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Нилс Бетти

Waiting for Deborah

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DEBORAH quickly discovered that there was to be no chance of saying anything. Young Mrs Vernon had a smooth answer for Sir James’s questions. Oh, yes, she assured him earnestly, her aunt had a varied liquid diet and she herself had massaged the flaccid arms and legs just as the nurse had told her to do. ‘Quite exhausting,’ she added, the very picture of patient effort.

Sir James had little to say; he nodded courteously and indicated that he would like to examine his patient. Deborah, waved away by Mrs Vernon’s imperious hand, stepped back and watched while that lady turned back the bed covers, observing, ‘Of course my aunt doesn’t understand anything, does she? There is absolutely no response …’

Sir James didn’t speak, but bent his vast bulk over the bed and began a leisurely examination of his patient. He was very thorough and when it was necessary to turn the patient from one side to the other it was Deborah who did it. ‘For,’ declared young Mrs Vernon, ‘I simply haven’t the strength.’ Dr Benson patted her hand in a sympathetic manner but Sir James took no notice, intent as he was on noting reactions from his patient’s feet. Not that there were any. Deborah replaced the bedclothes, squeezed one of the quiet hands on them and efficiently retired to her corner.

Sir James straightened his enormous back. He said clearly, looking at the old lady as he spoke, ‘I see no reason why Mrs Vernon should not recover at least two-thirds of her normal capacity. Perhaps we might discuss what is to be done …’

‘How splendid,’ observed young Mrs Vernon, not meaning a word of it, and Dr Benson looked doubtful.

‘It would mean treatment of some sort, presumably? But Mrs Vernon simply couldn’t allow her aunt to go into hospital—here she has all the care she needs.’

‘Perhaps if we talk about this downstairs?’ suggested Sir James and smiled at Deborah as he left the room.

Deborah whisked herself over to the bed. ‘He’s on our side,’ she said to the mask-like face on its pillows. ‘He said that you would get better, you heard him, didn’t you?’ She received a wink, and went on, ‘I must see him—if only he would stay for lunch I might see him when he leaves.’

Fate was, for once, being helpful. Cook told her that Sir James was staying to lunch although Dr Benson had had to go, ‘Though he did say that he would have to be back in London later this afternoon. I’m to have lunch ready for one o’clock sharp so’s he can leave by half-past two.’

Deborah, about to leave the kitchen with a jug of the delicious nourishing bouillon purloined from the dining-room lunch, paused to ask, ‘Could Florrie come punctually, do you think? If she could come before two o’clock—I’ll come back early to make up for it.’

‘Don’t you worry, miss,’ said Cook, polishing the glasses at the table, ‘I’ll see she’s there. Come down for your lunch as soon as you can. Old Mrs Vernon’ll enjoy that bouillon—real tasty it is.’

Deborah talked while she fed the old lady, making plans about what they could do once Mrs Vernon was on her feet again. ‘What you really need is a room on the ground floor so that I can put you in a wheelchair and take you for walks. But first we have to get you out of bed …’

She went down to her own lunch presently and took her tray into the morning-room and closed the door carefully to shut out the sound of young Mrs Vernon’s laugh. Deborah, a gentle soul by nature, really hated her. However, she had other things to think about; if Florrie was punctual she could be out of the house soon after two o’clock and since there was only one road to the village and the main road beyond it, Sir James would have to go that way. She would lie in wait for him, she decided, gobbling up the little dish of profiteroles Cook had saved from the dessert destined for the dining-room.

She had just finished settling Mrs Vernon for the afternoon when Florrie came and settled herself with a magazine near the bed.

‘I’ll be back by half-past three,’ promised Deborah, and added, ‘thank you, Florrie.’

‘Meeting your boyfriend?’ asked Florrie.

‘With my plain face?’ Deborah spoke matter-of-factly. ‘I haven’t got one—never had, not had the time nor the chance.’

‘Well, I never, miss, and you’re not all that plain, if you’d do your hair different like for a start—it’s a lovely colour and I bet it curls a bit if only you’d give it a chance.’

‘I’ll think about it,’ promised Deborah. She took a last look at the old lady and hurried off to get on her outdoor things; she had wasted time talking to Florrie.

It was the end of March and the month was going out like a lamb, true to the old adage. It was pleasant walking along the narrow country road but she didn’t loiter; she wanted to be at least halfway to the village, well away from the house. If she remembered rightly there was a layby there; it would do nicely. All she had to do was to get him to stop.

She reached the spot and found it highly satisfactory for the road stretched on either side of it in a more or less straight line so that she would see him coming. It was merely a question of waiting.

She didn’t have to wait long. The grey Bentley came rushing towards her in dignified silence and she stepped into the middle of the road and held up an arm. The great car stopped smoothly and Sir James opened the door.

‘Do get in,’ he said pleasantly. ‘We can talk more easily.

He waited while she got in and sat down and then leaned across her and closed the door.

‘Did you know I’d be here?’

‘I rather expected to see you …’


‘You have an expressive face, Miss Everett.’ He turned to look at her. ‘What is worrying you?’

She studied his face before she replied; he wasn’t only a very handsome man, he looked—she sought for a word—safe; besides, he was a doctor and one could say things to doctors and they listened and never told anyone …

‘I haven’t much time and I don’t suppose you have either. I’ve only been here four days and I don’t know anything about old Mrs Vernon. I was told that she was on a fluid diet and that she just needed to be kept comfortable but she had been having endless milk and water and—and she wasn’t very clean. And somehow I couldn’t get Dr Benson alone to ask him. I’ve started giving her some orange juice and Bovril and weak tea and she likes that—I know because she winks once if she thinks something is all right and twice if something is wrong. I turn her in bed as often as possible but couldn’t I massage her arms and legs? You see, I’d like to help her to get better and not just lie there, but perhaps I shouldn’t be doing any of these things. So would you tell me what to do and could you ask Dr Benson to write out a diet for her?’ She heaved a gusty sigh. ‘I sound like a prig, don’t I? But I don’t mean to be.’

He smiled very kindly. ‘Not in the least like a prig, but why didn’t you ask Dr Benson all this? He’s a very kind man; it is hardly …’

‘Oh, dear—it’s something called medical ethics, isn’t it? Silly of me not to think of that, but thank you for listening and I’ll try to get him alone.’ She put a hand on the door and he leaned across and took it off again and put it back in her lap.

‘Not so fast. Leave it to me, will you? And in the meantime there is no reason why Mrs Vernon should not have variety in her fluid diet. No coffee, of course … you are familiar with the rudiments of nursing?’

‘I nursed my mother for a year before she died and then my stepfather for more than two years.’

His voice was casual. ‘You have no family?’

‘Not really—a stepbrother and a stepsister.’

He nodded. ‘There is no reason why Mrs Vernon should not improve considerably. By all means massage her legs and arms, and talk to her—you do already, do you not? Her hearing as far as I could judge is good.’

She heard the note of finality in his voice and put her hand on the door once more but before she could open it he had got out and come round the car to open it for her. She hadn’t expected that and, much to her annoyance, blushed.

Sir James’s firm mouth twitched but all he said was, ‘Now do exactly as Dr Benson says, won’t you? Goodbye, Miss Everett.’

She watched the car until it was out of sight before turning round and going back to the house. She was unlikely to see him again, she reflected, but she couldn’t forget him; it wasn’t just the magnificent size of him or his good looks—he had listened to her, something Walter hadn’t done for years. Nor, for the matter, had her stepfather.

‘A very nice man,’ said Deborah, talking to herself since there was no one else to talk to. ‘I should very much like to meet him again but of course I shan’t.’

Florrie was deep in her magazine when Deborah got home. ‘She’s been as good as gold,’ she told Deborah, ‘sleeping like a baby.’

But when she went over to the bed the old lady’s eyes were open. ‘Good, have you been awake for a long time?’

An eye winked. ‘Then we’ll have tea early, shall we? I’ll tell you about my walk …’

She described the primroses and violets she had found, the lambs she had seen in the fields bordering the road, the hedges and the catkins and a squirrel she had seen up a tree, but she didn’t say a word about Sir James.

It was several days before Dr Benson came again and this time he wished her good morning. ‘I have received a letter from Sir James,’ he told her. ‘I have already told Mrs Vernon of its contents but since you are looking after my patient it is necessary that I tell you too. He is of the opinion that the diet may be increased—broth, Bovril, weak tea, fruit juices—and he suggests that she might tolerate a nourishing milky food: Complan. You know of it?’

Deborah said that yes, she did, reflecting on the countless times she had prepared it for her stepfather.

‘He also agrees with me that gentle massage would be of great benefit. Five minutes or so each day on the limbs.’

Young Mrs Vernon spoke, ‘Of course none of this is going to cure her—but it might make her more comfortable, I suppose.’ She peered down at her aunt, who lay with her eyes shut. ‘She must be very weak by now.’ She added quickly, ‘Poor dear old thing.’ Then gave Dr Benson a sad smile.

‘You have done all—more than enough for her,’ he told her. ‘You are quite worn out—you need a few weeks’ rest.’ He glanced at Deborah.

‘I should suppose that this young lady—Deborah?—is capable of taking over your duties as well as her own for a short period?’

Deborah, assuming her most capable expression, pondered the fact that Dr Benson, who was probably a nice man, clever enough and kind to his patients, should have been taken in so completely by Mrs Vernon. Probably Sir James felt the same way; she was by no means beautiful but she was skilfully made up and wore beautiful clothes; besides, she had mastered the art of being charming …

Dr Benson rambled on. ‘You husband is still away? In London? What could be better? Allow yourself to relax, Mrs Vernon, enjoy yourself, go and join him, go out and about; you will return refreshed.’

Any woman, thought Deborah, listening to this, would be refreshed by a few theatres, dinners out and the kind of shopping Mrs Vernon would do. She wondered about Mr Vernon, apparently away on business. His wife spoke of him in capital letters so presumably he was her loving slave …

She caught the tail-end of what Mrs Vernon was saying. ‘To leave my dear aunt with servants … I should never forgive myself if anything should happen while I was away.’

‘My dear lady, your aunt may linger for some time; on the other hand she may die very shortly—she is very weak as you can see. Even with this diet which Sir James has suggested and massage … they are merely a means of bringing your aunt more comfort.’

‘You think so?’ Mrs Vernon sounded eager. ‘Then perhaps I will go away for a week or so. But supposing she should die while I am away …?’

‘My dear Mrs Vernon, no one is going to question your absolute devotion to your aunt and, in any case, she is unaware of anyone or anything.’

Deborah was standing where she could see her patient’s face. She winked at it and had an answering wink. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell Dr Benson that his patient was listening to every word. She had her mouth open to utter when she received two winks and such a glare from the elderly eyes that she could only close her mouth again.

Dr Benson and Mrs Vernon went away presently and Deborah perched on the side of the bed so that the old lady could see her clearly.

‘Nothing could be better,’ she observed in her practical way. ‘We shall have a week or more … I’ll massage you and feed you up with chicken broth and beef tea and anything else that will go down. And don’t take any notice of what they say. I know you are going to get better.’ She added to clinch the matter, ‘Sir James told me so.’

Mrs Vernon didn’t go at once; she came every morning now to enquire as to her aunt’s condition and Deborah told her each time that her patient had had a quiet night and was taking her feeds. What she didn’t tell was that she had seen old Mrs Vernon’s toes twitch when she had been washing her in bed. It was exciting and she was bursting to tell someone, preferably Sir James, but that wouldn’t be possible; it would have to be Dr Benson and then only after she had made sure that she hadn’t fancied it or given way to wishful thinking.

Young Mrs Vernon went at last, driven away in a taxi loaded with enough luggage for a month although she had told Deborah that she would return in a week, or ten days at the latest. She had also told Deborah not to force her aunt to take her feeds. ‘We must allow the dear old thing to die peacefully,’ she told Deborah. ‘You are to let me know if you think that she is failing. Dr Benson will be away for a week or so, by the way, but really it is not necessary for the doctor to call. In an emergency you may telephone Dr Ferguson at Lechlade who understands the situation.’ As an afterthought she added, ‘You will be paid at the end of the month with the servants.’

A remark which Deborah found it unnecessary to reply to—just as well for rage at such rudeness was choking her.

For the first few days Mrs Vernon telephoned each evening. Then, since Deborah’s report was always the same, she decided to telephone less often. ‘Dr Benson will contact me immediately should I be needed,’ she said and Deborah forbore from reminding her that Dr Benson was away …

It was four days after young Mrs Vernon had left that her aunt’s fragile foot moved. Deborah watched it and tried not to get over-excited.

‘Your foot—it’s moving, can you feel it doing that? You can? Oh, Mrs Vernon, splendid. Look, I’m going to prop you up a little and then I’m going to let the doctor know. He’ll tell me what to do. Dr Benson is still away but I can phone this other man—he’ll want to see you.’

She went downstairs and shut herself in the drawing-room and phoned Dr Ferguson. Who wasn’t there. ‘He is on his rounds; no idea when he’ll be back.’ The voice was impatient.

‘Has he a car phone? Will you try it please; it’s urgent.’

‘That’s what they all say,’ said the voice. ‘Hang on.’

Deborah hung on, bursting with impatience until the voice told her that there wasn’t an answer. ‘He’s not in his car, is he, then? Lord knows where he is. You’re wasting your time. Try somewhere else or ring 999.’

Deborah replaced the receiver and stood thinking for a moment. Mrs Vernon had a desk in the sitting-room; perhaps there might be a telephone book on it, even a directory. Both were there amidst a litter of letters, bills and catalogues and right on the top was a small pad with a phone number scribbled on it and underneath the words ‘Sir James Marlow’.

Deborah didn’t wait; she made up her mind what to do and dialled the London number and almost at once an elderly voice said, ‘Sir James Marlow’s residence.’

‘Can I speak to him, please? It’s urgent—tell him it’s about Mrs Vernon.’ She added, ‘Tell him it’s Miss Everett.’

His quiet voice sounded in her ear. ‘Miss Everett, how can I help?’

‘Look,’ said Deborah not bothering with the niceties of polite manners, ‘Mrs Vernon’s moving her foot—it began with a twitch but now it’s actually moving and Dr Benson is away and the doctor I’m supposed to get if I need one is out on his rounds—they tried his car phone but of course he’s not in his car. What shall I do?’

‘Are you alone in the house?’

‘No, no—I mean Mrs Dodd is here and so is Cook. Mrs Vernon—young Mrs Vernon—is in London and I don’t know quite where, she said she would telephone. She’s gone for a week or ten days so I expect she’ll ring soon; she’s been there four days.’

‘Go back to your patient, Miss Everett. I will be with you in rather less than three hours. Don’t get too excited.’

‘Of course I’m excited,’ snapped Deborah. ‘Wouldn’t you be if you could move your foot?’

A silly remark and rather rude and deserving of his quelling, ‘Goodbye, Miss Everett.’

She had no time to bother about that now; she sped back to Mrs Vernon, pausing at the door to regain her calm before telling her that Sir James Marlow was coming to see her and since it would be lunchtime by then Mrs Vernon should have her chicken broth a little earlier. ‘And I suppose I should warn Cook—do you think he’ll want lunch?’

She received a wink and, obedient to it, went down to the kitchen and explained to Cook, although she didn’t say why Sir James was coming; time enough for that when he had done.

‘That’ll be nice, Deborah,’ said Cook. ‘You’ll have some company for once. I’ll sit with Mrs Vernon so’s there’s no reason to hurry—you can have a chat with him.’

‘He may prefer to lunch by himself,’ said Deborah doubtfully. ‘I’ll ask him.’

She went back upstairs, armed with more flowers from the garden and, anxious to make a good impression, tied Mrs Vernon’s hair back with a pink ribbon before brushing her own carroty locks.

Mrs Vernon, strengthened by the broth and nicely scented with lavender water, stared up at Sir James’s face as he bent over her. He had arrived quietly, bade Deborah a civil good morning and gone at once to the bedside.

He took the old lady’s hand in his and felt its faint movement. ‘You’re much better,’ he told her, and received a flurry of winks in reply. ‘I’m going to take a look at you if I may, since Dr Benson isn’t here.’

He made an unhurried examination, spending a long time with the foot, testing its reflexes before doing the same with the other foot. Presently he said, ‘Mrs Vernon, it is too early to be certain of anything but I believe that you will regain a good deal of your normal movement, but you must go very slowly. Your hearing is excellent, is it not? Have you tried to speak?’

The old lady grunted.

‘Splendid—your voice is there; it will return. Don’t try and force it. Miss Everett …’ he changed that to Deborah at the two urgent winks ‘… Deborah will continue to massage your arms and legs and you must drink everything which she offers you. If you were in hospital there is a good deal more which could be done for you, but your niece told me that you would be unhappy there so we must do the best we can here.’

He waited until Deborah arranged the bedclothes tidily. ‘Is there somewhere we can talk?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ said Deborah, ‘there’s a fire in the dining-room—in case you would like to stay for lunch?’

She went over to the bed and told its occupant that they were going downstairs then and that Mrs Dodd would come up at once. ‘I’ll be up to settle you for your nap presently.’

She led the way downstairs, ushered him into the dining-room and went to the kitchen. ‘If Mrs Dodd wouldn’t mind going up for a little while? Sir James wants to give me some instructions.’

‘What about his lunch?’ asked Cook.

‘I’ll ask him and come and tell you …’

He was at a window looking out on to the garden beyond but he turned round as she went into the room. ‘You were kind enough to invite me to lunch—perhaps we could talk at the same time?’

‘Me too? You want me to have lunch with you? I usually have mine on a tray …’

‘I very much hope that you will keep me company.’

‘Yes, well, if you say so—I’ll tell Cook.’ She whisked herself back to the kitchen to tell her and then rejoined him.

‘I’m so sorry but I don’t know where Mrs Vernon keeps her sherry—and I’m not sure if she would want me to—what I mean is, I’m a servant …’ She went pink under his amused look.

‘I have to drive back to London presently …’

‘Oh, then you won’t mind drinking lemonade or something like that.’

Sir James, who hadn’t drunk lemonade for very many years, agreed that that would be an excellent choice.

Cook, without young Mrs Vernon’s sharp eye upon her, had conjured up a splendid meal: soup, chicken pie with a winter salad, and a steamed pudding, as light as a feather with jam sauce and cream. Deborah enjoyed every morsel, aware that young Mrs Vernon would have been highly indignant at the idea of her aunt’s attendant sitting at the same table as Sir James and eating such an excellent meal.

Over the chicken pie she judged it the time to ask a few questions. ‘Is Mrs Vernon going to get quite better again? And will it take a long time?’

‘Not quite better, I’m afraid, but possibly able to walk with a Zimmer frame, sit in a chair, get around in a wheelchair and have the use of her hands. Probably the left hand will be weaker than the right. As to her speech, it may be indistinct and slow. I see no reason why she should not enjoy life once more, though. When is Mrs Vernon returning?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘And Dr Benson?’

‘I wasn’t told precisely.’ She took a breath, ‘I’m sorry if I did the wrong thing phoning you, Sir James, but I didn’t know what to do.’

He accepted a second helping of pie. ‘You did the right thing, Miss Everett. I shall contact Dr Benson at the earliest opportunity and suggest further treatment. How long are you to remain here?’

‘I’ve no idea. Someone I know is young Mrs Vernon’s aunt, and Mrs Vernon was finding it hard work coping with her aunt—there was only the district nurse coming in each day.’ She hesitated, ‘I needed work and so I came here.’

‘You have no plans at the moment? No intention of marrying?’

‘No, none at all.’ She gave him a questioning look.

‘I do not ask out of idle curiosity,’ he told her with a smile. ‘I was anticipating Mrs Vernon’s partial recovery and her need for a companion.’

‘Oh, I see. But I think that if she got better Mrs Vernon might want to look after her again.’

‘Perhaps. We shall see. You have no need to say anything to Mrs Vernon or Dr Benson. I will find the means of communicating with them at the first opportunity.’

They ate their pudding while he talked casually about this and that, interposing a gentle question here and there so that Deborah, off her guard and relaxed, told him a great deal more than she would have wished.

He left presently after another brief visit to the old lady and Deborah, her hand in his large reassuring grasp, wished that they could meet again.

‘You must be daft, my girl,’ she told herself, watching the car disappear down the drive. ‘He’ll not even remember my name in a month’s time.’

Three days went by in which Mrs Vernon’s twitchings and movements became most satisfactorily more frequent. Deborah, eager to tell someone about it, was delighted to see Dr Benson’s car coming up the drive on the fourth morning. He entered the room with a jovial good morning and said, ‘What’s all this I hear from Sir James? He has asked me to go up to London and discuss things with him. Very surprising, I must say, and most gratifying.’

Who for? wondered Deborah under her breath and, at his request, gave a succinct account of Mrs Vernon’s improvement.

‘How delighted your niece will be.’ He addressed himself to his patient, who stared back at him. ‘It is most unfortunate that I do not know exactly where she is staying but Sir James has undertaken to find her. I only trust that she is sufficiently improved in health to come home and resume her special responsibilities.’

Neither of his companions had anything to say to this, Mrs Vernon because she wasn’t capable of doing so, Deborah because she could think of no suitable reply. Instead she asked if she should rearrange the bedclothes so that he might examine his patient.

‘Most satisfactory,’ he remarked when he had finished. ‘Of course we shall know more in a week or so and in the meantime I will go and see Sir James. He finds it a most interesting case.’ He glanced at Deborah. ‘And this is due largely to your care and sharp eyes, Deborah. Mrs Vernon will be delighted when she hears the news.’

She didn’t contradict him but escorted him down to the drawing-room and gave him coffee while she wondered just how Sir James was going to find young Mrs Vernon; perhaps they moved in the same social circle, whatever that meant. She conjured up a picture of Sir James, magnificent in black tie and escorting some elegant beauty to dine at the Savoy or the Ritz and seeing Mrs Vernon, presumably with her husband, seated close by. What would be easier than passing on the good news? She was forced to abandon this colourful fantasy in order to give her full attention to Dr Benson who was reiterating what she must and must not do.

It was three days before young Mrs Vernon, accompanied by her husband, returned home. Deborah had just finished making Mrs Vernon comfortable for the morning when Mrs Dodd came to fetch her. ‘I’m to stay,’ she said breathlessly because she had hurried up the stairs. ‘Mrs Vernon wants to see you. Got here not ten minutes ago. Cook’s in a fine temper, I can tell you, not having been told and nothing much in the house.

She went over to the elderly lady and looked at her. ‘Morning, Mrs Vernon, love. Getting better, are you?’

‘I’ll be back as soon as I can,’ said Deborah and hurried down the back stairs and into the hall.

The drawing-room door was open and young Mrs Vernon was standing in the centre of the room. She turned round as Deborah went in, exclaiming peevishly, ‘What’s all this I hear? I saw Sir James in London; he tells me that my aunt is recovering from her stroke. I must say this is quite unexpected …’

‘Mrs Vernon is moving quite a lot—she is unable to talk but she makes sounds and seems to enjoy her diet. She really is getting better.’

‘What’s this I hear about you telephoning Sir James? The very idea—you appear to have overreached yourself.’

‘Dr Benson was away and his deputy couldn’t be reached; I thought it urgent enough to telephone Sir James who had seen Mrs Vernon and would tell me what to do.’

‘There was absolutely no need for that. My aunt’s improvement is probably a flash in the pan—all this excitement is so bad for me and just as I was beginning to relax. I shall have to speak to my husband. He agrees with me that this is all very upsetting for my aunt …’ She turned sharply as Florrie opened the door. ‘Sir James Marlow, ma’am,’ and stood aside to let him pass.

He glanced from Mrs Vernon’s angry face to Deborah’s pallor. ‘Mrs Vernon, I am on my way to Bristol and have taken the opportunity of calling to see you. I believe that Dr Benson is on his way here? We might perhaps take another look at your aunt together and discuss her future, for, most happily, I believe her to have one.’

He had shaken hands as he spoke and then turned to Deborah. ‘Miss Everett behaved with great good sense in calling me; she is to be commended …’

He smiled at Deborah and added suavely, ‘Your husband is here? We might have a talk presently.’

Mrs Vernon had pulled herself together. ‘How very good of you to call, Sir James. We should be most grateful if you would take a look at my aunt.’ She smiled at Deborah, her eyes like flint. ‘And of course we are indebted to Deborah for her splendid care.’

Mr Vernon and Dr Benson came in together and Mrs Vernon said, ‘You may go, Deborah. Send Mrs Dodd downstairs at once and tell her to bring the coffee.’

Deborah went without saying anything, her quiet face showing nothing of her feelings, only her eyes were quite startlingly blue; Sir James, opening the door for her, noticed that.

Later they all came upstairs and young Mrs Vernon fluttered around the bed, tugging the bedclothes and twitching the pillow under her aunt’s head until Sir James asked her quietly if she would allow him to examine her aunt. Mr Vernon went away then and his wife stayed only long enough to watch the return of mobility in her aunt. One side, Sir James pointed out, had much stronger reflexes than the other but that was to be expected; only time would tell how great the improvement would be.

‘Yes, well—perhaps you will join us downstairs when you are ready, Sir James.’ She went away leaving the two doctors to nod and murmur and move their wise heads while Deborah moved quite quietly out of earshot. She would dearly have loved to know what they were saying.

Presently Sir James addressed himself to his patient. ‘Dr Benson and I are of the opinion that a period of rest is all that is required for you, Mrs Vernon, preferably somewhere where you can sit out of doors whenever possible. You will need the services of the physiotherapist and someone to look after you but life must be quiet and without worry of any kind. Dr Benson and I are going downstairs now to discuss this with your niece and her husband so I will wish you goodbye. Dr Benson will inform you if I am needed again.’

He smiled at Deborah as he went and she watched his enormous back disappear out of the door with a feeling of despair. They would send the old lady to some kind of home and she would be out of a job but, more than that, she would never know if old Mrs Vernon fulfilled the doctor’s hopes. Her niece didn’t like her and would take the first opportunity to dismiss her. She composed her troubled face into serenity and went to sit by the old lady to gossip brightly about the future.

In the drawing-room Sir James, with guile, charm and an iron determination, was getting his own way. On their way downstairs Dr Benson had mentioned that the old lady owned a cottage: ‘A charming place but rather far away on the estuary near Kingsbridge—secluded but near enough for the usual medical services.’

An ideal solution to the problem of Mrs Vernon’s future, said Sir James blandly, a few months in peaceful surroundings and she stood a good chance of taking up some kind of life again. And in the meantime Mrs Vernon would be able to have the chance to recover from her weeks of nursing and anxiety. Her present attendant could continue with her since she was accustomed to her and arrangements could be made for the local doctor to attend her and for her to have physiotherapy.

Mrs Vernon opened her mouth to refuse, caught her husband’s eye and closed it again. ‘It could be arranged,’ said Mr Vernon, middle-aged and anxious to have the tiresome affair settled. His aunt had money of her own, a substantial fortune which he would inherit, and since it seemed likely that she wouldn’t live for many more years it would be very convenient to have her out of the house. Her will was safely in the hands of his solicitor and since she was unable to write he saw no danger there. The girl Deborah might prove a nuisance, coaxing money from the old lady, but he could soon put a stop to that …

Sir James watched his face and guessed what he was thinking. ‘Of course, your aunt could remain here; it would mean moving her to a downstairs room so that later on she could be wheeled into the garden.’ A remark which served to make up Mrs Vernon’s mind for her.

‘She shall go to the cottage,’ she declared. ‘It will be a great nuisance arranging her removal but if it is for my aunt’s benefit then nothing is too much trouble.’

Sir James’s eyes gleamed beneath their lids but all he said was, ‘I shall be glad to consult with Dr Benson when he considers Mrs Vernon fit to be moved.’ He then made his goodbyes gravely and drove himself away. He had done what he could for Mrs Vernon and for the carroty-haired girl; he had no doubt that they would both be a great deal happier in the cottage than they were shut away in that upstairs room.


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