Authors: Josephine Bell
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About the author:
Josephine Bell was born Doris Bell Collier in Manchester, England. Between 1910 and 1916 she studied at Godolphin School, then trained at Newnham College, Cambridge until 1919. At the University College Hospital in London she was granted M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P. in 1922, and a M.B.B. S. in 1924.
Bell was a prolific author, writing forty-three novels and numerous uncollected short stories during a forty-five year period.
Many of her short stories appeared in the
London Evening Standard
. Using her pen name she wrote numerous detective novels beginning in 1936, and she was well-known for her medical mysteries. Her early books featured the fictional character Dr. David Wintringham who worked at Research Hospital in London as a junior assistant physician. She helped found the Crime Writers' Association in 1953 and served as chair during 1959â60.
Timothy Long ran down the steps of the West Kensington Hospital entrance, crossed the front sweep, passed the gates and turned left, heading for the river.
It was the first break he had had that day, which had begun at five in the morning with the arrival of an acute appendix case. A very acute appendix, he found, when he reached the blackened, stinking thing, cooked by its owner for three days of agony before the doctor was called. These incredibly courageous fools Tim thought. Or was it fear, not courage? Fear of the doctor's verdict, which might be death. Fear of unknown horrors, worse than present pain. Well, the G.P. had wasted no time and the idiot would liveâwhich he scarcely deserved.
Timothy swung left again, which brought him to Hammersmith Broadway and its tricky crossings. The London evening air, though petrol-laden and heavy with the remains of last night's fog, began to lift his spirits and drive out the more soporific fumes of the operating theatre. He had certainly had his fill of that hot house atmosphere today. After the early emergency, a full list of his own confronted him. This had taken from nine o' clock until after one. Another look at the appendix chap, conscious now, supremely sorry for himself, almost persuaded that the surgeons had killed him, as he knew all along they would.
A late lunch, an afternoon in the Out-Patient Department, followed by a slow visit to the wards with his boss. Old Beech-Thomas at his most pontifical, his most exacting. No let-up at all until the old boy had stared at the clock in Nuffield Ward, compared it with his own watch, eyebrows raised incredulously and said, “I'm supposed to be meeting my wife in half an hour.”
“Yes, sir,” Tim had said, hopefully. “Shall I get her on the phone for you?”
“Certainly not, boy, certainly not!” The suggestion was having the desired effect. Beech-Thomas was pounding towards the ward door. “I have to leave you, Sister. Mr Long will finish for me. Nothing else of urgent importance, is there? Don't follow me. Good-day to you. Thank you.”
He was gone without waiting for an answer, the double swing doors of the ward clapping behind him. Sister had been left far behind, only Nurse Copper waited at Tim's elbow, face entirely composed, eyes gleaming with secret laughter.
Tim passed through the ward doors himself, the nurse following. He paused, leaning dramatically against the wail of the corridor.
“The old slave-driver!” he said, weakly. “He knows my day began at five. Thirteen and a half hours already, with twenty minutes for a so-called lunch and he expects me to finish his round for him. What would Sister say if I fainted on the ward floor? What would you do if I collapsed here and now?”
“Go and find Sister,” Nurse Cooper said, her face including her eyes, now altogether cold.
Sister in Nuffield Ward came quickly, assuring Tim she had no more problems at present. He met a junior houseman further along the main corridor who wanted advice about a patient due to leave the next day. After that there were notes to write up, a couple of telephone calls to attend to and dinner in the Resident Staff dining-room. Tim's job as surgical registrar involved spending two nights a week in residence. This was the second of them.
Now, at nine o'clock, in what appeared to be a complete lull, he was making his dash for the river and fresh air. Hammersmith Bridge, lights gleaming, was ahead at the end of the approach road. He was taking a chance on no one wanting him for the next half-hour. With luck no one would want him until tomorrow morning, though he intended to take another look at the appendix case before he turned in. Emergency operations two nights running would be perfectly possible, but it didn't happen every week. It ought not to happen at all. But the Ministry of Health, having built a new annexe to the hospital to fill the urgent needs of an increased local population, had not yet appointed an extra consultant surgeon to do the extra work. They were going to do so, at the end of the year, but they were proposing at the same time, to cut out the junior registrar's job altogether. So things would be much the same for him. The usual sweated labour. Why, after fifteen years' training, did anyone work an average sixteen hours a day for a salary that wouldn't tempt a beginner in the business world? Crazy, of course, but there was nothing else he wanted to do. And the politicians were not ashamed to soak him for it.
As he reached the bridge and slowed down, moving to the parapet to look over, Tim felt some of his protesting bitterness slide from him. It had other reasons behind it not at all connected with his professional standing, his work or its reward. Nurse Cooper's attitude rankled. He was making no progress there at all. It annoyed and disturbed him. Earlier encounters with nurses and girl students and other girls outside medicine had not been entirely disappointing. He did not always expect to win; he was still not anxious to be married. But he liked to have a companion, even if nothing came of it, even if they quarrelled early and broke it up. Nurse Cooper, he did not even know her first name, looked exciting, had a wonderful voice, was extremely efficient and kept making it abundantly clear that she took no interest in him whatever.
He swore to himself, staring at the lights on the water and the dark shapes of a tug with barges moving rapidly down-stream on the ebb. He noticed that the mud was already beginning to show under the wall. Some of the cluster of house-boats moored near the bridge were heeling over slightly as they settled. A dreary lot of craft, he thought. Who would go to live there in the cold and damp and noise, cut off from the shore at regular intervals by the tide? He shivered, his gloomy thoughts dwelling again, on Nurse Cooper, his memory presenting him with yet more evidence of her total disregard.
And not only Cooper. There had been that girl in the radiography department that afternoon. Beech-Thomas had asked for the report on a case. The films were there, a series in a large envelope, but no report. At first Beeeh-Thomas had said nothing, simply took the films to the viewing box and stuck them in one after another. Then back to the first, then mixing them up, dropping one or two, which Tim retrieved, finally, turning in exasperation to demand the report, which Tim could not find.
Miss Gleaning, head radiographer, was not helpful. She resented Tim's second intrusion into her department. Her girls were working at full stretch; as she was herself â¦
“If Dr Milton made a report,” she said, “it will be with the films.”
“But it isn't.”
“Are your sure?”
Clutching his patience with both hands Tim said he was certain.
“Then I can only suggest the report was taken out in the ward and mislaid,” Miss Gleaning said.
Tim left her, found Dr Milton, the radiologist, in his room and appealed to him direct. Milton was more cooperative. He remembered the case. He looked up his notes. He summoned his secretary and went into the fate of the report. Finally he ordered a duplicate to be sent up to Beech-Thomas as soon as it was typed out.
Tim stayed where he was during the unavoidable short delay, staring at one or two films stuck in the many viewing boxes round Dr Milton's office walls. He said nothing; the radiologist ignored him.
At last one of the junior radiographers, a dark girl he had noticed once or twice because she looked more alive than the others, came in with a sheet of paper in one hand and a wet film on a carrier in the other.
“Mrs Brown's gall bladder, sir,” she said to Dr Milton's back, and in a side whisper to Tim. “The report for Dr Beech-Thomas, but Sister phoned downâ”
Dr Milton had risen to take the just developed film. He barely glanced at Tim.
“Better get back with that, hadn't you?” he said, ungraciously.
“Yes. Thank you, sir,” Tim muttered and went quickly, colliding with the girl who stood back to let the registrar out first at the same moment that Tim, with automatic politeness, stood back to let her go before him.
“Sorry,” he said with marked anger, as they both got out of the room.
“That's all right,” she answered. “I was trying to tell you Sister phoned down to say she'd found the report in another envelope.”
“Damnation!” he exploded, clutching the duplicate so roughly it began to crumple in his hand. “Sorry,” he said again automatically polite.
He looked at the girl. Her face was half-turned away. She was laughing her head off, he decided.
On his way back to the ward he remembered her name. Jane Wheelan. What business was it of hers, anyway, that she should laugh at him? These women! Frigid robots like the Cooper wench or prying jokers like Jane Wheelan. He was sick of women.
Standing on the bridge staring out over the black, neon-streaked water, Tim forced his mind away from these and other memories of his harassed day. He had not come down here to brood, he decided, beginning at last to laugh at himself. He began to turn away from the parapet and as he did so he heard a thin cry from the water behind and below him.