The Print Petticoat(9)

By: Lucilla Andrews

I am dark. My hair is long and straight. I wear it parted down the middle and rolled up in a bun on my neck. This is an extremely useful hair-style to have if you are a nurse. It’s a tremendous asset. It invariably predisposes Matrons and Sisters in your favour. A bun is synonymous in the mind of female authority with stability of character and a lack of sex appeal. Personally I do my hair that way because that’s the way it suits me best. Fortunately no one has yet realized this, so I am known as a Good-Steady-Young-Woman-With-No-Nonsense by the powers at Gregory’s. Time was when love and I, if not well acquainted, certainly walked hand-in-hand, and then my virginal appearance had an almost paralysing effect on keeping the party clean. No young man dared tell me an even moderately improper story. Consequently, I had to watch my own language in order that I might not shock them. Then happily I met Richard, who saw through my out-of-this-world line, and we got along beautifully. Allan was the first man to break through the Richard barrier in years.

Thinking about this now, I was not at all sure that I was pleased. A proposal of marriage may always be a compliment; certainly it always makes a girl take stock of things. I was not at all keen about taking stock of my position with Richard. To avoid doing this I did up my hair and went out for a walk.

There was a small wood on the other side of the lane, but you had to walk a quarter of a mile down the lane from our cottage before you reached the stile that led into the wood. There were plenty of gaps in the hedgerow; the gaps had been so well filled in by the Army during the war years that although the barbed-wire was now rusty and rotting there was still too much of it about to risk your nylons. A little wire hung round the stile; most of it had been cut away by local inhabitants. I crossed the stile carefully and sauntered along the path to the wood. The path was overhung and overgrown, but fairly easy walking. At the end of the path was a second stile which led directly into the wood.

There were a good many primroses in the wood. They pushed their flat little faces up to the sunlight that the new green on the trees almost obscured. Where the sun got through, the light sparkled with moisture; thousands of tiny insects climbed up the shafts, sliding two up and one down, persistent in their intention of getting somewhere, some time.

The ground was thick with leaves left over from last autumn, leaves which crackled as I walked and seemed out of place in the spring, although they were nice to walk on.

I sat sideways on the second stile, leant back against the hedge, which was wet and prickly, lit a cigarette, and began to feel a lot happier. I decided I was rather pleased by Allan’s proposal even though I had no intention of accepting it. There had been no time to tell him that this morning. Martin Herrith had bounded into the main corridor and swept Allan off to do a round of the downstairs wards before I had time to take in what he had said. I would have to answer him some time, probably in the Nursery. That was not such a bad idea, as in the Nursery my face would be hidden behind a mask. Thinking of the Nursery, I remembered that baby Peters. I hoped I was not taking him too lightly. I had been pretty worried before breakfast. I thought about the baby and began to feel glum. There was a small piece of may sticking into my right ear. I tried to break it off gently so as to keep the blossom intact. My hand jolted and my lap was covered with white petals. I picked another bit more carefully and pinned it on to the lapel of my jacket. One thing about midwifery is that you always have plenty of safety-pins handy, even in mufti.

Allan appeared suddenly, smiling, on the path in front of me. His smile was gentle and rather shy. I could see what Beth meant. He did look such a nice young man. He was also quite outrageously good-looking; his eyebrows, nose, and jaw were geometrically perfect. He was apparently unaware of his physical attraction.

‘Mrs Hicks told me I’d find you here, Joanna,’ he explained in greeting.

Mrs Hicks always knew everything about everybody at Elmhall and she was always right.

‘She said you had gone out alone,’ went on Allan, ‘as Dr Everley wasn’t off till this afternoon and wasn’t it a pity. I said that was my good luck and left her thinking you were the hell of a girl.’