Nothing exciting ever happened to Charity. Her job as a hospital secretary was hectic but routine. Even the man everyone expected her to marry was safe, reliable and dull. There surely had to be more to life.
So, when professor Jake Wyllie-Lyon offered her the chance to work for him, Charity didn't hesitate to accept.The job was everything she had dreamed ofand so was Jake! But there Charity's problems really began .
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Charity rattled off the last few words of the Path Lab report, took the form out of the machine and reached for its cover. She was late by reason of Miss Hudson having to go to the dentist and Charity offering to finish off her reports for her. If she wasn't to keep Sidney waiting she would have to get a move on. She got to her feet, a tall shapely girl with curly dark hair pinned into a careless french pleat, and a pretty face, and stretched and yawned widely, glad to be free from her typewriter at last. She yawned again and crossed the bare little office to the minuscule cupboard where the pair of them hung their things and made the tea, and did her face and poked at her hair. Charity, a contented girl, sometimes found herself at the end of a busy day wishing that she was somewhere else; somewhere exotic, dressed to kill and being plied with champagne by some man who adored her… So silly, she admonished her reflection, and surely she was old enough not to daydream. Especially as there was Sidney. It was regrettable, but she had found herself quite unable to daydream about him. He was everything a prospective husband should be: non-smoking, non-drinking, with a steady job in a building society and a nice little nest egg; he was a pleasant companion, too. They had known each other for so long that she wasn't sure when the idea of marrying had turned from a vague possibility to a taken-for-granted fact. Certainly he had never actually proposed.
She fetched her purse from the desk drawer, turned off the lamp and went out of the room, plunging at once into a narrow passage with a stone floor. It wound its way round the back of the hospital, a forgotten thoroughfare from Victorian times, only used by herself and Miss Hudson and anyone who delivered the reports, letters and treatment sheets, written for the most part in almost unreadable scrawls, which they deciphered and returned neatly typed, in an unending stream.
The familiar sounds of hospital life and the faint but penetrating smell of disinfectant, floor polish and Harpic, nicely blended, caused her to wrinkle her charming nose; she hardly noticed it during the day, but somehow by the time she left for home, it had become a bit much.
There were other people using the passage: porters, someone from X-Ray taking a short cut, a couple of nurses who shouldn't be there at all, and the nice little man who went round the wards collecting specimens. She greeted them all cheerfully, opened the door leading to the entrance hall and whipped smartly through it. The entrance hall was vast; the Victorians may have stinted on the gloomy semi-basement rooms and endless gloomier corridors, but they had let themselves go on the committee rooms, consultants' rooms and the entrance. From the outside, the front of the hospital resembled Euston Station, with more than a dash of the original Crystal Palace. The large glass doors opened on to a gloomy, marble-floored hall upon whose fairly lofty ceiling were depicted various scenes of a surgical or medical aspect, while round its dark oak-panelled walls stood an orderly row of dead and gone consultants, each on his plinth. Half-way down this symbol of Victorian ill-taste was the head porter's box, where old Mr Symes spent his days, ruling the porters with a heavy hand and a fount of knowledge when it came to the hospital and its activities. He knew the nursing staff, the students, the housemen and the consultants, and they in their turn regarded him as a kind of symbol; Augustine's without Symes was unthinkable.
He looked up from his paper as Charity crossed the waste of marble towards the door, wished her a civil good evening and then got to his feet and reached back to take a handful of notes from the board behind him. The glass doors had been thrust open and a man had come in: Professor Wyllie-Lyon, Senior Medical Consultant, a pleasant, rather quiet giant of a man about whom the hospital grapevine could find very little to say. No one knew if he were married or where he lived—no one being the nursing staff who found his good looks and great size irresistible.
He paused to take the messages Symes offered him, bade him a polite good evening and smiled at Charity. 'You work late, Miss Graham. Are we so hard on you?'
She stopped in front of him. 'Oh, no, sir, it's not that—Miss Hudson had the toothache and went to the dentist and there were one or two reports to finish.'
She smiled at him in return; she liked him. True, his notes and letters were sometimes scribbled in an abominable scrawl which took all her wits to decipher, and he had a nasty habit of springing something urgent on them to be typed just as they had cleared their desks for the day, but he was always beautifully mannered. She knew a good deal more about him than the grapevine, too, but discretion was part of her job. Sharing a table with the nurses at dinner time, she listened to them guessing as to where he lived or if he were married and, if so, to whom, knowing quite well that he had a house in an elegant backwater—an expensive one, too, she guessed—tucked away behind Wimpole Street; he wasn't married, either, but wild horses wouldn't have dragged that from her; he had mentioned it a while ago, quite casually, when he had brought some letters to be typed. His secretary, he had explained, was ill and would Charity be so kind? The letters had his home address but he had said nothing about that, only remarking before he went that he would collect them personally on the following day, 'For I shall be away for a day or so and my housekeeper will probably tidy them away if you post them.'
Now he didn't hurry away. 'You like your work?' he asked.
'Yes, very much; you see it isn't just office work; we meet lots of people—it's never boring.'
'You don't strike me as being a young lady to be easily bored.'
She was a little surprised at that. As far as she was aware he knew nothing about her; their meetings had been brief and businesslike.
'No, I'm not…'
'And now you will go to your home and doubtless spend your evening with some fortunate young man.' He stood in front of her, staring down into her face from heavy-lidded blue eyes.
'Then I mustn't keep you.' He was his usual courteous self again and she bade him good night and went out into the chilly sombre autumn evening, feeling vaguely disturbed. She had no idea why and she shrugged the feeling off as she hurried along the crowded pavement to the bus stop.
She was already late and the next bus which came along was already full; a precious ten minutes had passed before she squeezed on to the next one. Sidney would be put out at having to wait for her and would have to be soothed back into good spirits again. She frowned. It would be nice if he soothed her for a change, but somehow he always made her feel that she worked to please herself, without due regard to his feelings, and if she came home tired of an evening it was entirely her own fault. She had tried to explain to him when they had first started going out together, but she had sensed his lack of interest and had long ago dropped the subject. What was the use of explaining to him that although her father was a retired solicitor and tolerably comfortable, his propensity for buying rare books ate great holes into his income, and her aunt, who had come to live with them when her mother had died years ago, was incapable of being economical. She hadn't realised this herself until she had left school and found that there was to be no university because of lack of money. So she had taken a course of shorthand and typing, both of which she really didn't like, and found herself a job; it made her independent and in a year or two she could have found herself a small flat and lived her own life, but her aunt had come to depend on her contributions to the housekeeping and she was too kind-hearted a girl to ignore that.
She had been at St Augustine's for two years now and supposed that she would be there until Sidney asked her to marry him. She stood there, crammed between two men reading their evening papers, trying to imagine herself married to him. She still hadn't got the image right when she got off the bus at St John's Wood and walked briskly away from the Finchley Road down a sober side street. Her home was in the more unfashionable part, a modest semi-detached with a front garden hedged by laurel bushes and planted by her with daffodils, wallflowers and dahlias according to the season. In winter, alike with its neighbours, it was bare. Charity, who loved gardening, had done her best with chrysanthemums, but without much success. She stopped to look at them now, on her way up the garden path; they were soggy with October rain and damp, drooping against the sticks she had given them. For a few wild seconds she wanted to run away from London, to some quiet country spot where things grew, unhampered by soot and fog and neglect.
Sidney was in the sitting room with her aunt and she felt a wave of irritation when he didn't bother to get up as she went in, but only remarked on her lateness in what she called his civil servant's voice. She greeted her aunt and accorded him a 'Hallo', and stood a little uncertainly between them in the vaguely shabby room. The chairs needed new covers; if she didn't buy a new winter coat perhaps they could get some… There were some nice pieces in the room: a canterbury and a davenport, a rent table in the window and a corner cupboard housing the Waterford glasses. She polished them all lovingly each weekend, but Aunt Emily didn't bother during the week. She took off her jacket and went to hang it in the hall, and Sidney said, 'I thought we were going out… I've been waiting.' He sounded impatient.
'I had some work to finish; I'll only be ten minutes or so.'
'Too late to go to the cinema.'
She turned to look at him. 'The big film doesn't start until after eight o'clock.'
'Too late. I have to go to work in the morning—we can't all please ourselves.'
'I'm sure your work is very important,' observed Aunt Emily with a vague desire to please someone.
Sidney passed a hand over his pale hair and looked important. 'I hope I pull my weight,' he observed smugly. Charity, still standing at the door, knew for certain at that moment that she would never marry him. She gave a great sigh of relief; it was like a heavy weight falling away, or coming out of a mist into the bright sunshine. She was about to throw away her secure future, another semi-detached, suitably furnished— although at the rate Sidney was going, it would take some years. I'm twenty-six, she thought, and in ten years time I'll be thirty-six and very likely still living here. She said aloud, 'Then I'll make us all some coffee, shall I? Where's father?'
'In his study. A parcel of books came this morning.' Her aunt gave her an apologetic look. 'I believe there are some which he particularly wanted.'
Charity went along to the kitchen and made the coffee and cut the jam sponge she had made the evening before. She and Sidney usually had a snack supper when they went out together and she felt empty; when he had gone she would make a sandwich. She carried in the tray and pretended not to see his look of displeasure. Presently, she decided silently, she would walk to the corner of the street with him and tell him that she didn't want to see him again. She was by nature a kind-hearted girl, and careful not to hurt people's feelings, but she didn't think that Sidney would be hurt. Offended perhaps, annoyed because he'd have to look for another suitable wife, but not hurt.
She took in the coffee and her aunt poured it, aware that something was wrong but not sure what it was so that she embarked on a pointless conversation about nothing in particular until Sidney put down his cup and announced that he might as well go home.
'I'll walk with you to the corner,' said Charity and fetched her jacket, and Aunt Emily nodded and smiled, under the impression that whatever it was had blown over.
The corner wasn't far; Charity wasted no time but said at once, 'Sidney, I've been thinking—I'm not really what you want, you know. I think it would be a good idea if we didn't see each other again.' She glanced up at his face, lighted by a street lamp. 'We've known each other too long,' she finished flatly.
'You are throwing me over?' His voice was stiff with resentment.
'Well,' said Charity reasonably, 'I've never really had you, have I? I mean you've never said that you wanted to marry me—nor that you loved me.'
'There should be no need to state the obvious.' He was outraged.
'That's all very well, but do you love me, Sidney? And do just for once stop being a civil servant and be honest.'
'I have—did have—a deep regard for you, Charity.'
'But do you love me?' she persisted.
'If by that you mean…' He paused. 'No, I don't think that I do.' He added coldly, 'You would have been a most suitable wife.'
They had reached the corner. She said seriously, 'But that wouldn't have been enough for me, Sidney. I don't want to be a suitable wife, I want to be loved just because I'm me and not because I'm suitable. There's a difference, you know, although I'm not exactly sure what it is.'
Sidney gave a little sneering laugh. 'If you don't look out you'll be too old to find out. Goodbye, Charity.' He turned on his heel and walked away and after a moment she walked back to her home and went indoors, back to the sitting room to her aunt, who said, 'Back so soon, my dear? I thought you and Sidney might be going to enjoy a pleasant stroll.'
'We're not going to see each other again,' said Charity clearly. 'It wouldn't have worked out. I'm sure he's a very good man and all that, but I'm not the wife for him—if ever he'd got around to asking me.'
Most Helpful Customer Reviews