The Fortunes of Francesca

The Fortunes of Francesca

by Betty Neels

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All problems had an answer—but marriage?

Francesca was naturally optimistic—and she needed to be. She'd cut her nursing instruction short in order to look after the elderly aunt who had so kindly opened her home to Franny and her brother. Financial difficulties led Franny to apply for a job as Lady Trumper's assistant, but Franny's outspoken manner clearly didn't please her. It was only through her godson, Marc, that Franny was able to get the job. Marc always seemed to be on hand after that.…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460315743
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 07/01/2013
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 270,124
File size: 223 KB

About the Author

Romance readers around the world were sad to note the passing of Betty Neels in June 2001.Her career spanned thirty years, and she continued to write into her ninetieth year.To her millions of fans, Betty epitomized the romance writer.Betty’s first book, Sister Peters in Amsterdam,was published in 1969, and she eventually completed 134 books.Her novels offer a reassuring warmth that was very much a part of her own personality.Her spirit and genuine talent live on in all her stories.

Read an Excerpt

Franny was admitted by a butler who looked as though he hated her, shown into a small, cold room and bidden to wait there. She sat herself down on one of the stiff little chairs arranged round the table in its centre and wished that she hadn't come. The advertisement had sought a girl Friday. This term could cover anything from washing up in the kitchen to dealing with invitations on beautifully engraved cards and paying the household bills with an odd spell of babysitting when called upon. It was not what she would have chosen if given a choice, but a job and the wages which went with it had become essential.

The butler returned and frostily requested her to follow him. Crossing the hall and mounting the stairs behind him, Franny reflected that she could always refuse to take the job if she was offered it. She thrust the thought aside; common sense reminded her that she needed work.

'The young person,' said the butler, opening the double doors at the head of the stairs. Franny sailed past him. She was of medium height, rather too thin, with brown hair and ordinary features easily forgotten, but she had an air of composed dignity.

'My name is Francesca Bowen,' she said clearly, and advanced towards the occupant of the room. This was a forbidding lady if ever there was one; she was handsome, middle-aged, with rigidly controlled grey hair and a haughty nose. She looked down it now.

She gave Franny a regal nod. 'You appear very young.'

'I'm twenty-three, Lady Trumper.'

Lady Trumper hadn't expected to be answered; she looked her surprise and leafed through some letters she was holding.

'You have trained for two years as a nurse. Why did you not continue?'

'I left to look after my aunt and my brother. My aunt was ill at the time.'

'I do not require a nurse.'

'Well, I didn't suppose you did,' said Franny cheerfully, 'but you never know, it might come in useful. I can type and keep accounts, answer the phone, walk the dog, babysit..' She paused. 'I'm not a very good cook.'

'I have a cook, Miss Bowen. Nor do I require a babysitter. I am afraid that you are not suitable for the post I have in mind.'

Lady Trumper stretched out a hand and touched a bell, and the butler opened the door so quickly Franny decided that he had been standing outside listening. He preceded her down the hall with an I-told-you-so look on his face, and was on the point of ushering her out into the street when an elderly woman in a large white apron rushed into the hall.

'Mr Barker— Oh, Mr Barker, come quickly. Elsie's cut her hand that bad; she's bleeding like a pig and screaming her head off. Whatever shall I do?'

Barker said with dignity, 'I will come and see Elsie, Mrs Down, it is probably nothing more than a slight wound.'

He followed her through the baize door at the back of the hall and Franny, unnoticed for the moment, went with them.

It wasn't a slight wound; it was a nasty deep slice in poor Elsie's forearm, bleeding profusely and no one was doing anything about it.

Franny swept forward. 'Someone get a doctor or an ambulance, whichever is quickest. Clean towels and bandages, if you have them.'

Elsie's face was the colour of ashes. Franny lifted her arm above her head, found the pressure point and applied a finger, and when Mrs Down came with the towels asked, 'Can you cover the cut with several of them and press down hard? Just for a little while until help comes.' She added cheerfully to Elsie, 'It looks much worse than it is, Elsie. As soon as the doctor has seen to it, you'll feel much better. Close your eyes if you like.' She added to no one in particular, 'I hope that man hurries up…'

Mr Barker left the kitchen briskly and made for the telephone in the hall. Like so many self-important persons, he was no good at all in an emergency and, while he resented Franny's high-handedness, he felt relief at not having to deal with the situation himself. He had his hand on the phone when the door knocker was thumped, and almost without thinking he put the phone down and opened the door.

The man who went past him into the hall was thickset and enormously tall, with fair hair going grey at the temples and a handsome visage. He said affably, 'Anything wrong, Barker? You look a bit shaken.'

Barker took his coat. 'It's Elsie, sir. Cut herself something shocking. I am about to phone for an ambulance.'

'In the kitchen, is she?' The visitor was already at the baize door. 'I'll take a quick look, shall I?'

The kitchen was modern, all white tiles and stainless steel, and the group around the table looked all the more startling because of it: Elsie, her arm still held high, Mrs Down holding a blood-stained cloth over her arm, and a girl he didn't know applying pressure with the calm air of someone who knew what she was doing.

'Oh, sir,' cried Mrs Down as he reached the table. Franny looked up briefly.

'Are you the doctor? Good! I think perhaps it's her radial artery.'

He grunted and opened his bag, and glanced at Franny. 'Hang on until I've got the tourniquet on.' That done, he said, 'Go on the other side of me and hold her arm steady.' He looked down at Elsie. 'I'll make you comfortable, Elsie, but I think you must go to hospital and have a stitch or two. It won't hurt, I promise you.'

'Shall I call an ambulance, sir?' asked Barker, almost his pompous self once more now that there was someone to tell him what to do.

'No. I'll take her. Someone will have to come with me.' His eyes fell on Franny. She was a nondescript girl, but she looked sensible. 'You'll come?'

Franny heard Barker's quick breath, but before he could speak she said, 'Yes, of course.' She added in her sensible way, 'Elsie will need a coat or a shawl; it's cold outside.'

An old cloak was found from behind the kitchen door and Mrs Down stood with it on her arm, looking the other way while Elsie's artery was tied off. It all took some time, what with the scrubbing of hands and the giving of a local anaesthetic into Elsie's arm. Franny, who had worked in Theatre, considered the man to be a very neat surgeon.

When the arm had been bandaged and put in a sling, and Elsie wrapped in the cloak, Franny went without fuss out of the house, walking sedately behind the doctor who was carrying Elsie.

Elsie was still feeling faint, and Franny got into the back of the car with her. She put her arm round her, reflecting that she had never expected to have the chance to travel in a Rolls-Royce. It was a pity she wasn't able to enjoy it to the full, but with Elsie shaking and sobbing it hardly seemed right to get any pleasure from it…

It was already dusk, and the chilly November day was sliding rapidly into a miserable evening. She wouldn't have to stay at the hospital, of course, but getting back home during the evening rush hour would be tedious.

They drew up outside the entrance to Casualty and the doctor got out and went inside. He returned almost immediately with a porter and a wheelchair, followed by a doctor and then a nurse. He seemed well known, thought Franny, standing quietly as Elsie was wheeled away. Everyone went with her and Franny stood undecided for a few minutes.

If the doctor had wanted her to go with him too and to stay he would have said so. Elsie was in safe hands now; Franny had no doubt that she would be kept in the hospital for the night. She turned on her heel and started for the nearest bus stop. She would have liked to have seen more of the doctor. They had hardly exchanged more than half a dozen words and she doubted very much if he would recognise her if ever they should meet again.

Franny joined the bus-stop queue and waited to begin her long journey home.

It was half an hour before Professor Marc van der Kettener came out to his car. It wasn't until he was getting into it that he remembered Franny. He went back into the hospital again to look for her, but it was quickly obvious that she hadn't waited, and he cursed himself for a thoughtless fool. She had been helpful and she hadn't fussed or asked silly questions. Why had she been at his godmother's house, anyway?

He drove himself back there, assured Barker that Elsie was quite comfortable and would be staying in hospital for a couple of days and went upstairs to see his godmother.

She offered a cheek for his kiss when he entered her quarters. 'What is all this I hear from Barker? That silly girl cutting herself.'

'I hardly think that Elsie cut herself deliberately.' The professor wandered across the room and sat down opposite Lady Trumper. 'She has quite a severe injury; she should do nothing for a week and then only light work.'

'How tiresome. I suppose Barker coped?'

'I'm sure he did his best. Fortunately, there was a young woman in the kitchen who dealt with the situation in a most sensible manner.' He glanced across at his godmother. 'A new maid?'

'Certainly not.' Lady Trumper frowned. 'Presumably Barker knew who she was?'

The professor smiled. 'Well, she was giving him orders in a brisk manner. She was brisk with me, too.'

'What was she like? Perhaps it was Mrs Down's sister.'

'Young, nice voice—educated. For the life of me I cannot remember her face. Came with me to the hospital without fuss and took herself off while I was with Elsie. Otherwise I would have brought her back here.'

Lady Trumper rang her bell, and when Barker answered bade him come in.

'Barker, do you know the young woman who helped Elsie?'

'Yes, my lady, she was the young person who came about the post you had advertised. I was on the point of seeing her out when Mrs Down came running. I had no idea that she had accompanied me to the kitchen until she took charge.' He added, 'I trust that this does not displease you, my lady? She proved herself very competent.'

'Yes, yes, Barker. She hasn't returned?'

'No, my lady. I understood that you did not engage her.'

'Very well, Barker. Thank you.'

When he had gone, she said, 'A Miss Francesca Bowen who applied for the post of girl Friday. She didn't seem quite suitable. I shall have to look for someone else.'

'No, no, Godmother. Engage the girl. She is obviously a young woman of resources and surely that is what a girl Friday should be—able to turn her hand to anything!'

'You are not serious, Marc?'

'Indeed, I am. Presumably she won't have found another job today. Write to her and tell her that you have decided to give her a trial.'

Lady Trumper looked doubtful. 'You really think it is a good idea? But as you say, I can have her on month's trial.'

'By all means. Write her a note; I'll post it on my way to my rooms.'

'Have you patients this evening?'

'Yes, two.' He glanced at his watch. 'I had better go shortly. I'm dining out afterwards.'

Lady Trumper had gone to the writing desk under the window and picked up a pen. 'When will you be going home?'

'In several weeks. I've patients still to see and a number of theatre lists here. I have to go to Leeds and Manchester before I go back.'

'You work too hard. Isn't it time you settled down? Your dear sister mentioned someone. She hoped that you were thinking of marrying.'

'I'm afraid she must hope!' He smiled, but something in his voice stopped her from saying more. She wrote the note and handed it to him.

'Come and see me when you have time,' she begged him. 'At least let me know when you are going back to Holland.'

He bent to kiss her. 'Of course. Take care of yourself.'

Barker was waiting for him in the hall. 'Don't allow Elsie to do any work at all for several days, Barker, and see that when she does start again she keeps that arm covered. A fortunate thing that she was given such prompt first aid.' At the door he paused. 'By the way, Lady Trumper has had second thoughts and will probably engage the young woman on a trial basis.'

'We shall do our best to welcome her into the household, sir,' said Barker pompously. He added, looking almost human, 'She behaved in a most efficient manner and made no fuss.'

The professor, his mind on other matters, nodded in an absent-minded way and bade him goodnight.

Franny got off the crowded bus and turned into a side street that was badly lighted, with small terraced houses facing each other behind narrow strips of worn-out grass and battered iron railings. The houses might be small, and had seen better days, but most of them were keeping up appearances with curtained windows and cared-for front doors. Halfway down the terrace Franny opened one such door and called out as she shut it behind her. 'It's me—sorry I'm late.'

She hung her outdoor things in the narrow hall and went into the kitchen; it was a small, rather dark room, lacking the amenities often portrayed in magazines, but it was cheerful, with bright curtains and an old-fashioned red plush cloth on the table. There was a young man sitting there, books spread in front of him, writing. He said 'Hi,' as she went in but didn't look up. The elderly lady standing by the gas stove turned round to smile at her.

'What kept you, love? Would you like a cup of tea? Supper won't be for half an hour. How did you get on?'

Franny filled the kettle and put it on the gas burner.

'No good, Auntie, I wasn't suitable. It was a lovely house and there was a butler. While I was there one of the maids cut her arm quite badly so I stopped to give first aid, and when a doctor came he asked me to go to the hospital with the girl. So I did.'

'I hope that they thanked you.'

'Well, now I come to think of it, they didn't. The doctor was polite, but I think he took me for one of the servants.'

Mrs Blake looked indignant. 'Did he, indeed? What happened at the hospital?'

'Well, nothing. I mean, I didn't go in. I waited a bit but no one came out, so I caught a bus and came home.'

'Disgraceful. The ingratitude…' Mrs Blake, a small, plump lady with a mild face and grey hair, was ever more indignant.

'Well, it doesn't matter,' said Franny cheerfully. 'As we passed the supermarket in the bus I saw a notice in the window asking for check-out girls. I'll go tomorrow.'

Mrs Blake started to speak, and stopped. The gas bill had come that morning, Finlay needed more books and the rent was due. The housekeeping money was at a very low ebb and the only solution was for Franny to get a job as soon as possible.

Mrs Blake was unhappy about that. They had just about managed while Franny had been training as a nurse; her salary and Mrs Blake's pension had kept them going. They had even been saving a tiny bit, knowing that Finn would be going to medical school when he had done so well in his A levels. He would need books and clothes and money to live on.

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