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Waiting for Deborah

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«Waiting for Deborah» - Бетти Нилс

A wait in need of his care…that was obviously how dynamic consultant Sir James Marlow saw Deborah. Otherwise why would he bother to keep rescuing her? Deborah knew it couldn't be because of her looks – she had carrot-colored hair and no figure to speak of. That was the only explanation she could come up with – unless he wanted something else from her altogether?
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Waiting for Deborah Betty Neels

‘You would make a good doctor’s wife.’

Deborah blushed. Dr Wright was a nice young chap and Deborah had blushed twice at his name. Sir James wasn’t sure why he felt a vague regret. As for Deborah, the blush hadn’t been for Dr Wright; she had at that very moment made the discovery that if she were to be a doctor’s wife she would want Sir James Marlow to be that doctor. Just for the moment nothing and nobody else mattered while she digested this exciting fact before she suppressed it sternly as a load of nonsense.

Dear Reader

With the worst of winter now over, are your thoughts turning to your summer holiday? But for those months in between, why not let Mills & Boon transport you to another world? This month, there’s so much to choose from—bask in the magic of Mauritius or perhaps you’d prefer Paris … an ideal city for lovers! Alternatively, maybe you’d enjoy a seductive Spanish hero—featured in one of our latest Euromances and sure to set every heart pounding just that little bit faster!

The Editor

BETTY NEELS spent her childhood and youth in Devonshire before training as a nurse and midwife. She was an army nursing sister during the war, married a Dutchman, and subsequently lived in Holland for fourteen years. She lives with her husband in Dorset, and has a daughter and grandson. Her hobbies are reading, animals, old buildings and writing. Betty started to write on retirement from nursing, incited by a lady in a library bemoaning the lack of romantic novels.

Waiting for Deborah

Betty Neels


Table of Contents


About the Author

Title Page









THE man standing in front of the empty fireplace was short and stockily built with a long thin face and light brown hair already receding from his forehead. He was dressed in a pin-striped suit, a coloured shirt and a perfectly dreadful tie, and he was obviously pleased both with his appearance and his attire. When he spoke it was with a pomposity which was quite unsuited to his age and his appearance.

There were two other persons in the room, a young woman, elegantly dressed and faultlessly made up, her dark hair brushed into a carefully careless cloud around her good looks, who was lounging on a sofa, and another girl, considerably younger, sitting on a small chair by the window. Unlike her companion, she had carroty hair which was straight and pinned rather carelessly into a knot at the back of her neck. She had no looks to speak of and she was far too thin; only her eyes, when she glanced at the man, were beautiful: vividly blue, large and fringed with curling lashes several shades darker than her hair. She sat composedly, her hands clasped in the lap of her tweed skirt, and listened to the man as he talked.

‘Of course I shall sell this place and the furniture. I may have to wait for my money but I have my flat and you, Barbara, have yours.’

‘I haven’t a flat,’ observed the girl with the carroty hair in a matter-of-fact voice.

They both looked at her. ‘My father was good enough to allow you to live here in comfort with him while he was alone, very generous of him considering that you are no relation …’

‘My mother married him.’

Her stepbrother waved that away with a podgy hand. ‘And since her death he gave you a home—a very comfortable home too—you have lived at your ease, Deborah, and I consider that I owe you nothing.’

‘Yes, well—I thought you might think that.’ She added in a small calm voice, ‘You and Barbara have never liked me.’

‘Well, you have no need to wallow in self-pity,’ said Barbara nastily. ‘You’ve had plenty of experience running a household, you get yourself a job—a mother’s help or something. Anyway this is all very boring.

Walter, I’ll leave it all to you; just let me have my share when you’ve got rid of this place.’ She got up gracefully and went to rearrange her hair in front of the old-fashioned mirror above the fireplace.

‘Very well, it may take some time. I suppose Deborah can stay here and caretake until the house is sold.’ He didn’t ask her if she were willing but went on, ‘I’ll see that you have money for food and so on.’

He joined his sister on the way to the door. ‘And don’t think that you can throw my money around; I shall want accounts kept of every penny you spend.’

‘There won’t be any accounts,’ said Deborah reasonably, ‘because I have no money; you took the chequebooks as soon as my stepfather died and probably any cash there was in the house as well.’

Walter went an unbecoming puce and gobbled. ‘Don’t be impertinent, you know nothing about such things.’ He took his wallet from a pocket and counted out some notes. ‘You will need very little money; this should be sufficient for some weeks.’

He bustled Barbara out of the room and banged the door after him only to open it again. ‘And kindly remember that this house and its contents are now mine.’

She sat quietly until she heard the bang of the front door—banging doors was Walter’s way of expressing his annoyance. She got to her feet then, picked up the money and put it in her handbag and went along to the kitchen to make herself some lunch. She was alone in the house; there had been a cook and a housemaid when her stepfather had been alive but Walter had dismissed them with a month’s wages the moment the funeral was over. Unnecessary mouths to feed, he had told Barbara; he wouldn’t need to pay Deborah anything if she stayed at the house until he had sold it. She had nowhere to go, no family living near by, and her only friends were elderly ones of her mother. She had lost touch with them anyway, for his father had discouraged any social life which she might have had; her place, he had told her frequently, was at home, looking after him. It was, Walter had observed in a satisfied voice, a most satisfactory arrangement.

Deborah ate her lunch, got her outdoor things and left the house, walking briskly in the chill March wind. The bus stop was some minutes away, for her stepfather’s house was in one of the secluded roads in Hampstead, but she enjoyed the short walk, her head full of plans. She was free; never mind what Walter had said, she would find a job as quickly as possible and leave the house. She could leave the keys with the house agent …

In Oxford Street, off the bus, she bought an evening paper and scanned its columns for agents’ addresses. There was any number. She chose the nearest, stated her wish to work as a mother’s help, paid her fee, and made her way to the second address she had marked on the newspaper. She visited four agencies and the fees made a considerable hole in Walter’s money. Set a sprat to catch a mackerel, Deborah told herself, getting on the bus again to go back to Hampstead and the large unfriendly house she had called home for some years.

She had tea and supper together for it was already early evening, sitting in the kitchen, pencil and paper on the table beside her, doing optimistic sums. She had given her telephone number to the agencies; they would ring if there was anything suitable. In the meanwhile she would pack her clothes and—since it hadn’t entered her head to do otherwise—clean and dust and Hoover the gloomy rooms until she was able to leave. She locked up presently and went upstairs to her room and got ready for bed. She didn’t like being alone in the house but, since she had no choice, she tried to ignore the small noises and creaks which somehow only sounded at night. Tonight, however, she was too excited at the thought of her future to worry about that.

She didn’t expect to hear anything the next day but by the end of the fourth day she was getting worried. A man from the house agent had been, inspected the house and told her that he would be in touch with her stepbrother, and it seemed to her highly likely that Walter would pay a visit in the very near future. She phoned the agencies the next morning and the first three had nothing for her but the fourth was more hopeful; if she would go along to the office perhaps she would like to consider a post which might suit her.

Deborah lost no time. The rush-hour was over, the bus made good time, and she found herself in Oxford Street, five minutes’ walk from the side-street and the agency.

She was at its door when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

‘Debby—it is Debby? My dear, such a long time since I saw you last—your stepfather died recently, did he not? Two weeks ago, wasn’t it? Are you living with your stepbrother?’

The speaker was elderly, well dressed and still pretty and her smile was warm.

‘Mrs Dexter, how lovely to see you—it’s years …’

‘So it is,’ said her companion and reflected that Deborah’s looks hadn’t improved with the passing of time and surely she had been wearing that jacket and skirt when they had met last. ‘You must have lunch with me and tell me your news, but first I must go and see that tiresome woman in the agency. You remember old Mrs Vernon? A friend of your dear mother’s and of your grandmother’s too. She had a stroke some months ago and now she is living with her niece who simply can’t cope with her and has begged me to find someone to live in and look after her—a light post, she tells me, with a little housework and ironing and so forth. There’s help in the house anyway but Clara—the niece, you know—tells me that she herself isn’t too strong.’

Mrs Dexter drew breath and Deborah said quickly, ‘Mrs Dexter, I need a job badly, as soon as possible—would I do?’

‘You? My dear—but surely … did your stepfather not leave you provided for?’ And when Deborah shook her head, ‘And your stepbrother—I’ve forgotten his name—there must be plenty of money?’

‘I believe there is, but Walter is settling things. He’s selling the house—I’m staying there until it’s sold and then I am to find work. Only I thought I wouldn’t wait for that so I’ve got my name down at several agencies for mother’s help or something similar.

I’m used to running a house and looking after invalids.’

She spoke without bitterness and Mrs Dexter patted her arm. ‘You have had more than your fair share of that, my dear. I believe that you would do very well for Mrs Vernon, especially as she has known you and your mother. We will go and see the woman inside and settle things.’

They mounted the stairs together and at the top Mrs Dexter said, ‘I forgot to tell you, they live in the depths of the country—the Cotswolds, would you mind?’

‘Mind? I shall love it, and Walter won’t know where I am …’

Mrs Dexter paused on the landing. ‘You had a stepsister too—a very pretty girl.’

‘Barbara, yes, she has a boutique somewhere near Harrods.’

‘She wouldn’t like you to live with her?’ ventured Mrs Dexter.

‘She doesn’t like me either,’ said Deborah in a voice quite empty of self-pity.

Mrs Dexter said no more but swept into the agency office, dealt briskly with the stony-eyed woman behind the desk and swept out again, Deborah in tow. ‘That’s settled,’ she said with satisfaction. ‘I shall drive you down myself the day after tomorrow. Clara will be both relieved and delighted. Did I mention your salary? No?’ She thought for a moment and mentioned a sum which Deborah, quite without money of her own for a long time, found unbelievably generous. They had coffee together in a chic little café and parted company the best of friends, Mrs Dexter to go into Liberty’s and Deborah to scour BHS for the replenishment of her meagre wardrobe. Something suitable for the companion of a bedridden old lady and some decent undies—a dressing-gown too in case she had to get up in the night and sensible shoes, for presumably if her new job was in the country she would walk in her free time. Pleased with her purchases, she took herself back to Hampstead, and over her tea counted her remaining money. There wasn’t a great deal left, but she wouldn’t need any for the first week or so. Walter would be furious when he discovered that she had used his money in such a fashion but, after all, he had given it to her … She went to bed happy for the first time in years.

She spent the next day finishing her packing and making sure that the house was as clean and tidy as she could make it. She had thought a lot about writing a note to Walter and finally composed a stiff little letter telling him that she had found work for herself, left the keys with the house agent and turned off the water. He would be annoyed, of course, but it was unlikely that he would bother to look for her. She left the note on the hall table and went to bed for the last time in the house in the plainly furnished room her stepfather had considered good enough for her. Before she went to sleep she wondered what her room would be like in Mrs Vernon’s house. Speculating happily about her future, she went to sleep.

She was to be fetched in the morning and Mrs Dexter’s chauffeur-driven car drew up before the door shortly after nine o’clock. Sitting in the back with her mother’s friend, Deborah was invited to ask any questions she wished.

‘Mrs Vernon—is she Mrs Vernon’s aunt?’

‘No, no—Robert Vernon is her nephew. He and Clara have three children: two boys and a girl—let me see, they must be between ten and fourteen years old now, Robin, Ruth and Laurie. Clara has a busy life; Robert is a successful solicitor and has his office in the nearest town but they live near a small village four miles or so north of there. Eastleach—it’s really two hamlets on either side of the road.’

‘Is Mrs Vernon completely bedridden?’

‘I believe so. From what Clara told me she remains in bed. The local nurse has been coming each day to attend to her but Clara has found it impossible to get her out of bed which is what the doctor recommends.’ Mrs Dexter cast a rather worried look at Deborah. ‘I hope that you will be strong enough, dear …’

‘I nursed Mother for almost a year and when my stepfather became ill I nursed him too. He was a difficult patient,’ added Deborah without rancour, remembering the disturbed nights, the constant complaining and the lack of freedom. She had tackled Walter once about getting someone to relieve her occassionally so that she might have a few hours to herself and had been lectured at length on the subject of her ingratitude. What did she expect? Had she not a cook and a housemaid to do everything for her? Was she not fed and clothed? Had she not a comfortable roof over her head?

She had allowed his tirade to flow over her head and thought her own thoughts.

Since they travelled for a good part of the way on the M4, turning off at Swindon and going north to Lechlade, the journey took little more than two and a half hours. As they left the town behind them and took a narrow country road Deborah felt the first pangs of doubt. Supposing the old lady didn’t like her? Or her niece for that matter? Well, she had burnt her boats now and there was no turning back. Her spirits lifted a little at Mrs Dexter’s kind, ‘You will be so welcome, my dear, and I am sure that you will be happy here.’

The car turned into a short drive and drew up before a lovely old Cotswold house, its walls and roof of honey-coloured Cotswold stone, its windows with stone mullions and leaded panes. Deborah got out of the car and looked around her with delight; there were daffodils massed in beds on either side of the house and clumps of them dotted around the well-kept lawns surrounding the house. It seemed like heaven after the house at Hampstead.

In answer to Mrs Dexter’s tug on the bell-pull the door was opened by a stout little woman with a round smiling face and twinkling eyes, enveloped in a print overall. She wished them good day in a soft country voice and stood aside for them to go on ahead.

‘It’s Mrs Dexter and the young lady, isn’t it?’ She beamed at them both. ‘Mrs Vernon’s in the drawing-room—this way.’

The hall was pleasant and immaculate and so was the room into which they were shown, flowers everywhere, cushions well shaken, silver photo frames gleaming, and the woman crossing the room to greet them was as immaculate. Dressed in a well cut tweed skirt and a cashmere sweater and just the right amount of gold jewellery, she looked less than her years, her face skilfully made-up and her golden hair cut by a masterly hand. She was good-looking but she wore a discontented air as she kissed the air by Mrs Dexter’s cheek.

‘Aunt Phyllis, you have no idea how delighted I am to see you!’ She glanced at Deborah. ‘And this is Miss Everett?’

She smiled at Deborah but didn’t shake hands and her blue eyes held no warmth. Deborah’s heart sank. She doesn’t like me, she reflected, and then decided that she had been mistaken when Mrs Vernon said, ‘It is such a relief to me that I shall have help with my aunt. It is a light post and you will have plenty of time to yourself, but I lead a busy life with the children and various social commitments and I rely upon you to take good care of her at all times.’ She smiled, though again the smile didn’t reach her eyes. ‘Do leave your things in the cloakroom and we will have lunch, then I can take you to my aunt.’

The dining-room was as pristine as the drawing-room and rather chilly. A grumpy-looking maid served lamb chops and vegetables and then jellied fruit and custard and Mrs Vernon and Mrs Dexter chatted lightly, careful to include Deborah in the conversation. They had their coffee at the table and presently Mrs Dexter said that she must go again. ‘I must be back in town in good time,’ she explained. ‘I’m dining early, for I’m going to the theatre with friends.’ She smiled kindly at Deborah. ‘My dear, I’m sure that you will be happy here—do write and tell me how you are getting on, won’t you? I am so glad that we met at such a fortuitous time.’

Mrs Vernon went with her to the car and Deborah sat where she was in the hall. Her case had been taken upstairs; she supposed that she would be shown her room and given time to unpack.

Mrs Vernon came back into the house, brisk and businesslike. ‘We will go to my aunt now,’ she said. ‘You can unpack later.’

Deborah followed her up the carpeted staircase, along a corridor and then up another flight of stairs at the back of the house. Here the thick carpeting had given way to a serviceable matting and the windows overlooking the country beyond were curtained in a useful beige material. The passage they were in was narrow and had several doors, the end one of which Mrs Vernon opened.

‘Well, here is your charge,’ she told Deborah.

The room was large, low-ceilinged and sparsely furnished. There was a long latticed window and facing it a narrow bed, its occupant lying flat under its blankets; an old lady, her eyes open, watching them.

Mrs Vernon spoke rather loudly. ‘Aunt Emma, here is your companion. Her name is Deborah; she will wash you and feed you and make your bed and make sure that you are comfortable. I shall show her her room now and then she will come back here to you.’

The old lady closed her eyes and Mrs Vernon said impatiently, ‘Of course, we aren’t sure if she understands what we are saying. Now come and see your room.’

It was separated from the old lady’s by a bathroom, a small room, its narrow bed against a wall. There was a small table beneath the window, a chair by it and a basket chair by the bed beside a side-table with a lamp upon it. The bedspread was candlewick in the same serviceable shade of beige. A depressing little room, but Deborah reminded herself that it was hers, that she had a job and, if she saved her money, security for the foreseeable future.

‘You can unpack later,’ said Mrs Vernon carelessly. ‘Go down to the kitchen at four o’clock and Cook will give you a tray. Aunt Emma has a drink then and you can have your tea at the same time.’

‘Am I to have my meals here?’ asked Deborah.

‘She doesn’t wake early; you can go down to the dining-room at half-past seven and have your breakfast then; I’ll get Florrie—the housemaid—to keep an eye on Aunt Emma while you have your lunch and supper. You will have to arrange whatever free time you want but please don’t expect me to relieve you. I’m completely worn out after weeks of looking after my aunt.’

‘Is she to be left at all?’

‘If she’s sleeping there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get out for a time, I suppose; you’ll discover when is best for yourself.’

Mrs Vernon went away and Deborah went back into the room. The old lady’s eyes were still closed. She crossed to the window and pulled back the curtains and the pale sunshine lighted the room. ‘A few flowers,’ said Deborah, talking to herself, ‘and surely Mrs Vernon would be more comfortable with another pillow.’

She went to the bed and studied the elderly face, one side drawn down a little by reason of the stroke. It must have been good-looking in earlier years and the untidy white hair curled prettily around it. Mrs Vernon opened her eyes, staring up at Deborah, who picked up one of the flaccid hands on the counterpane and held it gently.

‘Hello,’ she said in her pretty voice, ‘I’m Deborah, come to look after you. I’ll do my best to make you comfortable and I’m sure we’ll get on well together. You niece wasn’t sure if you understood her. If you understand me, will you wink?’

It was a nice surprise when the old lady winked. ‘Oh, good,’ said Deborah, ‘that’s an excellent start. I can ask you things and you can wink your answers. One wink for yes and two for no …’

It was a slow business but it worked. Within the next half-hour Deborah had turned her patient over on to her other side, peered into the other rooms along the passage until she found a soft pillow and settled the elderly head upon it and then, armed with a basin and water from the bathroom, freshened her face and hands.

The old eyes stared at her and Mrs Vernon’s mouth made tiny movements although there was no sound.

Deborah pulled up a chair and took a hand in hers. ‘Look, I don’t know much about it, but I’m quite sure that you will be able to move and speak again, but you have to wait for your head to get better. I’ll do all that I can to help you; we’ll think up a routine for you and really work at it.’

She was heartened by the emphatic wink she had in answer.

She unpacked presently while the old lady dozed and then went down to the kitchen for the tray. She went down the way she had come up and as she reached the last tread of the staircase Mrs Vernon came out of the drawing-room with another woman, laughing and talking. She stopped when she saw Deborah and said sharply, ‘You can use the back stairs, Deborah, but, since you’re here, go through the baize door.’ She nodded towards the back of the hall and went into the drawing-room with her companion.

The kitchen was large and comfortably warm and the cheerful soul who had admitted them said at once, ‘You’ve come for your tray, love? I’ve got it ready, there’s a feeder for Mrs Vernon and a jug of warm milk and a nice pot of tea for you and some sandwiches and cake. And if there is anything you need you just ask me or Cook. We’re that glad you’ve come for we’ve been fair run off our feet since the old lady was took bad. We said to young Mrs Vernon, “You get someone to look after Mrs Vernon or we’ll give in our notice”.’ She added sympathetically, ‘You’ll have your hands full, miss. Me and Cook’ll take over for an hour in the afternoons so’s you can get a breath of air.’

‘You’re very kind. I didn’t know that you had had to look after Mrs Vernon; I thought young Mrs Vernon had been doing that.’

‘Lor’ love you, dearie, she never goes near the poor old thing, only when the doctor comes. She’d have been better off in an hospital but they want to keep her here so’s if she gets to move a hand a bit she can sign her name so’s they can take care of her money.’

She made the tea and put the teapot on the tray. ‘Not that I should be gossiping with you, and you only just here but it’s only right you should know which way the cat’s jumping.’

‘It’s kind of you to tell me,’ said Deborah. ‘I’ll take good care of the old lady.’

She bore the tray upstairs, gave Mrs Vernon the milk, a slow business but successfully achieved, and then sat down near the bed and had her own tea. Mrs Vernon was dozing again and she was able to consider what Mrs Dodd had told her—it was a quite different picture from that which Mrs Dexter had painted although she was sure that that lady had no idea of the true state of things. That her own position in the household wasn’t quite as Mrs Dexter had pictured it didn’t worry her; she was fired with the ambition to get the old lady better although she had very little idea of how to set about it. All she knew was that people recovered from strokes sooner or later and to a greater or lesser degree, provided that the stroke hadn’t been a massive one. The local nurse had been coming in to see her and she might be a useful source of information … Deborah drained the teapot, ate everything on the tea tray and carried it back to the kitchen.

When she finally got into her bed that night she was tired. Mrs Vernon was hard work and she found that she was expected to manage by herself. It meant rolling the patient to and fro while she saw to the bed and washed her, heaved her up on to her pillows, fed her the milky drink which, it seemed, was all that she was allowed, and then sat quietly by the bed until she slept. The job, she reflected, wasn’t quite what she had expected, but never mind that, it was a job and she was free …

She got up early and since the old lady was still asleep she bathed and dressed and crept down the back stairs. Mrs Dodd was in the kitchen and greeted her in a friendly fashion and offered a cup of tea.

‘If you come down in half an hour your breakfast would be ready. You don’t mind eating it here? The mistress has hers in bed and Mr Vernon likes to be on his own …’

Deborah didn’t mind and said so and Mrs Dodd went on, ‘You’ll need to have the old lady spick and span by ten o’clock: the doctor comes twice a week—today and on Friday—just takes a look at her and has a chat with the mistress.’

Old Mrs Vernon was awake when Deborah went back upstairs and there was time to bathe her face and smooth her hair and make her comfortable. Deborah talked while she worked, heaved the old lady up the bed and turned her pillows and then offered her a drink. She drank thirstily and Deborah, offering more water, resolved to ask for something more interesting. Surely if Mrs Vernon could manage to swallow water she could do the same with orange juice or barley water or even Bovril and chicken broth?

Eating the breakfast the cook put before her presently, she broached the subject. ‘Well, I don’t see why you shouldn’t help yourself to anything you would think she might fancy. Fluids, the doctor said, and they’re all fluids, aren’t they?’ She pointed to the big dresser which took up all one wall. ‘You’ll find everything that you want in there and no need to ask.’

So Deborah went back to the old lady’s room with a jug of orange juice and a small tea tray. She hoped she was doing the right thing but she couldn’t see any reason for not doing it and besides the doctor would come presently and she could ask him and find out too just how much movement the patient could tolerate.

The tea was taken with obvious pleasure, judging by the flurry of winks from the mask-like face. Deborah bore the tray back to the kitchen, put the orange juice in the bathroom to keep cool, and set about readying her patient for the day. Mrs Vernon, although helpless, was small and very thin, which was a good thing, for Deborah had a good deal of heaving and turning to do before she was satisfied with her efforts and knew that her patient was comfortable. It seemed that she was, for, when asked, she winked several times.

Dr Benson was a disappointment; he came into the room accompanied by young Mrs Vernon, accorded Deborah a nod and went to look at his patient.

‘Looks comfortable enough,’ he observed jovially. ‘Let us hope that this young woman will look after her as well as you have done, my dear. I only hope that you have not overtaxed your strength; you must take things easy.’

Deborah, standing by the bed, saw the pent-up rage in the old eyes staring up at him. There was something wrong and she wasn’t sure what it was but of one thing she was sure: it wouldn’t be of any use asking Dr Benson’s advice. He hadn’t spoken to her at all, addressing all his remarks to Mrs Vernon, but she took heart when she heard him telling her that since she was so anxious about her aunt he had arranged for a specialist to come and see the old lady. ‘I’ll bring him with me on Friday,’ he promised. ‘He’s one of the best men in the medical world.’

‘You’re doing very nicely.’ He bent over his patient and spoke rather loudly. ‘We must be patient.’ He patted her hand, nodded to Deborah and went away with Mrs Vernon.

Deborah skipped to the bathroom and filled a feeder with some orange juice. Rest was all very well but some extra nourishment might do no harm. Her gentle heart was shaken to see tears oozing from under the old lady’s eyelids. She put an arm round the elderly head and lifted it gently. ‘You’re going to get better,’ she said, ‘I’m quite sure of that. You’re going to have nourishing drinks and I’m going to rub your legs and arms so that when you can move again you won’t feel weak. I’m not a nurse but if you’ll trust me I’ll do my very best to get you better. Just don’t lose heart, because it will take the two of us.’

Florrie came presently so that Deborah might go down to her lunch. It surprised her very much to discover that she was having it with young Mrs Vernon, but only for that day it seemed, so that that lady could make her wishes known to Deborah.

‘Normally you may have your lunch in the morning-room at the back of the house and your supper too of course. Tea you can have upstairs and someone will sit with my aunt each afternoon for an hour or so. The village has a shop if you should need anything and when it can be arranged you may take a half-day—there’s a bus once or twice a week into Lechlade.’ She glanced at Deborah. ‘It’s an easy post—there’s really nothing to do but keep my aunt comfortable. She needs very little and has no appetite.’

Deborah murmured politely, not believing a word of it.

She walked to the village and back while Mrs Dodd sat with Mrs Vernon. It was a brisk spring day and her spirits rose in the open air. It was nice to have an aim in life; it would be marvellous if she could get the old lady a little better—well enough to sit in a chair perhaps and eat a little and have visitors. Deborah went back to the unwelcoming room armed with a bunch of late snowdrops she had picked and, since there was no one to see, a few daffodils from the garden.

She showed them to her patient and thought that she saw pleasure in the staring eyes. She put them where they could be seen from the bed and went to fetch the tea tray.

The next day followed the pattern of the last with no sign of the old lady’s niece and so did the day after that, but on Friday morning Deborah was surprised to see young Mrs Vernon come into the room.

‘See that my aunt is in a clean nightgown,’ she told Deborah after a meaningless ‘Good morning’. ‘Dr Benson will be here at half-past eleven with that specialist. Get the room tidied up too and remember to stand still and keep quiet while they’re here; you have no need to answer any questions, for I will be here.’

She went away again, leaving Deborah to finish brushing the silvery hair and to tie it back out of the way. She smiled at the old lady as she did so and was taken aback by the look in her eyes. ‘You can hear, can’t you?’ she asked gently, and when one eye winked, ‘I’m going to try and see the doctor—this specialist who is coming to see you; I don’t know how yet but I’ll manage something—I’m sure there’s more to be done than we’re doing. Shall I do that?’

She had another wink in answer.

She heard Mrs Vernon’s tinkling laugh before the door opened and they came in; she was talking vivaciously to Dr Benson and smiling charmingly at him and the man with him. He paused in the doorway and studied the room, its sparse furniture, the drab curtains, its lack of comfort; his eyes lingered for a moment on the bright splashes of colour afforded by the daffodils and snowdrops and last of all he looked at Deborah, neat as a new pin, her carroty hair severely pinned back, its colour vying with the flowers. He joined the others then and turned with a slight lift of his eyebrows to Mrs Vernon, then glancing at Deborah.

‘Oh, this is my aunt’s companion, or should I say attendant? She is quite a help to me—it is exhausting work, you know.’

The specialist crossed the room and held out a hand. ‘But very worthwhile work,’ he said and smiled down at her. ‘Miss …?’

‘Everett, Deborah Everett …’

Young Mrs Vernon broke in quickly, ‘This is Sir James Marlow, Deborah.’

Deborah held out a hand and had it engulfed in his large cool one. He was a giant of a man, nearer forty than thirty, she thought, and handsome with it, his fair hair already silvered, his eyes a clear blue half hidden under heavy lids. She smiled—here was someone she could talk to …


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