When Henrietta was left a house in a Dutch village, she decided to make her home there, and settled happily into her new abode. She thought she would like everything about Holland--except Marnix van Hessel. As "lord of the manor," he behaved as if it were still the Middle Ages! Why couldn't he just marry his fiancee and leave Henrietta in peace?
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
March 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Henrietta's Own Castle by Betty Neels
Sister Henrietta Brodie yawned as she climbed the last few treads of the staircase leading to Women's Medical; she had stayed up late the night before, listening, with three other Ward Sisters, to Agnes Bent, who had Men's Medical and was leaving to get married in a few weeks' time and had still to solve the knotty problem of whether to wear a hat or a veil at her wedding. She was a girl of gentle nature, easily swayed by other opinions, and the argument had gone on until after midnight. Henrietta had rather enjoyed it; she liked Agnes, who was pretty enough to wear whatever she fancied and look lovely, but the others had been divided in their opinions, so that the discussion, prolonged with several pots of tea, had gone on for longer than she had bargained for, and when she had at last got to bed, it was to lie awake until the small hours.
Agnes' happy chatter had reminded her that she was going to be twenty-nine in a week's time, and what was worse, she had recently refused Roger Thorpe, the chief pharmacist at St Clement's, for the second time, and she didn't think that he would ask her again. If she had had any relatives to advise her, they would probably have told her that she had been silly to have given up the chance of marrying such a worthy man--her own age, steady and serious and hard-working. And so dull, added Henrietta to herself. Roger hadn't been the first man to ask her to marry him, but he could possibly be the last.
She had sat up in bed at three o'clock in the morning, struck by the sobering thought that twenty-nine was only a year from thirty. Had she been foolish? Roger had all the makings of a good husband, and yet, she had reflected, he had accepted her refusal with a lukewarm regret; he might have been disappointed, but he hadn't been heartbroken. Her tired mind registered that fact while it had wondered in a nebulous fashion if she would ever meet a man who was neither too worthy nor dull, and who, if she were fool enough to refuse him, would follow her ruthlessly until she changed her mind--he would have to be rich, because she was poor, and good-looking, and because she was tall and well built, he would have to be bigger than she was... She had slid back against the pillow, and slept on the idea.
She remembered it all very clearly now as she crossed the landing to her office, her ears registering the various ward sounds; the breakfast things being collected on to the trolleys, the swish of the curtains as the nurses started to draw them round the beds, the metallic clink of bedpans from the far end of the ward and Mrs Pim's shrill old voice calling: 'Nurse, Nurse!' just as she always did after each and every breakfast. But nothing untoward--Henrietta nodded to herself and opened the office door.
The night nurses were waiting for her, and so was her staff nurse, Joan Legg. She wished them good morning in her quiet, pretty voice, and sat down at her desk. The Kardex was open at the first patient's name, ready for her to read, but instead she asked: 'Did you have a good night, Nurse Cutts? That new case--Miss Crow--was the sedation enough or do you want a bigger dose for tonight?'
She looked up and smiled at the student nurse she was talking to, and the smile lighted the whole of her lovely face. Henrietta might be eight or nine years older than her companions, but it was difficult to see that. She was a tall girl, built on generous lines without being plump, with a creamy skin and dark hair curling gently which she pinned up ruthlessly into a bun. Her mouth was kind as well as generously curved and her eyes were dark and thickly lashed. The student nurse, meeting their inquiring gaze and knowing all about the chief pharmacist, thought it a good thing that Sister Brodie had refused him. She was too dishy to be wasted on anyone so ordinary; she ought to marry someone dramatic--tall and dark and a little wicked...
'Nurse?' Henrietta's voice was inquiring, and Cutts abandoned her ideas for her superior's future happiness and plunged into a businesslike account of the night's work.
When the night nurses had gone, Henrietta got up, rearranged her frilled muslin cap before the tiny mirror, tweaked the bow under her chin to a more dignified angle and went to look out of the window. 'Now let's see,' she said, 'there's the barium meal at ten and three X-rays, and Mrs Pim to persuade to go down to Physio--get them started on the bed-baths, will you, Legg? I'll be out in a minute.' She glanced at her watch. 'God won't be here until half past ten, but we'd better be ready by ten if we can manage it.'
She was referring to the senior consultant, Sir Cuthbert Cornish, whose day it was to do a ward round. He was a peppery man, very tall and thin, with a booming voice which reduced the younger nurses to a state of mindless jelly; a bedside manner which charmed his patients and a confirmed opinion that he was always right. He nearly always was; Henrietta liked him, and not being afraid of his loud voice, treated him with a sangfroid which he enjoyed. She went and sat down again after Staff had gone and sorted through the patients' notes and X-rays, refreshing her memory, for God, while permitting her to speak her mind when it concerned the patients or the ward, would brook no slipshod treatment; he expected the right answer when he asked a question.
Presently she got up once more and went into the ward, a little pile of letters and parcels in her hand; it killed two birds with one stone, giving out the post and having a short chat with each patient as she did her round. It took quite a long time, but she never tried to hurry it, some of the women had few visitors and almost no post; they needed to talk even if only for five minutes, the other, luckier ones, with large families to visit them and letters every day, took up only a few minutes of her time, but even so, with thirty patients the round took an hour and sometimes longer, with constant interruptions, small emergencies and the occasional early visit from a doctor. This morning, however, there were few interruptions to take up her time.
She went from bed to bed, finding time to keep an eye on the running of the ward as she did so, and by the time she had reached old Mrs Pim in the last bed by the door, the morning's routine was nicely started--even if God came early they would be ready for him. Henrietta dispatched the cases to X-Ray, sent a nurse down with the barium meal, who was a nervous woman and would probably be sick when she got there anyway, sent the first of the student nurses to their coffee break and went back into her office.
Legg knocked on the door a minute later. 'Coffee, Sister?' she asked. 'Everything's going nicely.'
Henrietta nodded. 'Bring a cup for you,' she invited as she picked up a letter addressed to herself from the desk. Sam, the porter, must have brought it up when he came for the stores list; he knew that on round days she had no chance to leave the ward to collect her post from the nurses' home. She turned it over idly; it looked official and as it was typed, she had no idea from whom it might be, only that the postmark was London. She slipped it into her pocket, to be read later on when the round was over.
Sir Cuthbert Cornish arrived early; usually he was late but just now and again he turned up at least twenty minutes too soon, presumably in the hope that no one would be ready for him and he would be able to complain, but Henrietta had been Ward Sister for some years now and was up to his tricks; he was met, as always, by his registrar, his houseman, the social worker and the girl from Physio, with her a yard or so in front, so that he might be greeted in the correct way, and Staff lurking discreetly in the background, reinforced by a student nurse ready to do any of the odd jobs the great man might think up. Today, however, he was in a genial mood; the round went well with a few setbacks and a kind of interval half way up the ward while he told Henrietta a funny story. The round done at last, they parted on the best of terms at the ward door, and while his little procession made its way to Men's Medical on the other side of the block, Henrietta went back into the ward, where the dinner trolley, concealed in the kitchen, had been rushed into place ready for her to serve the patients' dinners. She doled out steamed fish, diabetic diets and stew for the well ones, while she and Staff conned over the round. She had made notes from time to time, but most of God's instructions she held in her head; after their own dinner she and Legg would go to her office during the visiting hour and go over the notes together so that his orders--and they had been many--might be carried out to the letter.
Henrietta didn't remember her letter until the visitors had gone and the patients were having tea. The ward was almost quiet, with only two nurses keeping an eye on its occupants while the rest of the staff went to their own tea. Legg had gone off duty at half past two and would be back at half past six to relieve her. She looked out of the window at the grey dreary January afternoon, trying to make up her mind if she would go out that evening or go to bed early--bed would be nice, she decided as she drew the Kardex towards her and began the bare bones of the day report so that Legg could fill it in later, but she pushed it aside when Florrie, the ward maid, came in with her tea; a good excuse to take a few minutes off, she told herself, and at the same time remembered her letter.
She opened it without much curiosity and paused to sip her tea before she read it. It was from a firm of solicitors, informing her that her aunt, Miss Henrietta Brodie, had died a week previously and that, by the terms of her will, she, her niece and sole surviving relative, was to inherit the property known as Dam 3 in the village of Gijzelmortel, situated in the province of North Brabant, Holland, together with its contents and such moneys as remained after the payment of certain legacies. The writer begged her to pay him a visit at the earliest opportunity and remained hers faithfully, Jeremy Boggett, of Messrs Boggett, Payne, Boggett and Boggett.
Henrietta read this exciting information through a second time, looked at the back and then the envelope to make sure that she had missed nothing and then laid it down on the desk and drank her tea. Her first reaction was that she was dreaming, to be quickly supplanted by the idea that it was a mistake. She had had an Aunt Henrietta, true enough, a vague relative she had never seen and whom her parents, when they had been alive, never mentioned. She had presumed her dead for years and had never known where she had lived or anything about her. She poured herself another cup of tea and lifted the telephone receiver; private calls were not allowed from the hospital, but this, she considered, justified breaking that rule. She dialled the number engraved on the letter, not quite believing that anyone would answer her--but they did; an efficient feminine voice, enquiring what might be done for her, and when she asked rather uncertainly if she might see Mr Jeremy Boggett the following morning and gave her name, the voice asked her to hold the line, and after a few minutes an elderly man's voice, owned presumably by that gentleman, assured her that he would be glad to see her at her earliest convenience and would ten o'clock suit her?
Henrietta put the receiver down and reread the letter while a number of exciting ideas raced round inside her head. A house of her own--she could go and stay...and money too, perhaps enough to allow her to give up nursing for a while. After all, she could always get another job when the money had run out. The prospect was tempting; she would see what the solicitor had to say and then go and see Miss Brice, the Principal Nursing Officer. Meanwhile there was her work to get on with. She put the letter into her pocket and drew the Kardex towards her.
She wasn't on until one o'clock the next day, time enough to go to the solicitor's office, have a snack in a coffee shop somewhere and be on duty on time, and because it was a fine morning, though cold, and she had time on her hands, she walked for the half hour needed to get her from the hospital to Lincoln's Inn. Messrs Boggett, Payne, Boggett and Boggett had an office on the top floor of a narrow Georgian house: Henrietta climbed the stairs, the letter clutched in her hand as a kind of talisman, still not quite believing it.