anywhere. I'll leave you to see to the pudding.'
She went out of the room, crossed the hall and opened the door of a room on the other side of the house. Mrs Beckworth was sitting at the table writing, but she pushed the papers away as Julie went in.
'Hello, love. You're early; how nice. I'm dying for a cup of tea
'Luscombe's bringing it.' Julie sat down near her mother. 'I can't imagine life without him, can you, Mother?'
'No, dear. I've been checking the bills. Do you suppose we could afford to get Esme that hockey stick she says she simply must have? Yours is a bit old, I suppose.'
Julie thought. 'I had it for my fifteenth birthday; that's almost twelve years ago. Let's afford it.'
Her mother said unexpectedly, 'You ought to be enjoying yourself, Juliefinding a husband.'
'I'll wait until he finds me, Mother, dear. I'm very happy at St Bravo's. Professor Smythe's a dear.' She hesitated. 'He's leaving at the end of the weekhe's not well. I'm to be handed over to his successora Dutchman with the kind of name you never remember!'
'Do you mind?'
'I shall miss Professor Smythehe's a dear old manbut no, I don't mind.' She would have minded, she reflected, if she had been told that her services were no longer required; her salary was something that they couldn't do without.
Luscombe came in with the tea then, and they talked of other thingsMichael, Julie's elder brother, a houseman at a Birmingham hospital; David, still at Cambridge, reading ancient history and intent on becoming a schoolmaster, and Esme, the baby of the family, fourteen years old and a pupil at the local grammar school.
'Where is she, by the way?' asked Julie.
'Having tea at the Thompsons'. She promised to be back here by half past six. The Thompson boy will walk her round.'
Julie peered into the empty teapot. 'Well, I'll go and make a bread-and-butter pudding, shall I?'
'That would be nice, dear. Esme popped in on her way from school and took Blotto with her. The Thompsons don't mind.'
'Good. I'll give him a run in the park later on.'
Her mother frowned. 'I don't like you going out after dark.'
'I'll not be alone, dear; Blotto will be with me.' She smiled widely. 'Besides, I'm hardly what you would describe as a delicate female, am I?'
She was in the kitchen when Esme came home, bringing with her the Thompson boy, Freddie, and Blotto, a dog of assorted ancestry with a long, sweeping tail and a rough coat. He was a large dog and he looked fierce, but his disposition was that of a lamb. However, as Julie pointed out, what did that matter when he looked fierce?
Freddie didn't stay; he was a frequent visitor to the house and came and went casually. He bade Julie a polite goodbye, lifted a hand in farewell to Esme and took himself off, leaving the younger girl to feed Blotto and then, spurred on by Julie, to finish her homework. 'And we'll go on Saturday and get that hockey stick,' said Julie.
Esme flung herself at her. 'Julie, you darling. Really? The one I want? Not one of those horrid cheap ones.'
'The one you want, love.'
Getting ready for bed in her room later that evening, Julie allowed her thoughts to dwell on the future. She did this seldom, for as far as she could see there wasn't much point in doing so. She must learn to be content with her life.
No one had expected her father to die of a heart attack and they were lucky to have this house to live in. It was too large and needed a lot done to it, but it was cheaper to continue to live in it than to find something more modern and smaller. Besides, when she had made tentative enquiries of a house agent, he had told her that if they sold the place they would get a very poor pricebarely enough to buy anything worth living in. It was a pity that there had been very little money, and what there had been had gone to get the boys started.
Julie sighed and picked up her hairbrush. It would be nice to get marriedto meet a man who wouldn't mind shouldering the burden of a widowed mother, two brothers and a schoolgirl sister. Her sensible mind told her that she might as well wish for the moon.
She brushed her mane of hair and jumped into bed. She hoped that the professor who was taking her over would be as nice an old man as Professor Smythe. Perhaps, she thought sleepily, as he was Dutch, he would go back to Holland from time to time, leaving her to deal with things or be loaned out to other consultants as and when required. It would make a change.
There was a good deal of extra work to be done during the rest of the week; Professor Smythe tended to be forgetful and occasionally peevish when he mislaid something. Julie dealt with him patiently, used to his sudden little spurts of temper. Besides, she reasoned after a particularly trying morning, he wasn't well. It was on the last morningFridayas she patiently waded through the filing cabinet for notes which Professor Smythe simply had to have when the door opened behind her and she turned to see who it was.
Any girl's dream, she thought, and, since he had ignored her and crossed to Professor Smythe's office, turned back to her files. But she had even in those few seconds taken a good look. Tallsix and a half feet, perhapsand enormous with it, and pale hairso pale that there might be grey hair too. His eyes, she felt sure, would be blue.
'Come here, Julie, and meet your new boss,' called Professor Smythe.
She entered his office, closed the door carefully and crossed the room, glad for once that she was a tall girl and wouldn't have to stretch her neck to look at him.
'Professor van der Driesma,' said Professor Smythe. 'Simon, this is Julie Beckworth; I'm sure you'll get on famously.'
She held out a polite hand and had it crushed briefly. She wasn't as sure as Professor Smythe about getting on famously, though. His eyes were blue; they were cold too, and indifferent. He wasn't going to like her. She sought frantically for the right thing to say and murmured, 'How do you do?' which didn't sound right somehow.
He didn't waste words but nodded at her and turned to Professor Smythe. 'I wonder if we might go over these notesthat patient in the women's wardMrs Collinsthere are several problems.'
'Ah, yes, you are quite right, Simon. Now, as I see it.'
Julie went back to her filing cabinet, and when told to take her coffee-break went away thankfully. When she got back her new boss had gone.
He came again that afternoon when she was at her desk, dealing with the last of the paperwork before Professor Smythe handed over. The door separating her office from Professor Smythe's was open but when he came in he paused to close itan action which caused her to sit up very straight and let out an explosive word. Did he imagine that she would eavesdrop? Professor Smythe had conducted countless interviews with the door wide open. A bad start, reflected Julie, thumping the computer with unnecessary force.
She would have been even more indignant if she could have heard what the two men were talking about.
'I should like to know more about Miss Beckworth,' observed Professor van der Driesma. 'I am indeed fortunate to have her, but if I were to know rather more of her background it might make for a speedier rapport between us.'
'Of course, Simon. I should have thought of that sooner. She has been with me for three years; I believe I told you that. Her father had a practice near Victoria Park, died suddenly of a massive heart attackhe was barely fifty-six years old. A splendid man, had a big practice, never expected to die young, of course, and left almost no money.
'Luckily the house was his; they still live in it Julie, her mother and her young sister. There are two boysthe eldest's at the Birmingham General, his first post after qualifying, and the other boy's at Cambridge. I imagine they are poor, but Julie is hardly a young woman to talk about herself and I wouldn't presume to ask. She's a clever girl, very patient and hard-working, well liked too; you will find her a splendid right hand when you need one.' He chuckled. 'All this and beautiful besides.'
His companion smiled. 'How old is she? There is no question of her leaving to marry?'
'Twenty-six. Never heard of a boyfriend let alone a prospective husband. Even if she didn't tell me, the hospital grapevine would have got hold of it. Her home is nearby and she doesn't watch the clock and I've never known her to be late.'
'A paragon,' observed his companion drily.
'Indeed, yes. You are a lucky man, Simon.'
To which Professor van der Driesma made no reply. He glanced at his watch. 'I'm due on the wards; I'd better go. I shall hope to see something of you when you have retired, sir.'
'Of course, Mary and I will be delighted to see you at any time. I shall be interested to know how you get on. I'm sure you'll like the post.'
'I'm looking forward to it. I'll see you tomorrow before you leave.'
He went away, adding insult to injury by leaving the door open on his way out.
Professor Smythe had refused an official leave-taking but his friends and colleagues poured into his office on Saturday morning. Julie, who didn't work on a Saturday, was there, keeping in the background as well as her splendid shape allowed, making coffee, finding chairs and answering the phone, which rang incessantly. Presently the last of the visitors went away and Professor Smythe was left with just his successor and Julie.
'I'm off,' he told them. 'Thank you, Julie, for coming in to give a hand.' He trotted over to her and kissed her cheek. 'My right hand; I shall miss you. You must come and see us.'
She shook his hand and saw how tired he looked. 'Oh, I will, please.' She proffered a small book. 'I hope you'll like thisa kind of memento