Read an Excerpt
HALF PAST two o'clock in the morning was really not the time at which to receive a proposal of marriage. Judith Golightly swallowed a yawn while her already tired brain, chock-a-block with the night's problems, struggled to formulate a suitable answer. She was going to say no, but how best to wrap it up into a little parcel of kind words? She hated hurting people's feelings, although she was quite sure that the young man sitting in the only chair in her small office had such a highly developed sense of importance that there was little fear of her doing that. Nigel Bloom was good-looking in a selfconscious way, good at his job even though he did tend to climb on other people's shoulders to reach the next rung up the ladder, and an entertaining companion. She had gone out with him on quite a number of occasions by now and she had to admit that, but he had no sense of humour and she had detected small meanesses beneath his apparent open-handedness; she suspected that he spent money where it was likely to bring him the best return or to impress his companions. Would he be mean with the housekeeping, she wondered, or grudge her pretty clothes?
He had singled her out for his attention very soon after he had joined the staff at Beck's Hospital as a surgical registrar, although she hadn't encouraged him; she was by no means desperate to get married even though she was twenty-seven; she had had her first proposal at the age of eighteen and many more besides since, but somehow none of them had been quite right. She had no idea what kind of man she wanted to marry, for she had seldom indulged in daydreaming, but of one thing she was surehe would have to be tall; she was a big girl, splendidly built, and she had no wish to look down upon a husband, if and when she got one.
She leaned against the desk now, since there was nowhere for her to sit, and remarked with a little spurt of unusual rage, "Why do you sit down and leave me standing, Nigel? Do you feel so very superior to a woman?"
He gave a tolerant laugh. "you're tired," he told her indulgently. "I've been on the go all day, you know, and you didn't come on duty until eight o'clock last evening and after all, you don't have the real hard work, do you? Two night Sisters under you and I don't know how many staff nurses and students to do the chores."
Judith thought briefly of the hours which had passed, an entire round of the Surgical Wingninety beds, men, women and childrenevery patient visited, spoken to, listened to; the reports from each ward read and noted; at least five minutes with each nurse in charge of a ward, going over the instructions for the night, and all this interrupted several times: two admissions, one for theatre without delay, a death, anxious relatives to see and listen to over a cup of tea because that made them feel more relaxed and gave them the impression that time was of no account, a child in sudden convulsions; housemen summoned and accompanied to a variety of bedsides, phone calls from patients'familiesit had been never-ending, and there were more than five hours to go.
Her rage died as quickly as it had come; she was too weary to have much feeling about anything, and meanwhile there was Nigel, looking sure of himself and her, waiting for his answer. He must be mad, she told herself silently, asking a girl to marry him in the middle of a busy night.
She looked across at him, a beautiful girl with golden hair, sapphire blue eyes and a gentle mouth. "Thank you for asking me, Nigel, but I don't love youand I'm quite sure I never shall." She rushed on because he was prepared to argue about it: "Look, I haven't the timeI know it's my meal time, but I wasn't going to stop for it anyway!"
He got up without haste. "the trouble with you is that you're not prepared to delegate your authority."
"Who to?" She asked sharply. "Sister Reed's in theatre, Sister Miles is on nights off, there's a staff nurse off sick and Men's Surgical is up to its eyeballsyou've just been there, but perhaps you didn't notice?"
Nigel lounged to the door. "Mountains out of molehills," he said loftily. "I should have thought it would have sent you over the moonmy asking you to marry me." He gave her one of his easy charming smiles. "I'll ask you again when you're in a better temper."
"I shall still say no."
His smile deepened. "You only think you will. See that that man who's just been admitted is ready for theatre by eight o'clock, will you? And keep the drip running at all costs. I'm for bed."
Judith watched him go, but only for a moment; even though she was supposed to be free for an hour she had no time to do more than write up her books and begin on the report for the morning. She yawned again, then sat down behind the desk and picked up her pen.
A tap on the door made her give an almost inaudible sigh, but she said, "Come in," in her usual pleasant un-hurried manner, already bracing herself for an urgent summons to one or other of the wards. Her bleep was off, a strict rule for her midnight break, but that had never stopped the nurses bringing urgent messages. it wasn't an urgent message; a tray of tea and a plate of sandwiches, borne by one of the night staff nurses on her way back from her own meal. Judith put down her pen and beamed tiredly at the girl. "you're an angel, StaffI wasn't going to stop!"
"We guessed you wouldn't, Sister. Sister Reed's just back with the patient, so you can eat in peace."
"Bless you," said Judith. "Ask her to keep an eye on that new man's drip, will you? I'll be circulating in about twenty minutes."
The second half of the night was as busy as the first had been. She went off duty at last, yawning her pretty head off, gobbling breakfast, and then, because it was good for her, going for a brisk walk through the dreary streets to the small park with its bright beds of flowers and far too cramped playing corner for the children. She had the Night Superintendent for a companion, a woman considerably older than herself and into whose shoes it was widely rumoured she would step in a few years" time. Judith preferred not to think about that, indeed, when she had the leisure to consider her future, she found herself wondering why she didn't accept the very next proposal of marriage and settle the matter once and for all.
Sister Dawes was speaking and Judith struggled to remember what she had said; something about measles. She turned a blank face to the lady, who laughed and said: "you're half asleep, Judith. I was telling you there's a measles epidemic on the waya nasty one, I gather. We must keep our eyes open. I know you're on Surgical, but even measles patients can develop an appendix or perforate an ulcerfor heaven's sake, if you see a rash on anyone, whisk them away. You've had measles, of course?"
"I've no idea," declared Judith. "I should think so everyone has, and besides, I never catch things."
She remembered that three nights later. Earlier in the evening a young boy had been admitted with a suspected appendicitis; he had been flushed, his eyes and nose were running and his voice hoarse. Judith eyed him narrowly and peered inside his reluctantly opened mouth. Koplik's spots were there all right; she thanked heaven that he had been admitted to a corner bed and that only she and the staff nurse on duty had been anywhere near him. they moved him to a side ward, made him comfortable, and Judith left the nurse with him while she telephonedthe houseman on duty first, Sister Dawes next and finally the Admission Room. the Casualty Officer was new and it was his first post and he might be forgiven for overlooking symptoms which showed no rash at the moment, but the staff nurse should have been more alert. Judith was brief, severe and just as pleasant in her manner as she always was. She gave instructions that everything that had come in contact with the boy should be disinfected and that the nurse should change her uniform. "I'll send someone down," she ended, "but don't let her touch anything until you've dealt with it."
It took a little organising to find nurses to take over while the surgical staff nurse went away to do the same thing, and then Judith herself went to change, making sure that everything went into a laundry bag with a warning note pinned to it. it took a small slice out of her night and left her, as usual, short of time.
During the next ten days there were three cases of measlesthe nurse who had been on duty in the Admission Room, a ward maid and one of the porters. Another four days to go, thought Judith with relief, and they'd all be in the clear.
It was on the very last day of the incubation period that she began to feel ill; a cold, she decided, only to be expected, since although it was late spring, the weather wavered from cold and wet to fine and warm; no two days had been alike, enough to give anyone a cold. She took some aspirin and went to bed when she came off duty instead of taking her usual walk, but she didn't sleep much. Her head ached and so did her eyes and her throat felt sore; she got up and made tea and took more aspirin. She felt better after that, and presently dressed and went down to her meal, to be greeted with several candid opinions as to her poor looks from her friends. it was the Medical Wing Night Sister, a rather prissy type Judith didn't much like, who observed smugly: "You've got the measles."
She was right, of courseshe was one of those infuriating young women who always are. Judith was examined by the Senior Medical Consultant, who happened to be in the hospital, told to go to bed and stay there, and warned of all the complications which might take over unless she did exactly as she was told.