The Print Petticoat(10)

By: Lucilla Andrews

I laughed, and he climbed up on the stile beside me. ‘You oughtn’t to wear may, it’s unlucky.’

I fingered my spray. ‘I thought it was only unlucky if you took it indoors.’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘You shouldn’t wear it. It’s fatal. Not but what it doesn’t look very nice.’

He smiled at me again, then said quietly, ‘What about it, Joanna?’

So much for my discreet scene in the Nursery.

‘Thank you,’ I said politely, ‘but no.’

‘But why?’ he asked calmly.

I opened my eyes wide. It’s a mannerism I use when I want time to think.

‘I’m not in love with you, Allan,’ I said conversationally.

‘Aren’t you?’ he said thoughtfully. ‘I’m sure you could be if you gave yourself a chance. I love you so much that I don’t see how you could fail to love me.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘but I’m afraid I don’t.’

He flushed, but his voice was equable.

‘You aren’t bothering about Richard Everley, are you? Come now, Joa ‒ be your age.’

I did not answer. I could not have spoken if I had wanted to. All my energy was taken up by a boiling cloud of anger that had blown around me. Allan went on stoking my fire with his words.

‘Of course, I know you’ve been running around with him for some time,’ he said, ‘but everyone has to run around with someone. Everley’s all right, I don’t doubt ‒ but ‒ well, he’s hardly the marrying kind.’

No end of unladylike sensations ‒ black rage ‒ murder ‒ were in my heart. Civilisation is a wonderful thing. All I said was that it did not really matter as the point was that I was not going to marry Allan, and now could we please talk of something else?

‘Ah, well,’ said Allan happily, ‘maybe I’ll get you to change your mind.’

‘What are you doing, anyway, wandering in the woods at this time of the morning?’ I said.

‘I asked Martin to stand in for an hour when I realized you were off.’ He said Martin had promised to keep an eye on the new baby, and that he had sent Marcus Ormorod up to the Nursery to help Ellen Grayson feed the bottle-fed babies.

‘I thought I might as well finish off his impression of life as an accoucheur,’ he chuckled.

I went to the early lunch that day and was back in the Nursery by one o’clock. It was Nurse Grayson’s half-day. On Saturdays everyone possible had a half-day off duty ‒ it was one of the Matron’s brighter ideas. No one minded working extra hard in order that this scheme could work, as the next week-end one was free oneself.

Marcus Ormorod was sitting on a nursing-chair in front of the electric fire feeding one of the three-hourly babies with a bottle of dried milk. The babies fed every three hours were those whose weight was under six pounds. He wore an inevitable face-mask and had tied a green nursery apron round his waist. His shirt-sleeves were rolled up, his jacket off.

‘Hallo,’ I said, ‘you look very efficient!’ I looked round for a nurse. ‘Where’s Nurse Grayson?’

He stood up slowly. ‘Is she t’lass fro’ Lancashire? If so, she’s vanished to the basement with a couple of buckets of dirty napkins.’ His eyes smiled down at me. ‘And I am Nannie.’

It was the first time I had seen him standing. ‘How tall are you?’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘if I’m too big, but I just growed. Six, six.’

The apron round his middle looked like a pocket handkerchief. The baby in his arms objected to his sudden change of position and brought up most of its food and a good deal of wind all over his clean shirt. I took the baby from him as he dabbed himself with a feeding-bib. He said:

‘I shall now smell of cheese. Won’t that be nice.’

I patted the infant, looked at its face to see which one it was, and put it back in its cot.

He followed me round the room. ‘How can you tell which one is which?’

‘By their faces ‒ they are all different.’

He looked about him. ‘Nonsense, Nurse, they are absolutely identical! Like peas in a pod.’

‘Not when you’re used to them.’