The Print Petticoat(78)

By: Lucilla Andrews

‘Darling,’ he said, ‘what is it?’

‘Marcus, I’m worried. Suppose I don’t really love you.’ And I told him.

He drew me down on the grass bank at the side of the lane.

‘Listen, darling,’ he said, ‘I’ve thought about that too.

‘You’ll have to take a chance on loving me. I know it’s the real thing with me, but with you ‒ it might be different. You’ve had a raw deal, being ill, that bastard Everley, one thing and another. It comes to this’ ‒ he held out a hand ‒ ‘I offer you everything I’ve got. Will you accept me, my darling? After all, Joa’ ‒ he grinned ‒ ‘I can cook!’

I could not help it. ‘How about your wild oats?’ I kept my voice serious.

‘Oh, my God!’ said Marcus, ‘do they worry you?’

He looked so genuinely concerned that I could not keep it up. I laughed. ‘Not at all!’ I said.

‘Honest to God,’ said Marcus, ‘you had me worried, Joa.’ I watched the evening sun glint on the chromium of his motor-cycle as he drove down the hill towards the by-pass. I caught glimpses of him as the sun flashed the machine silver as it sparkled across the countryside.

In bed in my shelter I listened to the night sounds of the hospital. I heard the hiss of the theatre autoclave as the sterilizing was finished for another day. All the ward doors and French windows stood open. The faint green of the night-lights illuminated the swirling petticoats of the nurses’ dresses as they flitted amongst the beds. It was like a theatrical back-drop. Any moment now, I thought, the curtain will go up. I thought about my life and decided my own curtain was going up. Or dropping on my career as a nurse and patient.

Then I gave up thinking complicated and high-powered thoughts and thought about Marcus and what fun it was all going to be. I fell asleep smiling. When I woke next morning the sun was on my face.

One Night in London by Lucilla Andrews

If you enjoyed The Print Petticoat, you will also want to read One Night in London by Lucilla Andrews. This moving and gripping novel recounts one night in a busy London teaching hospital during the Second World War, as bombs and rockets rain down on the city.

Chapter One

The Thames was the colour of blood that night. Venous blood, Nurse Carter registered absently, and emptied her bucket of wet sheets into the damp-laundry bin on the ward balcony. On the opposite embankment the uneven frieze of jagged black shadows and the great gaps that even in the blackout stood out like missing teeth, were splashed with pink, and the face Big Ben turned to the river had a rosy glow. The colour came from the arclights of the rescue squads digging for the people buried by a V2 rocket sometime that afternoon. The diggers had to work slowly. No one knew for sure exactly where all the bodies were or how many of the bodies were still alive.

Nurse Carter glanced at the lights across the river, then turned her head and didn’t look back. She was now twenty-two and before she had been out of her teens she had learnt that she needed both physical and mental effort when she wanted to suspend thought and imagination. Earlier in the war she had only managed to practise this technique consciously, but as the war dragged on and particularly after the last two months, it had become one of her conditioned reflexes. It was two months to the night since she had been transferred from the sprawling conglomeration of Nissen huts sixty miles from London that was the evacuated home of her parent hospital, to work in what remained of St Martha’s Hospital, London. During that time, though fewer V1 flying bombs were reaching London, the V2 rocket attacks had started. Very occasionally she wondered what the V3s would be like, but never for more than a few seconds as that involved thinking of the future. By that night in October 1944 she had long learnt never to think of the future. Today was enough, unless one happened to be a night nurse, and if so, tonight.

She had to go back into the ward, but paused before opening the heavily-battened balcony doors and gulped in the clean cold night air, like a swimmer about to dive under water. Once inside, with the doors quickly closed behind her, she wondered once again how Wally’s patients endured, slept, and more often than not survived in the ward air.