Authors: Margaret Malcolm
Kit Cavendish had always taken care to keep her work as a private nurse quite separate from her private life—but she was unable to prevent this happening when she took a job in the Baylis household. And as things turned out, she was quite right to be apprehensive about it.
The day Kit traveled to Suffolk was a very depressing one early in January. The sky was black with heavy, wind-driven clouds, and rain lashed fiercely at the windows of the railway car.
As a rule Kit was not inclined to lack either courage or a sense of adventure, so the weather was probably the reason why all the doubts she had had about making the journey came to a head.
Was it ever wise to return to a place where one had once lived when ties with it had been completely severed?
Certainly Kit had never expected to return to Ravenslea, the little village where she had lived until she came to London six years before to begin her nursing training at St. Magnus’s Hospital. She was the youngest of a family that was scattered all over the world. One brother was at sea, another had settled in New Zealand, and her only sister was married to a doctor who practised in the Outer Hebrides. When, during her first year of training, Kit’s father had retired and he and her mother had gone to live in Dorset, Ravenslea had simply faded out of her life.
Now, by chance, she was going back for at least a month or two. For the past year she had been doing private nursing, and the agency through which she obtained work had called her up the previous afternoon about a case at Ravenslea.
Her patient would be a middle-aged man ... had suffered a coronary thrombosis. He was home now, but his condition was complicated by the fact that at the time of the attack he had fallen and broken his leg. He was steadily improving, needing assistance rather than really serious nursing, but there was no one in the household capable of even that.
Probably if she had known Mr. Baylis in the old days, she might have made that a reason for refusing the case, since she had never felt it wise to nurse either relatives or friends. But he was a stranger to her, though she knew of him by name, so she accepted, curious, she admitted to herself, to know what changes the intervening years had brought to Ravenslea.
What, for instance, had happened to Victor Wrinch? He was nearly twelve years her senior, but she had known him all her life because he had been a school chum of her brothers.
If you happen to be born in a backwater but have ambitions, the only hope of fulfilling them is to go out into the world, as Kit had done and as many of her friends had done. But not Victor. He became an accountant; Kit always thought it was just the job for him. He had always looked old for his years and had a very serious outlook on life. People would trust him with their affairs and their secrets as a matter of course.
It was four years now since she had heard from Victor. Just before she went to London, Victor asked her to marry him and had kept on doing so for the next two years. He simply had not been able to accept her refusal as final until, in the end, she had had to be almost brutal.
And now she was going back to Ravenslea. How absolutely awful it would be if he thought she was doing so in order to encourage him to try again! Because that was the last thing she wanted to do.
In those days, there had been someone else. Someone whom Kit believed loved her as she loved him. But the dawning romance had come to an abrupt end, with little or no explanation from Jason and complete bewilderment for Kit.
For a long time she believed her heart was broken. But Jason had gone away, and Kit had found salvation by flinging herself heart and soul into her work. Hearts, she found, do not break as easily as all that, though they may be badly scarred. In Kit’s case, the scar meant that she could never marry Victor or, she often felt, any other man.
But for all practical purposes, she was over Jason, and so, she told herself stoutly, would Victor be over his feeling for her. Four years’ silence—obviously it meant that he had lost interest. More than likely he had married someone else by now.
With a little sigh she relaxed in her seat, and as she did so the only other passenger in the compartment leaned forward and said in a congratulatory way, “So that’s all right, is it?”
Startled, Kit realized that an extremely good-looking young man was smiling at her. He had a dark, slightly puckish face that creased easily into lines of laughter. Involuntarily, Kit smiled in return.
“Yes, I think so,” she replied, both amused and disconcerted by his perspicacity. “Was I revealing my thoughts so clearly?”
“Absolutely—to my discerning eyes,” he said confidently.
He was an amusing and interesting companion, and Kit found herself discussing all manner of subjects with him, finding it exciting when they shared points of view, but even more stimulating to wrangle when they didn’t.
In only one respect did Kit maintain a steady reserve. She avoided giving him any personal information about herself. She was not quite sure just why she took that line. Partly, perhaps, because she had realized that this ingratiating young man could become quite a problem if one saw too much of him, but even more because he was being equally cautious. Clearly, to him, this was going to be a case of “ships that pass”—a pleasant enough way of passing a dull journey, but no more. As for his continued interest in her affairs, that, she guessed shrewdly, was simply the outcome of pique. He had decided to persuade her to talk about herself and did not relish her
it was still raining as Kit neared her destination she began to take more interest in the passing scenery.
Ravenslea had no station of its own. One had to go to Minsterbury, some five miles farther on, and then retrace one’s steps by road. In the old days, that had meant waiting for a bus whose schedule never fitted in with that of the train, but today she was to be met by car, so her thoughts were free to notice the remembered landmarks. The field where you could almost always find mushrooms. The stream in whose upper reaches all of them had, at one time or another, taken a ducking when the homemade punt hit a submerged rock and foundered. The path that led to the iron bridge across the railway where her mother had always waited to wave a first welcome or a last farewell.
Suddenly it seemed to Kit that she was taking part in a very unpleasant dream. Nothing was familiar any more. Where there had been fields and farms and perhaps a few isolated houses there were now rows of small ugly houses, each exactly like its neighbor except for the color of the front door, and all huddled together as if they were just a little bit frightened of the vast, dominating factories that seemed to be made mainly of glass.
“Oh!” Kit exclaimed, almost in tears, “How awful!”
Her companion, who had also lapsed into silence, roused himself.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“All that!” Kit explained with a comprehensive sweep of her hand. “It’s horrible! Why, I remember—”
She stopped short, warned by the fleeting glint of triumph in his dark eyes. After all her care, she had stupidly given herself away! He knew now that she was no stranger to these parts.
Rather oddly, after that first reaction, he seemed to take little interest in the discovery. He simply treated her remark in a matter-of-fact way.
“Yes, if you haven’t been to Ravenslea lately, you will find some difference,” he said. “There’s been a tremendous lot of building in the past four years—it’s hardly more than a suburb of Minsterbury now.”
“So I see,” Kit said forlornly, as she began lifting her cases down from the rack.
“Allow me,” he said politely, although Kit had a feeling that in some subtle way he was warning her to keep her distance. Odd. And rather unpleasant.
“Thank you,” she said coolly, and for the short remainder of the journey she gazed steadily out of the window.
Evidently feeling that her aloofness was a reproach, he leaned toward her and, with a fresh assumption of all his earlier charm, asked if he could give her a lift.
“My car is at Minsterbury,” he explained.
“Thank you very much,” Kit said with impersonal graciousness. “But I’m being met.”
There was no time for either of them to say more, for the train slid into Minsterbury station and stopped. He got out, hauled out her cases—he had no luggage himself—and gave her a hand down. Then with an airy salute he strode off, his slim, athletic figure quickly lost in the little crowd making for the exit. For a moment Kit’s eyes followed him curiously. What a contradictory creature he was, to be sure! So friendly at one moment, so withdrawn the next. He was a type she had never met before—intriguing, but also extremely irritating.
“Ah, there you are!” a man’s voice said complacently in her ear. “Come along. My car’s outside.”
It was Victor!
Too astonished to protest, Kit followed meekly. With an authoritative gesture he summoned a porter and in an incredibly short time her luggage was stowed in the trunk and they were pulling out of the parking lot and into the steady stream of traffic. Victor drove well—he always had, priding himself on his smooth efficiency. Even so, she could not relax; the situation was far too disturbing for that. How was it that he, of all people, had come to meet her? How did he know she was coming to Ravenslea?
Victor evidently guessed her thoughts. Once clear of the traffic he took his eyes off the road long enough to give her a quick, appraising look.
“Surprised?” he asked, somewhat amused.
“Yes,” she said curtly.
“It’s really quite simple,” he explained airily. “A couple of years ago I gave up my practice and joined Mr. Baylis’s firm as chief accountant.”
“I see,” Kit said slowly. “And do chief accountants usually double as chauffeurs? I’d have thought it most unlikely.”
“I quite agree,” Victor answered deliberately. “Only, in this particular case, it’s rather different, isn’t it?”
“Is it?” Kit asked distantly.
“I think so.” Victor shot her another glance. “My dear girl, you don’t imagine that your coming back to Ravenslea is simply coincidence, do you?”
“It is as far as I’m concerned,” she told him firmly.
“Oh, come,” he protested, then shrugged, evidently realizing that there was no advantage to be gained by pressing that point. “Well, not so far as I am. As a matter of fact, it’s entirely due to me that you’re here at all!”
“Really?” Quite deliberately Kit accepted the challenge. “And why did you feel that there was any point in doing that?”
Rather to her surprise, he did not make the obvious reply. Instead, he seemed to deliberate for a moment, as if he was not quite sure of himself.
“Well, it’s this way, Kit,” he began at length. “As you know, Mr. Baylis not only had a thrombosis, but he also broke his leg. Well, all his life he’s been a busy, energetic man. You can guess just how difficult he finds it now to be compelled to do next to nothing.”
“Yes, indeed,” Kit agreed, quickly sympathetic.
“Exactly! Well, when it became clear that he must have a nurse, we felt that it should be someone really intelligent.”
“We?” Kit interjected.
“Mrs. Baylis and I,” he explained. “As I was saying, someone intelligent who could be something of a companion as well as a nurse, keep him occupied with other interests so that he won’t have time to worry about the company.” He drew a deep breath. “So, naturally, I thought of you.”
Well, perhaps it was natural, but Kit shook her head.
“I wish you hadn’t, Victor,” she said frankly.
“I thought you’d be delighted,” Victor said huffily. “After all, it’s a very good job!”
Kit laughed helplessly. How like Victor!
“Victor, don’t you know that, these days, if every nurse was
twins, there would still be more than enough work to go around? No, I don’t suppose you do, but I assure you it’s true, and you sound for all the world as if you’re presenting a small child with a lollipop!”
“Well, at least you accepted the job,” he retorted. “Which rather suggests that nothing else was offered!”
“That’s just where you’re wrong!” Kit said triumphantly. “As a matter of fact, I had the choice of two other positions—”
“But you preferred to come back to Ravenslea!” Victor interrupted significantly, and having made his point, lapsed into silence.
Kit had only the vaguest memory of Moneyhill. In her teens she had gone to a party there, but it had been held in the garden. Seeing the devastation that had visited rural Ravenslea, it was pleasant to find that here at least, nothing had altered. In the gathering dusk there was little to see of the grounds, but she had an impression of neatly trimmed shrubs and well-cared-for lawns. Moreover, the house was still surrounded by trees and cut off from the outside world. Kit’s spirits rose. Perhaps, after all, it would be all right...
“Here we are,” Victor said unnecessarily as he drew up at the front door.
He jumped out, opened the car door for her and led the way up ‘ the impressive stone steps.
“My luggage...” Kit reminded him.
“Oh, one of the men will see to that,” Victor said carelessly and, to Kit’s surprise, took out a bunch of keys and opened the massive front door. He must have been on very good terms with the Baylis family!
A trim maid hurried toward them from the back of the hall. “Good evening, Freda,” Victor said easily. “Will you let Mrs. Baylis know that Nurse Cavendish is here?”
“Madam told me to ask you to go straight to the study,” the girl explained. “She’s waiting for you there.”
Kit’s first impression of Ruth Baylis was reassuring and surprising. She smiled in a very friendly and welcoming way as she held out her hand, but she was, so much younger than Kit had anticipated—no older than thirty-five at the outside, whereas her patient, she knew, was at least twenty years older than that. Still, it was not really of any importance. Kit shook hands, and then sat down on the chair Mrs. Baylis indicated. Victor, she was rather uncomfortably aware, was standing by the fireplace, regarding them both with a mixture of rather fatuous satisfaction and slight apprehension.