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A Match for Sister Maggy, страница 1


A Match for Sister Maggy

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A Match for Sister Maggy

  “You clever girl,” said Maggy, dropping a kiss on the little girl’s straight hair. She looked at Paul.

  “Isn’t she beautiful, Doctor?”

  “The most beautiful girl in the world.” But he wasn’t looking at his small patient. He bent forward, and Maggy felt his lips on hers. She stood quite still, looking at him, her cheeks very pink, but her brown eyes met his gray ones squarely.

  “I don’t intend to apologize, Maggy,” he said, almost lazily.

  Maggy forced her voice to normalcy. “There is no need, Doctor. I don’t doubt you’ve kissed many a girl before me, and will kiss many more. I’m sure it means nothing to you.”

  “Just a minute, Maggy. Are you sure of that?”

  She looked over her shoulder at him. He was standing with his hands in his pockets, looking at her with a faint mocking smile on his face.

  “Aye,” she said slowly, “I’m sure.”

  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, and yet she began writing almost by accident. She had retired from nursing, but her inquiring mind still sought stimulation. Her new career was born when she heard a lady in her local library bemoaning the lack of good romance novels. 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. She was a wonderful writer, and she will be greatly missed. Her spirit and genuine talent will live on in all her stories.


  A Match for Sister Maggy












  THE SWING DOORS were almost noiseless, but old George had been head porter at St Ethelburga’s for so many years now that his ears were familiar with the faintest whisper of sound and identified it at once. He now put down his paper and peered through his cubbyhole window at the man who had just come in. A big man—a very big man; well over six and a half foot tall and broad with it; who strolled in leisurely fashion towards him. He was a handsome man too, with grey eyes, a straight nose and a wide firm mouth and dark hair, liberally sprinkled with grey. George was sure that he knew who he was; he beamed at him and said,

  ‘Good morning, sir. Dr Van Beijen Doelsma, isn’t it?’ The big man, so addressed, winced slightly at the mutilation of his name by George’s Cockney tongue, but smiled and nodded and said, ‘Good morning,’ in a pleasant voice. ‘I believe I am early?’

  George turned to his switchboard. ‘If you’ll wait a moment, sir, I’ll ring Sir Charles, he told me to let him know when you arrived.’

  Dr Doelsma nodded again, put vast hands into the pockets of his elegant suit, and leaned a shoulder against the wall. He appeared very relaxed—slumbrous, in fact, with eyes half closed. They flew open however as his attention was caught by a figure tearing across the hospital forecourt. It was a woman, and she ran well, and he wondered why a Ward Sister in all the dignity of navy blue and white uniform needed to race around in such an unheard-of fashion. In his experience, hospital Sisters moved calmly and with a self-confident authority, designed to gain respect both from the nurses under them and the doctors they themselves worked for. The swing doors burst open with a crash, and George, waiting for his connection, looked over his shoulder, tut-tutted loudly and put his old head through his little window.

  ‘One day you’ll get caught, Sister MacFergus, running like that; you ought to know better!’

  The girl came to a halt in front of the cubbyhole, and Dr Doelsma, as yet unnoticed, looked her up and down in a leisurely fashion. She was a tall young woman, well built and nicely rounded; she reminded him of the women of his own native Friesland, save for her hair, which was a bright chestnut and inclined to curl, but tidily confined in a French pleat at the back. She put up a large shapely hand and gave her starched cap an impatient tweak, and he observed that despite her haste she was not in the least breathless. She bent her noble proportions to George’s level.

  ‘Am I late? Has he come, George? Nine o’clock for a lecture! The man ought to be shot!’ She had a soft voice, with a lilt of the Highlands in it. ‘There’s Staff Nurse off sick, and four test meals, and do send a porter over, there’s someone for X-ray.’ She frowned heavily above magnificent dark eyes, and her splendid bosom heaved with exasperation.

  ‘Why are you looking at me so strangely, George? I know I’m late; I’ll just have to creep in unobserved.’ She paused and looked down at herself. ‘Well, not unobserved, perhaps—but he’ll not notice. He’ll be elderly and shortsighted and fat and bald, and I’ll not understand a word the poor wee man says.’ She caught the faint sound wrung from Dr Doelsma’s lips, and glanced over her shoulder. She smiled at him kindly and said, ‘Good morning. I didn’t see you. Am I keeping you waiting?’ She turned back to look at George’s disconcerted face and added severely, ‘Don’t gobble, George,’ and with a starched rustle swept away round the corner of the long corridor, and out of sight.

  George pushed his old-fashioned steel spectacles down his nose and peered at Dr Doelsma, and was relieved to see that the doctor was laughing softly. The sight emboldened him to say:

  ‘Sister MacFergus was a bit worried, sir; she’d be that upset if she knew who you were—you couldn’t get a nicer young lady…’He broke off as an elderly man came rather vaguely towards them. Dr Doelsma straightened and went to meet him, and the older man shook hands, smiling delightedly.

  ‘Paul, my dear boy, I’m delighted to see you again. How is your mother?’ He didn’t wait for a reply, but took the younger man’s arm. ‘Matron’s got the hall full of nurses waiting for you; shall we go before they become restless?’

  The elderly doctor and his former pupil, who had carved such a brilliant career for himself, set off down one of the interminable gloomy corridors so beloved of all old hospitals. Half way down it they encountered Matron—a handsome woman with a high-bridged nose, a formidable bust, and an unshakable air of authority acquired from years of seeing that nurses did the things she wanted them to do, without being too aware of the fact. Dr Doelsma remembered her when he had been Casualty Officer at St Ethelburga’s—she didn’t appear to have altered in the least. They greeted each other like old friends, and the three of them continued on their way to the lecture hall. It was familiar to them all, but even if they had been strangers to the hospital they would have found it just as easily—the subdued roar of a great many women talking could clearly be heard as they approached its doors. The sight of Matron entering, however, turned the tumult into a silence that could be felt, followed by the sound of several hundred well starched aprons crackling as their wearers rose to their feet. Matron reached the chair on the small platform and sat; the doctors followed suit, the wearers of the aprons, obedient to a nod from Matron, also sat, with a combined rustle which was deafening. The sisters were at the back of the hall; Dr Doelsma was immediately aware of the beautiful Amazon he had encountered in the entrance, sitting head and shoulders above her neighbours. Even at that distance he could see the consternation on her face—her mouth was slightly open—he wished he was near enough to see her eyes. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he removed his gaze.

  While Matron, followed by Sir Charles Warren, made the speeches usual to such an occasion, Dr Doelsma settled his vast bulk into his chair, an
d surveyed his audience. From where he was sitting most of them looked very pretty; those who were not were at least attractive, although his keen eye detected one or two really plain girls; he sighed—for the plain ones always asked questions. He had been lecturing for several years now; he knew what to expect. He supposed it was something to do with their egos. He rose to his feet, replied gracefully and briefly to the speeches and began his lecture. He was an excellent lecturer, and within a few minutes he had his audience’s attention, and kept it. He made his subject, the malignant conditions of the stomach and their latest treatment, sound enthralling. He was a specialist in this field of medicine, and such was his interest and enthusiasm for his work that he had no difficulty in holding the attention of every girl there. Even the rebels, who hadn’t wanted to go anyway, felt sorry for their colleagues who had been left on the wards.

  Sir Charles, watching him from his side of the platform, thought what a first-rate man Paul had become. A pity he wasn’t married, he mused, for he must be all of thirty-five. Too busy with his work, perhaps. It was nice for Henrietta to have such a son, though. He himself had known Paul’s mother for years; his father too. Since the latter’s death he had not lost contact with either of them. She would be coming over on a visit from Friesland in a few days. Behind the attentive façade of his nice elderly face, he began to make plans for her entertainment.

  Matron, listening to the doctor’s deep attractive voice discussing enzymes and their complex working, felt thankful that she no longer needed to know much about these new-fangled theories. In her day, a gastric ulcer was a gastric ulcer; you either recovered from it, or you died; nobody bothered with enzymes. So simple. Her massive bosom inflated on a sigh and she turned her full attention on to the nurses before her—rows of rapt attentive faces all looking at the lecturer. ‘You’d think he would feel uncomfortable,’ she mused, and transferred her gaze to the object of their attention, and studied him carefully. He was enough to catch the eye of any woman under eighty. He had a hawk-like distinction to crown his good looks, and as if that were not enough, his very massiveness made it impossible for him to go unnoticed. Her eyes swept the ranks of nurses before her, and she suppressed the chuckle which rose to her primly set mouth. No wonder they were all so attentive! No doubt they would all be dreaming of him tonight, and tomorrow there would be a queue of them outside her office, wanting to know if English-trained nurses were accepted in Dutch hospitals.

  The applause at the end of the lecture was such that Dr Doelsma was surprised; it was, of course, more for him than for the lecture, but he was a man of little conceit, and that idea had never occurred to him. He was used to his size attracting stares, and although he had the self-confidence and assurance of a man of breeding and wealth, he was essentially modest. Now he waited patiently for the clapping to stop and then asked mildly.

  ‘Has anyone any questions to ask?’

  As he had foreseen, the plain nurses rose one by one and put their questions. They weren’t particularly intelligent queries, either, but he was a kind man, and answered them in turn with a grave courtesy, leaving each of them in a rosy glow of satisfaction. He enjoyed answering the points raised by the more senior nurses and sisters; they showed a lively comprehension of his lecture and a shrewd knowledge of the subject. He had not looked at the back row since he had got to his feet; now he allowed his gaze to rest there for a moment. The Amazon of the entrance hall was in earnest conversation with her neighbour, who nodded and then got to her feet. The question she asked, ‘What alternative is there to the use of vitamin B12 when both stomach and liver are diseased, making the storage of the vitamin an impossibility, and thus failing to check the anaemia?’ had been well thought out. He had a shrewd suspicion as to the originator; he leaned back against the table in the middle of the platform, setting the water jug and glasses jangling, and looked over the rows of upturned pink faces, staring blandly at the big girl in the back row. Even at that distance he could see her blushing. He smiled gently and addressed himself to her.

  ‘My answer would depend largely upon the patient. An elderly, ill patient would be best treated with palliative methods, as and when symptoms arose. But in the case of the younger person, and bearing in mind that the liver has six other functions than that of storing the anti-anaemic factor, it might be well worth attempting a liver transplant provided that the stomach condition could be controlled until such time as the resistance of the patient was sufficiently restored to warrant conservative surgery on the stomach. The hazards would be great, but in my opinion, worth while in suitable cases.’ He paused, then added, ‘I should like to add that this question showed a high rate of intelligence.’ He didn’t look at her any more after that, but after the closing speeches, followed Matron and Sir Charles out of the hall without a backward glance.

  ‘Most successful,’ breathed Matron. ‘Coffee, I think, in my office.’ She turned to Dr Doelsma. ‘You’re lunching with the consultants, I believe, but I hope I shall see you before you go.’

  She led the way into her office, and they drank Nescafé, disguised in her best china. Dr Doelsma made himself very pleasant and asked a great many questions, so that after a few minutes he was able to discover that Sister MacFergus was in charge of Women’s Medical. Over his second, unwanted cup, he blandly suggested that a quick tour round that particular ward would be highly interesting; there were doubtless several gastric cases there—he had remembered the four test meals. Sir Charles agreed readily enough, and politely invited Matron to accompany them. Rather to the doctors’ surprise, she accepted with alacrity, and at once swept them out and away and up a series of staircases which eventually brought them on to the landing outside Women’s Medical.

  Their arrival was seen only by a small junior nurse, who looked at them in patent horror and scuttled, head down, to a door marked ‘Sister’s Office’, where she knocked and entered. Dr Doelsma’s lips twitched, but he avoided Sir Charles’ amused look, and remarked politely upon the tasteful display of flowers on the window ledge. He turned from their contemplation in time to see Sister MacFergus emerge from her office. She looked cool and dignified, concealing the faint unease she was feeling. She addressed herself politely to Matron, and waited to hear what was wanted of her. She had smiled warmly at Sir Charles, who smiled back, but she carefully avoided the visiting doctor’s eye.

  ‘Sister MacFergus, this is Dr Doelsma. You were, of course, at his lecture. He would like to go round your ward—you have several gastrics. I believe?’

  Sister MacFergus offered a hand, wordlessly, and raised her brown eyes to his grey ones in an unsmiling face, acknowledging his greeting with an inclination of her head. Of the fact that her heart was beating a tumultuous tattoo as his hand engulfed hers, she gave no sign. She turned to Matron.

  ‘The ward’s a wee bit untidy, Matron. Staff Nurse Williams is off sick with a raging toothache, the puir lass.’

  ‘Oh, I forgot that, Sister. Perhaps it would be as well if we postponed our visit.’ Matron glanced at Dr Doelsma, who flicked an infinitesimal speck off a beautifully tailored sleeve, remarking,

  ‘Yes, of course—I must apologise for taking you unawares, Sister. I don’t wish to add to your difficulties; doubtless you have more than you can cope with already.’

  Sister MacFergus fancied that she detected derision in his voice. This had the immediate effect of causing her to say in a level voice,

  ‘Thank you, sir, but I believe we will manage very well.’ She turned her head and raised her voice slightly and called to the same little nurse whom they had first seen, and who now came trotting out of the office, listened to low-voiced instructions, cast her Ward Sister a look of devotion and made off.

  They all heard the whispered warning, ‘Don’t run, Nurse!’ But Sister MacFergus, aware of the strong views authority held regarding running nurses, caught Matron’s eye and said before that lady could speak,

  ‘Yon’s a guid wee lass, and willing, Matron.’ She stepped back so that
Matron and Sir Charles could precede her through the door into the ward. There was a brief glimpse of bedpans being whisked into the sluice at the far end, and a nurse was coming at a brisk pace down the ward towards them. She bobbed her head at Matron and Sir Charles, and made eyes at Dr Doelsma before asking, ‘Yes, Sister?’ in a breathless whisper.

  Sister MacFergus spoke unhurriedly. ‘All the gastric X-rays, Nurse, and the notes, and make sure the patients are ready for examination. There’s no time to get Mrs Burt ready, but you should have time to see to the others—be as quiet as you can.’ She gave a smiling nod, and the nurse, with another look at Dr Doelsma, slipped away, leaving him standing with Sister MacFergus in the doorway.

  ‘Allow me to compliment you on your ward, Sister; I see that you are indeed able to cope with any situation.’ He paused, and when she looked at him, went on in a silky voice. ‘Even the unexpected visit of a fat, elderly balding and near-sighted Dutchman.’

  He smiled at her charmingly, and murmured. ‘After you, Sister,’ and she walked ahead of him into the ward, brown eyes flashing, head very high, and cheeks scarlet.

  The round went smoothly. Dr Doelsma found himself with Matron, and when he at length contrived to get near the other two, it was to observe that they seemed on friendly terms—indeed. Sir Charles was calling Sister MacFergus Maggy without any objection on her part. With a little ingenuity, the doctor contrived to change places with Sir Charles, and conversed pleasantly enough between the beds.

  ‘That was a very good question you put at the end of my lecture, Sister.’

  Maggy MacFergus was taken completely off her guard. ‘Thank you, Doctor. I have a patient with that very condition which you mentioned—Mrs Salt.’ She stopped and looked at him enquiringly. ‘Who told you it was my question?’

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