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The queue of cars waiting to go aboard the ferry which would take them across the River Schelde to Breskens, so that they might continue their journey to the Dutch border, was large, untidy and impatient, and not the least impatient of the car drivers was LieutenantColonel Dawson, retired, whose somewhat peppery disposition was illequipped for delays of any kind. After only a few moments of coming to a halt behind an enormous transcontinental transport, he was already drumming on the wheel with his fingers, poking his head out of the window, and snorting in a rising indignation, actions which caused his wife, sitting in the back of the car with their younger daughter, to murmur soothingly: "Think of your blood pressure, dear," and exchange a wary glance with her companion. Her wellmeaning remarks did nothing to help, however her husband began a growling diatribe about foreigners and blew out his military moustache, a sure sign of growing illtemper a sign noted by the girl sitting beside him, for she said with an affectionate matteroffactness: "Don't worry, FatherI'll go and see what the holdup isit can't be anything much."
She got out of the car as she spoke and began to make
her way towards the head of the queue. She was a tall, wellbuilt girl, her rich, redbrown hair tied back with a silk scarf, her attractive face, with its straight nose and nicely curved, toobig mouth, made almost beautiful by a pair of green eyes, fringed by lashes whose curly length, while genuine, gave rise to a good deal of speculation amongst those who met her for the first time.
She made her way now through the press of cars, intent on finding the cause of the delay, feeling a little guilty about it, for it was at her suggestion that her father had agreed to return across Holland from Bremen, where they had been visiting an old friend, instead of driving down through Germany to Cologne and across to the coast to catch the ferry. It wasn't the first time they had made the trip; each time she had wanted to see more of Holland and each time there had been some reason why they shouldn't. And now she had had her own way and it looked as though it was to result in her fiery parent having a fit of bad temper.
She sighed and caught the admiring glance of a lorry driver as she wormed her way between the cars; he called to her and she answered him readily in his own language in her welltaught boardingschool French. She could see the cause of the delay nowthe small group of people crowding round an Opel Rekord, peering in at a man lying back in the driver's seat, while one of the dock police bent over him. Charity sighed again, foreseeing a lengthy delay before they could get on to the ferry; the man, if he were ill, would have to be taken away by ambulance or taxi; his car would have to be moved too, for it was the first in line and was blocking one lane of traffic . She edged her way to the policeman's side and enquired if she could help. "I am a
nurse," she explained, and at his blank look repeated the remark in tolerable German.
The man understood her this time and broke into voluble talk, half German, half Dutchthe driver of the car had slumped across the wheel of his car with no warning, he explained, luckily he was at a standstill no one had noticed at first, not until he had made no move when the barrier was raised for the cars to start going on board the ferry.
Charity nodded as she undid the man's collar and tie and took his pulse. It wasn't too bad, a little rapid, perhaps, and he was very pale. A faint, probablyit was a warm day in late June and even though there was a wind blowing from the sea, it was hot sitting in a car in the sunshine. She leaned across him, tilted his chair back and slipped a cushion behind his head. It wasn't a heart attack, she was sure, nor did he look desperately ill; all the same she asked: "A doctor? There may be one in one of the cars."
The policeman nodded and spoke to someone in the group; he moved away at a rapid trot and Charity asked a little diffidently: "Could you get rid of this crowd?"
They melted away at the policeman's order and she bent over the man again. His pulse had improved, she was counting it when the door on the opposite side of the car was opened and she looked up to encounter the gaze of a very large man whose grey eyes, after the briefest of glances, dropped to the unconscious man between them.
"You're a doctor?" asked Charity, speaking in her stiff, correct German and giving him no time to reply. "His pulse is better and quite stronghis pupils are all right too, though he has a squint ."
"It will be better if we speak English," said the man, with only the faintest trace of an accent. He was opening his bag as he spoke. "You have a very marked English accent, you know."
She would have liked to have made some telling reply to this piece of rudeness; her German was good enough not to have merited it, but she was forced to remain silent because he was using his stethoscope and by the time he had finished examining his patient, the man was showing signs of returning consciousness and presently opened his eyes.
It was apparent when he spoke that he was an American; it was also apparent that he had no idea why he had fainted. In answer to the doctor's few inquiries he admitted to a tingling sensation in his hands. "I felt kinda jerky," he explained. "I guess I've been overdoing it a bit."
To the doctor's suggestion that he should spend the rest of the day at an hotel, have a good night's sleep and continue his journey on the following day, he agreed without enthusiasm, although when the doctor went away to make arrangements to have the car moved and a taxi fetched he raised no objection. His colour was normal again, indeed, he seemed perfectly well again it must have been the heat, thought Charity, and wondered uneasily about the squint, because the man wasn't squinting any more.
"I'm grateful to you, little lady," he said gallantly, and Charity, a nicely curved five feet ten inches in her stockings, suppressed a giggle. "My name is Arthur C. Boekerchek, from Pennsylvania, USA, I'm at The Hague, attached to the Trades Mission." He gave her a hard stare. "And what's your name, ma'am?"
"Charity Dawson, from England, and if you're sure you're quite all right, I'll be getting back to our car." She put out a hand. "I hope you'll be quite fit after a rest, Mr BoekBoekerchek. Goodbye."
He shook her hand. "You a nurse?" he wanted to know, and when she nodded: "Which hospital?" She told him, said goodbye for a second time and turned on her heel.
Charity couldn't see the doctor anywhere as she went through the crush of cars and transports. She admitted to herself that she would have liked to have seen him again, if only to tell him that his manners were bad. She wondered which country he came from; his English was faultless, but he wasn't an Englishman. She had almost reached her father's car when she caught sight of him, strolling ahead of her to the back of the queue. Six feet and several inches besides, she guessed, and with the shoulders of an ox. Not so very young either, with that grizzled hair, but very goodlooking. His laconic manner had irritated her, and she frowned, remembering it, as her father said: "Well, what on earth was it all about,
She got into the car and explained why she had been so long, making rather less of the doctor than she need have done, so that her mother asked: "Wasn't he a nice man, dear?" and Lucy wanted to know: "And what was
Charity bit her lip. "I only said about two words to him, Mother, so I couldn't possibly know if he's nice and I didn't notice what he was like." Which wasn't true.
She saw him againwhen they drove off the ferry at last, on the south side of the river and started up the road towards Sluis and Belgium. He passed them, driv
ing a white Lamborghini Espada. He was travelling fast too. Charity pondered the fact that such a placid man as he had appeared to be and not young any more either should own such a powerful car and drive it, moreover, with all the nerve of someone half his age. She kept her surprised thoughts to herself, however, even when her father made some derogatory remark concerning the youth of today driving flash cars they probably couldn't afford.
"They're very expensive," pointed out the Colonel. "Probably some pop singer," he added disgustedly, and Charity, her head bent over the map, wondered what the doctor would have said to that. It was a great pity that she would never know.
She still had a few days of her holiday left; driving down to Budleigh Salterton beside a calmed and rested parent, she was thankful for them. She hadn't really wanted to go to Bremen; she would have preferred to have stayed at home, pottering in the garden and taking the dogs for long walks on the common, but somehow she had found herself agreeing to accompany her parents and sister, mainly because she knew that her calm common sense could cool her father's little rages when her mother or Lucy aggravated them.
He was getting elderly, she thought lovingly, glancing sideways at him as they drove westwards; small things annoyed him, and Lucy, younger by five years than herself, had a gentle nature whose acceptance of his contrariness merely irritated him still further. Her mother, of course, was perfectly able to manage him, but she was recovering from a bout of illhealth and hadn't yet regained her usual fire and spirit. He was a devoted husband and a kind and indulgent father; his
irascible nature had never bothered herit didn't bother her brother George, either, although now that he was away from home, he seldom encountered it.
Her thoughts were interrupted by her father's enquiry as to where they should stop for lunch and her mother's "Somewhere quiet, dear," and Lucy's "We've just passed such a nice hotel," were neither of them much use. She said peaceably before he could speak: "How about that place in Petersfield? It's right on the square and easy to park the car." Even as she made this sensible suggestion she was wondering with one tiny corner of her mind where the doctor was now. She moved restlessly in her seat; it was strange how he had remained in her thoughts. She told herself with her usual sense that it was probably because he had annoyed her and had been so very goodlooking.
They arrived home in the early evening and the next few hours were taken up with fetching Nell and Bliss, the two English setters, from the kennels, unpacking and helping her mother to get a meal. It was nice to be home again, back in the unpretentious Edwardian house perched up on the hill behind the little town, with its large garden and only a glimpse between the trees of the neighbouring houses. Charity had been born there and been brought upwith suitable intervals at boarding schoolin its peace and comfort. She knew, now that she was older, that there wasn't a great deal of money, but looking back, she couldn't remember feeling anything but secure and well cared for, and although the house was a little bit shabby now, it still provided the same comfort.
She went up to her room, and instead of unpacking, hung out of the window which overlooked the side of
the house where her father grew his roses; they were in full bloom now and their scent filled the evening air. For some reason which she couldn't guess at, she sighed, unpacked and went downstairs again to undertake the task of setting the supper table so that Lucy, who was more or less engaged to the doctor's son down the lane, could pay him a quick visit.
The remaining days of Charity's holiday went far too quickly, taken up as they were with the pleasurable occupation of discussing Lucy's still distant wedding, taking her mother to Exeter to shop, exercising the dogs and helping her father sort through the mass of papers he had spent years in collecting, with an eye to writing a book on military strategy during the last war. She thought, privately, that the book might never be written, but her father so much enjoyed his hours of research that she took care not to voice her doubts; besides, it gave him something to do when the weather interfered with his gardening.
She left early in the morning, in the MG which had been a present from her godmother on her twentyfirst birthday and her most treasured possession, for it was a means of getting home for a weekend at least once a month as well as for her holidays. She was a good driver and a fast one, so once over the winding road which crossed Woodbury Common she joined the main road and put her foot down. She was on duty the next morning, and she wanted an hour or two to settle in once more before she went on the ward. Her brain was already busy with the work ahead of her; there would be two new student nurses to absorb into the staff of the Men's Surgical ward she had been running for two years now; her staff nurse would needand deservea long weekend off;
there was that little tussle with Matron before her, concerning the new ward curtainsand there was Clive Barton, the Surgical Registrar, who had shown signs of becoming serious about her, and for some reason she couldn't quite understand, she didn't want to encourage him. Which was silly really, for she liked him very much, perhaps she was a little fond of him even and might get fonder, but she hesitated to commit herself.
She whizzed past a couple of slowmoving transports, wondering why it was that Lucy, quiet and retiring and shy, who had little or no opportunity of meeting any men, should have known the moment she had set eyes upon David that she wanted to marry him.
Charity's dark winged eyebrows drew together in a frown. Perhaps she was never going to meet a man who would make her feel like thatwilling to hand over her whole life without question. She slowed down to go through Axminster, to get caught up in the early morning traffic filtering its way through the narrow, curling main street. She glanced at her watch; she was doing nicely, she would stop for lunch just before she got on to the M3 and then press on, for London would take a bit of getting through even outside the rush hour.
She reached St Simon's Hospital in time to join her friends in the Sisters' sittingroom for an early tea. They hailed her with pleasure and a spate of questions about her holiday, brought her up to date with the hospital news and settled down to drink their tea and eat as much bread and butter and jam as time allowed.
"Did anything exciting happen, Charity?" Nancy Benson wanted to know as she got up to fill her cup.
Charity sat down on the arm of the chair. "No at least, not exciting, exactly; a man fainted while we
were waiting to cross one of the ferriesan American, Mr Arthur C. Boekerchek " There was a shriek of laughter. "Yes, I know it's a gorgeous name, isn't itI couldn't believe my ears."
"I suppose you did your Florence Nightingale act?" a small girl remarked, "or was there a doctor around?"
Charity, a little belatedly, discovered that she didn't want to tell anyone about the doctor. She said briskly: "Oh, yessomeone or other came along, and the American was taken to a hotel to rest. It wasn't in the least exciting. Tell me, how is our Alice doing with Mr