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Nurse Greve
 

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Nurse Greve


  NURSE GREVE

  Jane Arbor

  When Tessa left St. Faith’s Hospital to take up district nursing, it was partly to find out whether Rex Girling, a young surgeon on the staff, really loved her. His reaction seemed to be all she could wish ... until he met Camille, who was chic and lovely and, more important, could connect her husband with the Right People.

  That meeting was the beginning of long-drawn doubt and disillusion for Tessa. But she had her interest in her work to sustain her, and, besides, at critical moments one person always seemed to be at hand to help her: the tall doctor who looked like a Viking—Neil Callender.

  CHAPTER ONE

  Tessa noticed that the gas fire in the Nurses’ Common Room still hissed over its broken corner of pipeclay and remembered that the morning sunlight of winter had always struck a barred path across that particular strip of carpet. But for all that she was aware that she was no longer part of the place where she had spent four happy years.

  Across the smoke of her cigarette her smile at her friend Hilary Pugh was a shade rueful. “Do you suppose,” she queried, “that it’s a form of vanity to expect nothing about a familiar background to have altered when you come back to it after a time?”

  “Could be. Except”—Hilary’s grin had nothing proper to the dignity of a newly appointed Ward Sister—”that you are the least vain person I know. Therefore it couldn’t. Better think again.”

  “It was only,” said Tessa doubtfully, “that after belonging to St. Faith’s, sleeping and waking, for so long, I’m almost resentful, after six months, to find that it has gone on quite equably without me. Which is rather petty, don’t you agree?”

  Hilary considered the point. “No. Quite natural, I should say. But I can’t resist pointing out that it was you who chose to leave it to get on without you, which was something I wondered at, as you know. I mean—you were as keen as mustard, you loved ward-work and you were a Medallist of your Finals years. You were certain to be made a Sister at the very next vacancy.”

  “Nothing is certain in nursing.”

  “Nonsense. I got my ‘strings,’ didn’t I?” With unconscious pride Hilary tweaked a wing of the bow beneath her chin which was her badge of office. “So could you have done if you hadn’t sheered off to train for Queen’s Nursing instead. Why did you, Tessa?”

  There was a pause. Then Tessa said slowly: “There was nothing mysterious about it. I’d always been attracted by the idea of District work, and when I asked Matron’s advice she said, ‘You may take it, Nurse Greve, that I’m happy, and St. Faith’s is proud, to have equipped you to nurse in any sphere you feel called to.’ Can’t you hear her saying it? But I found it awfully warming at the time.”

  “Your decision needed warming then?”

  “Yes—especially when nobody understood why I wanted to go.”

  “Meaning that I didn’t? That, among others, Rex Girling didn’t?” Bluntly shrewd, Hilary added: “You know, I always thought that your decision was, as much as anything, to test to find out whether Rex cared to see you go or stay. Supposing, for instance, he had tried to dissuade you by asking you to marry him? What then?”

  “Hilary, that’s not fair! You’ve no right to trade on knowing what I feel for him—” Tessa broke off, biting her lip.

  “I’m sorry, Tess, dear. But I’d say you allowed him to trade on it. After all, ever since he joined the surgical staff here he has monopolised you. You’ve never since been even to a flick or a hospital hop with another man!”

  “We both wanted it that way,” murmured Tessa.

  “Yes, but three years or so of ‘that way’ usually leads somewhere. Look, Tessa—say this isn’t my business, if you like. But was I right when I guessed that you left St. Faith’s partly in order to make a gesture of pride to Rex?”

  Tessa rose and moved restlessly over to the window. With her back to Hilary she said: “Partly, yes. But not to force his hand!”

  Joining her, Hilary began: “I didn’t suggest that—”

  But Tessa hurried on: “You see, I argued that if I meant nothing serious in Rex’s life, sooner or later I must do without him and even without the thought of him. And as I had the best chance of that away from St. Faith’s and in work I really wanted to do, I made the break and went to London six months ago.”

  “And now you’ve come back again,” stated Hilary flatly. “Well, as I’ve told you, this Northtrenton district vacancy offered just as I was ready for my first post.”

  “But why Northtrenton, when we’ve always grumbled about it so much—factories, chimney-stacks, streets by the acre and people by the million!” And Hilary swept an expressive hand over the smoky panorama of the great Midland city.

  Tessa said defensively: “But it isn’t as if my district, The Chase, were a slum. It has all grown up round the new factories during the last thirty years. And outside the city you couldn’t have any county lovelier than Warwickshire.”

  Hilary’s firm grasp came down upon her shoulders, turning her about. Hilary said: “All the same, Northtrenton’s geography hadn’t much to do with your return, had it? You are telling me, aren’t you, that your leaving St. Faith’s didn’t solve the problem of Rex after all?”

  Colour Hooded up from Tessa’s throat. “Not—not as I was afraid it might be solved,” she whispered. “Rex was wretched after I’d gone, and we’ve been writing all the time I was away. His letters were—were love letters, Hilary! So, when The Chase vacancy came up, I had to come back!”

  For a long moment Hilary regarded her, then, with a little admonitory shake, released her. “They do say,” she commented drily, “that no one in their senses would try to rescue a tree’d kitten or a woman in love. But am I glad to have you around again? All right—rhetorical question, needing no answer! Meanwhile, what are your plans for the rest of the day?”

  “I’ve got to settle into the flat I’ve been allotted, and officially I’m ‘on call’ from five o’clock this evening. But first I’m to ring Rex in the Extension Block to see if he is free to take me out to lunch.”

  “Well, I’m ‘on’ from now till supper. But I’ll ring you in a day or two and we’ll make a date for you to tell me all about how the other half of nursing lives.” Hilary looked at her watch. “Heavens—I ought to have been back on the ward ten minutes ago!” And with an important, starchy rustle she was gone.

  As Tessa went through to the hospital’s main entrance-hall where the public telephone booths were she began to experience the familiar heady excitement which she had come to associate with the prospect of seeing Rex again, of hearing his voice, of expecting a letter from him. It was an eagerness that was never quite unmixed with fear until the envelope was in her hand or she was able to tell from his tone or his look that all was well between them. And if sometimes she had to suppress a doubt whether fear ought to be a part of love, she always told herself that it was the unpredictable in Rex which made some of his charm for her, that if his moods were more measurable and occasionally less stormy she might find him dull...

  For instance, when she had left St. Faith’s for London, how injured he had claimed to be! But then he had veered again and his letters had been all she could wish. And so it had been sweet and almost too easy to argue that it was a relationship which suited them both while Rex had his career to carve. She could not bring herself to make an issue of the fact that though he often said he loved her he never spoke of their future, and only in secret would she crave more than he could offer her yet. What were three years, after all? She reminded herself gaily that she must tell Hilary you couldn’t keep a time-chart for love.

  This morning there was a minor frustration awaiting her, in that all three telephone booths were occupied by people conducting long gesticulatory arguments with
their correspondents. The booths were in an alcove, and while she waited in the shadow of one of them, some talk going on in the hall was at first no more than a murmured background to her thoughts. Suddenly, however, she was alert to the sound of her own name.

  “I tell you it was Greve,” a girl’s voice was saying. “We were on Silver Ward together for months, and though she wasn’t in uniform this morning, I could recognise her walk and that hair anywhere.”

  “M’m, I know,” a second voice returned. “That colour that’s neither brown nor auburn, but just sort of lighted up on the crest of the waves—quite lovely and out of this world, I always thought. But didn’t she go on to Q.N. training, more or less shaking the dust of St. Faith’s from her feet?”

  “Well, she did—”

  The tone, the drawled last word and the significant pause which followed it identified the speaker as a nurse Tessa had never liked. But at the moment of impulse to step out and confront her she hesitated just too long. And while she remained an unwilling listener the voice went on: “Somehow, though, that particular move may have gone astray, and it didn’t bring a certain member of the surgical staff to the point. So far as I know, young Rex Girling hasn’t noticeably pined, so if she is back without achieving an engagement ring, it looks as if she means to go on trying.”

  “We don’t know that they aren’t engaged by now, and Greve was keen on District work. She had been for a long time.”

  “Just about as long, I daresay, as she had realised that Girling would have to be jolted towards a promise of matrimony,” was the sour reply.

  “It was a bit risky, wasn’t it? He might have let her go.”

  “My innocent, a girl has got to take risks to get her man, and Greve’s intentions in that direction were pretty patent all along. She never flirted around. The faithful heart, that was always her line. But the point of interest is—Does she get her wedding-bells? Or does she mean to put him on a tighter rein? She is hardly likely to be coming back here to nurse, but it’s quite on the cards she may have wangled herself a district nearby, so that she can keep an eye on him.” As the two moved on the rest was lost to Tessa. She was grateful to be able to plunge for refuge into one of the booths. Once inside, she did not attempt to call Rex’s number; she could only stare unseeingly at the receiver, the coin-box, the too-familiar scribble of jotted figures on the wall.

  So that was what they were saying of her and of Rex! Oh—even Hilary’s criticisms had been kindly understanding compared to this! Even the girl who had praised the chestnut hair that was her one claim to beauty had had, seemingly, no other firm convictions about her at all. She felt sullied and defenceless, and suddenly it became imperative to hear Rex’s voice and to know again quite surely that nothing the slanderous tongues were saying was true.

  She had to wait while a messenger fetched him to the telephone, and when he spoke, his “Hello” in his lazy, attractive voice was as abstracted as if he had not been expecting her to call him. Resisting a foolish disappointment, she said breathlessly, “Rex—are we—are we lunching as you suggested?”

  There was a pause. Then: “ ’Fraid I’m not free. I’ve already got a date.”

  “Oh, Rex!” Dismay choked her protest, but when he added nothing in explanation she managed to ask: “I suppose you must keep it? No chance of your getting out of it?”

  “Not a hope. Not that I want to. I plan to take a girl over to Arden Ridge. Long-standing engagement—”

  “A girl? Look, Rex, you do know who is calling, don’t you? That it’s—Tessa?”

  But he ignored that to continue: “Yes, a girl. Description? Oh—tallish, but just about the right height above five feet, with long legs that move from her hips as they should. If you’re given the chance to try, she’s got a spanable waist; grey eyes smudged in; a freckle or two in the more attractive places; a triangle of a mouth and conker-coloured hair that she doesn’t have to crimp. Tessa, did you say your name was? Odd, that. Her name is Tessa too—”

  “Oh!” Sheer relief flooded as Tessa recalled other occasions when he had succeeded with just such teasing humour at her expense. Then, as now, her response had glowed just too late to quench completely the foregoing chill of fear, and she remembered that her failure to catch the tossed ball of his raillery had irritated him a little. “Slow-coach” he had called her. And so, of course, she was...

  She accused herself quickly: “Caught again! I thought you meant it.”

  “Goose! You always were a sitting target, my pet. Of course the date stands. We’ll lunch at Ardencote and drive back over the Ridge. I’m in Casualty over here at Extension and I’ve a couple more patients waiting. A bore, but I’ll cut before there’s a chance of any more. Be at the main entrance and I’ll bring the car round. Are you still my girl?”

  “You know I—”

  But Rex had rung off, not waiting for her answer. Being sure of it, she supposed.

  From the picturesque village of Ardencote the road mounted steeply towards Arden Ridge, a spur of the hills which looked eastward over the city and westward to the mountains of Wales. Their fretted outline against the sky was a view Tessa had missed sadly while she was in London, and when, after a luncheon fit for a gourmet, Rex set the car towards the Ridge she felt her spirits rising with every yard they climbed.

  When Rex was looking ahead she glanced covertly at the attractive profile turned to her, at the well-brushed sheen of his dark hair, at his hands, carelessly graceful upon the wheel, and thought how good it was to be near him again. At least while she was with him she could put the unpleasantness of the morning behind her.

  “Having yourself a good time, honey?” Rex sometimes affected expressive Americanisms of speech.

  “Lovely, yes. I only wish we could drive on all day, don’t you?”

  His swift glance was a caress. “Need you ask? But I suppose you’ve got to get back?”

  “I’m to be on duty from five, when the other District nurse, Nurse Hatfield, begins her twenty-four hours ‘off’.”

  “Then we’ve none too much time, hang it. What a fiendish hour to start duty, when the rest of the world is thinking of stepping out. Sometimes I wonder what possessed either of us to adopt the medical profession in any form it comes in!”

  “I’ve never wished I was in any other,” said Tessa quickly. “And this is really a sensible arrangement. When we’re so liable to be called out at night, it is designed to ensure us a full night’s rest before our free day.”

  “Well, don’t count on getting your beauty sleep on your first free night. You must ring me, and I’ll take you dancing.”

  “It should be a week tomorrow, I think.”

  “Yes, well—say we leave it open, just in case? You might find something better to do.” And though she guessed that he knew she would not, it was typical of him, she thought indulgently, that he liked to keep arrangements fluid, hating to be tied.

  Near the summit of the twisting road Rex parked the car at the junction of a pathway which climbed still higher through wooded heights towards a clearing which gave on to the best views. “Let’s walk up,” he invited, and made light of Tessa’s suggestion that he had parked too dangerously on a corner and only a few yards short of a “blind” crest.

  “I should go a little way over the top,” she urged. “And have to walk back? No, it’s all right, and the cold will chase us back again soon enough. By the way, would you like to drive when we start for home?”

  “Yes, if I may, please.”

  When they returned to the car a quarter of an hour later Rex suggested that, though they need not move off for a while, Tessa should take the driving seat. As soon as she did so she felt for the controls, meaning to drive on to a position of greater safety over the crest of the hill. But at once Rex’s hands were over hers, drawing her urgently towards him.

  “Do you realize,” he challenged, looking at her mouth, “that I haven’t had a kiss for more than six months? And that that amounts to culpable neglect of a
starving man’s needs?”

  “So far as I know, young Rex Girling hasn’t noticeably pined—” The ugly echo insisted, spoiling at first the rapture of yielding her lips to his. But he took her response for granted, and in the compulsion of his embrace she could not Tong withhold an ardour that matched his own.

  When he released her his arm remained in casual affection across her shoulders. “I believe,” he teased, “that you are quite fond of me in spite of all the evidence!”

  She did not want to remember the near-disloyalty which had been ready to doubt him. “Evidence?” she echoed. “What evidence?”

  “Well, way back, who walked out on whom? I’m asking you.”

  “Oh, Rex, that wasn’t “ She broke off, reluctant to revive the bitterness of that old argument, but wondering how she could convince him without laying bare the motives of pride and instinctive self-defence which had led to her going away.

  Rather lamely she began again: “You don’t understand. It had nothing to do with not caring. I wanted to do District nursing, and, as I told you at the time, my job means as much to me as yours does to you.”

  She waited for his reply to that. When none came she recalled something he had just said, and asked: “You didn’t really mean, did you, that you’ve wondered if you are in the wrong profession?”

  “Yes, I did.”

  “Oh, Rex, why?”

  “Because”—he lit a cigarette with one hand and drew on it savagely—”without money or influence there’s no way ahead in it.”

  “It’s no longer like that!” she denied hotly.

  “It still is, for where I want to go. D’you suppose my ambition is to become a G.P. in some one-horse town or to go on trotting round hospital wards while I creep towards say, an Assistant Registrarship in my dotage? What am I now? Just another moth round the candle of ‘the distinguished surgeon, Sir Bartram Catterick,’ who doesn’t know me from the next fellow anyway!”

  Rex’s tone made a sneering quotation of his reference to St. Faith’s brilliant Senior Consultant, and Tessa resented that. A little coldly she said: “Sir Bartram happens to be well past middle age, and I daresay he had to climb the hard way to where he is now.”

 
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