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Men's surgical was quietthere had been two emergency admissions before midnight; a case in theatrea rather nasty appendixat one o'clock, and a cardiac arrest at half past two; these happenings interspersed by old Mr Gadd's frequent and successful attempts to climb over his cot sides and amble down the ward in search of refreshment. But none of these happenings appeared to have upset Miss Harriet Slocombe, sitting, as neat as a new pin, at Sister's desk, writing the bare bones of her report. She appeared to be as fresh as the proverbial daisy and would have been genuinely surprised if anyone had suggested to her that she had had a busy night. She sucked the top of her ballpoint and frowned at the clatter of plates from the kitchen where her junior nurse was cutting bread and butter for the patients' breakfasts. It was four o'clock, almost time for her, in company with Nurse Potter, to consume the tea and toast with which they fortified themselves before beginning their early morning work. Miss Slocombe removed the pen from her mouth and got up in order to do a round of her patients.She went from bed to bed, making no sound, due very largely to the fact that she had removed her shoes from her feet some time previously, and was in her stockings. The shoes stood side by side under Sister's desk, waiting to be donned again after her tea break. She reached the end of the ward and paused by the windows opening on to the balcony, to look out into the chill gloom of the early morning. March could be dreary; especially just before dawn. She stood watching the fine drizzle and thought with pleasure of the three-week holiday she was to have in a fortnight's time and atthe end of it she would be coming back to St Nick's as Ward Sister of Men's Surgical. A rosy future, she told herself robustly, and sighed. She was twenty-four years old and pretty, with wide blue eyes, a retroussé nose and a gently curving mouth; she wore her bright blonde hairthe envy of her friendsin a complicated knot on top of her head, and her person was small, so that she looked extremely fragile. She was in fact, as strong as an ox. She had a faint air of reserve and a nasty temper when roused, which was seldom. She was liked by everyone in the hospital with the possible exception of one or two of the housemen, who had expected her to be as fragile as her appearance and were still smarting from her astringent tongue. They called her Haughty Harry amongst themselves, and when she had heard about it, she had laughed with everybody else, but a little wistfully, because she knew that with the right man she wouldn't be in the least haughty She sighed again, and went to tuck up Mr Gadd who had, as usual, fallen sound asleep at the wrong end of the night. In the next bed to him, the theatre case opened hazy eyes and said in a woolly drugged voice, 'Cor, dang me, you'm as pretty as a picture,' and went immediately to sleep again.
Harriet smiled, a warm, motherly smile, wholly without conceit; she was aware that she was a pretty girl, but two elder sisters and three brothers younger than herself had taught her at an early age to put things in their proper perspective. She had long since outgrown her youthful dreams of captivating some young, handsome and wealthy man with her good looks; but outgrown though they might be, they had so far made it impossible for her to settle for anything less. She moved soundlessly down the ward, adjusted two drips, took a blood pressure and carefully and gently examined the two emergencies; they were sleeping soundly. She supposed that they would go to Theatre during the day. She reached the last bed and stood a moment facing the quiet ward, listening. She ignored the snores, the sighs and Mr Bolt's tracheostomy tube's faint whistle, she ignored the background sissing of the hot water pipes and the soft rhythm of the electric pump beneath young Butcher's bed all these sounds were familiar; she knew who and what made them. It was other sounds she was listening fora change in breathing, an unexpectedly sudden restlessness and more sinisterthe quiet from a bed where there should be the small sounds of a sleeping man. Her trained ear detected nothing untoward, however, and she nodded, well satisfied, and turned to Sister's table, just as Nurse Potter, plump and beaming, edged herself round the ward door with a tray. She put it down carefully and whispered breathily, 'I made Bovril toast, Staff,' and indicated the generous pile before them. Harriet was already pouring out the tea.
'Good. I love it and I'm famished. I only hope we'll get the chance to eat it all.'
They began to munch, and presently, when their hunger was a little blunted, Harriet started to plan the morning's work.
Night nurses' breakfast was always a noisy meal everyone talked and laughed with a false energy inspired by the knowledge that the night was over once more. The paralysis of tiredness which had crept over them in the early hours of the morning had been forgotten. Later, it would return, so that those who weren't already in bed were liable to sleep in the bath or drop off over a late morning cup of cocoain the meantime they were all bursting with vigour. The staff nurses sat at a table on their own; there were perhaps a dozen of them, of whom Harriet was the last to arrive that morning. Late though she was, she looked unruffled and incredibly neat and not in the least tired.
'We stayed to help,' she volunteered as she sat down. 'There's been an accident at the brickworks.'
There was an understanding murmurthe brickworks was notorious for the fact that it could always be relied upon to fill any vacant bed in Men's Surgical at all times.
She was left to make a substantial breakfast at her leisure, and not until she had poured her third cup of tea did someone ask, 'Has anyone seen the new RMO? I ought to have doneafter all, I am on Medical, but all I got last night was our Mr Rugg.' Mr Rugg was young and uncertain and definitely not a lady's man. The speaker looked around the table until her eye lighted upon Harriet, who had gone a delicious pink.
'I might have known Harry, where did you meet him?'
Harry put down her cup. 'He came on to the ward last night,' she said serenely. 'We had that cardiac arrest, remember?' She looked inside the empty teapot and put it down again resignedly. 'He's nicegood-looking and one of those gravelly voices and polished manners' She was interrupted by a chorus of knowing groans; when they had subsided she added gently, 'He's engaged.'
A disappointed voice asked, 'How do you know? He couldn't have had time to tell you that!'
'He talked while he was making up the chart. I expect he felt lonely and wanted to talk about her. Perhaps I've got a sympathetic face,' she observed hopefully, and was greeted by a shriek of friendly laughter; her friends and acquaintances holding the opinion that anyone as pretty as Harry Slocombe needed to be nothing else. After a moment she laughed with them, privately wondering why everyone other than her own family attached such importance to looks.
A couple of hours later she was sitting up in bed reading sleepily when there was a knock on the door and a tall well-built girl came in.
Harriet put her book down. 'Sieske, you're never on at eleven again?'
The girl nodded gloomily and came to sit on the end of the bed. She was nice-looking, with a pleasant, placid face framed in pale hair which she wore in an unfashionable and highly becoming bun in the nape of her neck.
Aunt Agnes must loathe me,' she remarked. Aunt Agnes was the Sister on Men's Medical, she had been there for unnumbered years and made a habit of loathing everyone. 'It is because I am not English, you think?'
Harriet shook her head. 'She never likes anyone. I shouldn't worry anyway, it's only another two weeks, isn't it? I shall miss you, Sieske.'
'Me you too,' said Sieske with obscure sincerity. She patted her bun with a large capable and very beautiful hand and turned solemn blue eyes on Harriet.
'Harry, will you not come with me when I go? You have three weeks' holiday; you could see much of Holland in that timewe should all be so glad; my family think of you as a friend, you know. I tell them many times of my visits to your homewe shall be highly pleased to have you as guest. It is a quiet place where we live, but we have many friends, and the country is pretty too.' She paused and went on shyly, 'I should like you to meet Wierd.' Wierd was her fiancé; after several months of friendship with Sieske, Harriet looked upon him as an old friend, just as the Dutch girl's family her mother and father, younger sisters and the older brother who had just qualified as a doctor at Leidenseemed like old friends too. The Dutch girl had told her so much about them that she felt that she already knew them. It would be delightful to go and stay with Sieske and meet them allthere was a partner too, she remembered; mentioned casually from time to time. Harriet searched her sleep-clogged brain for his name. Friso Eijsinck. She didn'tknow much more about him than his name, though. Sieske had mentioned too that he wasn't married. Harriet felt faintly sympathetic towards him, picturing him as a middle-aged bachelor with a soup-stained waistcoat. She dismissed his vague image from her mind.
'I'd love to come,' she said warmly. 'But are you sure it will be all right with your family?'
Sieske smiled. 'But of course I am sure. Already they have written with an invitation, which I extend to you. I am most happy, as they will be. We will make plans together for the journey.' She got up. 'Now you will sleep and I will write to Moeder.'
'We'll arrange it all on my nights off,' said Harriet sleepily. 'Get a day off and come home with metell Aunt Agnes you have to go to your grandmother's funeral.'
A joke?' queried Sieske. She had a hand on the door but paused to look back doubtfully at Harriet. But Harriet was already asleep.
Harriet's family lived in a small west country village some forty miles from the city where she worked. Her father had had a practice there for twenty-five years or more and lived in a roomy rather ramshackle house that had sheltered his large family with ease, and now housed a growing band of grandchildren during school holidays. His eldest son had just qualified in his turn and had already taken his place in the wide-flung practice. It was he who fetched the two girls from hospital a few days later. He owned an elderly Sprite, which was always overloaded with passengers, but both girls were used to travelling in this cramped fashion and packed themselves in without demur. The country looked fresh and green after the rain, the moors rolled away into the distanceHarriet tied a scarf tightly round her hair and drew a deep breath; she was always happiest where the horizon was wide. The village looked cosy, with its thatched and cob walled cottages; the daffodils were out in the doctor's garden as they shot up the drive and stopped with a tooth-jolting jerk at the front door. The girls scrambled out and ran inside to the comfort of the shabby hall and thence to the big sitting-room at the back of the house, where Mrs Slocombe was waiting with tea and the warm welcome she offered to anyone who set foot inside her home. She listened to the girls' plans as they ate their way through home-made scones with a great deal of butter and jam, and the large fruit cake Mrs Slocombe had thoughtfully baked against their coming. She refilled their cups and said calmly, 'How lovely for you, Harry darling. You'll need a passport and a photobetter go into town tomorrow and get them settled. How will you go?'
Sieske answered, 'From Harwich. We can go by train from the Hoek and my father will meet us at Leeuwarden.'
Mrs Slocombe replenished the teapot. 'Travel broadens the mind,' she observed, and looked at Harriet, immersed in a map. Such a dear child, and so unlike her brothers and sisters with her delicate prettiness and femininity and so gently pliant until one encountered the sturdy core of proud independence and plain common sense beneath it. Mrs Slocombe sighed. It would be nice to see Harriet happily married as her two sisters were. Heaven knew it wasn't for lack of opportunity, the dear girl was surrounded by men as though they were bees round a honeypot; and she treated all of them as though they were brothers. Perhaps she would meet some nice man in Holland. Mrs Slocombe smiled happily at the thought and gave her mind to the serious business of the right clothes to take.
They spent the rest of that evening making their plans, helped and sometimes hindered by the advice and suggestions proffered by members of the family and their friends as they drifted in and out of the sitting-room. Her brother William, coming in from evening surgery, remarked with all the experience of someone who had been to the Continent of Europe on several occasions, 'Still at it? Good lord, Harry, anyone would think you were going to the other side of the world instead of the other side of the North Sea.'
His sister remained unmoved by his observations, and merely picked up a small cushion and threw it at his head with the unerring aim of much practice. 'Beast,' she said affectionately. 'But it is the other side of the world to me, isn't it? I've never been outside Britain before, so any part of the world is foreignjust as foreign as the other side of the worldand everyone I meet will be a foreigner.'
This ingenuous remark caused a great deal of merriment. 'I hope,' said William, half seriously, 'that you'll remember that you are going to be the foreigner.'
'Harriet will not feel foreign with us,' said Sieske stoutly. 'We all speak Englishthat is, Father and Aede and Friso speak it very well, and Maggina and Taeike are learning it at schoolonly my mother does not speak it though she does at times understand.'