The Girl With Green Eyes. Betty Neels

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The Girl With Green Eyes - Betty Neels

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       The Girl With Green Eyes

      Betty Neels

      MILLS & BOON

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      THE vast waiting-room, despite the cheerful yellow paint on its Victorian walls, its bright posters and even a picture or two, its small counter for tea and coffee and the playthings all scattered around, was still a depressing place. It was also a noisy one, its benches filled by mothers, babies and toddlers awaiting their turn to be seen by the consultant paediatrician. From time to time a name would be called by a plump middle-aged sister and another small patient with an evidently anxious mother would be borne away while those who were waiting rearranged themselves hopefully.

      The dark, wet day of early February was already dwindling into dusk, although it was barely four o’clock. The waiting-room was damp and chilly despite the heating, and as the rows of patients gradually lessened it seemed to become even chillier.

      Presently there was only one patient left, a small fair-haired toddler, asleep curled up in the arms of the girl who held her. A pretty girl with a tip-tilted nose, a gentle mouth and large green eyes. Her abundant pale brown hair was scraped back fiercely into a top knot and she looked tired. She watched the two registrars who had been dealing with the less urgent cases come from their offices and walk away, and thought longingly of her tea. If this specialist didn’t get a move on, she reflected, the child she was holding would wake and demand hers.

      A door opened and the sister came through. ‘I’m sorry, dear, that you’ve had to wait for so long; Dr Thurloe got held up. He’ll see you now.’

      The girl got up and went past her into the room beyond, hesitating inside the door. The man sitting at the desk glanced up and got to his feet, a large man and tall, with fair hair heavily sprinkled with silver and the kind of good looks to make any woman look at him twice, with a commanding nose, a wide, firm mouth and heavily lidded eyes. He smiled at her now. ‘Do sit down—’ his voice was slow and deep ‘—I am so sorry that you’ve had to wait for such a long time.’ He sat down again and picked up the notes and doctor’s letter before him; halfway through he glanced up. ‘You aren’t this little girl’s mother?’

      She had been waiting and watching him, aware of a peculiar sensation in her insides.

      ‘Me? Oh, no. I work at the orphanage. Miranda’s not very easy, but I mostly look after her; she’s a darling, but she does get—well, disturbed.’

      He nodded and went on reading, and she stared at his downbent head. She had frequently wondered what it would be like to fall in love, but she had never imagined that it would be quite like this—and could one fall in love with someone at first glance? Heroines in romantic novels often did, but a romantic novel was one thing, real life was something quite different, or so she had always thought. He looked up and smiled at her and her heart turned over—perhaps after all real life wasn’t all that different from a romantic novel. She smiled with delight and his eyebrows rose and his glance became questioning, but since she said nothing—she was too short of breath to do that—he sat back in his chair. ‘Well, now, shall we see what can be done for Miranda, Miss …?’

      ‘Lockitt—Lucy Lockitt.’

      His firm mouth quivered. ‘“Lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it …”’

      ‘Everyone says that,’ she told him seriously.

      ‘Tiresome for you, but I suppose we all learnt nursery rhymes when we were small.’ With an abrupt change of manner he went on, ‘If you could put her on to the couch, I’ll take a look.’

      Lucy laid the still sleeping child down and the doctor came over to the couch and stood looking down at her. ‘I wonder why nothing was done when hydrocephalus was first diagnosed. I see in her notes that her skull was abnormally enlarged at birth. You don’t happen to know why her notes are so sparse?’

      ‘They’ve been lost—that is, Matron thinks so. You see, she was abandoned when she was a few weeks old, no one knows who her parents are; they left her with the landlady of the rooms they were living in. They left some money too, so I suppose she didn’t bother to see a doctor—perhaps she didn’t know that Miranda wasn’t quite normal. A week or two ago the landlady had to go to hospital and Miranda was taken in by neighbours who thought that there was something wrong, so they brought her to the orphanage and Dr Watts arranged for you to see her.’

      Dr Thurloe bent over the toddler, who woke then and burst into tears. ‘Perhaps you could undress her?’ he suggested. ‘Would you like Sister or one of the nurses to help you?’

      ‘Strange faces frighten her,’ said Lucy matter-of-factly, ‘and I can manage, thank you.’

      He was very gentle, and when he had made his general examination he said in a quiet voice, ‘Take her on your lap, will you? I need to examine her head.’

      It took a considerable time and he had to sit very close. A pity, thought Lucy, that for all he cares I could be one of the hospital chairs. It occurred to her then that he was probably married, with children of his own; he wasn’t young, but he wasn’t old either—just right, in fact. She began to puzzle out ways and means of getting to know something about him, so deeply engrossed that he had to ask her twice if she was a nurse.

      ‘Me? Oh, no. I just go each day from nine in the morning until five o’clock in the afternoon. I do odd jobs, feeding the babies and changing them and making up cots—that sort of thing.’

      He was running a gentle hand over the distended little skull. ‘Was there no nurse to accompany Miranda here?’

      ‘Well, no. You see, it’s hard to get trained nurses in an orphanage—it’s not very exciting, just routine. There’s Matron and a deputy matron and three state enrolled nurses, and then four of us to help.’

      The doctor already knew how many children there were; all the same, he asked that too.

      ‘Between forty and fifty,’ she replied, then added, ‘I’ve been there for four years.’

      He was measuring the small head with callipers, his large, well-tended hands feather-light. ‘And you have never wished to train as a nurse?’

      ‘Oh, yes, but it hasn’t been possible.’

      He said smoothly, ‘The training does tie one down for several years. You understand what is wrong with Miranda?’

      ‘Not precisely, only that there is too much fluid inside her skull.’

      ‘It is a fairly rare condition—the several parts of the skull don’t unite and the cerebrospinal fluid increases so that the child’s head swells. There are sometimes mental symptoms, already apparent in Miranda. I should like her to be admitted here and insert a catheter in a ventricle which will drain off some of the surplus fluid.’

      ‘Where to?’


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