Read an Excerpt
The orthopaedic ward for children at Trent's Hospital was in the throes of its usual periodical upheaval: Sister Richards, on the edge of retirement, and, after a lifetime of caring for the small, sick children, a trifle eccentric, was making the cot change, an exercise which entailed her little charges being moved up and down the ward as well as from side to side, until none of themand that included the nursesknew exactly where they were any more, so that the children were either screaming with delight at being at the other end of the ward, or roaring with rage at being moved at all, and the nurses, especially those who were new to the experience, were on the edge of hysterics. And this time she had been fortunate in enlisting the help of the two housemen who had unwittingly arrived to write up their notes, and instead now found themselves, under Sister Richards' inspired direction, shifting cots too. One of them, trundling a cot containing a very small and cross girl, asked furiously: 'Is she out of her mind? Can't someone stop her? My notes '
The girl he had addressed was guiding him towards the far corner of the ward. 'Certainly not,' she protested in a pleasant, cheerful voice, although it held a faintly admonishing note. 'It works splendidly, you knowthe children are mostly here for weeks and they get bored; moving them round is good for themthey never know where they'll be next.'
'And nor do you, I'll be bound, Staff.'
'Well, it's a bit awkward at first, but we soon get sorted out.'
They pushed the cot into a corner, and he said: 'I do believe you like the old thing.'
'Yes, I doand she's a wonderful nurse.'
He stood aside and watched her settle the small girl against her pillows, thinking that she seemed a nice little thing; not much to look at though; too small and thin, and all that mousey hair piled highif it wasn't for her eyes she would be downright plain, but those green eyes, with their thick, dark lashes were really something. It was a pity about her foot, of coursehe gave it a quick look and glanced away as she limped round the end of the cot. He was fairly new on the orthopaedic side and he had been warned about Staff Nurse Esmeralda Jones; she didn't take pitying glances easily, and anyone wanting to know, however tactfully, why it was that one small foot dragged so horribly behind its fellow would get a cold green stare and no answer at all. True, there was one person who could apparently say what he liked to herthe orthopaedic Registrar, Leslie Chapman. The young houseman had heard him boasting about it in the common room one day, and hadn't much liked him for it.
'Anyone else to shift?' he wanted to know cheerfully.
Esmeralda beamed at him. 'No thanks, you've been a Trojan. Sister will be having coffee in her office, I expect, and I'm sure she'll give you a cupafter all this, you'll be in her good books.'
He started to move away. 'What about you?'
She was adjusting a gallows frame with careful skill. 'Oh, I'll be along in a minuteit's Mr Peters' round in half an hour and this place looks like a fairground we'll have to tidy it up a bit.'
She knew as she spoke that she would probably not get her coffeeeven with three nurses to help her, it would take time to get the place straight, especially when half the children were objecting at the tops of their voices to being moved. She coaxed and scolded gently, slicked down untidy heads of hair, wiped faces and hands and then, with a minute or two to spare after all, was hurrying down the ward with the intention of swallowing a quick cup of coffee in the kitchen, when the ward doors were swung openMr Peters, bother the man, was early.
He was a short man, looking older than his forty years, and already going bald, which might be why he cultivated a heavy moustache and a formidable beard. The children loved him and the nurses went out of their way to fulfil his every whim. He stood just inside the doors now, bellowing good morning to the children, and added: 'Hullo, Esmeraldataken you by surprise, have I?'
She fetched up in front of him, said 'Good morning, sir,' in an unflurried manner and added: 'I'll fetch Sister, she's in the office.'
'I know, I've been thereI thought you might like to know that I've brought someone with me. I've known him for years, we were students togetherhe's over here doing a few odd jobs, wanted to see the ward.' His eye roamed round his surroundings. 'Good lord, girl, Sister Richards' been having a moving day. Where's Benny?'
'Right at the other end, Mr Peters. Sister thought that he might like to see out into the inner yard.'
Mr Peters started up the ward. 'I'll say hullo to him while we're waiting,' he declared. 'You might as well come along too.'
Benny was his pet; he was everyone's pet as a matter of fact. He had come in weeks ago with a congenital dislocation of both hips, which was being painstakingly corrected by Mr Peters' skilled surgery, and beside having the appearance of an angel, he behaved like one too; he was never put out, grizzly or bored, and his Cockney sense of humour could be relied upon to cheer up anyone within range of his strident little voice, even on the gloomiest of daysbut today was fine and warm, for it was almost midsummer, and he was sitting up in his bed, working away at a jigsaw puzzle which he immediately invited them to finish for him. They had obliged with one or two lucky attempts when the ward doors opened once more and the rest of Mr Peters' entourage spilled into the ward.
'Go and tell 'em to come up here, there's a good girl,' Mr Peters begged Esmeralda, and she set off across the shining parquet.
For some reason everyone had paused just inside the doors, so that she had the whole ward to walk down, and as always when there was someone she didn't know looking at her, she was conscious of her limpmore conscious than she need have been, too, she thought crossly; the man standing beside Sister Richards was staring at her as though she were exhibit A. She lifted her chin and stared back. He was something to stare at, she had to admit, tall and broad-shouldered and remarkably good-looking, with hair so fair that it was difficult to know if its fairness was silver. She looked away from his cool grey gaze as she reached them and addressed herself to Sister before attaching herself to the outer fringe of the party and going back up the ward once more. It was like Mr Peters to start in the middle of the round instead of at the first bed by the door like everyone else; Esmeralda received the little pile of folders from a harassed nurse and rearranged them quickly; it was too bad of Sister Richards to have had a moving day just before the consultant's round, and now there was no time to sort out the notes or the X-rays. She sighed, and using the foot of a cot as a desk, set to work to remedy that.
She had taken care not to send more than a fleeting glance in Leslie Chapman's direction, although she was well aware that he had been trying to catch her eye. How awful if their date for that evening had to be broken for some reasontheir first, for though he had been unaccountably friendly towards her during the last week or two, it wasn't until the previous day that he had asked her out. She stacked the notes tidily, frowning a little; when Leslie had first joined Mr Peters' team, he had ignored her completelyworse, she had caught him eyeing her crippled foot once or twice with a kind of indifferent pity. And then one day he had stopped her in a corridor and asked some trivial questionshe couldn't even remember what it had been any more, and after that he had shown a decided preference for her company, and when, rather shyly, she had asked him why he bothered to waste his time on a girl with a crippled foot, he had dismissed it airily, just as though it hadn't mattered at all, although he hadn't asked how it came to be crippled in the first place, and she, who was so touchy with anyone else who dared to ask her that question, found herself wishing that he would. Perhaps he might even know of someone who could perform a little miracle and turn her foot into a normal one again.
So many specialists had seen it and suggested first one thing and then the other, none of them the least use, so that for the last few years she had refused to have it looked at at all, even kind Mr Peters, when he had mentioned casually not so long ago that he thought he might have a solution, had received a firm refusal, and rather to her surprise, he had accepted it without demur.
She handed Mr Peters the notes he was asking for, caught Leslie's eye and smiled at him, and then stopped smiling rather abruptly because Mr Peters' old friend was watching her. She met his look for a moment and then turned away, wondering why he was there; not for consultation, evidently, for he had had little to say so far. True, he was nice with the children and his manner was pleasant and unassuming, but he was making no attempt to draw attention to himself. Probably he was paying a casual visit at Mr Peters' invitation, but she wasn't sure about that. He had an air of authority about him, and he was remarkably elegantly dressed for a GP; nothing off the pegshe peeped quickly as she looked for another set of notes; silk shirt, and unless her eyes were deceiving her, expensive shoes on his large feet.
She limped round the cot to prepare the occupant for Mr Peters' examination, taking care not to look at him again, although she found herself unwillingly wanting to know more about him. It seemed a little pointless to pursue this train of thought, though, for she wasn't likely to meet him again and it wasn't important.
But she was to meet him again; Mr Peters came back into the ward several hours later, just after Sister Richards had gone off duty, leaving Esmeralda with a list of jobs to be done, which, even if she had had twelve pairs of hands, she would have no hope of executing. She was toiling through the most tedious of them; arranging the written requests for holidays, days off and the like, so that her superior needed only to consult the neat list when she next made out the off duty, when the office door was opened and Mr Peters came in.
'Ah, not busy, I see,' he said; it was his usual greeting whatever the recipient of his attentions was doing, and Esmeralda, inured to constant interruptions, said politely: 'Oh, no, not in the least, sir. Did you want to see one of the children?'
'Me?' she asked blankly. 'Whatever for?' 'What did you think of Mr Bamstra?' he wanted to know.
'That very big your friend who came this morning? Well, II don't knowI didn't speak to him.' Anxious not to hurt his feelings, she added hastily: 'He looked very nice ' She was stuck there and finished lamely: 'The children seemed to like himhe got on well with them.'
'He gets on well with everyone. That foot of yours remember how the last time you allowed me to look at it, I told you that what it needed was someone who was a genius with a hammer, to smash the joints and then put them together again properly? Well, Bamstra does just thathalf a dozen times so far, and each case a success. I asked him to come over and take a look at you.'
'You what?' She wasn't sure if she felt angry or excited or just disbelieving.
'Don't waste time pretending you didn't hear, Esmeralda, I'm a busy man.'
His tone implied that she was very much at fault and she found herself apologising as he said impatiently: 'Well, what do you say? He hasn't time to waste hanging around while you think about ithe'll want to talk to you and make certain that you've a good chance of a complete cure if he does operate. He seemed to think that he could do something from what he saw of you this morning.'
Esmeralda drew an indignant breath. 'So that's why you came into the ward first and went right to the other end, and then sent me all the way back with a messageso that he could watch me limp ' She choked with her feelings.
'That's ithow else was he to get a sight of you?' He added kindly: 'He wasn't looking at you, only casting a professional eye over your foot.'
'Well!' She had no breath left with which to be indignant. 'And why, may I ask, am I singled out for his at tention?'
'Because you're a nice girl and you've been taking it on the chin for years, and it's time that stopped or you'll turn into a frozen spinster.'
Esmeralda gave him an outraged look and he added quickly, 'No, on second thoughts you wouldn't, not with those eyesmy daughter has blue eyes, bless her, but I've always fancied green, myself.' And when she gave a chortle of laughter: 'I'll ask Mr Bamstra to come in.'
And before she could say another word, he slid through the door.
For a man of such massive proportions, Mr Bamstra was remarkably silent; he had taken Mr Peters' place while Esmeralda was still staring at the door. He said with a deceptive meekness which she didn't for one minute believe: 'Is it all right if I come in?'
She said vexedly: 'Well, but you are, aren't you? Sister left me with a great deal to see to, and I'm not even half way through it all.'
His smile was kind, it was also beguiling. 'You're put out,' he observed, his voice kind too, 'and I'm very much to blame, but it was a little difficult, you know. I could hardly drop in and say: "Oh, hullo, I've come to look at that foot of yours," could I?' He added more seriously. 'I didn't think you would want it mentioned until we had talked about it.' He sat down on a corner of the desk, looking down at her with intent grey eyes. 'You do want it put right, don't you?'