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It was snowing outside, and the pallid faces of the night nurses coming off duty looked even more pallid in its glaring whiteness. Emily Seymour, one of the last to go, traipsed down the stairs from the top floor, where she had been in charge of the Ear, Nose and Throat wards, yawning widely, longing for her bed and knowing that it would be some time before she could get into it; it would be even longer today, she decided gloomily, glancing out of a landing window. The snow had settled and cycling through the streets would be a slow business. A pretty girl in staff nurse's uniform, bounding up the staircase towards her, paused to join her at the window.
'Lucky you, Emily,' she exclaimed cheerfully, 'going home to a nice warm bed. Had a busy night?' She glanced at her companion with sympathy. 'No, don't answer, I can see you did. What happened?'
'Terry had to have a trachy at two o'clock this morning. I got Mr Spencer upor at least, I rang his flat when Night Sister told me toand she couldn't be there because the Accident Department was going hell for leatherand he brought Professor Jurres-Romeijn with him.' She paused, staring out into the freshly whirling snow. 'I had everything ready, he did it in seconds flat.'
The pretty girl rolled a pair of fine eyes. 'Oh, him. He's the answer to every girl's dream; such a pity that no one knows anything about him and that he's not going to stay for ever. I must think up some good reason for going along to ENT this morning and see if I can soften him up a bit. I daresay ' she paused, listening. 'Oh, God, that sounds like Sister Gatesby trundling our way. 'Bye, love, be good.'
And when have I ever had the chance to be anything else? thought Emily, going on her way once more.
She met Sister Gatesby at the bottom of the second flight and that lady, stoutish and almost due to retire, seized on her at once. 'Just the girl!' she breathed happily. 'Just run back for me, Staff Nurse, and get the keys off the hook in Sister Reeves' office in ENT, will you? You can leave them at the Porter's Lodge as you go out; Theatre Sister wants them.'
She turned and wheezed her way down again, leaving Emily to trail all the way upstairs once more, muttering darkly under her breath. But she had finished her muttering by the time she had reached the top floor; for one thing she was a little short of wind and for another she had just remembered that her nights off were due in two days' time; she occupied the last few yards in making plans, then opened the swing doors and went through, into the landing which opened into the two wards, the kitchen, Sister's Office, the dressing room and the linen cupboard. The keys would be in Sister's Office, the first door on the left. She could hear the nurses in the ward, already well started on the day's routine; by the time Sister came on everything would be as it should be. She crossed the landing and then stopped with her hand on the door; Mr Spencer and Professor Jurres-Romeijn were in the dressing room, their backs towards her. She could see Mr Spencer's bald patch on the back of his head about which he was so sensitive because he was still quite a young man, and she could see the Professor's iron-grey cropped head, towering over his companion, for he was a vast man and very tall. He was speaking now, his voice, with its faint Dutch accent, very clear, although not loud.
'Good lord, Harry, am I to be fobbed off with that prim miss? Surely there's another nurse ?' He sounded annoyed.
Mr Spencer put up a hand to rub the bald patch. 'Sorry, sirshe's first class at her job '
'I take your word for thatwe are talking about the same girl, I suppose? A small, plump creature who merges into the background from whatever angle one looks at her.'
Mr Spencer chuckled. 'That's our Emilya splendid worker and marvellous with children. You'll find that she grows on you, sir.'
'Heaven forbid! The only females who grow on me are beautiful blondes who don't go beetroot red every time I look at them.'
Emily forced herself to move then and in direct contradiction to the Professor's words, her face was chalk white, not red at all. She went silently into Sister's Office, took the keys and went back down the endless stairs, the Professor's words ringing in her ears. She had the nasty feeling that she was never going to forget them for as long as she lived, and through her tired brain the beginnings of a fine temper began to flare.
She was prim, was she, and plump and given to blushing, something which the Professor, loathesome type that he was, found both amusing and tiresome! She gained the Porter's Lodge, slammed down the keys in old Henry's astonished face and pranced out of the hospital entrance. Well, he had made it known all too clearly that he didn't want her for some job or other; she would make it just as clear to him that she wasn't going to oblige him. Let him find another nurse to wait on him hand and foot; someone with blonde curls and blue eyes Emily, in the cupboard-like room by the bicycle shed where the nurses who lived out were expected to change, tore the cap off her own unspectacular brown hair, coiled so neatly, and began to race out of her uniform. Presently, buoyed up with her rage, she got her bike from the shed and oblivious of snow and slush, pedalled home.
Home was a small semi-detached villa on the very outskirts of the town. Emily, giving up a good post in London, had searched desperately for some months until she had found both a large hospital and a home close by. The hospital was one of the new ones, magnificently equipped, destined to take the overspill from London, ten miles away, and still a source of some astonishment to the inhabitants of the small town where it had been built. It took her ten minutes to cycle home, but today, because of the snow, she took a good deal longer and arrived at the wrought iron gate with 'Homelea' written on it, in a breathless state. Louisa, her younger sister, would be waiting with her breakfast, something she hated to do. She parked her bike in the little shed at the side of the house and went in through the back door.
Louisa was in the kitchen, her pretty face screwed up with peevishness.
'You're late,' she began. 'The twins are being little devils and they've both been sick.'
Emily made soothing murmurs; probably Louisa, who was only eighteen and impatient, had given them their morning feeds so fast that they had no choice but to bring the lot up again.
'I can't wait,' went on Louisa loudly, 'until I can get away from this hole only another month, thank God!'
Emily unwound the scarf from her neck. 'Yes, dear.' She could have voiced her nightmare fears of what was going to happen when Louisa went; Mary, their elder sister, and the twins' mother, was still in the Middle East, unable to leave until her husband had been cleared of some trumped-up charge about something or other to do with his work. She, and her husband, should have been home months ago; the twins were to have been left with Emily for three months, no longer, an arrangement which seemed sensible at the time; they were too young to take with her, Mary had decided, and besides, she had had no idea if she would be able to get adequate help, even a good doctor. Louisa, waiting to go into a school for modelling, was staying with Emily, and a month or two in a London flat, with both sisters to look after them, was the answer.
Only it hadn't worked out like that. At the end of the three months, Mary had managed to get a message to Emily, begging her to look after the twins for another few months at least, and she, looking at them, rapidly growing from small babies to energetic large ones, quite overflowing the small flat close to the big London teaching hospital where she worked, decided that the only thing to do was to move to a small town where she might with luck find a house with a garden. Louisa hadn't liked the idea, of course, but as Emily had pointed out in her sensible way, the babies mattered; she had promised to look after them until Mary and George came home again and until they did there was nothing else to do about it.
'And after all, darling,' Emily had explained patiently, 'you'll be starting your course in a few months' time and probably they'll be back by thenI know Mary said several months, but she couldn't have meant that.'
She had been lucky, getting a post as staff nurse at the new hospital on the outskirts of London, with the prospect of a Sister's post in a few months' time. Of course it wasn't a patch on Paul's, where she had trained, but she couldn't complain; she had found a house at a reasonable rent, and furnished it rather sparsely with the things she had brought from the London flat, odds and ends of furniture she had brought from home after her parents died. But the house had a small garden and the air was fresh, and if one looked out of the kitchen window one could see fields and treesnot real country, of course, it was too near London for that, but at least the twins could be taken out in their pram along the quieter roads around them.
Emily took off her coat and looked round the little kitchen. It looked untidy and not as clean as she would have liked. Louisa, understandably, hated housework, it spoilt her hands with their long fingers and tapering nailsalthough she tried hard, Emily told herself loyally, coping with the shopping and the babies.
She dismissed as unimportant the fact that Louisa only did what she had to do, and that grudgingly. At Louisa's ageand with her pretty face and figure, it was understandable that she should want to avoid all the humdrum jobs; if she had been as pretty herself, she would doubtless have felt just the same. But she wasn't prettyoh, pleasant enough; at least she didn't squint or have enormous ears, but her face was unspectacular and she was a little too plump; Louisa was always telling her so. Emily took it in good part. After all, Louisa hadn't had the happy childhood and girlhood that she had had and she had loved her three years' training, going home for days off and holidays while her parents were alive, and Mary in a good job at the local library until she had met George and married him. Louisa had been at school then, impatient to leave and make her mark in the world. She had known what she wanted to do; modellingand as she had a small legacy due to her when she was eighteen and a half, no one could stop her enrolling at one of the London modelling schools; in a month she would be able to start. In the meantime, she cooled her heels with Emily and the twins and Emily used the money Mary had left for the twins' needs, to house and feed Louisa too. It was a difficult business, making ends meet, and she had had to give up several small luxuries in order to do it, and when Louisa went she didn't dare to think of the extra expense of getting baby-sitters to look after the twins while she was working. She would have to continue on night duty until Mary came to collect them and it was to be hoped that it would be soon, before Louisa went away.
Emily stifled a sigh and went upstairs to the babies' room. They were both sitting up in their cots, a bouncing eight-months-old and disarmingly beautiful. William was an hour or so older than Claire but it was almost impossible to tell the difference between them, for each reflected the other one's face. Emily, forgetting her tiredness, picked them up to cuddle them, and it wasn't until Louisa called from the kitchen that she popped them back with their toys and went downstairs.
At the table Louisa said with faint defiance: 'The hairdresser can only do me at half past nineI'll have to go.'
Emily, her mouth full of toast, did her best to sound cheerful. 'Oh well, yes, of course, love How long will you be?'
'I'll be back by eleven o'clockI can take the twins out then. I'll bath them this evening '
Emily poured more tea. 'I'll bath them,' and added without a vestige of truth, 'I'm not tired.' She smiled cheerfully in case Louisa felt guilty. 'I'll dress them ready to go out when you get back. It's a beastly day, but they'll be all right wrapped up.'
Louisa pouted. 'Oh, Emily, must they go out? Pushing the pram in all this snow.'
'I cycled backit wasn't too bad. It's not for much longer, dear; think how you're going to enjoy yourself living in London and meeting all sorts of exciting people. Did you hear about the flat?'
Louisa's pretty face became animated. 'Yes, it's all settled; four of us, so it won't cost much. The course only lasts two months and I'm bound to get a job.'
Emily, eyeing her pretty sister, thought that she most certainly would. It would be nice, she thought a little wistfully, to be as pretty as Louisa, so that men looked at one twice instead of not at all. She frowned, remembering Professor Jurres-Romeijn's remarks, and Louisa said in a surprised way: 'Gosh, you look simply furiouswhat's wrong with me sharing a flat, for heaven's sake?'
Emily blinked. 'Not you, love, I was thinking about something quite different. Oughtn't you to be going? I'll wash up.'
She washed up and tidied the little house as well as seeing to the twins, and as Louisa didn't get home until twelve o'clock, she wasn't in bed until an hour later than that and by then too tired to bother her head about the Professor's opinion of her. The snow was worse when she got up and she had to walk to the hospital after helping to feed the twins and get them to bed and then eating a meal herself, a kind of high tea so that she wouldn't be too hungry during the night. Food in the canteen was expensive and although she managed very well, she had to be careful. She told herself often enough that it was good for her to eat less, she'd get slim that way.