Never While the Grass Grows

Never While the Grass Grows

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by Betty Neels

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Would it really be a convenient marriage?

Lucas van de Weijnen didn't ask Octavia to marry him—he told her. Octavia's father had just died and she wasn't in any state of mind to make a rational decision. Besides, Lucas wasn't a man to take no for an answer.

But after the wedding, Octavia found herself falling under the spell of a

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Would it really be a convenient marriage?

Lucas van de Weijnen didn't ask Octavia to marry him—he told her. Octavia's father had just died and she wasn't in any state of mind to make a rational decision. Besides, Lucas wasn't a man to take no for an answer.

But after the wedding, Octavia found herself falling under the spell of a man—her husband! And though they had both promised to love each other for the rest of their lives, she had no idea how Lucas felt about her.

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Sister Octavia Lock swept through the swing doors of Casualty on a wave of vague ill–humour; she had over–slept and as a consequence had had no breakfast save a cup of tea, drunk far too hot and as much toast as she could cram into her mouth with one bite, and over and above that, it was a glorious September morning with enough of autumn in the air to make her wish that she was at home and not in a London hospital, hemmed in by narrow streets and rows of shabby little houses. And now, to make matters worse, she could see at a glance that Casualty, even at eight o'clock in the morning, was already filling itself up fast. Her senior, Sister Moody, who tended to take her time in coming on duty after breakfast, would as a consequence doubtless live up to her name. Octavia's eye lighted upon a small forlorn boy sitting by himself and, her ill–humour forgotten, she swept him along with her on the way to the office, asking his name and what was the matter as they went. 'Stanley,' he told her tearfully, and his mum had sent him along because he'd burnt his arm the day before.

Octavia sighed, popped him into a cubicle and began to take off his too–small jacket. It amazed her that although patients crowded into Casualty, a vast number of them took their time about it. And if I'd been this mum I'd have brought Stanley here pretty smartly, she reflected, gently

laying bare a sizeable burn wrapped in a handkerchief. The blisters weren't broken, and that was something to be thankful for; she slid the handkerchief away and replaced it with gauze, said: 'OK Stanley, the doctor will come and make that much more comfortable for you,' warned a student nurse about him, and went into the office. One of the night Sisters was already there ready to leave and Octavia listened carefully to the night report, happily short and fairly uneventful, before she remarked gloomily: 'You may have had a good night, Joan, but I've a nasty feeling that we're in for a perfectly foul day—are you on tonight?'

Her companion grinned smugly. 'Nights off—you'll have Snoopy Kate on…'

'Oh, lord, and I'm on till nine o'clock. Sister Moody wants the evening; I'll have to have a split.' She paused and smiled suddenly: 'It's my weekend off, though.'

They parted then, Joan to breakfast and bed, Octavia into Casualty to cast an eye over the patients already being treated and then those who were waiting. There was nothing urgent; cuts and bruises, septic fingers, a fractured collarbone which a nurse had already put into a collar and cuff, a number of small children with earache, sore throats and the like and the usual sprinkling of elderly men and women for morning dressings and stitches to be removed. She had just finished her round when Sister Moody arrived, nodded briefly and retired to the office, to stay there for a good deal of the day, doing the paper work and only coming out when an urgent case came in; not that she did much to help then; explaining comfortably to Octavia that at her age it would be ridiculous to expect her to take too active a part in the work while Octavia was perfectly capable of coping.

Octavia started her daily round of the cubicles and dressing rooms and small theatre, checking this and that

with care but not wasting time. Nurses would be going to their coffee break in an hour and the quicker the light cases were dealt with the better. She could hear the steady hum of voices through the theatre door and all the sounds that went with it; the clatter of bowls, the faint click of instruments tossed into receivers, the telephone—she would have to go and give a hand. All the same, she paused by a window and gazed out into the street outside, full of traffic and people hurrying to work, a tall girl with a splendid figure and a lovely face crowned by rich brown hair, drawn back neatly under her cap, although a number of small curls had escaped to frame her face. Her eyes were hazel, large and heavily fringed and topped by black brows and her mouth curved gently, and as though these weren't enough, she had a happy nature, marred only occasionally by a fiery temper. She turned away from the window presently and went back into Casualty, rolling up her sleeves as she went.

The day went as most days went; a steady trickle of minor casualties, interrupted frequently by the more severely injured as well as a small girl with a perforated appendix and an elderly man who had been found alone, half starved and dirty in a pokey little room in one of the rows of small houses close to the hospital. He had opened weary eyes as Octavia bent over him and told her fretfully to leave him alone, 'Because what's the use of getting me on my feet again?' he wanted to know. 'I've nowhere to go and no one to bother about me.'

Octavia, taking his blood pressure, gave him a motherly smile. 'You just wait,' she admonished him kindly, 'there's no reason why you shouldn't be fit enough to get a job. You just need fattening up, you know. How old are you?'

'Sixty—who'd want the likes of me, I'd like to know?'

'Let's worry about that when the time comes—first we'll get you better.' She turned at the tap on her shoulder. 'Here's the doctor to have a look at you.'

He had pneumonia, not badly—nothing that a few days in hospital wouldn't put right. Octavia arranged for him to be admitted to the men's medical ward and when he asked her if she would visit him, promised cheerfully that she would.

'Now that's a great shame,' she declared to John Waring, the Casualty Officer. 'A nice man like that thrown out of work because the family went to Switzerland—the least they could have done would have been to try and get him fixed up with someone else, or even taken him with them—I mean, after fifteen years working for them,' she paused. 'I'm not sure what a handyman does…'

'Makes himself handy,' and then more seriously: 'I agree with you, Octavia, and he hasn't much chance of getting any work—I suppose he would be unskilled labour, and he's getting on.' John finished the notes he was writing up and looked up at her. 'Are you off this evening? How about a film?'

She shook her head regretfully. 'I'm off…' she glanced at the clock, 'now, then I'm on until nine and I'll be fit for nothing by then.'

'Tomorrow, then?'

'Lovely—but aren't you on call?'

He grinned at her. 'I'll get someone to stand in for me.'

A nice boy, she reflected as she went through the hospital on her way to lunch and off duty. She had been out with him several times, indeed she had been out with most of the housemen in St Maud's at one time or another, for she was popular with everyone and as pretty as a picture to boot, but although a surprisingly large percentage of them had wanted to marry her, she had remained heartwhole.

By the time she had reached the canteen and joined her friends at table, she had forgotten all about John Waring.

She returned to Casualty just before six o'clock, to find it almost as full as when she had left it and Sister Moody waiting impatiently for her.

'There's a query appendix in the end bay,' she was told swiftly, 'a scalp wound next to it, and then a Colles fracture…' she was ticking the cases off on her fingers, 'a crushed thumb, septic foot…the rest haven't been seen yet. Nurse Barnes is taking their names now—John Waring will be down presently. We had a couple of RTAs in— they're warded—oh, and a BID I've had no time to make up the book.' She was already half way through the door as she spoke and now, with a briefly muttered goodnight, she was gone.

There were two student nurses on duty as well as Mrs Taylor, a reliable nursing aide who had been in Casualty for so long that no one could remember when she had first come; she was elderly now and not able to lift or do any heavy work, but she was invaluable because she knew where everything was and fetched it at the drop of a hat. Octavia sent her to help the senior of the student nurses to marshall the remainder of the patients ready for John Waring and took the other nurse with her to deal with the appendix first and then, seeing that the man was resting comfortably, to get the scalp wound cleaned up, something Sister Moody might have done and hadn't.

It was almost nine o'clock, after a steady stream of patients had been dealt with, that the street entrance was flung open and a tall man with wide shoulders and a giant's stride came in. He was carrying a little old lady in his arms and rather to Octavia's surprise, walked across the department to deposit her carefully on a couch in one of the bays. Only then did he turn to address her.

'Mugged,' his voice was deep and unhurried. 'You're in charge? Well, get the Casualty Officer here at once, will you?'

Octavia, bending over the small figure, paused for a moment to look up at the man. She said evenly: 'Thanks for bringing her in, you can safely leave the rest to us now.'

He was a handsome man, with fair hair liberally sprinkled with grey, looking down his high–bridged nose with cold blue eyes. He looked, she realised suddenly, as though he didn't like her. With something of an effort she clung to her professional calm and then found it in shreds when he went on: 'I shall remain until she has received adequate treatment.'

Octavia let out an indignant snort and managed to hold her tongue. She could deal with the tiresome man presently, but now she bent to her patient, taking off the battered felt hat to search for head wounds, taking her pulse moving her arms gently and when the old lady opened her eyes, asked quietly: 'Can you tell me where it hurts, my dear? You're quite safe now, in hospital, but I don't want to move you too much until we know what the damage is.'

The old eyes studied her wearily. 'I aches all over, but there ain't much sense in bothering over me, I 'aven't got a soul ter mind if I snuffs it.'

'I for one shall mind,' Octavia assured her warmly. She ignored the large man looming over her and told the student nurse hovering to telephone Doctor Waring.

'Tell him it's a mugging, an elderly lady, no visible fractures, contusion on temple, cut eye, cut lip, not yet fully examined, rather shocked. Ask him to come at once, please.'

She began very gently to take off the old lady's coat, a shockingly shabby garment, now freshly torn and ruined for ever. Octavia got out her scissors. 'Look, my dear, I'm

going to cut your coat so that I can get it off without hurting you; we'll replace it for you.'

She had been busy cutting up one sleeve, and now when she went to do the same with the other, the patient's rescuer took the scissors from her. It was then that she saw that his knuckles were bleeding and that there was a small cut across the back of one hand, the blood congealing now.

'Oh, you're hurt!' She added forcefully: 'I hope you knocked them down and jumped on them!'

Her companion continued his steady plying of the scissors. 'I knocked them down—they—er—hardly needed to be jumped on, I fancy.'

She was easing the old lady's jumper and put out her hand for the scissors again. 'Good for you,' said Octavia, 'now if you wouldn't mind just going into the next cubicle, Nurse will clean that hand up and the doctor can take a look at it. You'll need ATS too—a knife, I imagine?'

'You imagine correctly, Sister.'

She nodded without looking at him. 'I'm going to telephone the police very shortly, perhaps you wouldn't mind telling them just what happened? This little lady is hardly fit to be questioned just yet. We shall need your name and address too… Nurse will see to it.' She turned as she heard John Waring's step. 'Hullo, again.' She flashed him a tired smile. 'I've not done too much—I thought you'd better take a quick look first. There's a small wound here…' They bent over the patient together, everything else forgotten for the moment.

It was some time later, when Octavia had discovered her patient's name, wrapped her in a dressing gown, Mr Waring had dealt with her injuries, and she had taken her to X–ray and finally seen her safely off to one of the women's wards, that she discovered that the man who had brought her in was still there. The police had come and gone, John

Waring had disappeared too and she had sent the two nurses and Mrs Taylor off duty. It was ten o'clock by now and she had started to tidy up the cubicle before writing up the Casualty Book. Snoopy Kate hadn't been near—typical, thought Octavia, racing round the little room transforming it to its usual spick and span appearance; when there was nothing to do, she would bustle around, picking holes in things that didn't matter at all, but when the day staff were delayed by a case, Snoopy Kate kept well away until everything was quiet again. Octavia shot the last receiver into its allotted space and nipped across to the office to be brought to a halt by a voice behind her.

'This place is very inefficiently run,' remarked the big man coolly. 'You send your nurses off duty and remain behind to do work which is theirs; and apparently there is no one to take over—just when do you go yourself?'

Octavia, quite short–tempered by now, answered him snappily: 'I might ask the same question of you. Doctor Waring saw you, didn't he? and Nurse told me that your hand had been attended to. And really it is no concern of yours as to when I go off duty.' She was about to wish him goodnight and show him the door when she was struck by a sudden thought. 'Did you have your ATS?'

'Ah—I wondered when someone would give it a thought,' he told her nastily.

She whisked back to the trolley she had just tidied so carefully and found syringe, needle and ampoule. 'I'm sorry,' she told him contritely, 'you should have said sooner, but I quite see that you wouldn't want to do that because we were a bit busy. I hope it hasn't spoilt your evening.'

The man's lip quivered slightly. 'My evening was spoilt some hours ago,' he reminded her.

He had got to his feet and taken off his jacket and rolled

up a sleeve. Silk shirt, she noted, and a beautifully tailored jacket; she wondered fleetingly who he was. Rather an arrogant type, she considered, and given to saying just what he thought, but he had a nice voice and the trace of an accent.

'Why did you look like that when your patient told you that she had not a soul to mind?'

She stood beside him, the syringe in hand, her lovely eyes wide. 'Look like what?'

'Worried—upset, angry.'

She shot the needle into the arm like a tree trunk before she answered him. 'Oh, well—there was a man this morning, the police brought him in, half starved and ill and elderly—he said almost the same thing.' She added almost to herself: 'There must be someone…'

'You like helping lame dogs?' He had his jacket on again.

She said indignantly: 'That sounds horrid, as though I were a do–gooder, but everyone deserves a chance to be happy and have enough to eat and a home.'

He sat down again and she interrupted herself to ask: 'Don't you want to go? There's nothing more…'

He glanced at his watch. 'I'll stay until you go off duty— anyone might come in and you're alone.'

He was nice after all. Octavia gave him a friendly smile. 'That's very nice of you—do you imagine that the muggers will come crawling in here to have their bruises seen to? I'm not easily frightened—besides, one of the night Sisters will be here any time now.'

'Ah, yes,' he murmured, 'Snoopy Kate. Nurse told me about her while she was cleaning up my hand—she sounds interesting. I believe I hear footsteps now.'

It was Snoopy Kate right enough, coming in from the other end of Casualty so that she could peer and prod at

the equipment and move all the trollies half an inch, tut–tutting as she came. She could see Octavia but no one else and she began grumbling while she was still the length of the department away. 'Ten o'clock,' she declared, 'and still not finished. I don't know, you girls can't work like we did when I was young— What are you doing here anyway? There's no patient…'

The large man came into view then, holding his strapped knuckles rather ostentatiously before him, so that Octavia, suppressing a grin was able to point out to her superior that there was indeed a patient. 'This gentleman brought in an old lady who had been injured by muggers,' she told her, and added coldly: 'A few minutes before nine o'clock, but since I wasn't relieved and there was a lot to do, I'm only just finished.'

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