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The din on the ward was unbelievable, rising and falling like a stormy sea gone mad; children calling to each other, crying, screaming, shouting from their cots and beds, while those already up and dressed and able to eat their breakfast at the miniature table in the centre of the ward were darting up and down, evading the nurses trying to tie their bibs and settle them to their porridge, and accompanying these sounds was the constant thin cry of the babies in the side wards, wanting their next feed, the whole cemented together by the rattle of spoons in bowls and the thumping of mugs.
The young woman who had opened the door on to this uproar closed her eyes for a split second and a tiny frown marred her lovely features, but it was banished instantly as she opened them again, remarkable dark green eyes with long curling lashes, made all the more remarkable by the rich chestnut of her hair. She was a tall girl with a figure as striking as her face and she held herself well; her friends considered her to be a beauty, while the few who weren't referred to her grudgingly as handsome, implying that she was too big and opulent for beauty. She paused now just inside the door and surveyed the ward with a practised eye; she had been Sister on the Children's Ward at St Anselm's for three years now and had grown accustomed to the turmoil around her, and she could see now that everything was just as it should be. She waved to the children at the table and without pausing again went straight to her office where the night nurses would be waiting.
With the report given and the pair of them gone, she re-read it, made up the day book so that each nurse knew what she had to do, glanced at the off duty book and was on the point of getting up from her desk when her staff nurse, Carol Drew, came in. She was a small, neat girl, devoted to her work, and they got on splendidly together.
She smiled as she came in, said "Good morning, Sister," and waited.
"Morning, Caroland for heaven's sake stop calling me Sister when there's no one around. I see Archie's been sick twice. We'd better get Mr Potter to go over him againwe've missed something " She stretched out a hand for the telephone. "And Night Nurse says that Baby Scott isn't feedinghe'd better have a look at her too. Is there anything else to worry us?" She sighed. "I've an idea we're in for a bad day."
Carol nodded her head. "Me tooBaby Cook's ready for theatre."
"I'll take him upI've just time to do a round first. How is breakfast going?"
Her staff nurse cast her eyes upwards. "The usual; we're just starting to clear up the mess, I'll go and see how they're getting on." At the door she looked back. "I say, Annis, don't you want to be here when Mr Potter comes?"
Annis Brown raised her magnificent head from the papers she was studying. "No, I don't,"she grinned, and looked much younger than her twenty-seven years. "You can have him."
But she didn't smile when Carol had left her. Arthur Potter was becoming a problem in her life; he was persistent in his wish to marry her, worthy to the point of being boring, an excellent doctor with an undoubtedly successful career before him and one of the dullest young men she had ever met. They had known each other for three years now and he was beginning to grow on her so that every now and then the unwelcome thought that she would eventually marry him was becoming increasingly difficult to dispel; the trouble was that she liked him as a friendhe was kind and considerate and non-demanding, he had an even temper and looked upon her occasional outburst with tolerance, and she found herself wishing more and more frequently that he might display some temper himself, or at least disagree with her.
The trouble was that she didn't know what she wanted; to get married, of course, to remain a Ward Sister all her life had no appeal for her; she wanted a home and a husband and children of her own, but she hadn't met anyone who had swept her off her feet and she was beginning to doubt if she ever would. She sighed and went into the ward, to become immediately engrossed in the sick little people who lived in it.
She went first to the table where the convalescents were eating the last of their breakfasts and sat down with them, idly eating a slice of bread and butter while she enquired as to how they felt; not that she was hungry, but she had discovered long ago that reluctant eaters were inclined to eat a slice with her while they talked and shouted and cried. Little Betty Wakes, the coeliac disease who had been with them for so long, she took on to her lap, comforting her while she grizzledshe grizzled a lot and from Annis's point of view, she had every reason to do so. Presently, when she had discovered all she wanted to know about the children round the table, she carried Betty round the ward with her, stopping by each cot and small bed, reading charts, casting a knowledgeable eye over each occupant and occasionally pausing to speak to one or other of the nurses. It took her all of half an hour and she was back in her office just in time to meet Arthur Potter as he came along the corridor.
He was a tall thin young man, with hair already receding from a clever forehead, and his glasses emphasised his earnest manner. He greeted her gravely, reminded her that they were going out together that evening, and then became absorbed in Archie's charts. By the time he had asked a few questions and pondered the symptoms it was time for Annis to gather up Baby Cook and bear him off to theatre for his pyloric stenosis to be corrected. He was a very small baby, and wizened through insufficient nourishment, but Annis kissed the top of the elderly little head, assured the infant that he would be as beautiful as any baby that lived in no time at all, a remark which Arthur, who had caught up with her in the ward, gently but seriously pointed out wasn't quite accurate. Baby Cook would never be beautiful, however well fed he was; his eyes were small and squinted slightly, his hair was sparse and dull and his mouth too large. Annis told the doctor quite fiercely that he knew nothing about it, and sped away.
Baby Cook was to be done first. Annis stayed in theatre, giving a helping hand to the anaesthetist while the surgeons worked, and presently, when their work was finished, she picked up the small creature and bore him gently back to a side ward where one or other of her more senior student nurses would special him for the next twenty-four hours.
Annis laid him gently on to his cot, glanced at her watch and said: "We'll start feeds inlet me see three and three-quarter hours from nowfour mls of glucose, nurse, and then two-hourly feeds alternating with glucose. I'll let you know when to increase them and I want to know at once if he brings them up." She smiled at the girl, gave a final look at Master Cook and sailed away to superintend the dressings.
She had been right, the day was busy and full of small setbacks, so that by the time she got off duty that evening the last thing she wanted to do was go out with Arthur. There must be something wrong with her, she mused; they were such good friends and on the whole she enjoyed being with him, although she was honest enough to admit to herself that he bored her a little more each time she went out with him. No, not bored, she corrected herself. Everything they did together was done from habit, there was no excitementsurely, if she were in love with him, even the littlest bit, she would feel a thrill at meeting him, spending the evening with him, even seeing him on the ward? It was like putting on an old coat one was particularly fond ofit might do nothing for one, but it was comfortable. She frowned and poked around in her wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear. Something different, she decided, something to make Arthur look at herreally look at her. There was a dress she had bought at a sale some months back; it had looked lovely in the window, but when she had got it home it had been too daringly cut. Mindful of Arthur's views on modesty in women, she had hung it at the back of her more discreet clothes and forgotten about it. Now some imp of mischief made her decide to wear it. It was a pretty colour, soft misty blue, and the material was pretty too, but the neckline was quite outrageous. All the same, she put it on, did her lovely face, allowed her hair to fall free and went down to the hospital entrance, prudently wrapped in a light coat.
"You'll be too warm," advised Arthur the moment he saw her. "It's mid-May, you know."
She assured him that she wouldn't and climbed into the cara Triumph, kept in tip-top condition and treated with care. A race down a motorway wasn't in Arthur's line, he preferred to do a steady fifty in the slow lane because it was better for the engine and didn't use as much petrol, and in London now he travelled very slowly indeed. Annis who drove well if rather recklessly herself, reminded herself that Arthur was a good, steady driver who would never take risks. He would be a good steady husband too. She sighed and he asked at once: "Had a busy day? Children can be the very devil sometimes." He glanced sideways at her. "You and I will have had enough of them by the time we settle down."
Annis, a good-tempered girl, gritted her splendid teeth, contemplating a lifetime ahead of her settling down in a pristine house with not a single child to muddy the floor or scuff the paint. How dull the future looked, and really it was so silly. She had no need to marry Arthur; it was simply that circumstances had thrown them continuously together for the last three yearsbesides, he hadn't asked her, only taken it for granted that she would. Well, she wouldn't. "Arthur " she began.
"I prefer not to talk while I'm driving in town," he reminded her kindly. "I daresay it's something that can wait until we're at the restaurant."
But once sitting at the table with him, she found it impossible. He was being at his nicest; considerate, thoughtful of her every wish, keeping the conversation pleasant. It was over the coffee that he asked her: "What was it you wanted to ask me, Annis?"
It was her chance, but she couldn't take it after all, he looked so kindso she shook her head and said that it didn't matter.
But after a more or less sleepless night, she knew that she would have to do something about it, and the opportunity occurred sooner than she expected. Arthur had done a round with Mr Travers, the paediatrician, and stayed behind to write up fresh instructions on some of the charts. He sat at Annis's desk while she altered the day book, perched on the only other chair in the little room, and presently, almost finished, he sat back and put his pen down.
"That was rather a sexy dress you wore last night," he observed in a mildly reproving voice. "I can't say that I entirely approve."
"You noticed itthat's something, anyway. I've thought that just lately you don't see me any more, only in the same way as you see your breakfast porridge oror your stethoscope or pen " She went on crossly: "As to approving, it's none of your business what I choose to wear."
He looked surprised and vaguely displeased, but before he could say anything she went on, getting crosser every minute: "Arthur, do you intend to marry me?"
The displeasure was no longer vague. "My dear Annis, surely that's a question which I should ask you?"
She had the bit well and truly between her teeth now. "Well, why don't you?"
"These things can't be rushed," he told her with a patient tolerance which sent her temper soaring even higher. "We're two busy people, we aren't able to see each other as much as some men and women dowe have to get to know each other "