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Baby Van Eysink had made up his tiny mind not to take his feed; all four and a half pounds of him was protesting, doll-like arms and legs waving and his small face puce with manly rage. The puce deepened alarmingly as his blue eyes, squinting with temper, stared up into the face above him. Not much of it was visible above the mask, only a pair of wide grey eyes thickly fringed with dark lashes, and a few strands of fine straight light brown hair which had escaped from under the starched cap, but the eyes had laughter lines at their corners and the voice, urging him to be a good boy and do his best, was soft and gentle, so that he allowed himself to be soothed, and his loud bawling became a series of protesting squeaks and snuffles until he squeezed his eyes tight shut and began to feed, reluctantly at first and then with growing enthusiasm.
His performance had been watched anxiously by the girl sitting up in bed in the small hospital room. Now she spoke quietly, her English fluent but heavily accented.
'Hannah, you are a marvellous person, this is now three times that my little baby has fed from his bottle, and that after so many weeks with that drip thing. I am so very happy, I shall telephone his papa this evening and tell him and he will be happy too. Now we shall soon go home, is it not?'
'Not,' said Hannah. 'Well, what I mean is not for a little while longerlittle Paul has to gain another pound and feed normally for at least three days. Besides, you're not quite up to looking after him yet, are you, Mevrouw van Eysink?'
'But there will be a nurse and when we are both quite well again, there will be a nanny. 'The girl pulled herself up on her monkey rope andaltered her position. 'I cannot wait for the moment when they will take this horrid thing from me!'
'Not long now.' Hannah's voice was as soothing as when she had coaxed the tiny scrap on her lap, now feeding noisily. 'You'll be as good as new once it's off; a few months' exercise and therapy and you'll be fit to dance at anyone's wedding.'
'Heavens, no! Is your husband coming this weekend?'
'Yes, of course. Dear Paul!' The girl in the bed tweaked a lace frill straight and smiled to herself. 'I must not grumble, must I? I could have been killed, and worse, I could have lost my baby. It is a miracle that he was born, is it not?'
'It is. It's worth lying still in bed and then wearing a hip spica for a bit, isn't it?'
'Yes, oh, yes! Dear Hannah, you are always so sensible and reassuring just like Oom Valentijn '
Hannah made a face under her mask; Oom Valentijn was quoted, praised and admired at least three times a day. He must be an uncle in a million, she decided and she was heartily sick of him. And a lot of good that did, for Mevrouw van Eysink had launched herself into a lengthy eulogy once more.
'I am devoted to him,' she declared, not for the first time. 'You see, I do not remember my father, and my mother is, how do you say? invalid, and I have no brothers or sistersso I am a spoilt little girl, having my own way always until Uncle Valentijn comes to see me. I am four years old then and he is twenty-one, and he tease me and teach me to ride a pony and look after cats and dogs and ride a bicycle, and he does not allow me to cry when I fall off. He comeshe camemany times over the years, even after he is married '
'Oh, is he married?' asked Hannah idly.
'Not any more. He was a young man then and it was an unfortunate marriage, for they found that they did not love each other and Annette went away with another man and there was a divorce ' She saw the look that Hannah gave her. 'You think that I should not be telling you all this? But I like you and you are discreet, and without you I should not have the little Paul and I must talk to someone, you understand? I love my Paul, but for Oom Valentijn I have a strong affection. Why, he even helped us to marry, for my mother did not find Paul rich enough, but Oom Valentijn told me to marry whom I chose and that money didn't matter, and he is right, although we are not poor, you understand. It is a pity that he is not married too, for he has a great deal of money and a beautiful house to live in.'
'Well, I daresay he'll find someone,' observed Hannah. There surely were plenty of girls around who would be glad to live in a lovely home and have all the money they wanted, even if they had to marry someone middle-aged to get them.
They lapsed into companionable silence, broken after a minute or two by Mevrouw van Eysink's small, excited shriek. 'Oom Valentijn!' She plunged into a spate of Dutch. Hannah didn't look round; for one thing little Paul needed one's undivided attention and for another, she wasn't all that interested. She knew exactly what he would be likethick-set and balding and wearing pebble glasses, like the Dutch characters she had occasionally seen on TV or at the films: his opinions had been quoted so often now that she felt that she knew him very well indeedand deadly boring he must be too.
She twiddled the teat in little Paul's mouth with a cunning hand because he was getting tired now and hadn't quite finished, but she had to look up when Uncle Valentijn walked past her to the bed, giving her a civil, 'Good morning, Nurse,' as he did so.
Her reply, equally civil, ended in a gasp. Uncle Valentijn wasn't running true to form. He was tall and his shoulders were enormous and he showed no signs of approaching middle age. True, his hair was iron grey, cropped unfashionably close, but his features, while not those of a young man, were remarkably handsome, with a high-bridged nose and a straight mouth and blue eyesthey were studying her now, briefly and with polite indifference, and Hannah flushed under her mask, glad that little Paul should give a loud burp and need instant attention.
Uncle Valentijn made himself comfortable on the side of his niece's bed. 'I'm sorry I couldn't come sooner, my dear,' and Hannah, liking his deep, rather slow voice, pricked up her ears. 'You seem to have made a remarkable recovery.' He bent and kissed one delicately made-up cheek. 'And just as pretty as ever. I saw Paul as soon as I got backhe sends his love and will be with you at the week-end.'
His niece beamed at him. 'He comes each weekend, but soon I shall go home, once I have thisthis thing off.' She paused. 'Can we not speak Dutch?' She turned her head to look at Hannah. 'You will not mind, Hannah, if we speak in our own language? I am so tired of speaking yours '
Her visitor turned to look at Hannah too and there was faint amusement in his eyes. 'Not in the least,' she said, and felt awkward and in the way.
'And how is my godchild?' he wanted to know, and crossed the room, to take the baby from her with a polite murmur of, 'May I?'
He knew exactly what he was about, she saw that at a glance, but then so he should. Hadn't Mevrouw van Eysink told her time and again that he was a famous pediatrician? Baby Paul was lucky; not only had he survived a bad motor car crash before he was born and then arrived two months too soon, but he had doting parents, who from all accounts were able to provide him with a more than comfortable home and as a bonus, Uncle Valentijn.
She received the infant back presently, laid him in his cot, collected up her bits and pieces, and with the advice that if her patient required anything she had only to ring the bell, she went. To her surprise, Uncle Valentijn got up to open the door for her.
She was waylaid almost at once by the willowy blonde who shared the staff nurse's duties with her on the Prem. Unit and as well as that, was a close friend.
'Hannah!' She put out a hand so that Hannah had to stop. 'Hannah, who's that stupendous type who strolled in a little while agohe's really something '
Hannah interrupted her a little tartly. 'That's Uncle Valentijn.'
Her friend's large blue eyes popped alarmingly. 'But it can't be! He's fat and middle-aged and '
'Well, I thought that's how he'd belike that Dutch character we saw in that film a couple of weeks ago, remember? And I'd got heartily sick of him, anyway: Uncle Valentijn this and Uncle Valentijn that, day after day.'Hannah shifted her tray and prepared to move on. 'You know how it is, Louise.'
Louise giggled. 'Is he staying?'
'How should I know? He said "Good morning" and "May I" and the rest of the time they spoke Dutch. He didn't even look at meI mean, not to see me, you know. People don't. I wish I had fair hair and blue eyes and a figure.'
Hannah spoke without a trace of envy for the girl with her, who had all those things.
'You're very nice as you are, love,' declared Louise. 'Have you had coffee? I haven't either, we'll pop down as soon as we've cleared up, shall we? There's nothing due until half past ten.'
'I'm famished,' observed Hannah. 'If only I didn't get so hungry then I'd diet.' She looked down at her small well-rounded figure and sighed, then muttered under her breath, 'Here comes the Honourable!'
Sister Thorne, the younger daughter of a viscount, no less, bore down upon them in a purposeful fashion which they had learnt to be very wary of. She was a large woman with a booming voice, constantly issuing orders and making sure that no member of her staff had time to do more than draw breath between one task and the next. She didn't look in the least like a member of the aristocracy, thought Hannah, watching her approach; she should have been as willowy and pretty as Louise, instead of which she was stout with a face like a well-bred horse, used no make-up and strained back her greying hair in an unbecoming bun. She was a splendid nurse, though, and made no bones about staying on duty when she should have been off if there was something on the ward she wasn't quite happy about. She expected her nurses to do the same, of course, and they did so without complaining, although whereas Sister Thorne, however late she was, was whisked away in some chauffeur-driven car to wherever it was she spent her evenings, the nurses had to run for a bus and spend the evening soothing their boy-friends' tempers because they'd missed the big picture at the local cinema.
She halted in front of Hannah now. 'You should have tidied away by now, Staff Nurse. I expect my nursesmy trained nursesto set an example to the students. You've just left Baby van Eysink? I shall visit there next, I believe Doctor van Bertes is there, is he not? He will wish to see the notes of his niece's case. Be good enough to go to my office and fetch them and bring them to me there.'
She glanced at Louise, standing uneasily, wanting to go but not wishing to appear to be running away. 'Your cap is crooked, Staff Nurse, and you are wearing excessive make-up. 'She sailed away and Hannah, with an expressive look at her friend, sped in the opposite direction, to shed her load in the dressings room and repair to the office and fetch the notes.
Sister Thorne and Uncle Valentijn were standing facing each other when she knocked and went into her patient's room, and she had the impression that they had been arguing. Well, she amended to herself, not arguing, neither of them were the type to do that, issuing statements perhaps and not agreeing in a well-bred way. Hannah handed her superior the notes and made for the door, to be arrested by the visitor's smooth: 'One moment, Staff Nurse Lang.' He gestured politely at Sister Thorne, who nodded graciously.
'I hear from both my niece and from Sister Thorne that it is largely through your efforts and patience that my godson is thriving. Iwe are deeply indebted to you.'
Hannah, taken by surprise, blushed fiercely, mumbled that it hadn't been anything really and poised herself for flight. As she went she saw the look Uncle Valentijn gave heramused, mocking and tinged with the indifference which she had detected in his voice.
A horrible man, she decided, nipping down the corridor, far, far worse than the Uncle Valentijn she had built up from her fertile imagination.
She was off duty at five o'clock, with two free days to follow, and she didn't see him again before she went off duty, half an hour late, because Baby Paul took twice as long as usual to finish his bottle.
'A pity you're off duty,' observed his mother. 'Uncle Valentijn will be back this eveningand you have days off too, haven't you?' She frowned. 'I do not like it when you are not here, Hannah, because Paul is sometimes not good, but of course you need your free timeI expect you have much fun.'