The First Year(4)

By: Lucilla Andrews

‘That should hold the poor doll securely in place. Now, Nurse Standing, I have explained where you are to go. Are you quite clear of the way?’

‘I think so, Sister. Thank you.’

She gave me a shrewd look. ‘And which way are you to go?’

I took a deep breath. ‘Straight across the park, along the yard that runs by Casualty, turn left at the main Dispensary, keep on to the Medical School, then turn right; there I will see a side turning that leads down into the basement ‒ I go down there, take the left fork of the corridor, and it is the third door on the left once I pass the laundry.’

Sister’s lips twitched slightly, then she controlled them. ‘Quite correct, Nurse.’ She looked down at the doll. ‘If,’ she went on, ‘you ever succeed in becoming a St Martin’s trained nurse, Nurse Standing, I suspect you will have your memory to thank for your certificate. It appears to be your greatest ally.’

I was so shaken by the hidden compliment in her words that I blushed. ‘Thank you, Sister.’

She glanced up at me. ‘Off you go, Nurse.’

It was a lovely evening. It was one of those evenings you sometimes get towards the end of an English summer, when the whole world is golden. The sun was still quite high in the sky; it shone on the old grey stone of which the hospital was built, softening the corners and plating the windows with gold. The grass in the park had dried after the unusually hot summer we had just had; this evening the withered patches were a warm, glowing rusty yellow. The lack of rain had affected the plane-trees too, and some of their leaves had already turned; several were a brilliant yellow, and here and there one was scarlet. The park was sprinkled with up-patients in wheel-chairs enjoying the late sunshine. Like Mrs Clark, these patients were wrapped in red blankets which made vivid splashes of colour against the dying grass. The patients’ hands and faces were all tanned by the sun, and to me they appeared incredibly and uniformly healthy. They smiled at me as I walked by with my wheel-chair; then, as they recognized what it was I was pushing, their smiles vanished momentarily, then reappeared more widely.

‘I thought she was real, duck!’ called one woman. ‘Proper life-like, ain’t she? She from the School over there? And are you one of the new nurses what’s learning to be a nurse?’

I stopped beside her. ‘Yes. This is one of our dolls. We learn on dolls.’

‘There now!’ She surveyed Mrs Clark with admiration. ‘Think of everything, don’t they, duck, to teach you girls proper? And how you getting on?’

I smiled at her. ‘Not very well, I’m afraid. I’m always doing the wrong thing.’

‘There now,’ she said comfortingly, ‘you don’t want to let that fret you ‒ not that you look the fretting type, duck. But you’ll learn. We all got to make mistakes afore we learn not to. And this here’ ‒ she nodded at Martin’s ‒ ‘is a lovely hospital, and they learn you nurses to nurse real lovely. Mind you, it’s hard work; and they do say as you have to be born to it.’ She looked up at me curiously. ‘How do you feel about it? Think you’re going to like it?’

I looked over her head at the hospital. ‘If I ever get into it, yes, I do. But there’s an exam to be got through first.’

She said she would keep her fingers crossed for me. ‘I expect you’ll be all right, duck. Expect I’ll be seeing you in Margaret one of these fine days.’

‘Are you in Margaret? Have you been in long? How are you getting on?’

She said she was getting on lovely, real lovely. ‘I comes into Margaret twice a year, like. For me treatment. Takes about two weeks, then I goes home again. I’m due back just after Christmas, the doctor was telling me this morning; so perhaps I’ll see you next time I’m in.’

I smiled at her pleasant, homely old face. ‘I hope so, too. Thank you.’

‘So just you ask after Mrs Jannings next time you are in Margaret. All know Mrs Jannings in Margaret, they do,’ she added proudly. ‘And what might be your name, duck?’

‘Rose Standing.’

She nodded. ‘That’s ever such a nice name, duck; but, if you’ll not mind my saying so, you didn’t ought to have told me your name was Rose. That’s not proper, duck. You should just say Nurse Standing, or you’ll have the Sister carrying on at you.’