Tempestuous April. Betty Neels

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Tempestuous April - Betty Neels

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       Tempestuous April

      Betty Neels


      MILLS & BOON

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      MEN’S SURGICAL was quiet—there had been two emergency admissions before midnight; a case in theatre—a rather nasty appendix—at one o’clock, and a cardiac arrest at half past two; these happenings interspersed by old Mr Gadd’s frequent and successful attempts to climb over his cot sides and amble down the ward in search of refreshment. But none of these happenings appeared to have upset Miss Harriet Slocombe, sitting, as neat as a new pin, at Sister’s desk, writing the bare bones of her report. She appeared to be as fresh as the proverbial daisy and would have been genuinely surprised if anyone had suggested to her that she had had a busy night. She sucked the top of her ballpoint and frowned at the clatter of plates from the kitchen where her junior nurse was cutting bread and butter for the patients’ breakfasts. It was four o’clock, almost time for her, in company with Nurse Potter, to consume the tea and toast with which they fortified themselves before beginning their early morning work. Miss Slocombe removed the pen from her mouth and got up in order to do a round of her patients. She went from bed to bed, making no sound, due very largely to the fact that she had removed her shoes from her feet some time previously, and was in her stockings. The shoes stood side by side under Sister’s desk, waiting to be donned again after her tea break. She reached the end of the ward and paused by the windows opening on to the balcony, to look out into the chill gloom of the early morning. March could be dreary; especially just before dawn. She stood watching the fine drizzle and thought with pleasure of the three-week holiday she was to have in a fortnight’s time … and at the end of it she would be coming back to St Nick’s as Ward Sister of Men’s Surgical. A rosy future, she told herself robustly, and sighed. She was twenty-four years old and pretty, with wide blue eyes, a retroussé nose and a gently curving mouth; she wore her bright blonde hair—the envy of her friends—in a complicated knot on top of her head, and her person was small, so that she looked extremely fragile. She was in fact, as strong as an ox. She had a faint air of reserve and a nasty temper when roused, which was seldom. She was liked by everyone in the hospital with the possible exception of one or two of the housemen, who had expected her to be as fragile as her appearance and were still smarting from her astringent tongue. They called her Haughty Harry amongst themselves, and when she had heard about it, she had laughed with everybody else, but a little wistfully, because she knew that with the right man she wouldn’t be in the least haughty … She sighed again, and went to tuck up Mr Gadd who had, as usual, fallen sound asleep at the wrong end of the night. In the next bed to him, the theatre case opened hazy eyes and said in a woolly drugged voice,

      ‘Cor, dang me, you’m as pretty as a picture,’ and went immediately to sleep again.

      Harriet smiled, a warm, motherly smile, wholly without conceit; she was aware that she was a pretty girl, but two elder sisters and three brothers younger than herself had taught her at an early age to put things in their proper perspective. She had long since outgrown her youthful dreams of captivating some young, handsome and wealthy man with her good looks; but outgrown though they might be, they had so far made it impossible for her to settle for anything less. She moved soundlessly down the ward, adjusted two drips, took a blood pressure and carefully and gently examined the two emergencies; they were sleeping soundly. She supposed that they would go to Theatre during the day. She reached the last bed and stood a moment facing the quiet ward, listening. She ignored the snores, the sighs and Mr Bolt’s tracheostomy tube’s faint whistle, she ignored the background sissing of the hot water pipes and the soft rhythm of the electric pump beneath young Butcher’s bed—all these sounds were familiar; she knew who and what made them. It was other sounds she was listening for—a change in breathing, an unexpectedly sudden restlessness and more sinister—the quiet from a bed where there should be the small sounds of a sleeping man. Her trained ear detected nothing untoward, however, and she nodded, well satisfied, and turned to Sister’s table, just as Nurse Potter, plump and beaming, edged herself round the ward door with a tray. She put it down carefully and whispered breathily,

      ‘I made Bovril toast, Staff,’ and indicated the generous pile before them. Harriet was already pouring out the tea.

      ‘Good. I love it and I’m famished. I only hope we’ll get the chance to eat it all.’

      They began to munch, and presently, when their hunger was a little blunted, Harriet started to plan the morning’s work.

      Night nurses’ breakfast was always a noisy meal—everyone talked and laughed with a false energy inspired by the knowledge that the night was over once more. The paralysis of tiredness which had crept over them in the early hours of the morning had been forgotten. Later, it would return, so that those who weren’t already in bed were liable to sleep in the bath or drop off over a late morning cup of cocoa—in the meantime they were all bursting with vigour. The staff nurses sat at a table on their own; there were perhaps a dozen of them, of whom Harriet was the last to arrive that morning. Late though she was, she looked unruffled and incredibly neat and not in the least tired.

      ‘We stayed to help,’ she volunteered as she sat down. ‘There’s been an accident at the brickworks.’

      There was an understanding murmur—the brickworks was notorious for the fact that it could always be relied upon to fill any vacant bed in Men’s Surgical at all times.

      She was left to make a substantial breakfast at her leisure, and not until she had poured her third cup of tea did someone ask,

      ‘Has anyone seen the new RMO? I ought to have done—after all, I am on Medical, but all I got last night was our Mr Rugg.’ Mr Rugg was young and uncertain and definitely not a lady’s man. The speaker looked around the table until her eye lighted upon Harriet, who had gone a delicious pink.

      ‘I might have known … Harry, where did you meet him?’

      Harry put down her cup. ‘He came on to the ward last night,’ she said serenely. ‘We had that cardiac arrest, remember?’ She looked inside the empty teapot and put it down again resignedly. ‘He’s nice—good-looking and one of those gravelly voices and polished manners—’ She was interrupted by a chorus of knowing groans; when they had subsided she added gently, ‘He’s engaged.’

      A disappointed voice asked, ‘How do you know? He couldn’t have had time to tell you that!’

      ‘He talked while he was making up the chart. I expect he felt lonely and wanted to talk about her. Perhaps I’ve got a sympathetic face,’ she observed hopefully, and was greeted by a shriek of friendly laughter; her friends and acquaintances holding the opinion that anyone as pretty as Harry Slocombe needed to be nothing else. After a moment she laughed with them, privately wondering why everyone other than her own family attached such importance to looks.

      A couple of hours later she was sitting up in bed reading sleepily when there was a knock on the door and a tall well-built girl came in.

      Harriet put her

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