Authors: Norrey Ford
NURSE WITH A DREAM
When Jacqueline Clarke came from France to nurse at a Yorkshire hospital, she had never known any Englishmen except her father. Soon she was to meet two very attractive ones; her farmer-cousin Guy, who ruled over his broad acres from a centuries-old farmhouse, and the distinguished surgeon of whom nurses spoke in awed whispers as “the great Mr. Broderick.” Guy fell in love and started proposing marriage almost at once, while she wasn’t supposed even to speak to Mr. Broderick—and what a sensation there was when she did! She couldn’t presume to imagine that he would ever give her a serious thought ... and yet the idea of him seemed to come persistently between her and Guy.
Nurse Jacqueline Clarke
was doing temperatures in Lister Ward. It was a bleak, old-fashioned ward with high windows and walls tiled in a sickly green. Thirty old women occupied the high black-enamelled beds, each wearing a pink bed-jacket in a hue which clashed violently with the scarlet blankets.
Jacqueline looked as young and fresh as a May morning in her pink-striped cotton dress and clean, crisply starched apron, and her St. Simon’s cap with its becoming bow perched very correctly upon her smooth, silky hair, which was as fair and fine as ash-wood.
Old Mrs. Henn regarded Jacqueline with an unwinking stare. “Don’t want me temperature took. I never feel any better for it and it’s bad for me choobs.”
“Nonsense!” Jacqueline popped the thermometer in and took the scrawny wrist, smiling reassuringly at the old woman, whose white scalp shone clearly through thin yellow-grey hair. “It’s splendid for your tubes. Just the thing!”
The occupant of the next bed, Miss Pond, was scornful. “Mrs. Henn thinks nobody else is bronnical only her. She ought to have a gastric stomach like me, then she’d know!” Mrs. Henn glanced at her tormentor, thermometer sticking out of her toothless mouth like a jaunty cigarette.
They trust me, Jacqueline thought. Bless their old hearts, they don’t guess how little I really know yet, and how silly I feel, especially when Sister is watching me.
In which she was wrong, for the women knew exactly. They noted, with crafty experience, how anxiously she scanned the thermometer; how her slim cool fingers felt for the pulse, not dropping upon it with deadly accuracy like Sister or one of the senior nurses. They did not care. Sister understood their ailments very well, and there were plenty of doctors; what they wanted from Jacqueline was to draw strength from her warm youth and vitality; to feast old eyes long starved of beauty upon her richly curved red lips and gentian-blue eyes, upon fine skin as delicate and rosy as a ripe, sun-warmed peach. Their faded eyes followed her progress along the ward with greedy interest, and they felt the better for her being there.
Jacqueline removed the thermometer, which was like drawing a cork from a bottle, and the old woman’s tongue was released. “Not everybody has their appendix in a bottle in this very hospital, Miss Pond, and I’ll thank you to remember that. Wound round me choobs like a length of macaroni, Mr. Broderick said it was.”
“Mr. Broderick said no such thing. Did he, Nurse?” Jacqueline thought it improbable, but asked tactfully, “Let me see, do I know Mr. Broderick?”
Both ladies joined forces to enlighten ignorance. “Not know Mr. Broderick?” Mrs. Henn was at once aghast and sympathetic. “You
new, Nurse, and no mistake. Come from foreign parts, don’t you?”
Miss Pond said in an irritatingly superior way, “France. But you’re not, shall we say, Frenchified, Nurse. You might quite well be English.”
Jacqueline moved to Miss Pond’s bed and acknowledged f the compliment gravely. “Thank you. But I am English, you know. My father was as English as you are; came from I this very part of Yorkshire. So, in a way, coming here was like coming home for me.”
“There now!” said Mrs. Henn, gratified.
“But what about France?” demanded Miss Pond quickly, before Jacqueline could silence her with the thermometer.
“My mother was French. Daddy met her when they were students, and they eloped.”
“Montmartre?” asked the woman in the next bed, who had seen better days.
Jacqueline grinned. “Leeds. They were studying textile designing. Mummy’s family had a silk mill in Lyons; Daddy became their chief designer.” She released Miss Pond and moved on. “They are both dead now. I hardly remember them—they died in the war.”
The old ladies dearly loved a tragedy, and gazed at Jacqueline with more affection than ever. “An orphan, are you, dear?”
“Yes. I’ll tell you some more another time, but I can’t dawdle now or Sister will be cross.”
“Aye!” said Mrs. Henn with relish. “If Sister gets her hair off, there’ll be blood for supper.”
Jacqueline’s eyebrows rose at this alarming prospect, and she hurried along to the next bed, with her thermometer in its little glass jar and her fountain-pen clipped neatly to her apron. She spoke English perfectly, though she had lived all her twenty years in France; she had the slightest trace of accent, just enough to make her sound enchanting to English ears, especially ears accustomed to the broad, flat Barnbury vowels. But sometimes the vivid idiom of the old women in Lister Ward, and the other nurses’ colloquialisms, defeated her entirely.
The conversation had taken her back in time and place to Grand’mère’s pretty, formal parlour, scented with homemade beeswax polish and pot-pourri lovingly gathered and dried throughout the long sunny French summer. In this bleak northern town, almost the only sign of the changing seasons was the visitors’ stiff bunches of bought flowers, as they changed from daffodils to roses, from roses to “a few nice chrysanths”. The gaunt hospital building, with its long draughty corridors, was always cheerlessly cold; the sky glimpsed from its tall, narrow windows was rarely blue because of the grey industrial haze over the town.
“You look dowly, Nurse,” whispered the incredibly old Mrs. Ramsbottom. “Give us a smile, love.”
Mrs. Ramsbottom had not moved a limb without agony for years. She was gnarled and crippled with rheumatism, after a life at a stall in the wind-swept open markets of the district.
“I’m not really sad. Imagine, I have a whole week-end free! All Saturday and Sunday to myself. I shan’t come on duty again until Monday morning.”
She spoke gaily, hoping to hide the terror she felt at having to touch Mrs. Ramsbottom. She was always afraid her inexperience would cause the old woman more pain than was necessary. Gently she felt for the thread of pulse. Let it be easy to find this time! Let me not hurt her! “We’ll miss thee, lass. Going away?”
“Only a long bus ride away. I want to see the moors. I’ve never seen proper north-country moors.”
“Eee! Fancy that, never seen t’moors, eh?” She closed her eyes; her lids were almost transparent. “What month is it?”
“Late August. Nearly September.”
“Moor’ll be bonny.” She gave a dry cackle. “Used to do my courting up theer. You got a man, love?”
Jacqueline dimpled. “Half a dozen Frenchmen, if I care to have them.”
“Nay, pick a nice young English chap, Miss. Nowt to beat
em. You ought to have seen mine. Used to smash crocks on the market patch.”
“Dear me,” said Jacqueline doubtfully, remembering one or two breakages of her own. “That must have been expensive! I’ve never spoken to a
Englishman. Only old ones, or officials who wanted to examine my luggage or collect my ticket.”
She finished Mrs. Ramsbottom and moved on. After duty to-day, she thought, I’ll be free of uniform and discipline, of hospital smells and cold air. Out of sight of tired, pain-filled eyes, which fasten upon one and drain one’s strength endlessly.
When the temperatures were finished, Liz Hannon, who was three weeks senior to Jacqueline and inclined to put on airs on that account, beckoned her mysteriously into the ward kitchen. “Sister has gone to see Matron, and we’ve made a cuppa. Sit down for a minute.”
Jacqueline accepted this invitation thankfully. Liz put her broad, sensibly shod feet up on a low stool and massaged her beefy ankles. “Feet are the real drawback to nursing. I wish we could be fitted with casters, like the beds. And what are you doing with your week-end, you lucky little nurse, you?”
“Walking, up on the moors. I want to stay at an inn Daddy used to talk about, and just tramp around, looking up the old landmarks. I’ve got a big-scale map.”
Liz covered her round, good-natured face with large hands. “Walk! Ye gods! My first week-end I stayed in bed or soaked my feet in hot water and bath salts. Aren’t you perpetually tired?”
“Only sometimes. Liz, could I go to-night? I want to wake up in the country, to hear and smell it all around me very early in the morning.”
“It’s a morbid taste, ducky—walking. But there’s nothing to stop you starting off as soon as you’re off-duty. You must be a glutton for punishment, though. Look, are you sure this inn is all right? Don’t get lost on the moors, will you?—they can be treacherous.”
Jacqueline laughed. “You and your moors! I’ve walked in the Alps with my grandfather. I’m really quite experienced at some things, even if nursing isn’t one of them. The inn is all right. I saw it in the telephone directory. The Moor Hen.”
“The Moor Hen? Yes, that’s right. If you’re fixed up at the Moor Hen, you’ll be safe enough. But it’s miles from anywhere, I hope you realise.”
“It’s exactly two miles from the bus route.”
“I told you—miles from anywhere. How are you going to get there, child?”
Jacqueline stretched out her two small feet, side by side. “Walk—on these. It’s a straight path, you can’t miss it.”
“Odd soul, aren’t you?”
Jacqueline finished her tea and rinsed both cups. “Why odd?”
“Coming to England to slog away at nursing when you could have stayed in France. Lovely sunshine, glamorous Frenchmen kissing your hand and all that.”
“I set my heart on nursing, as a child. And I am English. I wanted to stay English, not live always in France and marry a Frenchman.” She gave her swift, attractive smile. “They are not as glamorous as they seem to be in films, you know. I’m sure Englishmen are more romantic really; but I’m not interested in men. I just want to be a nurse.”
“Rubbish—every woman is interested in men. Stands to reason. But why Barnbury? Why not the Gobi Desert if you wanted a hard life? At any rate, why not London or a nice warm spot on the south coast?”
“In some ways, Liz, you remind me of my grandmother! I came here because I wanted to find my English background, which I lost when Daddy was killed.”
“You were fond of your dad?”
“I adored him. If I ever do marry, Liz, I’d be hard to please. I’d want a man just like him.”
“H’m. My father was a drunk. Mum and I ran away from him when I was five, but I still remember being scared stiff of him. I’d rather be an old maid than marry anyone like him.”
“It’ll be poor both of us if we don’t watch that clock. The Sparrow is in a shocking temper to-day. Get cracking.”
In all her life, Jacqueline had never been so aware of the clock as she was these days in the hospital. Because they were so silent, their hands sweeping on like scythes, the electric clocks of the hospital seemed remorseless, ruling everybody under them; parcelling out time grudgingly, the amount of it they allowed always too small. Too little time for sleeping; too little for finishing the routine tasks: for bed-making, for serving breakfasts, for washing and tidying and doing the flowers. For the patients, it was the same. The big black hands sliced up their day, moving slowly, slowly, and then, suddenly, when it was visiting-day or the last hour before an operation, carving up the time in four swift quarters, like a busy cook cutting a heavy pudding.
But at this moment the clock was slicing off the last hours of Jacqueline’s duty. In two hours she would be free.
Staff Nurse Sparrow beckoned her. “I want you to help me with Mrs. Ramsbottom to-day, Nurse.”
She swallowed and said obediently, “Yes, Nurse,” but something of her feelings must have shown in her face, for the staff nurse added quietly, “Learn not to show when you are afraid, Nurse.”
The girl felt her colour rise. “I—”
“Mrs. Ramsbottom scares you. You must overcome it.”
“I do try, but I’m afraid to touch her. I’m afraid of hurting her.”
“You’ll meet hundreds of Mrs. Ramsbottoms in your time, Nurse. The way to avoid hurting them is to gain more skill by practice; you must school yourself to be more objective, more—detached.”
“But it’s impossible to ignore pain.”
Nurse Sparrow snapped, “I didn’t tell you to ignore pain. I told you to learn to deal with it. Come along and don’t waste time.”
Outwardly meek but with burning cheeks, Jacqueline followed. By the time the old woman was settled down for the night, Jacqueline’s spine ached and her palms were wet with perspiration; but she had seen a different Nurse Sparrow. The staff nurse had been in a temper all day, and even on her good days she was harsher with the juniors than Sister; but now she was tender, infinitely patient, gentle.
When Jacqueline was tidying the trolley afterwards, Nurse Sparrow paused beside her. “You must nurse with your heart as well as your hands, Nurse,” she said quietly. “If Sister and I are sharp with you, it is because we can’t bear you to be clumsy or slow. It’s for the patients’ sake, Nurse. The patients’ sake.”
Jacqueline bit her lip. “I understand. I—I do try.”
The formidable Sparrow smiled grimly. “We’ll make a nurse of you some day.” The smile deepened. “Even if we kill you. I think maybe you’ve got what it takes.”
Jacqueline gasped with pleasure. It was the first word of praise she had received since coming on the ward. Her eyes shone. “Oh
you, Nurse. I do intend to work hard and—”
Nurse Sparrow poked a sharp red finger at her trolley. “Don’t get over-excited, girl. Scissors!”
Sighing, Jacqueline moved a pair of scissors an eighth of an inch to the left. No matter. The big black clock hands had sliced half an hour off this interminable day, and some day
day—she would be a good nurse.
And at last it was all over. There was only supper, and then she would be free. She finished packing her shabby, serviceable rucksack before the supper bell rang, and joined Liz on the stairs. As they crossed the tiled hall to the dining-room, they saw Home Sister chatting with a tall, darkly handsome woman in the becoming uniform of a St. Simon’s sister.