Authors: Joyce Dingwell
She had never expected adventure.
Yet to Candace Jamieson, sailing to Australia to nurse at Manathunka Hospital turned out to be much more than an adventure. Manathunka was a place where she could put down roots—a place she could at last call home.
Stephen Halliday was a man she could easily have loved, too, if he had not been engaged to Eve Trisby. But then, Candace had never expected life to be perfect!
Copyright 1955 by Joyce Dingwell.
ship had been scheduled to leave at eleven, but at noon the gangways were still down. The harassed drink stewards, darting in and out among the passengers and their visitors, explained as patiently as they could that they did not know what had caused the delay but that matters would soon be explained through the public address system.
At twelve-thirty the purser apologised over the loudspeaker, regretted that the trouble in the engine-room was not yet rectified, and announced that light lunch was available in the saloon for all passengers and any guests they cared to bring.
The man who had been standing impatiently at the rails beside Candace and Gwenda lifted a shoulder in annoyance at the purser’s words. He frowned at his watch, glared at the gangways, then wheeled round in the direction of the saloon.
Gwenda watched him with interest. “He’s not at all pleased with the Red Plimsoll Line,” she said shrewdly. “Rather interesting in a scowling sort of way, don’t you think? I like those stubborn jaws.”
Candace, whose only impression of the man had been his undisguised irritation at her friend’s guileless chatter, did not pass an opinion.
“What about it, Gwen?” she asked unnecessarily. “Think you can bear to eat?”
They both laughed. Gwen’s appetite had been a byword among the staff at the Lady Charlotte Hospital, and though it was eight months since Candace had nursed with Gwen, she could not think, looking at those plump cheeks, that her friend had lost her interest in food.
Together they turned and made their way to the saloon.
There was no table arrangement for the scratch meal, but the stewards were doing their best to seat groups of friends together.
“Two? Then I think this table for three. This gentleman is alone.”
Candace and Gwen found they had been placed beside their resentful companion of the rails, and they exchanged quick looks.
Salad platters arrived and for a while Gwen was silent as she attacked the meal with relish.
“This is something I
anticipate,” she beamed at Candace.
meal on board! Oh, you lucky girl, Candy, five weeks of this—not to mention dances, deck games, shore excursions—shipboard romance.” There was a sly emphasis on the last.
Candace made no comment on Gwen’s extravagant words. She knew Gwen’s manner and always expected over-enthusiasm. At that moment she happened to raise her eyes, however, and was surprised and rather humiliated at the seething scorn in the cold blue depths of the eyes of the man opposite. He was not at all disconcerted by her gaze, and stared deliberately, even appraisingly, back.
He did not linger over his meal, cut sweets altogether, then rose and left without a word.
“There,” said Gwen knowledgeably, “is one with whom you will
have a shipboard romance.” She giggled as Candace reproached, “Oh, Gwen, really—” and appealed plaintively that if Candace did not want Bombe Alaska she should ask for it all the same, and she, Gwenda, would eat it.
She was incorrigible but you could not be annoyed with her. Candace was more annoyed with the appraising stranger who appeared to make definite decisions at short notice. Gwen was a fine girl, and an excellent nurse, and far more intelligent than her feckless chatter suggested.
Candace’s house-mother at the Fairhill Home had always asserted that good things come in a variety of parcels. This man should have shown more discernment over the plump, giggling parcel that was Gwen. She wondered drily, as she passed over the Bombe Alaska, how he had considered the parcel that was Candace Jamieson. His look had been anything but cordial, and his eyes might have been chips of ice.
Gwen finished at last, and the pair made their way back to the rails. By some unfortunate coincidence the man Candace found herself standing beside was again the appraising stranger.
Gwen chattered gaily on, anticipating Candace’s engagement—even marriage, by the time the ship reached Australia.
Candace, seeing the man’s lip curl as Gwen asserted readily, “But it often happens, darling. Sea-trips are definite mantraps, didn’t you know?” tried to change the subject.
It was no use. Nothing could divert Gwen, and it was only when the purser announced over the public address a further delay of forty minutes that her friend was momentarily silenced. Candace knew she was working out how long it would take her to get back to Cleland and the Lady Charlotte Hospital.
Regretfully, Gwen decided she would be taking a risk if she stayed any longer. She was on duty at four o’clock.
“What will I do with these?” she said sorrowfully, looking at the rainbow streamers.
“Perhaps Mrs. Jessopp will change them for an apple turnover,” suggested Candace. Mrs. Jessopp managed the Charlotte store-canteen.
Gwenda took her seriously. “I’ll try, anyway.” She stuffed the streamers into her handbag.
She paused, trying to blink away fat tears that had welled into her eyes, then she let them spill over in abandon as she flung her arms around Candace and kissed her good-bye.
“Write to me, d-darling. Write me every port. Tell me about—about those romances. Tell me everything.” Candace saw the man’s shoulder lift again, and defensively she hugged Gwenda closer than ever.
Gwen pushed a small package into her hands, kissed her a last time, then hurried down the gangway.
Candace noticed she did not take one of the many taxis, but moved, instead, to a waiting bus. When she opened the parcel, still standing by the rails, she understood why. The little phial of French perfume it contained would entail many waits for many weeks for Gwen for buses. It would cost a fortnight’s salary, she thought.
“Your friend is waving to you,” said the man beside her. His voice was like his eyes, cool and critical.
As she waved back, and Gwen finally climbed the step and the bus moved off, he remarked acidly, “She certainly believes in supplying the right ammunition.” The scornful blue glance was on the French perfume.
Candace, who knew how long Gwen would have to work to make up for her expensive gift, how many deprivations it would cost her, found her own eyes pricking with tears. Blindly, she pushed past the man, to find a deserted deckchair at the lee of the ship.
A sense of desolation encompassed Candace as she sank into the canvas depths. Saying good-bye as you held on to a coloured streamer was a very different thing to waving forlornly to a figure climbing a bus step.
All the other passengers seemed to have retained their visitors, and they stood by in gay groups, keeping the drink stewards running backwards and forwards with laden trays.
But then, thought Candace, entirely without envy, they would be in a different category to me. Their friends would not be wage-earners, like Gwen. They could afford to put in time waiting for a ship’s departure. Strictly speaking, like Gwenda, I don’t belong here. I should have been travelling Tourist, not on the luxury Red Plimsoll Line.
She looked at the girl in the group near by. A pretty girl in those deceptively-simple clothes that cost a small fortune.
“Miss Fielding should have booked me with a cheaper company,” she decided regretfully, “and allowed me the difference in the fare as something to start off with.”
She thought uneasily of her simple wardrobe, and wondered, as she had wondered several times before, if Miss Hilary Fielding’s bequest had been, after all, a kind one.
It had seemed so when Mr. Asquith had recited to Candace her dear, dead employer’s last wishes.
The old solicitor had polished his glasses, put them on his nose, then told the girl how her passage had been booked by Red Plimsoll.
“But that’s a luxury line.”
“Exactly. Miss Fielding believed you needed a spell of luxury before you got back into harness again. I can’t say, Miss Jamieson, I entirely approved. I believe in thrift before all else. Miss Fielding did, too, usually—but she was adamant on that point. You were to have the best accommodation available on your trip out. The small amount of money which was all she had to leave was to be spent entirely on your journey to Australia. As you are aware, the estate itself had to pass to Mr. Bruce, Miss Fielding’s nephew. ‘Manders’ is an entailed property, and although Miss Fielding had never approved of her nephew, none the less he still had to inherit. Whether she was satisfied over this or not, I do not know. I can only repeat that she was very firm on one point: that you were her personal legatee, and if you chose to accept the position she had secured for you, your passage to your new post would be the best money could purchase.”
It had been a thrill telling everyone you were travelling out by Red Plimsoll, but now, huddled in the canvas chair, Candace had her doubts.
That girl looked so exclusive. Her friends were casual in that careless, carefree way that only rich people can assume.
The man who had sat at the table with them, too, had been anything but cordial.
Suddenly, Candace longed to be travelling back with Gwenda to Lady Charlotte, as she had eight months ago, before she had taken up the post with Miss Hilary Fielding.
It was on Graduation Day at the Lady Charlotte Hospital that Matron had sent for Candace Jamieson.
She had tapped on the door, thinking as she did that this was the first time she had been summoned to Matron’s office. She had been a careful nurse, and had studied assiduously. Her name on the top of the examination list had given her the thrill not only of success but of the knowledge of work done well.
Matron had smiled from the other side of her desk, and waved Candace to a chair.
“I congratulated you in the Assembly Room,” she said warmly. “I want to do it again personally. You have been a very satisfactory trainee.”
Candace waited. She knew it was Matron’s custom to interview them all in turn; to find out their plans for the future; to offer the chosen ones a continued career at Lady Charlotte.
Without being conceited, Candace anticipated a prolonged stay at Charlotte. She knew she had done well, and she was quite happy over the prospect of staying on at the hospital. She was an orphan, and Charlotte had become her home, just as Fairhill had been her home as a child. When she had reached eighteen, and expressed a wish to nurse, the house-mother in the Fairhill block to which Candace belonged had succeeded in placing her in Cleland’s county hospital. For three years she had led a happy, busy, useful life. She could think of nothing else she wanted to do now, nor any other place she wanted to go.
Matron was regarding her kindly. She was an austere woman—indeed, not a little forbidding—but this afternoon her eyes were gentle.
“You have no parents, Jamieson?”
“No ties to keep you here?”
“You mean in Cleland?”
“I meant—in England.”
Candace’s eyes had widened, and Matron had smiled briefly.
“I am going too fast,” she said. “God willing, that time will be a long way off.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course not. I’ll explain as far as I can. I have a personal friend, Miss Hilary Fielding. I think you must have heard of the name.”
Candace nodded. “The Fielding Block?” she questioned, and Matron inclined her head.
“Miss Fielding’s grandfather endowed that. The Fieldings have lived in Cleland for a very long time.”
“I remember there was also a wing at Fairhill Home,” said Candace. “I think Miss Hilary once presented our Christmas prizes. I have not seen her of late, however.”
“No one has. She’s an incurable arthritic cripple.”
“Oh—I’m so sorry.”
Matron fingered some papers on her desk. “She is a grand old lady,” she said. “I don’t mind telling you she has been a saving angel of grace many times to Charlotte. She has given beyond her means. Now, of course, nothing remains to give.”
“I thought the Fieldings were wealthy.”
“They were; in a way they still are. But not in actual money, Jamieson. There is only the estate left, and though it is a fine estate, it is entailed. It must pass to the male side, in this case the only Fielding, apart from Miss Hilary, still living. A nephew, Bruce. Bruce’s aunt will continue to reside there, of course, until her death, and there will be sufficient to keep her, but not, you must now understand, to
for her.” Matron paused and fingered the papers again.
“This,” she said, looking up, “is where you come in, Nurse.”
Candace did not speak. She waited for Matron to go on.
“At last week’s Board Meeting, the subject under discussion was the future welfare of our very beloved sponsor and benefactress, Miss Hilary Fielding. It was suggested she be given a room at Charlotte. I spoke against that. Manders is her home, and it would break her heart to leave it. I also pointed out that Charlotte could not undertake an incurable case like Miss Fielding’s. That brought up the point I had in mind. It was proposed, seconded, and passed. The entire Board approved of the appointment of a special nurse to Miss Hilary, to reside at Manders, but to be paid by the hospital. I at once thought of you.”
There was a silence as Matron finished. Candace had sat very still, wondering what to say.
She realised it was an honour, but on the other hand she did not know whether the prospect pleased her. It would be lonely at Manders away from the crowd, and when it was all over, where would she be? She might find it hard to take up old reins once more.
Matron must have read her thoughts. She resumed her explanation.
“This is no extravagant offer, Nurse,” she said. “There is no hope at all of Miss Fielding dying and leaving you a small fortune.
She has practically nothing to leave.
On the other hand, she can promise you a beautiful home for the time you attend her; work that is easier if very different and perhaps in some ways more exacting than your work here; a position of social equality and a gracious standard of living.”