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The operating theatre was quiet; not a peaceful quiet, though. Mr Thomley-Jones was in a bad temper and although he was working with his usual meticulous care and skill, he was making life hard for those in attendance upon him, snapping and snarling his way through a cholescystectomy, two nasty appendicesboth pushed in between the other cases because they could have perforated at any momentand now with a still nastier splenectomy almost completed, he was venting his wrath on the hapless house surgeon who was assisting himself and his registrar. The unfortunate young man, clumsy in any case, became even more so, dropping things, tightening retractors when they should have been loosened, using the wrong scissors and generally making a fine muddle. His chief waited in mounting impatience and a silence which spoke for itself while his assistant cut the ends of gut with which Mr Thomley-Jones was reassembling his patient's inside and then let out a great roar as the unfortunate young man cut too close so that the stitch was no longer a stitch. The registrar sighed soundlessly and took over, the thunder of his chief's rage leaving him unmoved.
Just as unmoved was Mr Thomley-Jones' theatre Sister, who in one swift movement removed the scissors from the hapless surgeon's hand, gave him a swab to hold, handed more gut to Mr Thomley-Jones, threaded another needle ready for the mattress stitches and swept her gaze round the theatre. The theatre mechanic was standing stolidly by the anaesthetist, her staff nurse was checking swabs, the more senior of the student nurses was looking frightened but doing just as she should, and her companion, fresh in the theatre that very morning, was in tears.
She put the needle and gut into Mr Thomley-Jones' impatient hand and said in a quelling voice: 'Sir, you've made one of my nurses cry.'
'Bah!' exclaimed Mr Thomley-Jones, 'she shouldn't be in theatre if she's got no guts for it.'
Theatre Sister looked at him from a pair of fine dark eyes, heavily lashed. 'Unlike many of the people who come here, she has got guts, but when you get annoyed you're rather awesome, sir.'
He glanced at her and although she couldn't see his face she knew that he was pleased at being called awesomeit sounded godlike.
'Impertinent young woman, aren't you, Sister?'
'I'm sorry if you think so, sir, but I try to look after my nurses.'
He held out a hand for more gut and she inserted it into the needle-holder with great neatness.
'Oh, you do that all right, teach 'em well, too. You're a good one at your job, Amelia.'
When he called her by her name she knew that she had been forgiven. They had worked together now for four years and had a proper respect for each other's job; as the operation drew to its close he mellowed visibly so that the houseman was emboldened to take up the scissors again and the registrar winked at Amelia.
The surgeons went away presently to drink their coffee in her little office down the corridor, and, the patient safely despatched to his ward, the anaesthetist wandered away to join his colleagues, leaving the mechanic to tidy up after him while Amelia collected her nurses and set about the task of clearing away and setting up for the afternoon list. But presently she left Sybil, her staff nurse, and the student nurse and guided her new member of the team into the anaesthetic room where she was at pains to explain to the still tearful girl that Mr Thomley-Jones' bark was a great deal worse than his bite, that in time she would find that she could continue with her tasks in theatre whatever happened and that she had done very well for her first morning. 'And just you remember,' said Amelia soothingly, jumping down from the trolley where she had perched herself, 'one day you'll probably be a theatre Sister yourself. It's a splendid job, you know.'
With which heartening words she took herself off to join the gentlemen; they liked her to be there while they relaxed after a list, to pour their coffee and hand them biscuits and make an attentive audience of one while they chewed over their work. It was a nice job, she mused, going down the corridor, but after four years she was beginning to wonder if she wanted it for much longer; she was twenty-seven now, almost twenty-eight and although she had been engaged for a year to Tom Crouch, the Medical Registrar, he had made it evident that he expected her to go on working for some years after they were married, and as his reasons were sound and sensible she had stifled her disappointment and agreed to stay at St Ansell's. Tom was clever and doing well and he wanted to do better. He was anxious to make a success of his life and give her the things he considered that she should have; he was quite stubborn about this, and it was a pity, for she was the only daughter of a very comfortably placed village squire, able to provide all the comforts and luxuries Tom wanted her to have as well as helping him up the ladder. It seemed a waste of time to go on working while he saved enough to buy himself into a practice when she could have married him at once and enjoyed all the pleasure of running her own home. She saw his point of view, of course, but sometimes when she was tired at the end of a long day, she wondered if he weren't being selfishwell, not selfish, just a bit thoughtless
There was almost no coffee left; she went in search of more, was scolded by the theatre maid and returned to pour second cups and the remainder for herself. She drank it fairly quickly and then excused herself and went back to the theatre, thankful that it was one of the days when only one theatre was in use.
The afternoon list, with Mr Godwin operating, went peacefully. He was a small, good-natured man, not in the least temperamental, and a good surgeon. But he was slow; by five o'clock Amelia was tired and a little cross. Thank heaven, she thought, Tom was free and they would go out to dinner somewhere quiet, and in two days she would go home for her days off. The thought got her through the rest of the afternoon and presently she was curled up on the rather shabby sofa in the Sisters' sitting room, drinking the teapot dry and contemplating her evening.
Tom had said seven o'clock, and well before that time she climbed the stairs to her room, had a bath and got changed, and because she had the time to spare she took extra trouble with her face and hair. The result was satisfactory even to her critical eye; her hair, a rich deep brown, she had brushed smooth into a chignon, her pretty face, with its delicately tilted nose and wide curved mouth, she had made up with care and her dress, a lacy knit jersey in a lovely rich ochre, although plain and very simple, had the simplicity of good cut and material. It suited her tall, well-built figure to perfection and for once she found no reason to moan over her shape, which while it left nothing to be desired, was on the Junoesque side.
She was still a little early, but she put on an angora coat against the September chill and went downstairs.
Tom wasn't there, but she hadn't expected him to be. She whiled away ten minutes or so talking to Giles, the Head Porter, and then turned at Tom's quiet: 'Sorry to keep you waiting, Amelia.'
She beamed up at him, wishing secretly that old Giles or no, he would kiss her or at least take her handafter all, they had been engaged for some time now and there was nothing secret about it. She stifled regret and told herself that Tom always did the right thing and whereas she was impulsive and inclined to want her own way, he was invariably correct in his behaviour and deliberate in his decisions. She went out to his well-kept Rover and got in beside him, and he drove, with all due regard for the Rules of the Road, into the stream of evening traffic.
They almost always went to the same restaurant, an Italian one in the Brompton Road, and the head waiter showed them to their usual table with a welcoming smile. As they sat down Tom observed: 'That's a new dress, isn't it, Amelia?'
'Yesdo you like it?'
'Very muchI suppose it cost a month's salary?' He smiled at her as he spoke, but it was a thin smile, and she sighed a little when she saw it.
'It was expensive, TomI like clothes, most women do, but I'd cheerfully wear the same old thing for years if it would help youbut you won't be helped '
'No. Will you mind after we're married, not being able to buy anything you take a fancy to?'
She felt surprise. 'But Tom, you won't mind me spending my own money, will you? You know I've got an allowance, and it isn't just one Father gives me, you knowit's from some money my mother left to me. It doesn't matter what I do, it'll be paid to me for as long as I live.'
Tom was studying the menu. 'When we marry, it will be when I can support you fittingly as my wife, my dearyou will have an allowance from me.'
She gave him a bewildered look. 'But if I'm still working.?'
'That's a different matter. We shall both be earning and saving for our future.'
She couldn't see the difference herself, but she didn't say any more. It was very likely that being an only child of a loving although somewhat carefree parent, she had been spoilt and indulged and had grown up with all the wrong ideas. She studied the menu and made a mental resolve not to wear a new dress for a long time.
She went home two days later, to the small village in the Cotswolds where she had been born and had spent her childhood. Her mother had been alive then; it was only when she had died that Amelia had been sent away to a well-known girls' boarding school and when she had left there she had refused point blank to go to the finishing school to which her father had been advised to send her, but had stayed at home, running the rambling old house, riding Sorrel, the elderly mare, learning how to be a good housewife from Bonny the housekeeper who had been there ever since she could remember.
The realisation that she wanted to do something more than these things came slowly and helping to nurse her father through a bad attack of pneumonia decided her. She enrolled as a student nurse at St Ansell's, passed her exams brilliantly and at the age of twenty-four found herself theatre Sister in charge of the two main theatres in the hospital. She had met Tom a year later and the following year they had got engaged. She had taken him home to meet her father and proudly displayed the solitaire diamond ring he had given her. It was a small diamond but a good one; Tom never bought rubbish.
Her father met her at the station and drove her the several miles home. Amelia had a little car of her own, but she had left it behind on her last leave to have it serviced at the local garage; now she would be able to drive herself back. She sat happily beside her father and looked around her. The country was beautiful, it always was, but autumn was her time of year; she loved the colours and the smell of bonfires and the trees turning from green to gold and brown and red. She was only half listening to her father telling her about the trout he had almost caught, the new fly he had made, the old pike which still evaded even the most beguiling baithe was an enthusiastic fisherman and ever since her mother died she had accompanied him on several trips. She didn't like fishing herself, but over the years she had learnt a good deal about it. She turned to look at her parent now, smiling a little. He was a big man, stooping a little now, with a fine head of white hair and a luxurious moustache which didn't conceal the good looks which she had inherited, although it was her mother's dark eyes which enhanced them. They twinkled nicely now.
'You sound thoroughly put out with the fishing, Fatherwhy not try Scotland for a week or two?'
He gave a rich chuckle and swung the old Bentley through the open gate and up the drive to the lovely old house at its end. 'Better than that, my dear. I thought I might try Norwayold Jenks is just back; had a splendid timecan't remember the place, but there was more fish than he could take. Why don't you come with me? We'll hire a boat and you can see to the food and so on.'
They were crossing the gravel to the house, but she stopped and looked at him with faint horror. 'But Father, it's Septemberthe end of September, it'll be cold '
'Pooh, what's a chilly wind or so? Why not get Tom to come along too?'
'Tom? Well, yes, he's got a week's leave duebut I've got three '
'Well, he can come for a week, can't he? It's only a short flight from Heathrow.' He stumped across the wide panelled hall. 'Give you a chance to talkgetting married and so on. Haven't you got a date fixed yet?'
Bonny, the housekeeper, had appeared to open the drawing room door and tell them that lunch would be half an hour and it looked, if she might be so bold as to say so, as if Miss Amelia needed a few good meals.
Amelia gave her a hug, assured her that she never felt better but would undertake to eat anything she had cooked and went to sit by the wood fire burning in the stone fireplace. When Bonny had gone she said:
'Tom wants to get a bit more money savedwe thought in about two years' time, and I'll go on working.' She sounded a bit defiant, and her father didn't say anything for a minute but poured their sherry with care.
'Well, you're old enough to know your own minds,' he said gruffly. 'Most young people seem to set up house together without a thought of the future, nor for that matter, of getting marriedthat seems to come later.'
'Tom isn't like that.'
Mr Crosbie looked as though he was going to say something, changed his mind and handed her the glass instead. 'Anyway,' he said mildly, 'a week's holiday can't interfere with your plans, can it, and I don't suppose Tom will object to you staying on another couple of weeks with me. He's a reasonable man.'
Amelia, relieved at getting the bit about them not marrying for a bit off her chest, conceded that he wouldn't mind at all and three weeks would be fun. 'When were you thinking of going?' she asked.