SHE HAD TO PUT UP WITH HIMHE PROVIDED THE ONLY SOLUTION
Considering she didn't like him very much, Doctor Tane van Diederijk seemed to pop up in Euphemia's life quite a lot. But beggars couldn't be choosers. Euphemia had been left with debts to pay and a big house she couldn't afford to keep. Tane offered the only workable solution to her problemshe would become Euphemia's tenant. However difficult it might be, Euphemia was going to have to grit her teeth and bear it. After all, Tane might grow on her in time.
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It had started to rain fiercely and suddenly after a long dry, hot day, and the girl at the wheel of the elderly Morris 1000 halted cautiously at the traffic lights in the middle of Chiswick, listening anxiously to the puffs and wheezing of the enginea good car on the open road, she thought loyally, but a bit of a problem in city traffic. The lights had been red for a long time; she glanced sideways at a bus drawn in close to her left and then looked to her right: a steel grey Bentley within inches of her, its driver staring ahead of him, showing her a handsome profile with an arrogant nose and a high forehead. She judged him to be a large man, although it was difficult to know that from where she was. She amused herself guessing his age; thirty-five? Forty? Younger than that perhaps, his hair was so fair that it could have been silver. He turned his head suddenly and she was disconcerted by his cold blue stare; one didn't expect complete strangers to smile at one, but neither did one expect a look of glacial dislike. She restrained herself with difficulty from the childish impulse to make a face at him, to be rendered speechless with rage as a long arm in a beautifully tailored sleeve stretched across and tapped her indicator.
'Unless you intend suicide, I suggest that you put that thing in.' His voice was as cold as his look and before she could say a word, the lights had changed and the Bentley had slipped away, out of sight in the thick traffic within seconds.
It seemed to Euphemia that she would never reach the M3, and when she did the turning to Chobham was endless miles away. She heaved a sigh of relief when she turned off at last to go through Chobham and then take the narrow road to her home, Hampton-cum-Spyway was a very small village, tucked away in a valley, with an outsize church, a cluster of picturesque cottages and a scattering of comfortably sized old houses. She went slowly down the short street, past the butchers, the baker and the post office and general stores, and drove round the village green, glimpsing old Dr Bell's car in front of her home as she turned into the gateway at the side of the house, its gate propped open for so many years now that it no longer fulfilled its function, and stopped in front of the garage.
She turned off the engine, got out and went under the rose arch in the hedge to the front garden, crossed the unkempt lawn and opened the front door. The house was charming; wisteria hung over it like a purple waterfall, almost hiding the roses sharing the walls with it, hiding too the shabby state of the paintwork. The door was solid oak studded with nails and opened into a pleasant hall. The girl went in, dropping her handbag on to a side table, stepped over a hole in the carpet with the air of one who had done it many times before, and ran upstairs two at a time.
The landing was spacious with several doors and a number of narrow passages leading in all directions. She went straight to a door at the front of the house and went in.
It was a large room, dominated by a fourposter bed and a good deal of dark oak furniture. Her father lay on the bed, his face ashen against the pillows, Dr Bell stood at the foot, Ellen, her younger sister, was standing behind him, not looking. There was a fourth person in the room bending over her father, who straightened up as she went to the bed. The driver of the Bentley.
Euphemia took her father's limp hand and smiled at him, not speaking, and it was Dr Bell who broke the silence. 'Euphemia, my dearI'm glad you could come so quickly. A colleague of mine at St Cyprian's advised me to call in Dr van Diederijk as consultant. He's a heart specialist of international reputation.' He turned to the giant of a man standing by the bed. 'This is Euphemia Blackstock, the eldest of the Colonel's children.'
The doctor nodded and said how do you do in a politely disinterested voice. 'Can we talk somewhere?' he asked. 'The Colonel's daughters could perhaps stay with him ?'
Ellen had gone to stand by Euphemia. She was a pretty girl, fair and blue-eyed and with an air of helplessness, in direct contrast to her sister, for Euphemia was above middle height, on the plump side, with rich dark brown hair and tawny eyes and an exquisite nose above a soft too wide mouth. The mouth became surprisingly firm now. 'I should like to know what you decide,' she addressed Dr van Diederijk in a quiet voice that expected an answer.
He raised pale eyebrows. 'Of course, Miss Blackstock. You are a nurse, I believe?' Somehow he managed to convey astonishment at that fact.
'Yes.' He might be an eminent heart specialist, but she began to wonder if he had a heart himself. Reassurance and a little kindliness would have been acceptable; she had had Ellen's frightened, garbled message while she was on duty and she had driven home as fast as she could, full of forebodings. They were a close-knit family, more so since her mother had died a year previously, and they all loved their fiery-tempered, tough parent. To see him laid low on his bed had terrified Euphemia, although she hadn't allowed it to show. She wondered now if her father had been holding out on them, knowing that there was something wrong and not telling them.
She followed the two men out of the room and ignoring the consultant's cool annoyance, addressed herself to Dr Bell.
'Did Father know that he was ill? Was this unexpected? And if it wasn't why wasn't I told?'
'He expressly forbade me to mention it, Euphemia.' Dr Bell looked uncomfortable. 'A question of valves,' he went on. 'I suggested that he might put himself in the hands of a surgeon some months ago, but he wouldn't hear of it, and now it's become imperative.'
'He could recover if they operate?'
'That's for Dr van Diederijk to say.'
She turned to the silent man watching her. 'You're not a surgeon?'
'No, a physician.'
'So it's your advice which will decide whether surgery will give my father a chance.'
He nodded his splendid head. 'That is so.' He added softly: And now if Dr Bell and I might go somewhere undisturbed '
She hated him; cold, arrogant, rude, self-important she had quite a list of adjectives by the time she was back in her father's room.
Ellen was standing forlornly looking out of the window, and Euphemia gave her a loving understanding glance as she went to the bed. Ellen had always been the baby, even though both the boys were younger than she; she hated violence and sickness, and bad temper, and Euphemia had tried to shield her from all these. It hadn't been too difficult, because Ellen had been the one to stay at home and run the house with the help of Mrs Cross who came in to oblige every day. She would have to send for the boys, thought Euphemiajust in case
She sat down by the bed and took her father's hand again. He was too ill to talk and she made no effort to speak, sensing that peace and quiet was what he wanted. Presently she said softly to Ellen: 'Go down and make coffee, will you, darling? Those two men will want something.'
It was quite some time later when Dr Bell came back and beckoned her from the door. 'Dr van Diederijk has gone up to St Jude'she intends to discuss your father's case with a surgeon there. He's made his decision, but he prefers to say nothing more until he's talked to Mr Crisp.'
'And you?' she asked a little sharply. 'Aren't you going to tell me anything either?'
'We must have patience, my dear,' said Dr Bell kindly, 'it's an important thing to everyone concerned.'
'When shall we know?'
Dr Bell looked awkward and she wondered why. At the latest tomorrow morning. Have you told the boys?'
'I'm about to telephone them.' She glanced at her watch. 'It's almost five o'clock: If I ring Stowe now they can put them on a train as soon as possible and they could be home this eveninglate this evening.' She frowned a little. 'Tomorrow morning wouldn't be a better idea?' She looked past the old man. 'Father's very ill, I can see that for myself, but if they do a valve replacement '
Dr Bell muttered something in a soothing voice. 'Travelling will be easier for them this eveningthe trains are always crowded in the morning and taxis are harder to get.'
She supposed he was right, but she was too worried and unhappy to think about it. She telephoned the boys' school and was assured that they would be sent home at once. She went to find Ellen, sent her to the kitchen to coax Mrs Cross to stay a bit later and get a meal ready, then went herself to her father's room where Dr Bell was standing by his patient's bed. 'I have evening surgery,' he told her, 'but I'll come the moment you want me. I'm afraid there's nothing much we can do until we have the consultants' opinions.'
Euphemia drew up a chair and sat down beside her father, sleeping peacefully, a drugged sleep, but she was thankful for it; he wasn't a man to bear with illness and she couldn't have borne to have seen him lying there worrying about himself. Presently Ellen came in with a supper tray.
'I'll take over when you say so,' she whispered, but, Euphemia shook her head.
'I'm not tired, you stay downstairs and make sure everything is ready for the boys. Oh, and be a dear and ring St Cyprian's and tell them that I can't come back tonight explain, will you? I'll telephone them in the morning.'
Dr Bell came again much later. The Colonel was still unconscious and beyond taking his pulse he did nothing.
'Shouldn't he go to hospital?' asked Euphemia urgently.
'Dr van Deiderijk thinks it unwise to move him for the moment.'
She looked at the kind elderly face she had known for all of twenty years. 'If you say so ' She sighed. 'If you hear anything from that man you'll let me know at once won't you?'
'Of course. You don't like him, my dear?'
'No,' said Euphemia flatly.
The boys got home late that night and in the early hours of the morning her father died. Euphemia, sitting with him, didn't call them from their beds; there was no point in doing so. Dr Bell came in answer to her telephone call, and surprisingly, Dr van Diederijk came with him. It was almost five o'clock now and a pearly morning that promised to be a warm day, and beside Dr Bell's hastily dragged on clothes, the Dutchman's appearance suggested that he had been up, freshly shaved, and immaculately dressed after a long restful night.
Euphemia greeted them with a face stony with fiercely held back grief. It was later, downstairs in the shabby sitting-room, that she asked:
'Was it your decision not to admit my father to hospital, Dr van Diederijk?'
He was standing before the fireplace, his hands in his pockets.
'Why?' She took a breath and went on in a rush: 'You took away his only chance! What right had you to do thathe might be alive now if you'd advised operation '
'Alive, yes, if you can call it living to be attached to monitoring machines and drips and ECGs. Your father was an intelligent man, he would have been only too aware that he was being kept alive but with no hope of leading a normal life again. It would have been a matter of days onlycan you imagine what that would have meant to him? You must know in your heart that I made the right decisionhe had been ill for a long time, I understand far too long for a replacement to be satisfactory. Besides, he wasn't a young man any more '
'Then why wasn't I told?' Her voice shook with rage and grief.
'I have it from Dr Bell that he didn't wish you to be told.' He looked at the other man, who nodded.
Euphemia turned her back on them both so that they shouldn't see the tears. In a moment when she had control of her voice she said: 'If I'd known, I could have stayed at home and nursed him.'
'For that very reason he wished nothing to be said. I must say that I can understand his wishes; you must try and understand too.'
She spun round to face him. 'Well, I don't, but then I'm not made of ice he was my father, you knowand even if he weren't I wouldn't be so cold-blooded about it as you are!'
She rushed out of the room, brushing past him, one small corner of her numbed brain aware of the faint whiff of expensive aftershave as she did so. She went to the kitchen, made herself a pot of tea, had a hearty cry and pulled herself together. It was all of twenty minutes by the time she had made her way back to the shabby, comfortable sitting-room. The two men were there, waiting patiently, and she asked them in a wooden voice if they would like coffee. She looked a fright by now, her beautiful nose red with weeping, her eyelids swollen, but she really didn't care. When they refused, she enquired politely if there was anything else to be done, and when Dr Bell told her that he would make all the necessary arrangements, accompanied them to the door and bade them good morning, remarking on the beauty of the day as she did so. Dr Bell patted her shoulder, said he'd be back later and made for his car, while Dr van Diederijk paused on the doorstep. 'Give yourself a double whisky and go and lie down for a couple of hours,' he advised her. 'It will help you to get through the day.'
She didn't answer him, only gave him a cold glance and went indoors. All the same, she did as he had said. The whisky went straight to her head; she prudently set the alarm for eight o'clock and got on to her bed and fell instantly asleep.
The man was right, she had to admit later. She awoke refreshed and clear-headed, able to tackle the day ahead of her, full of so many problems. It was at the end of it that she began to think about the future. The boys would be all right; their school fees would be covered by a fund their father had set up for them years ago. She herself would be able to keep herself easily enough, but Ellen was a different matter.