It was love at first sight for Britannia Smith when she met Professor Jake Luitingh van Thien. She even shamelessly followed him to Holland, hoping to see more of him. Britannia succeeded and to her joy, he proposed! But just when all seemed perfect, she met Madeleine de Venz. Madeleine was right for Jake, in every way, and Britannia became utterly convinced that to go ahead with their wedding might ruin Jake's life.
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Britannia All at Sea
By Betty Neels
Ulverscroft Large PrintCopyright © 2006 Betty Neels
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THE SLUICE ROOM at the end of Men's Surgical at St Jude's Hospital was deplorably out of date; built in Victorian times, it was always damp and chilly, its white-tiled walls and heavy earthenware sinks doing nothing to alleviate its dismal appearance. The plumbing was complicated and noisy and the bedpan washer made a peculiar clanging noise, but because some time in the distant future the hospital was to be re-sited and become a modern showpiece with every conceivable mod con the architect and Hospital Committee could think of, the antediluvian conditions which at present existed were overlooked — not by the nursing staff, of course, who had to cope with them and voiced their complaints, singly and in groups, round the clock. And a lot of good it did them, for no one listened.
But the occupants of the sluice room weren't aware of its shortcomings; the younger, smaller girl was crying her eyes out by the sink and her companion, a tall, splendidly built girl, was deep in thought, her large brown eyes gazing unseeingly at the conglomeration of pipes on the wall before her. She waited patiently until the crying had eased a little before speaking.
"Don't cry any more, Dora " She had a soft, unhurried voice. "I'll see Sister the moment the round's over — I'll not haveyou take the blame for something Delia has done — and knows she's done, too. I know you don't like telling on anyone and if Sister hadn't been in such a fuss about the round, she might have listened. Of course, it would happen on this very morning just when everything had to be just so for this wretched professor, but you're not in the least to blame, so dry your eyes, go down the back stairs and have your coffee and tidy up that face. I'll think of something to tell Sister if she wants to know where you are. She won't though, not while Mr Hyde and this tiresome old gent are here."
She leaned across and switched off the bedpan washer so that there was more or less silence save for the gurgling of the pipes. But not quite silence; a faint noise behind her caused her to turn her head and look behind her. There was someone standing in the doorway, watching her, a very large man with grizzled hair and pale blue eyes, his undoubtedly handsome features marred by a look of annoyance. "Lost?" she asked him kindly. "Everyone makes the mistake of coming up these stairs, but I'm afraid you're out of luck; you won't be able to go into the ward until the round's over and that will be at least an hour. Look, Nurse is going down to her coffee — if you go with her, she'll show you the front stairs. There's a waiting room on the landing — I'll let you know the minute they've gone. Have you come to see someone special?"
He regarded her frowningly. "Yes. Er — Staff Nurse, I presume?"
"That's right. Sister will know about you, I expect. Now if you run along "
Perhaps it wasn't the best way of putting it, she thought; one didn't tell giants of six feet something and broad with it to run along, but he had no need to look so unsmiling, she had done the best she could to help him. She nodded to the little nurse, who gave a final sniff and managed a very small smile. "There's a good girl," said her champion, and put a hand to her cap to make sure that it sat straight on her crown of dark hair as she made for the door. The man didn't move, so she was forced to stop.
"What is your name?" he asked. "My name?" She was vaguely surprised at the question, but if telling him was going to make him go the quicker, then she might as well do so.
"Smith — Britannia Smith." She smiled fleetingly and he stood aside. "Goodbye. Nurse Watts, make sure that this gentleman gets the right stairs, won't you?"
She watched him shrug his shoulders and follow the little nurse down the stairs before she went back into the ward.
It was as old-fashioned as the sluice, with a row of beds on either side and because it was take-in week, three beds down the middle as well. Britannia sped up its length to where Sister Mack, the Surgical Registrar, the surgical houseman, a worried bunch of medical students attached to Mr Hyde's firm, the lady Social Worker, and the senior physiotherapist had grouped themselves, awaiting the great man. The group dissolved and then reformed with Mr Hyde as its hub as she reached them, in time to hear his measured tones voice the opinion that Professor Luitingh van Thien should be joining them at any moment. "I take it that everything is in readiness, Sister?" he asked, with no idea of it being otherwise.
Sister Mack shot a lightning glance at Britannia, who shook her head. She had been on a swift foray to see if anything could be done to recover at least some of the specimens and while doing so had discovered poor Dora. Sister Mack looked thunderous, but as Britannia saw that look several times a day, she could ignore it and turned her intention instead to the third-year nurse, Delia Marsh, standing there like an innocent angel, she thought indignantly, letting a timid creature like Dora take the blame. She gave the girl a cool thoughtful look and was glad to see that she had her worried; her pretty mouth curved just a little downwards in sympathy for Dora and then rounded itself into a surprised O, while consternation and horror showed plain on her lovely face.
Excerpted from Britannia All at Sea by Betty Neels Copyright © 2006 by Betty Neels. Excerpted by permission.
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