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Dearest Eulalia, страница 1


Dearest Eulalia

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Dearest Eulalia

  Convenient bride…loving wife?

  Eulalia cannot bear the thought of losing her home, especially at Christmas! But with money running out she knows there’s no hope…until handsome surgeon Aderik van der Leurs show up on her doorstep—with a very convenient proposal!

  Though Aderik appears to want her simply as his convenient bride, he’s yearned for beautiful Eulalia from afar. But this Christmas dare he hope that his new wife will also surrender her heart?

  Originally published in 2000.

  New to ebook!

  Dearest Eulalia

  Betty Neels


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five


  THE two men talking together at the back of the hospital entrance hall paused to watch a young woman cross the vast floor. She was walking briskly, which suggested that she knew just where she was going, but she paused for a moment to speak to one of the porters and they had the chance to study her at their leisure.

  She was worth studying: a quantity of dark brown hair framed a beautiful face and the nylon overall she was wearing couldn’t disguise her splendid figure.

  ‘Eulalia Langley,’ said the elder of the two men, ‘runs the canteen in Outpatients. Good at it, too. Lives with her grandfather, old Colonel Langley—your father knew him, Aderik. No money, lives in a splendid house somewhere behind Cheyne Walk. Some family arrangement makes it impossible for him to sell it—has to pass it on to a nephew. A millstone round his neck; Eulalia lives with him, keeps the home going. She’s been with us for several years now. Ought to have married by now but I don’t suppose there’s much chance of that. It’s a full-time job here and there isn’t much of the day left by the time the canteen shuts down.’

  His companion said quietly, ‘She’s very beautiful,’ and then added, ‘You say that my father knew Colonel Langley?’

  He watched the girl go on her way and then turned to his companion. He was tall and heavily built, and towered over his informative colleague. A handsome man in his thirties, he had pale hair already streaked with grey, a high-bridged nose above a thin mouth and heavy-lidded blue eyes. His voice held only faint interest.

  ‘Yes—during the Second World War. They saw a good deal of each other over the years. I don’t think you ever met him? Peppery man, and I gather from what I hear that he is housebound with severe arthritis and is now even more peppery.’

  ‘Understandably. Shall I see more of you before I go back to Holland?’

  ‘I hope you’ll find time to come to dinner; Dora will want to see you and ask after your mother. You’re going to Edinburgh this evening?’

  ‘Yes, but I should be back here tomorrow—I’m operating and there’s an Outpatient clinic I must fit in before I return.’

  ‘Then I’ll give you a ring.’ The older man smiled. ‘You are making quite a name for yourself, Aderik, just as your father did.’

  * * *

  Eulalia, unaware of this conversation, went on her way through the hospital to the Outpatients department, already filling up for the morning clinic.

  It was a vast place, with rows of wooden benches and noisy old-fashioned radiators which did little to dispel the chill of early winter. Although a good deal of St Chad’s had been brought up to date, and that in the teeth of official efforts to close it, there wasn’t enough money to spend on the department so its walls remained that particular green so beloved by authority, its benches scuffed and stained and its linoleum floor, once green like the walls, now faded to no colour at all.

  Whatever its shortcomings, they were greatly mitigated by the canteen counter which occupied the vast wall, covered in cheerful plastic and nicely set out with piles of plates, cups and saucers, soup mugs, spoons, knives and paper serviettes.

  Eulalia saw with satisfaction that Sue and Polly were filling the tea urn and the sugar bowls. The first of the patients were already coming in although the first clinic wouldn’t open for another hour, but Outpatients, for all its drawbacks, was for many of the patients a sight better than cold bedsitters and loneliness.

  Eulalia had seen that from the first moment of starting her job and since then, for four years, she had fought, splendid white tooth and nail, for the small comforts which would turn the unwelcoming place into somewhere in which the hours of waiting could be borne in some degree of comfort.

  Since there had been no money to modernise the place, she had concentrated on the canteen, turning it by degrees into a buffet serving cheap, filling food, soup and drinks, served in brightly coloured crockery by cheerful, chatty helpers.

  With an eye on the increasing flow of patients, she sent two of the girls to coffee and went to check the soup. The early morning clinic was chests, and that meant any number of elderly people who lived in damp and chilly rooms and never had quite enough to eat. Soup, even so early in the morning, would be welcome, washed down by strong tea…

  One clinic succeeded another; frequently two or more ran consecutively, but by six o’clock the place was silent. Eulalia, after doing a last careful check, locked up, handed over the keys to the head porter and went home.

  It was a long journey across the city but the first surge of home-goers had left so she had a seat in the bus and she walked for the last ten minutes or so, glad of the exercise, making her way through the quieter streets down towards the river until she reached a terrace of imposing houses in a narrow, tree-lined street.

  Going up the steps to a front door, she glanced down at the basement. The curtains were drawn but she could see that there was a light there, for Jane would be getting supper. Eulalia put her key in the door and opened the inner door to the hall, lighted by a lamp on a side table—a handsome marble-topped nineteenth-century piece which, sadly, her grandfather was unable to sell since it was all part and parcel of the family arrangement…

  There was a rather grand staircase at the end of the hall and doors on either side, but she passed them and went through the green baize door at the end of the hall and down the small staircase to the basement.

  The kitchen was large with a large old-fashioned dresser along one wall, a scrubbed table at its centre and a Rayburn cooker, very much the worse for wear. But it was warm and something smelled delicious.

  Eulalia wrinkled her beautiful nose. ‘Toad-in-the-hole? Roasted onions?’

  The small round woman peeling apples at the table turned to look at her.

  ‘There you are, Miss Lally. The kettle’s on the boil; I’ll make you a nice cup of tea in a couple of shakes. The Colonel had his two hours ago.’

  ‘I’ll take a cup of tea with me, Jane; he’ll be wanting his whisky. Then I’ll come and give you a hand.’

  She poured her own tea, and put a mug beside Jane. ‘Has Grandfather had a good day?’

  ‘He had a letter that upset him, Miss Lally.’ Jane’s nice elderly face looked worried. ‘You know how it is; something bothers him and he gets that upset.’

  ‘I’ll go and sit with him for a bit.’ Eulalia swallowed the rest of her tea, paused to stroke Dickens, the cat, asleep by the stove, and made her way upstairs.

  The Colonel had a room on the first floor of the house at the front. It was a handsome apartment furnished with heavy mahogany pieces of the Victorian period. They had been his grandparents’ and although the other rooms were furnished mostly with Regency pieces he loved the solid bulk of wardrobe, dressing table and vast tallboy.

  He was sitting in his chair by the gas fire, reading, when she tapped on the door and went in.

  He turned his bony old face with its formidable nose towards her and put his book down. ‘Lally—jut in time to pour my whisky. Come and sit d
own and tell me about your day.’

  She gave him his drink and sat down on a cross-framed stool, its tapestry almost threadbare, and gave him a light-hearted account of it, making much of its lighter moments. But although he chuckled from time to time he was unusually silent, so that presently she asked, ‘Something’s wrong, Grandfather?’

  ‘Nothing for you to worry your pretty head about, Lally. Stocks and shares aren’t a woman’s business and it is merely a temporary setback.’

  Lally murmured soothingly. Grandfather belonged to the generation which considered that women had nothing to do with a man’s world, and it was rather late in the day to argue with him about that.

  She said cheerfully into the little silence, ‘Jane and I were only saying this morning that it was a waste of gas and electricity keeping the drawing room open. I never go in there, and if anyone comes to call we can use the morning room…’

  ‘I’ll not have you living in the kitchen,’ said the Colonel tetchily.

  ‘Well, of course not,’ agreed Lally cheerfully, and thought how easy it was to tell fibs once she got started. ‘But you must agree that the drawing room takes a lot of time to get warm even with the central heating on all day. We could cut it down for a few hours.’

  He agreed reluctantly and she heaved a sigh of relief. The drawing room had been unheated for weeks and so, in fact, had most of the rooms in the house; only her grandfather’s room was warm, as was the small passage leading to an equally warm bathroom. Lally wasn’t deceitful but needs must when the devil drove…

  She went back to the kitchen presently and ate her supper with Jane while they planned and plotted ways and means of cutting down expenses.

  It was ridiculous, thought Eulalia, that they had to go on living in this big house just because some ancestor had arranged matters to please himself. Her grandfather couldn’t even let it to anyone; he must live in it until he died and pass it on to a nephew who lived on the other side of the world. The family solicitor had done his best but the law, however quaint, was the law. Trusts, however ancient, couldn’t be overset unless one was prepared to spend a great deal of money and probably years of learned arguing…

  Eulalia ate her supper, helped Jane tidy the kitchen and observed with satisfaction that tomorrow was Saturday.

  ‘I’ll get Grandfather into his chair and then do the shopping.’

  She frowned as she spoke; pay day was still a week away and the housekeeping purse was almost empty. The Colonel’s pension was just enough to pay for the maintenance of the house and Jane’s wages; her own wages paid for food and what Jane called keeping up appearances.

  What we need, reflected Eulalia, is a miracle.

  And one was about to happen.

  * * *

  There was no sign of it in the morning, though. Jane was upstairs making the beds, the Colonel had been heaved from his bed and sat in his chair and Eulalia had loaded the washing machine and sat down to make a shopping list. Breast of chicken for the Colonel, macaroni cheese for Jane and herself, tea, sugar, butter… She was debating the merits of steak and kidney pudding over those of a casserole when the washing machine, long past its prime, came to a shuddering stop.

  Usually it responded to a thump, even a sharp kick, but this morning it remained ominously silent. Extreme measures must be taken, decided Eulalia, and searched for a spanner—a useful tool she had discovered when there was no money for a plumber…

  * * *

  Mr van der Leurs, unaware that he was the miracle Eulalia wished for, paid off his taxi and made his way to the Colonel’s house. A man esteemed by the members of his profession, renowned for his brilliant surgery, relentlessly pursued by ladies anxious to marry him, he had remained heart-whole, aware that somewhere on this earth there was the woman he would love and marry and until then he would bury his handsome nose in work. But his patience had been rewarded; one glimpse of Eulalia and he knew that he had found that woman. Now all he had to do was to marry her…

  He reached the house and rang the bell and presently the door was opened and Eulalia stood there in a grubby pinny, looking cross. She still had the spanner in her hand, too. He saw that he would need to treat her with the same care with which he treated the more fractious of his small patients.

  His ‘Good morning’ was briskly friendly. ‘This is Colonel Langley’s house? I wondered if I might visit him? My father was an old friend of his—van der Leurs.’ He held out a hand. ‘I am Aderik van der Leurs, his son.’

  Eulalia offered a hand rather reluctantly. ‘Grandfather has talked about a Professor van der Leurs he met years ago…’

  Mr van der Leurs watched her face and read her thoughts accurately.

  ‘I’m visiting at St Chad’s for a few days,’ he told her. ‘Mr Curtis mentioned that the Colonel was housebound with arthritis and might be glad to have a visit. I have called at an awkward time, perhaps…’

  He must be all right if Mr Curtis knew him, decided Eulalia.

  ‘I think Grandfather would be pleased to see you. Come in; I’ll take you to his room.’

  She led him across the hall but before she reached the staircase she turned to look at him.

  ‘I suppose you wouldn’t know how to make a washing machine start again?’

  He had been wondering about the spanner. He said with just the right amount of doubt in his voice, ‘Shall I take a look?’

  She led him into the kitchen and Mr van der Leurs gave his full attention to the machine just as though it were one of his small patients on the operating table awaiting his skill. After a moment he took the spanner from her hand, tapped the dial very very gently and rotated it. The machine gave a gurgle and when he tapped it again—the mere whisper of a tap—it came to life with a heartening swish.

  Eulalia heaved a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you very much. How clever of you, but I dare say you know something about washing machines.’ She added doubtfully, ‘But you’re a doctor.’

  He didn’t correct her. ‘I’m glad I could be of help,’ he said, and then stood looking at her with a look of faint enquiry.

  She said quickly, ‘I’ll take you to see Grandfather. He loves to have visitors.’

  She took off her pinny and led the way into the hall and up the graceful staircase. It was a cold house—although there were radiators along the walls, none of them gave warmth. Outside the Colonel’s door Eulalia stopped. ‘I’ll bring coffee up presently—you’ll stay for that?’

  ‘If I may.’

  She knocked and opened the door and then led him into the large room, pleasantly warm with a bright gas fire. There was a bed at one end of the room, bookshelves and a table by the wide window and several comfortable chairs. The Colonel sat in one of them, a reading lamp on the small table beside him, but he looked up as they went in. He eyed Mr van der Leurs for a moment. ‘The spitting image of your father,’ he observed. ‘This is indeed a surprise—a delightful one, I might add.’

  Mr van der Leurs crossed the room and gently shook the old hand with its swollen joints. ‘A delight for me too, sir; Father talked of you a great deal.’

  ‘Sit down if you can spare an hour. Lally, would you bring us coffee? You have met each other, of course?’

  ‘Yes, Grandpa, I’ll fetch the coffee.’

  Mr van der Leurs watched her go out of the room. She wasn’t only beautiful, he reflected, she was charming and her voice was quiet. He sat down near the Colonel, noting that the radiators under the window were giving off a generous warmth. This room might be the epitome of warmth and comfort but that couldn’t be said of the rest of the house.

  Eulalia, going back to the kitchen, wondered about their visitor. He had said that he was at St Chad’s. A new appointment? she wondered. Usually such news filtered down to the canteen sooner or later but she had heard nothing. In any case it was most unlikely that she would see him there. Consultants came to Outpatients, of course, but their consulting rooms were at the other end and they certainly never went near the canteen. Per
haps he was visiting to give lectures.

  She ground the coffee beans they kept especially for her grandfather and got out the coffee pot and the china cups and saucers, and while she arranged them on a tray she thought about Mr van der Leurs.

  He was a handsome man but not so very young, she decided. He had nice blue eyes and a slow smile which made him look younger than he was. He was a big man and tall but since she was a tall girl and splendidly built she found nothing unusual about that. Indeed, it was pleasant to look up to someone instead of trying to shrink her person.

  She found the Bath Oliver biscuits and arranged them on a pretty little plate and bore the tray upstairs and found the two men in deep conversation. The Colonel was obviously enjoying his visitor and she beamed at him as she handed him his coffee and put the biscuits where her grandfather could reach them easily. She went away then, nursing a little glow of pleasure because Mr van der Leurs had got up when she had gone in and taken the tray and stayed on his feet until she had gone.

  Nice manners, thought Eulalia as she went downstairs to have her coffee with Jane.

  ‘I heard voices,’ observed Jane, spooning instant coffee into mugs.

  Eulalia explained. ‘And Grandfather was pleased to see him.’

  ‘He sounds all right. I remember his dad; came visiting years ago.’

  ‘He got the washing machine to go again.’

  ‘That’s a mercy. Now, Miss Lally, you do your shopping; I’ll hang out the washing—see if you can get a couple of those small lamb cutlets for the Colonel and a bit of steak for us—or mince. I’ll make a casserole for us and a pie if there’s enough…’

  Eulalia got her coat from the hall and fetched a basket and sat down at the table to count the contents of her purse. A week to pay day so funds were low.

  ‘It had better be mince,’ she said. ‘It’s cheaper.’ And then she added, ‘I hate mince…’

  She looked up and saw that Jane was smiling—not at her but at someone behind her. Mr van der Leurs was standing in the doorway holding the coffee tray.

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