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Authors: Averil Ives

Nurse Linnet's Release

BOOK: Nurse Linnet's Release
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Nurse Linnet’s Release

Averil Ives

 

Linnet falls under the spell of gaunt, enigmatic Guy when she nurses him through a severe attack of malaria in an exclusive London nursing home. From then on her life is not her own: Guy is determined to marry her and will hardly allow her to leave his side.

 

CHAPTER I

“In my opinion weddings always give you a dreadful feeling of ‘let-down’ once they’re over,” Cathie Blake stated, as she watched Linnet emptying her suit-case and carefully folding away undergarments in her chest-of-drawers. “It’s all the excitement beforehand, and the rarefied atmosphere on the day itself. You know—‘The Voice that Breathed o’er Eden’, and that sort of thing ... By the way,” she concluded, “I suppose Dallas and her Robert are having a proper honeymoon?”

“Oh, yes,” Linnet answered, beginning to don her uniform. “A week-end in Paris, and ten days if they can run to them at a little place on the Riviera coast where Robert once stayed.”

“Amounting to barely a fortnight in all,” Cathie commented. She stretched her arms with a kind of voluptuous grace above her head. “When
I
get married—and it goes without saying that I shall marry a millionaire!—I shall insist on at least a fortnight in Paris, and afterwards I think the Bahamas would be a good idea, especially if it happens to be winter time. But Dallas’s Robert is not, I gather, a millionaire?”

“No.” Linnet was concentrating on fastening her cuffs. “Merely a struggling young architect in a country town.”

“How I loathe the very thought of struggling to do anything or get anywhere,” Cathie declared with a shudder. “It’s a struggle for me to get out of bed in the morning—a worse struggle when I’m on ‘nights’ and it means getting up in the afternoons!—and I even find it difficult to drag myself off to bed once I’m up! I’d like to stay up and have a rip-roystering time!” She stood up and smoothed her own immaculate uniform, and the clear green of it did much, for her titian hair and creamy skin, while the stark whiteness of her apron and cuffs lent her a look of impeccability. “Well, darling, I’m glad to see that your little excursion into the country has resulted in a touch of colour in your cheeks,” she observed as she walked over to the dressing-table and studied her friend. “Even if it wasn’t your own wedding it does appear to have done you a certain amount of good, and you’ve been looking pretty peaked since that dose of pneumonia. Heavens, what a winter we had, didn’t we?”

“I suppose it could have been worse,” Linnet replied, as she adjusted her cap in front of the mirror.

“Impossible.” Cathie selected a bloom from the vase of early spring flowers Linnet had brought back with her and held it appreciatively up against her nose. But she went on studying Linnet. “No one would think you were a country doctor’s daughter, darling—you’re still much too ethereal.”

“That’s rubbish.” Linnet smiled at her. “I’m as strong as a horse really.”

“There are horses and horses,” Cathie commented. Linnet’s smile deepened.

“Are you inferring that I couldn’t even pull a pony-trap?”

“Well
...
” Cathie grinned back at her. “I won’t go so far as to say you’re ready for the knacker’s yard
...
!
However, if you will go in for an enchanting pallor and eyes with a shadowy purple look that defeat me to describe them exactly, except that they always remind me of Dutch irises on a grey spring day—there’s poetry for you!—and a figure even a sylph might envy, what can you expect?”

“Tell me what’s been going on while I’ve been away,” Linnet changed the subject by asking.

“Nothing very much—nothing in the least exciting. We had a fresh admittance today, and one last night.”

Linnet looked at her questioningly.

“A Mrs. Diana Carey, in Room 29
—quite something
to look at, I must
say! Hair like palest wedding-ring gold with a suggestion of cobwebs caught up in moonlight about it, and eyes—wait till you see those eyes!
And
the Paris nighties she goes in for! I don’t think she’s going to be a very easy patient because she’s very strung up at the moment, and it’s not at all clear what the trouble is. Dr. Shane Willoughby, the Tropical Fevers expert, is looking after her. She’s
in for observation.”

“Then she must have been living abroad recently,” Linnet said.

“Right first time, my child! Rhodesia, I think—and she’s a widow. An extremely interesting widow.”

“And the other admittance?”

“A man—not so interesting, although he, too, has been living abroad. I imagine he’s on leave, and he’s suffering from malaria. Was staying at the Granchester when Shane Willoughby got him rushed in here. Odd how we hardly ever see that man, and then we get two of his cases together.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him,” Linnet admitted.

“No? Well, you will now. He’s very interested in the Carey case.” She smiled a trifle mysteriously. “I won’t prepare you for him beforehand, but I’ll warn you I don’t like the look of the Monteith man.”

“The Monteith man?”

“Major Guy Monteith. Invalided out of the Army because of a gammy foot, or something, started up on his own tea-planting in Ceylon—or maybe it was somewhere else. I’m not absolutely certain of all his details, but I do know I don’t like the look of him. He’s a hard-liver.”

As Linnet looked a little perplexed Cathie carelessly flicked her cheek and smiled at her as she might have smiled at someone very young indeed.

“Wine, women and song—you know the sort of thing! And in addition he strikes me as a trifle sinister, and he’s really very ill. That’s why I don’t like the look of him.”

“I see,” Linnet said, and turned to make certain that her room was quite tidy before she left it. “Well, I’ll have to hurry or Night Sister will give me a bleak look. I’ve just had four days off, and they weren’t really due to me, so if I don’t want to start off with a bad mark
...

“You’ll step on it!?’ Cathie smiled at her. “Sorry you’ve got to go on nights as soon as you’re back, darling, but maybe it won’t last long. In your case you ought not to be on nights for some while yet. However, I’m not matron, and I don’t organize these things—but I do know that if that August Personage was my own mother’s only sister I’d try and wangle things a little better than you do! But you’re not exactly a born wangler, are you, Linnet, my pet?” accompanying her out into the corridor.

Before they parted Cathie once more stretched herself luxuriously and announced:

“And now I’m going to change. And I’m going out for the evening—if not to hit the high spots very high, at least to hit them as high as possible!”

“Anyone I know?” Linnet inquired, thinking how quiet it was, and how serene and dignified, the thick corridor carpet muffling all sound, the lights shining down dimly on their two uniformed figures—quite unlike the somewhat tempestuous atmosphere of a country doctor’s house (the home of a large family) at that same hour of a spring evening.

Cathie shook her head, and then grimaced a little.

“I’m still in the five-hundred-a-year income group, but I’ll get out of it one day—you’ll see!”

As she went on alone down the corridor Linnet thought how very different was the rarefied atmosphere of a luxurious nursing-home of this sort to the atmosphere of the big London teaching hospital where for two years she had trained. Indeed, but for the fact that her health had suddenly turned capricious she would still be at St. Faith’s, hoping in another couple of years to pass out as a fully qualified Sister. But now she sometimes wondered, in spite of her great love of the work—even the hard work which discourages so many probationers—how long she would last here, although the duties were not nearly so arduous because the patients were fewer. And those few patients paid enormous weekly sums for the privilege of being cared-for at Aston House, in one of the most salubrious corners of Kensington.

The matron being her own aunt, the general idea in the beginning had been that she would not be taxed beyond her strength; but a bad bout of pneumonia on top of ‘flu caught during an epidemic in the winter had set her back a good deal. The four days at home for her sister’s wedding had acted like a tonic, but as she walked along the corridor she knew that Cathie was right when she said that weddings were deflating things—other people’s weddings!

One got carried away by the organ music, by the bride in her whiteness, with all her bridesmaids about her. It was such a solemn moment—even in this modern age—when a bride took her vows, and a bridegroom promised to love and to cherish, that the remembrance of it lingered and every time one recalled it one felt a little weak at the knees. At least, that was the way Linnet felt. She was sure that if ever the time arrived when she would have to live through moments like that on her own account her knees would refuse altogether to support her.

The going-away in a shower of rice and rose-petals was the first actual “let-down”. Hearty voices of relatives calling good wishes after a speeding car, with an old shoe tied on behind it, seemed somehow like an anti-climax, and they meant that within a very short while one would be really back to normal. For her mother there would be a widely disordered house to clear; the same hearty relatives to entertain over the week-end; for Linnet herself, just about to go on duty for the night, there was a feeling a little difficult to analyse, because it was rather complex.

Part of her envied Dallas, starting out on a new life altogether. But another part of her was not so sure that Dallas was to be envied
...

And somewhere at the heart of her she felt quite deflated, as a similar experience had apparently let down even Catherine Blake, whose well-balanced equilibrium was seldom affected in such a way.

Night Sister received her with her usual little tightlipped half-smile, and made no inquiries about the wedding or her four days’ holiday. Linnet went through into the kitchen and saw that everything was there for hot drinks, made a pot of coffee for Night Sister and herself, and then started on a round of the various rooms on the two floors she was responsible for. When she arrived at No. 29 the patient was either asleep or feigning sleep, and Linnet did not disturb her. But she carried with her when she noiselessly left the room an impression of golden hair spread out across a pillow, and a rather childish round white arm with the sleeve of a lacy bed-jacket fallen back from it lying across the satin eiderdown with the fingers of one very slim hand curled inwards like the petals of a flower that was scarlet-tipped. The bedside light glowed softly.

In Guy Monteith’s room the bedside light also glowed softly, but Guy Monteith was awake. His eyes, dark and sunken in a haggard-looking face, watched Linnet closely as she crossed to the side of his bed.

 

CHAPTER II

“I haven’t seen you before,” Major Monteith remarked while she studied the chart at the head of his bed.

“No.” Linnet smiled down at him, and her fingers pressed lightly upon his wrist. “I’ve only just come on duty. How are you?” she asked.

He moved restlessly. He was obviously very tall, and the bed seemed a little inadequate for him. His head made an inky smudge upon his pillow, and his eyebrows were very thick and black but rather beautifully marked. There was a kind of scar running upwards from a corner of his mouth to his left eyebrow, and his teeth gleamed white and even as he smiled in a slightly distorted fashion.

“I could do with another hot-water-bottle if you could produce one, nurse. It’s not—very warm,” and his teeth started to chatter a little.

Linnet glanced again at the chart at the head of the bed. His temperature had skyrocketed the night before, shortly after his admittance; in fact it had climbed so steadily that he must have provided a good many anxious moments. And then, in the early hours, it had started to come down, and all day it had been below normal. Now he was starting to shiver again, and that meant another anxious night. Linnet went at once to collect hot-water-bottles.

That first night back on duty after the better part of a week’s absence was destined to be a little hectic for both her and Sister Carpenter, the Night Sister. Shortly before midnight Mrs. Carey’s bell rang, and continued to ring until it was answered, and when Linnet entered her room it was to discover the golden-haired widow sitting up in bed and looking enormous-eyed with a mixture of impatience and frenzy.

It was one of the symptoms of the, as yet, undiagnosed malady she had contacted while she was living abroad that her voice was very thin and weak, and at times it was no more than a mere thread of sound which threatened to die away altogether. The fact that she could not control it, and that it could fail her when it was most urgent that she should express herself by means of speech, seemed to terrify her unreasonably, and when Linnet approached the bed and bent over her, her hands were clutching convulsively at her throat, and her small, pinched face was working.

“A drink,” she gasped. “Please bring me a drink
...
! And I don’t want to be left alone again! I want someone to stay with me.”

“Very well,” Linnet answered, with the utmost composure, and smiled at her soothingly. She poured water from the carafe into a glass and held it herself to the shaking lips. “Just take a sip of this, and then I’ll get you some nice warm milk
... Or would you prefer it if I made you some tea?”

“No.” A paper-white hand clutched at her, and the scarlet-tipped fingers were surprisingly strong. “I just want you to stay with me. I’ve been dreaming—horrible dreams!—and this place is so silent it frightens me!”

Her great eyes, shadow-haunted, gazed round the room. Linnet felt certain that in the full light of day those eyes were extraordinarily beautiful, probably dark like agate, and the eyelashes that fringed them were at least half-an-inch long. Her mouth was petulant and scarlet, even without make-up, and the cob-webby nightdress revealed infinitely more than it concealed.

“You don’t
have
to leave me, do you, Nurse?” looking again at the uniformed figure and refusing to relax her grip.

“Not if you feel you want me to stay with you. But I think you’ll get to sleep again before very long. I can give you something to help you sleep
...

“Drugs,” Diana Carey exclaimed wearily, lying back limply against her pillows as if she were a suddenly deflated balloon, “and more drugs! How tired I am of them, and how tired I am of being like this
...
!
” She looked quiveringly, piteously up at Linnet, whose small oval face was gentle with sympathy. “How much longer am I going to be like this? What hope is there that I’ll ever be myself again
...
?

Linnet talked to her soothingly, in the way her training had taught her to talk to patients who were mentally as well as physically as ill as this, seated in a chair beside the bed, and after a short while some of the strain went out of Diana’s face, and the tension of the slim figure in the narrow bed seemed to relax a little. She smiled half apologetically, but not with her eyes.

“That nice Dr. Shane Willoughby has assured me that I
will
get all right again,” she said, and then she sighed. “Even the cleverest doctors make mistakes, don’t they
...
?
But he does look clever, and I like him. My godfather, Sir Paul Loring, got him to take on my case, and already I feel much better when he’s around! Do you think I’ll see him tomorrow?”

“I should think it’s very likely,” Linnet answered.

The heavy eyes seemed to brighten for an instant.

“Strange about the fascination of doctors, isn’t it?” she inquired huskily. “Even if they’re not particularly good-looking—and Adrian Shane Willoughby, as his nameplate calls him, is rather
more
than merely good-looking, don’t you agree?—they do
do
things to you when you’re feeling lost and afraid
...
You’re so terribly glad of them!” And then, with a return of gloom and despair: “If only I’d never gone to Africa—if only I’d never married!” She turned her head sideways and looked harshly at Linnet. “Never marry in haste, Nurse—?”

“Kintyre,” Linnet supplied.

“Whatever you do, never marry in anything remotely approaching haste, Nurse Kintyre. If you do you’ll live to regret it!”

Linnet made an excuse to leave her for a few minutes, and when she returned she was carrying a tumbler of hot milk and some sedative tablets. She managed to persuade Diana to drink the milk and swallow the tablets, and after sitting with her for a few minutes longer she had the satisfaction of seeing her begin to look drowsy, and as soon as the long eyelashes fluttered down on the wan cheeks she stole away to rejoin Sister Carpenter in No. 23, which was Guy Monteith’s room.

There things were not going so well. The hot-water-bottles had served their purpose, but now Night Sister was once more waging a battle with a climbing temperature. Her expression was a trifle grim, as if she were prepared for battle.

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