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A Secret Infatuation

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EUGENIE’S beautiful face glowed with delight. She looked up into his calm face. ‘I knew we would—meet again, you know. Didn’t you?’

He had shown no surprise at the sight of her, and now he said, ‘Yes, I knew.’ He stared down at her from his great height. ‘You are to work here as one of the theatre sisters?’

She nodded. ‘For a month. I thought you were a doctor …’

‘A surgeon.’

She nodded again. ‘Of course—Tom Riley had a pace-maker fitted—you were going to see him …’


She beamed at him, ‘I expect I shall see you again.’

He stood aside to let her pass. ‘Oh, undoubtedly.’ She thought that she had seen pleasure on his face when they had met, now he was coolly aloof—almost austere. Feeling deflated, she went along to Sister’s office and reported for duty.

That lady greeted her with relief. ‘Well, at least I’m to have some help,’ she grumbled, ‘and you do know your way around, don’t you? There have been several changes since you were last here—last year, wasn’t it? While Sister Thorpe was off sick. I haven’t changed, of course.’

Nothing would change Sister Cross. Elderly, bony and hawk-nosed, with small black eyes which missed nothing, she was a by-word among the student nurses who poked fun at her behind her back but were frankly in awe of her when they were sent to work in Theatre. She was remorseless in her insistence on high standards and ruled the three theatres with a firm hand. Even some of the housemen thought twice before displeasing her. But the surgeons loved her for she was utterly dependable.

Eugenie liked her too; they had always got on well once they had each other’s measure and she found that Eugenie wasn’t in the least scared of her sharp tongue and, when called upon, could work almost as well.

She was bidden to sit down while Sister Cross gave her a brief resumé of the week’s work ahead. ‘We have a visiting consultant—Mr Rijnma ter Salis—Dutch—a first-class surgeon, specialises in cardiac cases. Over here at Mr Pepper’s invitation to demonstrate a new technique with valve replacements. Here for a couple of weeks then goes to Edinburgh and Birmingham. Very civil and easy to work for.’

Eugenie debated to herself whether she should tell Sister Cross that she had already met him, and decided that she had better do so.

Sister Cross heard her out, said, ‘Hm,’ and told her to go and check the second theatre where a staff nurse would be getting ready for a succession of minor ops.

There was a heavy list, starting with a heart valve bypass ‘And you might as well scrub,’ said Sister Cross. ‘The quicker you get back into the routine the better.’

So Eugenie scrubbed and took the case for Mr Rijnma ter Salis, who treated her with an aloof politeness which she found deflating to her feelings. She hadn’t expected him to be overwhelmingly friendly, but on the other hand he had no need to hold her at arm’s length with that icy courtesy …

She need not have worried about being thrown in at the deep end. He was unhurried and unworried as he worked, his massive person bent over the small boy on the operating table, patiently cutting and stitching, so calm that Eugenie, who had been doubtful as to her capabilities, settled down without a single pang of doubt about them. In fact, after the first few minutes, she began to enjoy herself—she had always liked theatre work and it was reassuring to find that she hadn’t forgotten any of her old skills.

The operation wasn’t straightforward, taking more time than expected, so that the list, scheduled to finish sometime after midday, was running late. Mr Rijnma ter Salis finished at last, thanked Eugenie politely, stripped off his gloves, stood while the nurse stretched up to untie the strings of his gown, and went away, then Mr Pepper took over for pacemakers and a cardiac catheterisation. She went away to a very late dinner and the afternoon was taken up by an appendicectomy and a strangulated hernia. By six o’clock she was more than ready to go off duty, hardly cheered by the reminder from Sister Cross that she would be on call for the night. ‘Shortage of staff and holidays,’ said that lady. ‘The night staff nurse for Theatre is capable of taking any routine case; you will only be called for something she might not be able to manage.’

Eugenie spent the evening writing home, gossiping with her friends, and wondering where Mr Rijnma ter Salis had gone. She went to bed presently feeling vaguely ill done by, although when she thought about it she had no reason to be.

At two o’clock in the morning she was shaken awake by an urgent hand. ‘There’s a gunshot wound, Sister, pellets in the heart. Can you be in Theatre in ten minutes? Staffs getting ready.’

The student nurse had switched on the bedside light and put a mug of tea beside it. ‘You’re wide awake?’

Eugenie got out of bed. ‘I will be by the time I get to Theatre.

Thanks for the tea, Nurse.’

She dressed within minutes, bundling her abundant hair into an untidy and ruthlessly pinned knot and cramming her cap on top of it. She swallowed the tea, turned out the light and went quietly through the nurses’ home and into the hospital. It was very quiet, the time of night when most of the patients were sleeping. Only the faint metallic sounds of bedpans being fetched, cups and saucers being arranged in the kitchens and the tread of quiet feet could be identified. She reached the theatre wing and went through the swing doors to be met by the night staff nurse, looking relieved. ‘He’s here already,’ she said. ‘I’ve put everything I could think of out, Sister.’

‘Good. The patient isn’t up yet?’

‘No. Will you scrub now, Sister?’

‘Yes. Have IC been warned?’

‘Yes, Sister. Will you be able to manage, just the two of us? Night Sister says she is short-handed …’

‘Then we’ll manage.’ She smiled reassuringly and went down the corridor to scrub. As she passed Sister’s office she was halted.

‘Sister Spencer, a moment please.’

Mr Rijnma ter Salis was sitting at the desk, already in his theatre smock and trousers. He looked up as she went in. ‘Sorry to get you out of bed. A lad in a street fight, took the full blast from a shotgun in the chest. There are pellets in his heart—a wonder he’s still alive—I’ll do a median sternotomy. There are a couple of pellets embedded in the pericardium and at least one in the right ventricle. Mr Symes, the senior registrar, will be here in a moment and a couple of the housemen. I understand your technician has been sent for. Do you need more nurses?’

‘Night Sister left a message for me to say she’s short-handed. Staff Nurse is very competent. If the anaesthetist needs a nurse I’ll ask for one.’

For answer he drew the phone towards him. ‘Run along,’ he told her, ‘and get scrubbed.’

He appeared not to see the indignant look she cast at him. She ran along all the same. There was no time to speak her mind to him, but later … Run along, indeed! She emptied her head of resentment and went to scrub.

In Theatre presently, sorting out her instruments, making sure that the elaborate equipment was ready with Keith, the technician, she discovered that there was a nurse for the anaesthetist and a senior student to help the staff nurse.

Mr Rijnma ter Salis must have been turning on the charm. Even at two o’clock in the morning she had to admit that he had any amount of that; besides, she was in love with him. She stopped thinking about him then and got on with the business in hand.

Time ceased to matter; she concentrated wholly on her work, aware that Mr Rijnma ter Salis was operating with complete confidence, deftly removing shot from the man’s heart and chest wall without any appearance of urgency. It was six o’clock by the time he was completely satisfied that the last foreign body had been removed and began his meticulous stitching up.

That the man was still alive was a miracle, but he was young and had a strong body. It would be touch and go for a few days but his chances of recovery were good. He was borne away to IC, followed by the surgeons and the anaesthetist, and Eugenie and her crew began the task of clearing up. The day staff were coming on duty by the time they were finished.

‘You had better go to bed as soon as you’ve had your breakfast,’ said Sister Cross. ‘Come on duty at five o’clock and stay until Night Staff Nurse comes on duty.’

Eugenie went off to the canteen, ate her breakfast, although she wasn’t awake enough to know what she was eating, and took herself off to a hot bath and bed. Tired though she was, she spared a thought for Mr Rijnma ter Salis. She hadn’t seen him once he had left the theatre with a polite word of thanks to her. It was unlikely that she would see him when she went on duty later. She hoped that he wasn’t too tired.

One of her off-duty friends called her with a cup of tea just after four o’clock.

She turned over in bed and closed her eyes again. ‘I’m too tired to go on duty,’ she muttered, and buried her head in her pillow.

‘No, you’re not. There’s nothing in, and nothing to do in Theatre but sit in the office and drink tea and catch up on the day’s news.’

So at five o’clock, whey-faced from tiredness still but none the less as beautiful as ever, she presented herself at Sister’s desk.

‘Had a good sleep?’ asked that lady. ‘Everything’s seen to here. There’s nothing in Cas for the moment. Nurse Timms will be back from tea in five minutes. She can turn out the dental cabinet. I’ve left the off-duty for you to sort out, and you can fill in the day book and see to the laundry.’ Sister Cross handed over the keys. ‘You had better go to bed early.’

Eugenie, who would have gone to bed at that very moment given the chance, said, ‘Yes, Sister,’ in a deceptively meek voice.

Nurse Timms was a small, meek girl with a prim expression, good at her work but not liked overmuch by her colleagues. She made tea for Eugenie when she got back and then went away to start on the dental cabinet. Eugenie was sure she would do a perfect job on it.

She drank her tea and turned her attention to the off-duty book. There were a number of slips of paper inside it with requests from the theatre staff for particular days off duty. No wonder Sister Cross had left it to her, thought Eugenie crossly. If all the requests were to be granted it would be chaos. Sister Cross had pencilled in a few observations of her own, putting herself down for a weekend and Eugenie for two days in the middle of the week.

‘I shall go home,’ said Eugenie in a satisfied voice.

‘A splendid idea,’ said Mr Rijnma ter Salis, coming into the office. He leaned over the desk, reading the off-duty book upside down. ‘Wednesday and Thursday—what could be better? I’m going down to Exeter, I’ll give you a lift.’

Eugenie had gone pink, and she didn’t speak for a moment for she seemed to have lost her voice. Besides, her heart had jumped into her throat and was getting terribly in the way, but since he was waiting for her to reply she took a deep breath. ‘That’s very kind of you to offer, sir, but I’ll drive myself. I have to come back.’

‘So do I. Late Thursday evening suit you? You don’t have to be locked up at ten o’clock, do you? Presumably only the young are considered in need of a watchful eye?’

Eugenie choked. She said peevishly, ‘We older women are trusted to behave ourselves.’ She glared at him. Bad temper, did she but know it, gave her good looks an added sparkle.

‘No need to get cross. You’re tired, of course. But it was worth it; he’s doing very well, holding his own. I’ve just been in to have a look at him.’

‘I’m so glad. I do hope all goes well with him.’

Mr Rijnma ter Salis smiled at her and her heart lurched against her ribs.

‘You are good at your job,’ he observed. ‘Your talents are varied—finding your way through thick mist, looking after parsons with heavy colds, and handing instruments at exactly the right time. I’ll be outside at seven o’clock on Tuesday evening—can’t make it earlier. With luck you’ll be home around midnight.’

‘I haven’t said …’ began Eugenie. His eyes, very bright blue, were fixed on her face. ‘Thank you, that would be nice.’

He nodded then, wished her good evening and went away as quietly as he had come.

There was nothing to hinder her thinking about him; she polished off the off-duty list in between bouts of daydreaming. Was he married, she wondered, or engaged? In love with some girl in Holland? For her own peace of mind she would have to find out. Perhaps she would be able to discover that on their way to her home.

Tuesday evening took a long time in coming. With Sister Cross away at the weekend, Eugenie was in charge of the theatre and although she was kept fairly busy she was by no means overworked; the junior theatre sister dealt with minor cases in the second theatre and there were several part-time staff nurses, and although there was a list on Monday Mr Pepper took it. It was annoying to say the least of it to go off duty when Sister Cross arrived back at midday, and to find on her return that Mr Rijnma ter Salis had operated on a bypass that afternoon.

There was no sign of him on Tuesday; she went off duty at five o’clock uncertain if he had remembered that he was driving her home—and supposing a serious cardiac case needed operating upon?

She changed, picked up her overnight bag and at seven went down to the forecourt, convinced that he wouldn’t be there.

He was leaning up against the porter’s lodge, very large and elegant and apparently deep in thought. Long before she had reached him he came towards her.

‘Hello—’ his smile was friendly ‘—how delightfully punctual you are.’

He took her bag and opened the door and they went outside together. It would be nice, thought Eugenie, if she could think of something to say—light-hearted or witty; instead she remarked upon the weather.

‘It looks as though it might rain.’

His mouth twitched. ‘I think it very likely,’ he agreed gravely as he stowed her into the car and put her bag on the back seat, got in beside her and drove off. No time was to be lost in casual small talk, she supposed, over her initial shyness. She sat quietly as he drove through the city and its suburbs, but once free of the traffic she took the bit between her teeth.

‘Are you married?’ she wanted to know.

If he were surprised at her question he concealed it very well. ‘No.’

‘But I expect you’re engaged?’ she persisted. She hadn’t really expected him to say, ‘Yes I am,’ in a voice which dared her to ask any more questions.

It was a blow and she didn’t know why she had assumed that he was heart-whole. He was, after all, what polite society would call eligible—handsome, esteemed in his profession, possessed apparently of enough money to make life very comfortable. She wondered who the girl was, and Eugenie, being Eugenie, proceeded to find out despite the coolness of his manner.

‘I expect she’s Dutch?’


‘And pretty … Is she—that is, what does she do?’

He didn’t answer at once. ‘She has a great many friends, travels a good deal and does some social work …’

‘But not a job?’

‘No. She has no need to work.’

‘Well,’ said Eugenie, ‘that will be nice when you marry. I mean she’ll be able to stay at home and look after the children.’ The very idea made her feel sick.

‘Er, yes, I suppose so.’ His words were expressionless. ‘Did you phone your mother to say that you would be arriving late in the evening?’

All right, snub me! thought Eugenie, aching with the kind of unhappiness she hadn’t known existed. ‘Yes, I telephoned her. And if you don’t want to talk about your fiancée, that’s OK by me.’

His voice was bland. ‘Did I say I wished to talk about her? It was you—’

‘All right,’ she snapped. ‘I was only making conversation.’

He laughed then but didn’t answer her, and they drove down the A303 for what seemed like a very long time until he pulled in at a Happy Eater.

‘I think we have time for a cup of coffee and a sandwich.’

‘I’d rather have tea,’ said Eugenie haughtily, and skipped away to the ladies. She powdered her cross face, combed her hair and went to find him in the crowded restaurant. He got up as she reached their table. He had the unselfconscious good manners of a man who had been brought up by a good nanny.

‘Buttered toast? I’m sure you could eat a slice. We’re making good time but we still have a fair way to go.’

She sat down and poured her tea and drank it while a gentle flow of small talk flowed over her, nothing that needed her full attention and requiring nothing more than a brief reply from time to time. It was soothing and her ill-humour melted away; she found herself telling him about her father’s illness and the Reverend Mr Watts and how she missed the moor. They went back to the car presently, and although they had little to say to each other the silence was friendly now.

It was late evening by now and dark, and presently it began to drizzle with rain. There was nothing to see and the road ran ahead of them, almost empty of traffic. Uninteresting, even boring, but Eugenie was content; it had been a terrible blow to discover that he was going to marry but just for the moment he was here beside her, large and apparently enjoying her company. As far as she was concerned their journey could go on for ever.

The Bentley tore along, away from the A303 and on to the M5 with Exeter’s city lights shining in the distance, and then presently they were on the Plymouth road and, all too soon for her, turning off through Ashburton, climbing slowly towards Pounds-gate and then down the hill to Dartmeet. They were travelling slowly now because of the sheep roaming free, but it wasn’t long before he took the narrow lane leading to the village and drew up silently outside the Rectory door.

Eugenie glanced at her watch. Just over four hours. They had gone too quickly. He got out and opened her door and she said, ‘You’ll come in and have something? Mother’s sure to have—’

He cut her short. ‘1 would have liked that, but I must get back to Exeter. I’ll see you on Thursday, about six o’clock.’

She was aware that her mother was standing at the door watching them. ‘Thank you for the lift,’ she told him. ‘I’ll be ready for you. And do drive carefully.’

He smiled down at her but she didn’t see his face clearly in the dark. He got into the car and drove away then, leaving her to go indoors and explain to her mother that he wasn’t able to stop.

Her mother led the way to the kitchen. ‘Just as long as he has a bed for the night and a good supper to put inside him. He’s going to drive you back, darling?’

‘Yes, I’m to be ready at six o’clock. How’s Father?’

‘Very well, considering. Mr Watts has got over his cold and I helped him with the Mothers’ Union and Sunday school.’ She smiled at her daughter. ‘We miss you, love.’

She put a bowl of soup before Eugenie and cut some bread. ‘He’ll be hungry, that nice Dutchman of yours.’

‘He’s not mine,’ said Eugenie bleakly. ‘He’s engaged to a girl in Holland.’

Mrs Spencer eyed her daughter. ‘But not married. Did you talk about her?’

Eugenie shook her head. ‘He didn’t want to, I think. He just said yes and no, if you see what I mean.’

‘I wonder why. Most men when they’re in love with a girl never stop talking about her.’

Eugenie supped her soup and took a huge bite of bread. ‘I think he thought I was being inquisitive.’

‘And were you, dear?’

‘I wanted to know, Mother, and now I do I can do something about it, can’t I? Forget him.’

She spoke cheerfully, not believing a word of what she was saying.

Her two days at home were crammed full of odd jobs. Tiger had to be taken to the vet in Buckfastleigh to have his injections, and while she waited for him she did the weekly shopping for her mother and visited old Mrs Ash who lived with her son on an outlying farm. She took a cake with her and a bunch of flowers, for the old lady was celebrating her ninetieth birthday in a week’s time, and when she got back home the Reverend Mr Watts was with her father, intent on changing the times of the church services. Eugenie plunged unasked into the discussions.

‘Those times haven’t been altered in decades. You only want to do so because it’s more convenient for you.’ She took no notice of her father’s, ‘Hush, Eugenie,’ but went on with some heat, ‘What is the point? You’ll be gone in another week or two and everything will be changed back again.’

The Reverend Mr Watts, torn between annoyance at not getting his own way and the feelings he cherished towards her, became incoherent, so that she said briskly, ‘You see what I mean; I’m glad you agree.’

She gave him a brilliant smile and clinched the matter by saying that she would walk with him back to his house.

When she came back to the Rectory her father said mildly, ‘You were rather hard on the poor man, my dear.’

‘Oh, pooh, Father. You know you didn’t agree with a word he said only you’re too nice to say so.’ She kissed the bald patch on his head and went away to help her mother get the supper.

It was still raining the next day but there was plenty to do in the garden. She spent the morning pottering happily, digging the ground ready for planting later on—asters and dahlias and chrysanthemums—useful flowers for the church as well as the house. Since it cleared as if by magic while they were having lunch, and there was a steady wind blowing, she washed the kitchen curtains, hung them out and ironed them and hung them up again before changing into the tweed jacket and skirt she had come down in, packing her overnight bag and going downstairs to wait for Mr Rijnma ter Salis.

The last of the rain had long gone and the early evening was clear even if chilly. He arrived punctually, greeted Eugenie with a detached friendliness which ruffled her feelings, accepted coffee and biscuits from Mrs Spencer, chatted briefly to Mr Spencer and observed that perhaps they should be on their way.

He shook hands and Mrs Spencer gave him a warm invitation to call and see them any time he might be travelling in their part of the world. ‘We are a bit isolated,’ she pointed out, ‘but now you know that we are here …’

He thanked her with a smile and moved a little out of the way so that Eugenie could say her goodbyes. It was as they were going out of the door that her mother said in a regretful voice, ‘Joshua will be so sorry to have missed you, Eugenie. Shall I give him your love?’

She smiled at Mr Rijnma ter Salis. ‘The Reverend Mr Watts—he has been helping out while Ben has been ill.’

Eugenie turned a fulminating eye on her parent. ‘Don’t bother, Mother dear,’ she said sweetly, ‘he knows how I feel about him.’

In the car presently Mr Rijnma ter Salis asked, ‘This reverend gentleman—Joshua? He is understandably smitten with your charms? And do you return his regard?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ snapped Eugenie, ‘you know quite well that I don’t. He can’t even boil an egg …’

‘You consider that boiling eggs is desirable in a husband?’

‘You’re making fun of me. But since you ask, I do think that a man should be able to do a bit of basic cooking. Can you cook?’

They were rushing towards Exeter, the city’s lights ahead of them.

‘I can certainly boil an egg, make toast and fry bacon. I make a good cup of tea, too.’

‘Oh, who taught you?’ She was being rude and not caring about it.

‘My mother. She has always suffered from the illusion that I might marry someone who had none of the culinary arts.’

She might as well go on being rude, she reflected. ‘Your fiancée—can she cook?’

‘I think it is most unlikely, but since I employ an excellent housekeeper that is hardly a matter which need cause unease.’

‘You’re rich,’ stated Eugenie, aware that she was behaving unforgivably. He would never offer her a lift again …

‘Er—you are refreshingly forthright, Eugenie. I’ll set your mind at rest by saying that I make a living.’

‘You work hard for it, though. I expect you’re worth every penny …’

He said placidly, ‘I aim to give value for money.’

She fell silent then, and presently he asked, ‘And you, Eugenie—from what I have seen of your work, you give value for money too. What do you intend to do when you leave?’

‘I’m not sure. You see, I don’t want to be tied because of Father. I expect I’ll have to go to an agency so that if I need to go home I’ll be able to do so. I don’t think I shall like it very much, but hospitals want contracts.’

He said mildly, ‘You could marry the Reverend Mr Watts—he would, I feel sure, be very satisfied and you would be on hand should your father need you.’

She said forcefully, ‘Have you any idea what Joshua is like? Father has had the parish for years, ever since I can remember; it would break his heart if there were any changes. I do not wish to marry the Reverend Mr Watts …’

That is his loss. You are just right for a parson’s wife, bossy and outspoken and managing and capable.’

Her bosom swelled with rage and regret and sorrow that that was how he thought of her. She said quietly, ‘This is a pointless conversation, isn’t it? Let’s talk about the weather.’

He laughed then but remained silent except for the odd remark from time to time—the kind of remark he might have made to a chance passenger he didn’t know or someone to whom he was giving a lift as a favour.

At the hospital he got out of the car and helped her out, got her bag and walked with her to the entrance. Here she stopped.

‘Thank you for the lift. It was most kind of you.’

He smiled down at her. ‘I shall see you again,’ he told her. ‘Goodnight.’

Of course he would see her again. She was on duty in the morning, wasn’t she? And there was a bypass scheduled. ‘In the morning,’ she reminded him. ‘Goodnight.’

She didn’t sleep well, her mind too active with thoughts of Mr Rijnma ter Salis, so that she was glad to get up and go to her breakfast and then to Theatre. Sister Cross greeted her in her usual snappy manner, but Eugenie, happy at the prospect of seeing him within the next hour, wished her a cheerful good morning and went to make sure that everything was ready for the morning’s work.

She was about to scrub when the senior registrar strolled into the theatre. ‘Look out for old Pepper,’ he warned her kindly, ‘he’s a bit snappy this morning …’

‘Mr Pepper? Is he doing the bypass?’

‘Yes. Rijnma has gone to Edinburgh—a heart transplant—there’s an unexpected donor. He’ll be there for a couple of days, I should imagine.’

‘But he was in the hospital last night …’

He gave her a quick glance. A discreet man who liked her, he had seen the pair of them when they had returned but he wasn’t going to say so.

‘He drove up overnight. There was no time to be lost—it was suggested that a plane should be chartered but he preferred to drive himself. With a car like his, it wouldn’t take any longer than flying up by the time he had got to the airport and been collected at the other end!’

‘I hope the op will be successful …’

‘It won’t be any fault of his if it isn’t. He’s a good chap.’

He went away and she started to scrub, and presently bore with Mr Pepper’s ill humour. She quite liked him but this morning he was living up to his name.

Without Mr Rijnma ter Salis’s vast person to distract her thoughts, Eugenie put her mind to her future. She took herself off to a number of agencies and put her name down on their lists for private nurses. There was quite a demand for them but most of them were in London or the Home Counties. Perhaps she would do better to try an agency nearer home—Exeter or Bristol or Plymouth. Mr Symes, doing his best to be helpful, suggested that she tried a private hospital, but they, when she enquired, wanted contracts too. It seemed that opportunities for experienced surgical ward sisters and theatre sisters were few and far between—private nursing, she was told, was more a matter of staying in the patient’s own home and performing any nursing duties the doctor might order.

Mr Rijnma ter Salis came back four days later, performed a complicated open heart operation which took hours, thanked her briefly and disappeared again. She had days off again the next day and spent them going round the agencies; time was running out.

Back on duty she met him on her way to dinner. She would have passed him with a polite, ‘Good morning, sir’, but he put out an arm and stopped her.

‘Not so fast. Where have you been?’

‘Days off.’

‘You leave soon?’

‘In about ten days’ time.’

‘You have another job?’

‘Not yet.’ She inched away from him. ‘I’m rather late for my dinner, sir.’

He took no notice. ‘I shall be going back to Holland in two weeks’ time. My theatre sister there is leaving to have a baby. I should like you to take over while she is away.’

She goggled at him. ‘Me? Holland?’

‘Not the end of the earth, Eugenie. A temporary post only but it will give you time to decide what you want to do.’

She opened her mouth to refuse, but he said testily, ‘No, I don’t want your answer now. Go and eat your dinner and think about it. Let me know in a couple of days’ time.’

He had gone, leaving her standing in the middle of the corridor wondering if she had dreamt the whole conversation. Over her shepherd’s pie and carrots she decided that it hadn’t been a dream; he wasn’t a man to waste his time on elaborate jokes or light-hearted suggestions.

‘You look very strange, Eugenie,’ observed one of her friends at the table. ‘Miles away.’

Which she was—mentally at least—in Holland.


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