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Нилс Бетти

Three for a Wedding

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A MONTH later, on her way to Magdalen Provost, St Gideon’s behind her, the doubtful future before her, Phoebe reflected that everything had gone very well—there had been no snags, no one had wanted to know anything, no awkward questions had been asked. Sybil had already left and was at home making plans for her wedding to Nick, whom Phoebe considered to be all that could be desired as a brother-in-law. Sybil was going to be happy; now that she had met him Phoebe had to admit that in Sybil’s place, she would have done exactly as she had done. Even Aunt Martha had accepted everything calmly—she had liked Nick too, had been generous in her offers of help to the bride, and was entering into the pleasurable excitement of a wedding in the family with a great deal more zest than Phoebe had supposed she would. And as for her own future, when she had told her aunt what she intended doing, without bringing Sybil’s part into it at all, the older lady had wholly endorsed her plans.

‘It’s high time you had a change,’ she stated approvingly, ‘it sounds a most interesting scheme and you’ll enjoy a change of scene. What did Jack have to say?’

Phoebe had told her rather worriedly and added: ‘I feel guilty, Aunt, but honestly, I didn’t let him think that I … I don’t think I encouraged him at all; we just sort of liked being together.’

‘Well, my dear,’ her aunt had said briskly, ‘there’s a good deal more to being in love than liking each other’s company, and I’m sure you know that. Have you been able to convince him, or does he still think you might change your mind?’

‘I told him I wouldn’t do that.’

She remembered the conversation now, sitting in the train, and wondered what would happen if she suddenly discovered that she had made a mistake and was in love with Jack after all, and then dismissed the idea because they had known each other for a year or more and surely by now she would have some other feeling for him other than one of friendship. She decided not to think about it any more—not, in fact, to think of anything very deeply, but to take each day as it came, at least until she returned to England.

It was Nick and Sybil who met her at Shaftesbury, for Nick was spending a day or so at Magdalen Provost before taking Sybil to meet his parents. They discussed the wedding as he drove his car, a Saab, rather too fast but very skilfully, in the direction of the village, but presently he interrupted to ask: ‘Phoebe, what’s the name of this man you’re going to work for? I’ve an idea I know something about him.’

‘Oh, good,’ said Phoebe lightly, ‘because I don’t—his name’s van Someren.’

Nick tore past an articulated wagon at a speed which made her wince. ‘I knew his name rang a bell,’ her future relative told her cheerfully. ‘Old van Someren—met him at one of those get-togethers …’

‘Then you can tell me something about him,’ said Phoebe firmly.

‘Don’t know anything—surely your people have given you all the gen?’

‘Oh, I don’t mean that. How old is he, and is he nice, and is he married?’

They were going down the hill into the village at a speed which could if necessary, take them through it and up the other side. ‘Good lord, I don’t know—thirty, forty, I suppose—and what do you mean by nice? To look at, his morals, his work?’

‘Just … oh, never mind, you tiresome thing. You’re not much help. There’s ten years between thirty and forty, but perhaps you haven’t noticed,’

Nick laughed and brought the car to a sudden halt outside the house. ‘Poor Phoebe—I’d have taken a photo of him if I’d known. Tell you one thing, though, I’m sure someone told me that he’s got a boy, so he must be married.’ He turned in his seat to look at her. ‘When do you go, tomorrow?’

‘On an afternoon train. I said I’d arrive at the hospital in the evening.’

‘We’ll take you in to Shaftesbury—we’d go the whole way, but we’ve still got to see the parson about this and that.’ They were all out of the car by now, loitering towards the door. ‘You’ll be at the wedding, won’t you?’

It was Sybil who answered for her. ‘Of course she will. I know I’m not having any bridesmaids, but Phoebe’s going to be there,’ she turned to her sister, ‘and you’d better be in something eye-catching, darling.’

‘It’s your day, Syb. I thought of wearing dove grey—that’s if Doctor van Someren allows me to come.’

‘You’ll have days off—all you have to do is save them up and tell him you have to attend a wedding. Anyway, didn’t I read somewhere that the Dutch set great store on family gatherings? Of course you’ll be able to come.’

She sounded so worried that Phoebe said reassuringly: ‘Don’t you worry, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.’

They went indoors then, to Aunt Martha, busy in a kitchen which smelled deliciously of something roasting in the oven, and no one mentioned the Dutch doctor again.

Twenty-four hours never went so quickly. Phoebe, joining the queue at Waterloo station for a taxi, felt as though she hadn’t been home at all. She would miss going down to Magdalen Provost and she doubted very much if she would get another opportunity of a weekend before she left England. She had quite forgotten to ask Sybil the arrangements for her off-duty, but surely she would manage a day or two before she left the children’s hospital. She got out of the taxi, paid the man and rang the visitors bell of the Nurses’ Home. If anyone wanted to see her so late in the day, the warden would doubtless give her the message. But there was only a request that she should present herself at the Principal Officer’s office at nine o’clock the next morning, and when she stated simply that she was Nurse Brook, the warden hadn’t wanted to know any more than that, but took her up to a rather pleasant little room, offered her a warm drink and wished her good night. So far, so good, Phoebe told her reflection in the mirror, and went to bed and slept soundly.

The Principal Nursing Officer was brisk and busy. As Phoebe went into the room she said: ‘Ah, yes, Nurse Brook. Splendid. Will you go along to the Children’s Unit and they’ll put you in the picture —I’m sure it has already been made clear to you that this scheme is housed here temporarily, and it’s run quite separately from the hospital itself. Anything you want to know, there will be someone you can ask there.

She smiled quite kindly in dismissal and pulled a pile of papers towards her, and Phoebe, murmuring suitably, got herself out of the office, sighing with relief that it had all been so easy, aware at the same time that she should be feeling guilty and failing to do so because she remembered Sybil’s happy face.

The Children’s Unit was across the yard. Supposedly there was another way to it under cover, but she couldn’t see it and it was a lovely sunny day and she welcomed the chance to be out of doors, if only for a minute or two. The door stood open on to the usual tiled, austere entrance, a staircase ascending from it on one side, a row of doors lining its other wall. On the one marked ‘Doctor van Someren’ she knocked, for it seemed good sense to get to the heart of the matter at once. No one answered, so she opened the door and went inside. It was a small room and rather dreary, with a large desk with its swivel chair, shelves full of books and papers and two more chairs, hard and uncomfortable, ranged against one wall. Phoebe, who had seen many such offices, wasn’t unduly depressed at this unwelcoming scene, however. Hospitals, she had learned over the years, were not run for the comfort of their staff. There was an inner door, too. She crossed the room and tapped on it and a woman’s voice said ‘Come in.’ It was an exact copy of the room she had just left, only smaller, and had the additions of a typewriter and a woman using it. She wasn’t young any more and rather plain, but she looked nice and when Phoebe said: ‘I’m Nurse Brook and I’m not at all sure where I’m supposed to be,’ she smiled in a friendly fashion.

‘Here,’ she answered cheerfully, ‘if you like to go back to the other room, I’ll see if Doctor van Someren is available. I expect you want to start work at once.’

She went back with Phoebe to the doctor’s room, waved a hand at one of the chairs and disappeared. Phoebe sat for perhaps ten seconds, but it was far too splendid a day not to go to the window and look out. It was too high for her to see much; obviously whoever had built the place had considered it unnecessary for the occupants to refresh themselves with a glimpse of the outside world. But by standing on tiptoe she was able to see quite a pretty garden, so unexpected that she opened the bottom sash in order to examine it with greater ease.

She didn’t hear the door open. When she turned round at last, she had no idea how long the man had been standing there. She frowned a little and went a faint pink because it was hardly the way she would want an interview to begin, with her leaning out of the window, showing a great deal more leg than she considered dignified for a Ward Sister but then she wasn’t a Ward Sister she really would have to remember … And he wasn’t in the least like the picture Sybil had painted of him. He was a big, broad-shouldered man and very tall, something her sister had forgotten to mention, and she, for that matter, had forgotten to ask. His hair was the colour of straw which she thought could be streaked with grey; it was impossible to tell until she got really close to him. And she was deeply astonished to find him good-looking in a beaky-nosed fashion, with a firm mouth which looked anything but dreamy, and there was nothing vague about the piercing blue gaze bent upon her at the moment.

‘Miss Brook,’ his voice was deep, ‘Miss Sybil Brook?’

She advanced from the window. ‘Yes, I’m Miss Brook,’ she informed him pleasantly, pleased that she didn’t have to tell a downright fib so soon in the conversation. There would be time enough for that; she only hoped that she wouldn’t get confused … ‘You’re Doctor van Someren, I expect. How do you do?’ She held out her small capable hand and had it gripped in a gentle vice. For one startled moment she wondered if he could be the same man whom Sybil had seen, and then knew that it was; his face had become placid, his eyelids drooping over eyes which seemed half asleep, his whole manner vague.

‘Er—yes, how do you do?’ He smiled at her. ‘I think it would be best if I were to take you to the ward—you can talk to Sister Jones, and later there will be some notes and so on which I should like you to study.’ He went over to the desk and picked up a small notebook and put it in his pocket, saying as he did so: ‘I’m sometimes a little absentminded … I shall be doing a ward round in an hour, I should like you to be there, please.’

He sat down at the desk and began to open a pile of letters stacked tidily before him, quite absorbed in the task, so that after a few minutes Phoebe ventured to ask: ‘Shall I go to the ward now, sir?’

He looked up and studied her carefully, just as though he had never set eyes on her before. ‘Ah—Miss Brook, Miss Sybil Brook,’ he reminded himself. ‘I really do apologise. We’ll go at once.’

Following him out of the room and up the stairs Phoebe could understand why Sybil had described him as vague—all to the good; she saw little reason for him to discover that she wasn’t Sybil; she doubted if he had really looked at her, not after that first disconcerting stare.

Sister Jones was expecting her, and to Phoebe’s relief turned out to be a girl of about her own age, with a cheerful grin and soft Welsh voice which had a tendency to stammer. She greeted the doctor with a friendly respect and Phoebe was a little surprised to hear him address her as Lottie. She hoped he wasn’t in the habit of addressing his nursing staff by their christian names, for not only would she find it difficult to answer to Sybil, she discovered at that moment that she had no wish to tell him a fib. He was too nice—an opinion presently endorsed when he did his ward round; he was kind too and his little patients adored him.

There were ten children in the ward, most of them up and about, full of life and filled, too, with a capacity for enjoyment which fibrocystics seemed to possess as a kind of bonus over and above a child’s normal capacity to enjoy itself. They were bright too, with an intelligence beyond their years, as though they were being allowed to crowd as much as possible into a life which would possibly be shortened. The small boy Doctor van Someren was examining at that moment was thin and pale, but he laughed a good deal at the doctor’s little jokes, discussed the cricket scores and wanted to know who Phoebe was. The doctor told him briefly and went on: ‘And now, how about that tipping and tapping, Peter?’

A question which called forth a good deal of sheepish glances and mutterings on Peter’s part. He didn’t like hanging over his bed, being thumped by a nurse at six o’clock in the morning, he said so now with considerable vigour, and everyone laughed, but instead of leaving it at that, Phoebe was glad to see the doctor sit down on the side of the bed once more and patiently explain just why it was good for Peter to hang head downwards the minute he woke up each morning. Having made his point Doctor van Someren strolled towards the next bed, murmuring as he went:

‘What a sad thing it is that this illness is so difficult to tackle.’ He looked at Phoebe as he spoke and seemed to expect an answer, so she said: ‘Yes, it is, but I’m afraid I don’t know enough about it to pass any opinion.’

‘A refreshing observation,’ he said surprisingly.

‘I find, during the course of my work, that there are a distressing number of people who have a great deal too much opinion and very little sense. I fancy that you have plenty of sense, Nurse Brook.’ He nodded at her in a kindly way, sat down on the next bed and became instantly absorbed in its occupant. Phoebe, standing close behind him, found herself wondering how old he was. She had been right, there was quite a lot of grey mixed in with the straw-coloured hair. She guessed forty, but a moment later when he turned his head to speak to Sister Jones, and she could study his face, she decided that he was a good deal younger than that.

She had been a little disturbed to find that she was to go to Delft in ten days’ time, for she had imagined that it would be longer than that, as it wasn’t very long in which to get to know the doctor and his methods, and now she very much doubted if she would be able to get home again before she went, for Sister Jones had explained at some length that it was hoped that she would take her days off singly because the time was too short for her to miss even two days together; there was so much for her to learn. She had agreed because there was nothing else she could do, and in any case she would be going home for the wedding—she dragged her thoughts away from that interesting topic and applied herself to what the doctor was saying. He had some interesting theories and a compelling way of talking about them which held one’s attention; by the end of the day she found herself deeply interested, both in the man and his ideas, and was a little surprised to find that the ward seemed very empty without him, rather like a room without its furniture, and yet he was a quiet man, there was nothing flamboyant about him—indeed, when he wasn’t actually engaged in his work, he was positively retiring.

In her room, after a friendly cup of tea with the other staff nurses, Phoebe undressed slowly, thinking about him, and when she was finally ready for bed she didn’t go to sleep immediately, but sat up against the pillows, her golden hair cascading round her shoulders, her lovely face, devoid of the small amount of make-up she used, creased in a thoughtful frown. It wasn’t turning out a bit as she had expected —she had expected to feel regrets, even guilt, but she didn’t feel either, only a faint excitement and a certainty that she was going to enjoy every minute of Sybil’s scheme.

Her feelings were strengthened during the next ten days; it seemed strange to be a staff nurse again, but Sister Jones was a dear and the other nurses were pleasant to work with. There was plenty of work on the ward, for Doctor van Someren was a man who expected his orders to be carried out to the letter, and it was sometimes hard and exacting. He had given Phoebe a number of books to read, some of them written by himself, and she couldn’t help but be impressed by the string of letters after his name. He was undoubtedly clever, which might account for his moments of vagueness and for his habit of staring at her, which at first she had found a little trying until she decided that he was probably deep in thought and wasn’t even aware of her.

She was to spend five nights on duty, because there was a good deal to do at night and he wanted her to be conversant with that as well, and to her surprise Doctor van Someren had himself suggested that she should have two days off afterwards so that she could go home before returning to London to meet him for the journey. He had offered no information about the trip. She supposed they would travel by train and cross from Harwich, and although she would have liked to know very much, she hadn’t liked to ask him because he had appeared so preoccupied when he had told her; he had moved away even as he was speaking, his registrar and housemen circling around him like satellites round their sun.

Phoebe hadn’t been best pleased about going on nights, although she didn’t care to admit to herself that the main reason for this was because she wouldn’t see Doctor van Someren—and she liked seeing him, even though he was a married man and never seemed to see her at all. Apparently he had no eyes for women, however lovely—unlike his Registrar and George the houseman, both of whom found her company very much to their liking. She sighed and wondered, not for the first time, what his wife was like, then pushed the ward doors open, ready to take the day report from Sister Jones on her first night on. Life seemed strangely-dissatisfying.

The children took a lot of settling; she and Rawlings, the student nurse on with her, were still hard at it when Doctor van Someren came quietly into the ward. Phoebe laid the little girl carefully on to the pillows stacked behind her, conscious that her heart was beating a good deal faster than it should do.

‘Any trouble?’ he asked quietly, and she shook her head and smiled at him because it was so nice to see him unexpectedly.

‘No, thank you, sir. They’re very good, but we’ve still got two more to see to.’ She was apologetic because it was almost nine o’clock, but he made no sign of having heard her, only stood looking down on the child, comfortable and sleepy now, and presently he went away.

He came each night, conveying without words that his visits were simply because he liked the children and not because he had doubts as to his nurses’ ability. And in the small hours of the night—her third night on, when Andrew, the ten-year-old in the corner bed, died, he was there again, with his registrar and Night Sister. But Phoebe noticed none of them, doing what she had to do with a heavy heart, and later, when there was no more to be done, going into the kitchen on some excuse or other because if she didn’t shed some of the tears her throat would burst. She neither saw nor heard Doctor van Someren; it was his apologetic little cough which caused her to spin round to face him. She said wildly: ‘You see, I’ll be no good for your scheme—I can’t bear it when this happens—he was so little.’

She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes to blot the tears, and despite them, her lovely face was quite undimmed.

The doctor said nothing for a moment, but crossed to the table, ladled tea into the pot, lifted the boiling water from the gas ring and made the tea. ‘On the contrary, you will be very good, because you feel deeply about it.’ He looked at her and in a voice suddenly harsh, asked: ‘And how do you suppose I feel?’

She sniffled, ‘Awful. I’m sorry.’ She began to gather mugs on to a tray. ‘I mean I’m sorry because I’m being a fool, and I’m sorry for you too, because this happens despite all you do.’

He took the tray from her. ‘You are kind, Miss Brook, but the boot is on the other foot—soon we shall win our battle, you know.’ He kicked open the door. ‘And now dry your eyes and have a cup of your English tea—I should warn you that in Holland our tea is not as you make it, but our coffee is genuine coffee, which is more than I can say for the abomination I am offered here.’ He smiled at her and she found herself smiling back at him; he really was nice—absentminded, perhaps, a little pedantic and, she fancied, old-fashioned in his views, but definitely nice.

But the sadder side of her work was seldom in the ascendant—there was a good deal of fun with the children too, and the nurses, under Sister Jones’ rules, were a happy crowd. And over and above that, Doctor van Someren’s enthusiasm spilled itself over the lot of them, so that very soon Phoebe found herself looking forward to going to Holland, where, so Sister Jones told her, his work was having a steady success—no spectacular results, just a slow, sure improvement in his little patients. She found herself wishing that she, in her small way, would be able to help him to attain his goal.

There was a party on the ward—a farewell party for Doctor van Someren—on her last night on duty. She got up an hour or so earlier than usual and went along to help with the peeling of oranges, the dishing out of ice-cream and the wiping of sticky hands. It was noisy and cheerful and it would have been even greater fun if various important people to do with the hospital hadn’t been there too, to take up the guest of honour’s time and attention. All the same, he found the time to wish each child goodbye and then crossed the ward to thank Phoebe for her help and to hope that the children would settle.

‘They will give you a little trouble, perhaps,’ he hazarded, ‘and strictly speaking it is not good for them, but they must have their fun, don’t you agree, Miss Brook?’

She nodded understandingly, aware as he was that during the early part of the night there would be a great deal of chatter and requests for drinks of water, and little tempers as well as tears, but they would sleep eventually and they had loved every minute of it. She looked around her, reflecting how strange it was that a few paper hats and balloons could create a party for a child.

He turned away. ‘I shall see you here at seven o’clock in the evening, on the day after tomorrow,’ he reminded her, and before she could ask how they were to go to Holland, he had gone, large and quiet, and very quickly.

She spent two busy days at home; there was a great deal she would have liked to discuss with Sybil, but somehow Aunt Martha always seemed to be with them, and beyond a few safe commonplaces about her work, she could say very little. Only when they had gone to bed, Sybil had come along to her room and sat on the bed and demanded to know if everything was all right.

Phoebe nodded. ‘I think so—you were quite right, Doctor van Someren is absentminded, but only sometimes. He’s a splendid doctor though. I expected him to be older —he seems older than he really is, I think, but only when he’s worried. I like the work …’

Sybil interrupted her happily. ‘There, didn’t I say that it was a good thing when you agreed to go instead of me? And I bet you’re far better at it than I should ever be. How are you going to Holland?’

‘I don’t know—I’ve been told to go to the hospital tomorrow evening at seven o’clock, that’s all. What clothes shall I take?’

It was well after midnight before this knotty problem was solved to their entire satisfaction. Phoebe, remembering the doctor’s gentle remark that he hoped that she wouldn’t have too much luggage, decided to take one case, a small overnight bag and her handbag—a stout leather one capable of holding everything she was likely to need en route. The overnight bag she stuffed with night things, and as many undies as she could cram into it, and the case she packed under Sybil’s critical eye with uncrushable cotton dresses, sandals, two colourful swimsuits, a sleeveless jersey dress in a pleasing shade of blue, a very simple dress in strawberry pink silk and, as a concession to a kindly fate, a pastel patterned party dress which could be rolled into a ball if necessary and still look perfection itself.

This task done, she felt free to wish her sister good night and go to bed herself. Not that she slept for several hours; her mind was too full of her job, and woven in and out of her more prosaic thoughts was the ever-recurring reflection that she was pleased that she would be seeing a good deal more of Doctor van Someren during the next few weeks.

The morning was taken up with last-minute chores and a discussion about the wedding, coupled With a strong reminder from Aunt Martha to make very sure that she returned home for it. She was thinking how best to settle this matter when her taxi drew up outside the hospital entrance and she stepped out. There was no one about. Through the glass doors she could see the head porter’s back as he trod ponderously in the direction of the covered way at the back of the hall—perhaps she should go after him and find out … She actually had her hand on the door when Doctor van Someren said from behind her:

‘Good evening, Miss Brook. You are rested, I hope? If you would come with me?’

It annoyed her that she felt flustered. She wished him a good evening in her turn in a rather cool voice and followed him to the hospital car park.

They stopped beside a claret-coloured Jaguar XJ 12 and she tried to conceal her surprise, but her tongue was too quick for her. ‘My goodness,’ she exclaimed, ‘is this your?’

He looked faintly surprised. ‘Yes—you didn’t tell me that you disliked travelling by car. It is the simplest way …’

‘Oh, I don’t—I love it. Only she’s so splendid and she took my breath I didn’t expect … And I’m sure it’s the simplest way, only I don’t know which way that is.’

He put down her case and bag the better to give her his full attention. ‘Did I not tell you how we should be travelling?’

She shook her head.

‘Dear me —you must forgive me. By car, of course. We shall load it on to the Harwich boat and drive to Delft from the Hoek when we land in the morning. You are a good sailor?’

‘Yes—though I’ve only crossed to Calais twice. We nearly always went by plane, and I loathed it.’

‘We?’ he prompted her gently.

‘My mother and father and s …’ she stopped just in time, ‘me,’ she added lamely, and felt her cheeks warm, but he didn’t seem to notice and she drew a relieved breath. How fortunate it was that he wasn’t an observant man, only with his patients. He picked up her case and put it in the boot, already packed with books and cases and boxes—no wonder he had hoped that she wouldn’t bring too much luggage with her.

It was extraordinary how many times during their journey to Harwich that she had to stop to think before she replied to his casual questions. She hadn’t realised before how often one mentioned one’s family during the course of even the most ordinary conversation; she seemed to be continually fobbing him off with questions of her own about his work, their journey, details of the hospital where she would be working—anything, in fact, but her own home life. It was a relief when he slid the car to a halt in the Customs shed, a relief tempered with regret, though, because he was a most agreeable companion and she had found herself wishing that she could have told him all about Sybil and Nick, and her own part in the deception they were playing upon him. When she had consented to take Sybil’s place she hadn’t thought much about the other people involved; now she found that it mattered quite a lot to her.

They had a meal on board and Phoebe talked feverishly about a dozen subjects, taking care not to mention her home or her family, and the doctor made polite comments upon her sometimes rather wild statements, and didn’t appear to be aware of the fact that she repeated herself upon occasion, but as soon as they had had their coffee, he observed pleasantly: ‘I expect you would like to go to your cabin, Miss Brook,’ and stood up as he said it, so that there was nothing else for her to do. Besides, he had a briefcase with him; he was already opening it when she looked back on her way out of the restaurant.

Possibly, she thought crossly, he had been dying for her to go for hours past. She undressed slowly and hung her oatmeal-coloured dress and jacket carefully away so that they would be creaseless and fresh in the morning. ‘Not that it would matter,’ she told herself, getting crosser. ‘If I wore hot pants and a see-through blouse he wouldn’t notice!’

She lay down on her bunk, determined not to go to sleep so that she would be able to tell him that she had spent an uncomfortable night—no, not uncomfortable, she corrected herself—it was a delightful cabin, far more luxurious than she had expected, certainly first class and on the promenade deck. It surprised her that the hospital authorities were willing to spend so much money on a nurse. She would have been just as comfortable sharing a cabin with another girl, although she doubted if she would have had the cheerful services of the stewardess who promised tea at six o’clock and begged her to ring her bell should she require anything further. With difficulty Phoebe brought her sleepy mind back to Doctor van Someren; it would be nice if she were to see a great deal of him in hospital—presumably she would be working on one of his wards, but perhaps he would leave the actual instruction to one of the more junior members of his team. She frowned at the idea and went to sleep.

She slept all night and, much refreshed by her tea, dressed, did her face and hair with care and went along to join the doctor for breakfast, looking as though she had slept the clock round and spent several leisurely hours over her toilette. His eyes, very bright beneath the arched colourless brows, swept over her and then blinked lazily. He wished her a good morning, hoped she had slept well and begged her to sit down to breakfast, something she was only too glad to do. Coffee and toast would be delightful, but the ship seemed to be a hive of activity and they had already docked; perhaps he hadn’t noticed. She mentioned it diffidently, to be instantly reassured by his easy: ‘I have a theory that it is quicker to be last off the ship.’ A remark which, it turned out, was perfectly true, for by the time they had finished, the last of the passengers were leaving the ship and the Jaguar was swinging in mid-air, on its way to dry land.

There was no delay in the Customs shed but a good deal of talk in Dutch, which sounded like so much nonsense in her ears, so that she didn’t pay attention but stood looking about her. She was recalled from this absorbing pastime by Doctor van Someren’s voice and she turned at once to answer him and in the same split second was aware that he had called her Phoebe and she had responded. She felt the colour leave her face and then flood back, washing her from neck to forehead with a delicate pink. She would have liked to have said something—anything, but her brain, like her tongue, was frozen. It was the doctor who spoke.

‘Very interesting. I have been wanting to do that since we met.’ His voice was thoughtful, but she could have sworn that he was secretly amused. He turned away to speak to a porter and she followed him to where the car stood waiting in the cobbled yard beyond the station. It was only after she had got into it and he had taken the seat beside her that she asked in a small voice: ‘How did you know my name?’ and then: ‘Are you going to send me back?’

He didn’t look at her. ‘Your sister mentioned you, and no why should I? You are an admirable nurse, obviously far more experienced than you wished me to believe. I don’t know the reason for the deception, but I imagine it was a sufficiently good one.’

‘When did you find out?’

He sounded surprised. ‘When we met, naturally.’

She faltered a little. ‘But Sybil and I are so alike, people can never tell us apart, only when we’re together, or—or they look at us properly.’

‘And your sister decided that I hadn’t studied her for a sufficient length of time to make your substitution risky. You are not in the least like her.’

They were already out of the town, tearing along the highway, but she really hadn’t noticed that. She opened her mouth to refute this opinion, but he went on smoothly: ‘No, don’t argue, Miss Phoebe Brook. I’m not prepared to enlarge upon that at the moment, you will have to take my word for it.’

Phoebe stared out at the flat countryside without seeing any of it.

‘I’m very sorry,’ she told him stiffly, and thought how inadequate it was to say that. She was sorry and ashamed and furious with herself for playing a trick on him. ‘It was a rotten thing to do. At the time, when Sybil—when I arranged to do it, it seemed OK I hadn’t met you then,’ she added naively, and failed to see his slow smile and the gleam in his eyes.

He gave the Jag her head. ‘Do you care to tell me about it? But only if you wish …’

She felt quite sick. ‘It’s the least I can do.’ She stared miserably at a group of black and white cows bunched round a man in the middle of a field as green and flat as a billiard table. ‘I’m the one to blame,’ she began, faintly aggressive in case he should argue the point, and when he didn’t: ‘You see, Sybil wants to get married—quite soon …’ She was reminded of something. ‘I should like to save up my days off and go home for the wedding, though I don’t suppose you have anything to do with the nurses’ off duty.’

They were in the heavy early morning traffic now and approaching a town. ‘Is that Delft?’ she wanted to know.

‘Yes, it is. I have nothing to do with the nurses’ off duty,’ he was laughing silently again and she frowned, ‘but I imagine I might be able to bring my influence to bear.’

To her surprise he edged the car into the slow lane and then into the lay-by ahead of them, switched off the engine and turned to look at her intently. ‘Perhaps if I were to ask you a few questions it would be easier for both of us.’ He didn’t wait for her to answer him. ‘Supposing you tell me where you were working to begin with. You are older than your sister,’ he shot her a hooded glance, ‘and I think that you have held a more responsible post …’

She choked on pricked vanity —did she look such an old hag, then? Very much on her dignity, she said stiffly: ‘I was Night Sister at St Gideon’s—the medical block. I’m twenty-seven, since you make such a point of it …’ She paused because he had made a sound suspiciously like a chuckle. ‘I will explain exactly what happened …’

She did so, concisely and with a brevity which did justice to her years of giving accurate reports without loss of time. When she had finished she stole a look at him, but he was staring ahead, his profile, with its forceful nose and solid chin, looked stern. Perhaps he was going to send her back after all. She conceded that she deserved it. But all he said in a mild voice was: ‘Good, that’s cleared the air, then,’ started the car again and allowed it to purr back into the stream of fast-moving traffic. ‘The hospital is in the heart of the city. It’s not new—there is a very splendid one, you must go over it while you are here—but the one in which you will work is very old indeed and although we have everything we require, it is dark and awkward. But the children are happy and that is the main thing. You will be on a sixteen-bedded ward of fibrocystics, but all the research work is done at the new hospital—St Jacobus.’

She found her voice. ‘What’s the hospital called—the one where I shall be?’

‘St Bonifacius. You’ll find that most of the staff speak English, and as for the children, I have discovered long ago that they will respond to any language provided it is spoken in the right tone of voice. Besides, there are a number of words which are so similar in both languages that I have no doubt you will get by.’

She hoped it would be as easy as it sounded. They were going slowly now through the compact little city, its winding streets lined with old houses, some of them so narrow that there was only room for a front door and a window, some so broad and solid that they should have been surrounded by parklands of their own. The streets were intersected by canals linked by narrow white bridges. She had the impression that she would be lost immediately she set foot outside the hospital door.

The silence had lasted a long time. Phoebe asked in a polite voice:


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