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Miss Augusta Brown climbed the old-fashioned staircase leading to the Private Patients' Wing, planting her small feet, shod in regulation black lace-ups, with a deliberation which amounted to slow motion. She was seething with temper, disappointment, and a burning sense of injustice, for half an hour previously she had been sent for by Matron, to be told by that somewhat awe-inspiring little lady that she was to go to Private Wing for an unspecified period, until such time as Staff Nurse Bates returned from sick leave. Augusta disliked Bates anywaya tiresome girl, making the most of a grumbling appendixand she loathed Private Patients. She had told Matron so, her pleasant voice sharpened by determination; but it had been useless, of course. She had returned to Men's Surgical, where she had been staffing most happily for the year since she had qualified, and told Sister and such of the nurses and patients who happened to be around. She told Archie Dukes toohe had been houseman on the ward for the last six months, and they had become good friends. Now she wouldn't be able to see so much of him; junior house surgeons didn't find their way to PP very often they would have to rely upon the odd meeting in one of the hospital's innumerable corridors, and trust to luck that they would occasionally be free at the same time; a not very likely chance, for she had often heard Bates grumbling about the number of split duties she had it was the best way to get work done on PP, because most of the patients had visitors each afternoon, so that any treatment needed was set aside until after tea, when the staff nurse could cope with it when she returned at five o'clock. A fine state of affairs, thought Augusta resentfully, who had been in the habit of sharing alternate duties with Sister.
She reached the top of the stairs, pushed open the swing doors before her, and went, still slowly, into Sister's office.
Sister Cutts was sitting at her deska tall, lean woman, who had reached middle age without making any effort to do something about it. Her greying hair was strained back into a scanty bun, her thin face, devoid of lipstick, bore traces of the wrong shade of powder. She had beautiful, dark, melancholy eyes and splendid teeth. Augusta, studying her as she reported for duty, thought for the hundredth time that it was a great pity that no one had taken Sister Cutts in hand she was an excellent nurse, and treated her staff with an aloof fairness which they found distinctly daunting, and she had no close friends. She looked up as Augusta entered, smiled briefly and said:
'Good morning, Staff Nurse Brown. Sit down, will you? I'll be ready for you in a minute.'
She returned to whatever she was doing and became instantly absorbed in it, leaving Augusta to sit and stare out of the window. PP was on the fourth floor, well away from the noise and bustle of the courtyard below. She watched an ambulance slide rapidly up to the Accident Room entrance, reflecting at the same time, with an uplift of her spirits, that she would be going on holiday in three weeks' time anyway, and probably by the time she got back, Bates would be on duty again. She interrupted her thoughts for a moment, to watch while the ambulance men threw open its door and carefully drew out a stretcher and bore it away out of sight. She wondered what it wasnot an accident, for the flash wasn't on; she mulled over the possibilities and then abandoned them for the more cheerful subject of holidays. She would go home for a day or so, to the small village in Dorset where her father was the local vet, and then she would go over to Holland; to Alkmaar, where her mother's two elderly aunts lived. It would be quiet staying with them, but it made a change, and as her mother often reminded her, it was good for her Dutch.
She looked across the desk at Sister Cutts, but her head was still bowed over her writing. Augusta fought a desire to yawn and began some complicated mental arithmetic to discover if she would have enough money to buy some new clothes; even if the holiday was to be a quiet one, there was no need for her to look a dowd. But her arithmetic was poor, and presently she gave up her sums, and sat staring at her hands folded tidily upon her white apron. They were pretty hands, small and finely shaped, with pale pink nailsher only beauty, her brother Charles had generously conceded, pointing out with brutal frankness that with a turned-up nose like hers, and a mouth like a letterbox and carroty hair to boot, she was no picture. This unpleasing description of her person in no way distressed Augusta; for one thing, it was grossly exaggerated. Her hair was indeed a peculiar shade of pale copper, but it was soft and fine and her nose was nice enough, even if it did turn up the merest bit at the end, and as for her mouth, large it might be, but it was a good shape and curved sweetly at the corners. She was no beauty, but on the other hand, she wasn't plainand she had most satisfactory eyes vividly green, fringed and browed silkily with a deep coppery brown. But she would have liked to have been taller and slimmeras a child she had been plump, and although the plumpness had melted away, leaving curves in the right places and a slim waist, it was only in the last few years that she had weaned her family from the habit of addressing her as Rolyeven now, they occasionally forgot.
Sister Cutts spoke. 'Now, Staff Nurse, if we run through the Kardex togethertwenty rooms, as you knowthree empty at the moment, but there are two appendices coming in this afternoon under Mr James. I'll start with Room One. There are several patients who are not seriously illyou appreciate that, of course.'
Augusta made a small sound of agreement. PP always had its quota of patients with mild chest infections, or needing a check-up; for there were still those who could afford the fees to lie in comfort while various tests were carried out, instead of going to Out-Patients and waiting their turn; just as there were those who preferred to come into hospital while they had a course of antibiotics. They were quite entitled to their beds and they paid heavy fees; all the same Augusta felt vaguely sorry for them, for if only they weren't so rich and had jobs, they wouldn't have so much time to worry about themselves.
'Marlene Jones,' said Sister Cutts in a no-nonsense voice. 'T's and A's.'
It took quite a time to go through the Kardex; Augusta listened carefully and then followed Sister out into the corridor which stretched on either side of the office; the patients' rooms on one side of it; a long line of windows overlooking a wide vista of chimney pots, church spires and a distant view of St Paul's, on the other. Augusta gazed out upon this urban scene and wondered for the hundredth time why she had ever come to London in the first place. She had a sudden longing to be home, in the paddock behind the house, with the dogs and Bottom, the old pet donkey, and a pleasant smell of baking coming from the kitchen. She wondered, fleetingly, if Sister Cutts was considerate about days off She caught that lady's eye, and hastily opened the door of Room One.
The occupant was rolling about in the bed, screaminga small girl of six or thereabouts, very pretty and quite obviously spoiled. The child's mother was standing by the bed, looking helpless, but when she saw them come in, she spoke at once and quite nastily.
'Really, Sister, surely someone darling Marlene has such a sore throat I should have thought that a nurse '
'Did you ring, Mrs Jones?' asked Sister Cutts briskly.
'Well, no all the same, the nurses should have heard her cryingor at least come and see Marlene every few minutes or so.'
Sister Cutts received this observation with faintly lifted eyebrows.
'There is considerable noise in a hospital, Mrs Jonesthe nurses go about their work, and only stop what they are doing when a bell is rung, unless the patient is too ill to ring it, in which case other arrangements are made. In any case, you, Marlene's mother, are here.'
She went over to the bed without hurry. 'Stop crying, Marlene, for that will make your throat more sore, you know, and then you won't be able to go homelet me seethe day after tomorrow, isn't it?'
Marlene snivelled grumpily, eyeing Sister Cutts with the malevolence of the angry young and a certain amount of respect.
'Ice cream for tea,' remarked Sister. 'This is Staff Nurse Brown who will look after you when I'm not here.'
She turned away, leaving Augusta to go to the bed, where she was studied fixedly before Marlene said, in a voice thickened by tears and soreness, 'You've got green eyes.' And then, 'Do you have ice cream for tea?'
'No such luck,' said Augusta cheerfully. 'I shall come and see you eat yours instead.' She smiled at the red, tear-stained face, smiled again, briefly, at Mrs Jones, and followed Sister Cutts out of the room.
The patient next door was an old manvery old, very ill, and, said Sister, as they closed the door upon him; very rich. His wife was still a young womantoo young, observed Sister, darkly.
The third patient was of more interest, though not from a medical point of view. Miss Dawn Dewey, a film starlet, was suffering from a feverish cold which she referred to, rather grandly, as Coryza; she also talked vaguely about threatened complications. But Augusta, standing primly beside Sister, thought that she looked remarkably healthy indeed, she found the patient's condition far less interesting than the ruffled and ribboned nightgown she was wearing. She went nearer the bed to greet the young woman in it, and decided that the lace was real something to tell the girls when she went to dinner. But despite the gorgeous nightie and the quantities of flowers about the room, Miss Dewey looked discontented and a little vapid, although as Augusta reminded herself, the poor dear did have a very nasty cold.
She followed Sister in and out of four or five rooms, saying 'How do you do?' to their occupants and studying them with her bright green eyes. Some of the patients were ill, and her pleasant face softened with sympathy, for she was a softhearted girl who hated to see suffering and painwhich was why, of course, she was such a good nurse.
They retraced their steps presently to the other half of the corridor beyond Sister's office, calling first upon a charming middle-aged woman with a pretty, weak face and a gushing mannera chronic alcoholic, who came in regularly in vain attempts to cure her. Next to her was the Brigadier Sister had warned Augusta about him, for he was peppery in the extreme, and prone to use Army language if annoyed, and that, it seemed, was often. Augusta rather liked him. But it was the next patient who caught her fancy: Lady Belway, a bad-tempered old lady in a lace nightcap and a marabou cape, who lay in bed with a fractured neck of femur, looking like a chained lioness. She lifted a lorgnette on a gold chain to stare at Augusta as Sister introduced her, and said in a commanding voice:
'She's only a childfar too young to look after meor anyone else for that matter.'
Augusta, who had great-aunts of her own, allowed herself a faint smile and said nothing, leaving Sister to answer. 'Staff
Nurse is a most capable member of our staff, Lady Belway highly thought of by the consultants.'
Augusta blinked at this generous testimonial, and the old lady grunted. 'How old are you?'
Augusta blinked again with her sable lashes. 'Twenty-three.'
Lady Belway stared rudely at her. 'Extraordinary hair,' she remarked. And before she could say anything more:
'Yes, isn't it?' agreed Augusta coolly, 'but it makes no difference to my nursing, Lady Belway.' She smiled kindly, her eyes twinkling, and after a long second, the old lady smiled back.
'I've a filthy temper,' she observed with complacence, 'but I suppose you're trained to ignore it.'
Augusta considered this remark. 'If you mean do we let that sort of thing upset usno, we don't, but that doesn't mean we ignore the patients.' She smiled again and followed Sister to the door, and the old lady called after them, 'Come back and talk to me, Nurse Brown,' which command Augusta acknowledged with another non-committal smile, and Sister with the acid remark that Lady Belway was mistaken; Nurse Brown was Staff Nurse Brown
Back in the office, she said, 'I understand that you are going on holiday in a week or so, Staff Nurse. Until then perhaps you will take over Staff Nurse Bates' off-duty.'
Augusta said 'Yes, Sister,' because she fancied that it wouldn't be of much use saying anything else, and as she took off her cuffs to prepare for work, she thought nostalgically of Men's Surgical, where Sister, who wasn't a great deal older than herself, had the pleasing habit of offering her a choice of days off, and lent an understanding ear when Augusta had a date with Archie.
She was about to go to her dinner, when Sister Cutts passed the remark that she would be taking a half day, and she was sure that Augusta would manage very well. One of the part-time staff nurses would take over for the afternoon, and Augusta would be good enough to come back on duty at five o'clock. Over dinner, Augusta unburdened herself to those particular staff nurses who were her friends, and then in company with two of them who had half days, took herself out for a little window-shopping, followed by a recklessly extravagant tea at Fortnum and Mason's. She arrived back on duty with a bare minute to spare to take the report from the part-time staff nurse, a large placid girl with a husband and two small children to look after. Augusta, still a little breathless from her hurrying, envied her her unshakable calm.