Authors: Jean S. Macleod
Jean S. Macleod
Moira Lang, in nursing Philip back to health, realizes that she actually loves Philip’s brother, Grant. But Grant feels indebted to Philip and doesn’t want to hurt him, and so doesn’t show his true feelings to Moira.
This stirring novel reveals the struggles and romance that touch Moira’s life.
lay at the quayside under a brilliant African sky, the sunlight rippling along her white hull and the gulls circling expectantly overhead.
Moira Lang leaned her arms along the rail, looking down on the busy scene with an air of detachment. She was leaving Africa for the last time. There was regret behind the thought, although she could not truthfully say that she had ever belonged there, but people had been kind.
Cape hospitality was warm and friendly and sincere, and Moira knew that she was going to miss it. This was her last voyage. When the S. S.
returned to Southampton she would hand over to Jill and go back to regular hospital work.
She looked up at the sharp escarpment above the gleaming white town, seeing Table Mountain shimmering in the first heat of the sun, with the Lion’s Head etched clearly against the skyline, knowing that she would miss all this, the sunshine and the kindness and the laughter, but realizing, too, that it was Jill’s prerogative. It had been Jill’s job in the first place, and Moira had only taken it over while her younger sister went into hospital to have a troublesome appendix removed. There had been unforeseen complications when the operation had been performed, and the one-voyage change-over had lasted for three. The shipping company had been accommodating, and Jill had been in no great hurry to end a pleasant convalescence.
Jill had always been like that, taking most things in life for granted because her sunny temperament demanded that life should be kind, and Moira, the more thoughtful, more serious of the two, had shouldered most of the family burdens in consequence. It had been almost in the nature of things, therefore, that she should have offered to deputize for Jill, holding down the job her sister loved until she was able to return to it.
A step behind her on the deck made her turn, but the purser had only come to stand beside her for a moment, drawing breath before the real push began.
“You always look the coolest of mortals!” he told her enviously, already mopping a heated brow. “This endless sunshine was never my cup of tea. I ought to have stuck to the North Atlantic crossing when I had the chance, but the thought of promotion makes a fool of a man!”
She thought him no fool, but did not tell him so. Terry Baldock was close on forty, married, with three children, and scrupulously honest. He had fathered her from the moment she had stepped aboard the ship at Southampton feeling strange and insecure in this new world which she did not know except at second hand, and she felt that she owed him much for his easy-going, protective friendship. He had kept her right about so many things, scaring the shipboard wolves away when they became offensive, and taking her ashore himself when there was no other suitable escort.
“We’ve got a stretcher case this trip. I don’t know much about it yet, but they’ll be coming aboard early to avoid the avid onlookers, I expect.”
“Will it be our responsibility?” she asked.
“I’m not quite sure.” He paused to light a cigarette and blow the smoke in a cloud into the still air. “He’s some young pilot or other who met with an accident out here and has been in hospital, but there appears to be a relation of some sort travelling back with him. The other man is a surgeon who flew out from England, so we may not have much to do with the case. I’m not quite sure what the arrangements will be. They were all made very hurriedly. They’ve got A2 cabin on the promenade deck, for convenience’ sake, I suppose.”
“They should be comfortable enough there,” Moira agreed. “It looks as if the surgeon friend doesn’t want any help.”
“Which should suit our Doctor Gregory!” Terry Baldock had no use for the young ship’s surgeon. “He’ll not be over-worked this trip either!”
“You two!” she said. “Antipathy fairly crackles between you! Greg’s not really so bad once you know how to handle him.”
“I hope you do,” he said as a parting shot. “He’s getting ready to come over all sentimental at the thought of your last voyage home. I can make out the signs a mile off.”
She was still standing at the rail when the ambulance turned along the dockside and came swiftly towards their berth, drawing up at the foot of the broad gangway. The orderlies eased the stretcher from the ambulance, slow and competent in their movements, and she wondered if she should offer her help. She walked briskly along the deck, waiting at the head of the gangway, while beneath her the man in grey stood watching, critical, she imagined, of each movement as his patient was carried across the quay. She looked towards the stretcher, at the long, slim figure of the boy lying under the single blanket, the morning sun striking obliquely on to the fair head flung back against the pillow in a tense attitude of protest. Every line of the thin, bronzed face suggested rebellion, the set young lips and tensed jaw, the wide-spaced eyes staring straight up at the merciless blue sky from which he had fallen—to this.
Moira felt her heart contract with pity and understanding. The boy on the stretcher looked about her own age. He could not be any more than twenty-five, at most, and now he must feel that his life was at an end, its usefulness dissipated at one cruel blow. She wondered about the extent of his injuries as the orderlies bore him towards her, preceded up the gangway by the man in grey. The older man was taller than she had thought, looking down on him on the quay, and the two were unmistakably related. There was the same rather proud lift of the head, the same clear-cut profile with the high, arched nose and firm mouth, and the same square, determined jaw. Only about the eyes was there a difference. The boy on the stretcher looked at life accusingly. The man walking by his side had come to his own terms with life. The grey eyes under the dark, level brows searched the deck for a moment, and then he swung round and confronted Moira. Without preliminary, he asked her to direct them to their cabin.
“My brother would like to get settled in before the other passengers come aboard,” he added briefly.
Moira felt that he had scarcely noticed her, which was a way some doctors had with women in white when they were on duty, and she offered no comment as she led the way along the deck to the cabin which had been prepared for them.
When he came in he looked briefly about him, nodding his approval of their efforts.
“This will do very well,” he said, his eyes meeting Moira’s for the first time. “Thank you!”
“If there’s anything else I can do,” she suggested, but he shook his head.
“My brother is still sensitive about strangers.” Oddly, the word hurt when it had no right to. There was nothing personal about their contact. “He hasn’t yet got used to the idea of being so dependent on other people.”
That was understandable. She looked towards the stretcher and quickly away again. The orderlies were moving the young pilot on to the bed in the main cabin, and his brother crossed towards them, taking the slim wrist between competent fingers as he searched the set young face for signs of fatigue. Moira felt dismissed as he stood counting the rapid pulse-beats, and she turned away with a nod to the elderly stewardess who had made her appearance at the cabin door.
Strangely unsettled by the brief encounter, she walked back along the deck feeling the warmth of the hot African sun striking up at her from its dazzling white surface and seeing it dancing on the blue water beyond the rail in pinpoints of golden light. This was really goodbye.
She walked away from the gangway, forward along the deck, and turned into the alleyway where Gregory Paston was waiting for her in the cramped space of the ship’s surgery.
“You might hold the fort for a minute or two,” he suggested, “while I take a turn on deck. Someone’s sure to fall and break a leg if we’re both away together!” He grinned down at her, tall dark and confident in his immaculate white drill, his hands thrust negligently into his trouser pockets. “I’ve just seen someone I know down there on the quay.”
Moira nodded abstractedly. Greg knew so many people, and he liked to be on deck to take stock of the passengers as they came on board, assessing the enjoyment of the voyage at a glance in terms of possible conquests. She was prepared for his “minute or two” to stretch to an hour until the gangways were up and the ship was due to sail, but she did not really mind. There were no friends to see her off, and she preferred to come upon the passengers gradually.
A knock on the door behind her made her turn.
“Come in,” she commanded, stacking the last bottle of medicine into the cupboard without turning to see who her visitor might be.
“I’m sorry to trouble you so early on the voyage, but I’m afraid I’ve had a bit of a mishap.”
The voice was already familiar, and she swung round to meet two level grey eyes which had looked into hers less than ten minutes ago for the first time but he had the power to stir her pulses to a mad, throbbing beat and send a tiny flag of color up into her pale cheeks.
“My name’s Melmore,” he went on. “Grant Melmore. You were there when my brother was brought on board.” His voice was brisk, almost dispassionate. “I’m afraid he hasn’t weathered the journey from the hospital as well as I had hoped he would. There’s always a certain amount of strain about being hoisted on a stretcher no matter how capable the bearers are.” He looked about him with that brief, critical glance which Moira had noticed when he had first come on board. “You seem to be pretty well stocked up here,” he observed. “I came to see if I could borrow a hypodermic. I’ve just broken my own needle and I can’t get at my baggage for the moment. I’d like to let Philip get some sleep, at least till we sail.”
Moira turned to the corner cupboard, and taking out a new hypodermic syringe, she tested it in the prescribed manner, handing it to him for his final inspection in silence. She saw the dark brows come together in a swift frown as he looked down at it and heard herself asking quickly, resentfully:
“Is there anything wrong?”
“With the syringe? No, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was hoping that you wouldn’t have any more trouble with my brother than is absolutely necessary.”
“It is my job to care for sick passengers.”
“This one is sick in mind as well as in body,” he explained slowly. “Philip is proving difficult to handle.”
She found herself waiting for his explanation of his brother’s accident, but it did not come.
“I’ll let you have this back immediately,” he said as he turned away. "Did you want me to sign for it?”
“I don’t think there will be any need for that, Doctor Melmore,” she said almost stiffly.
“You’ll explain to the ship’s surgeon?”
“Yes, I’ll explain.”
When he had gone, she stood with her back against the surgery door, feeling the impact of their meeting long after his footsteps had died away along the alley, his dominant personality still strong and challenging in the little room.
When Gregory Paston returned, Moira told him about her visitor. “I’ve given out a hypodermic. There’s a stretcher case on board, but the brother is a doctor and is travelling with him. He came to borrow a hypodermic when his own got broken and I dare say he’ll return it in due course.”
“There ought, at least, to be awe in your voice, or doesn’t the name of Bruce Melmore mean anything to you?”
“He said his name was Grant—”
“It may be his Christian name. I believe there is a G somewhere. G. Bruce Melmore. I guess that must be right, though I wouldn’t know for sure,” he added tersely. “I didn’t exactly move in such exalted circles when I was a student at St. Cere’s. He was already a name in the lecture rooms when I was struggling through and I’ve heard since that his surgery is brilliant. They’re all in the money, of course,” Paston said with a sudden edge to his voice. “Young Melmore flew his own plane out here.”
“The one that crashed?”
“Presumably. And it looks as if the elder brother followed, hotfoot, to read the riot act!”
“But he couldn’t—blame him for what happened!”
“I’m not so sure.” Glancing at Moira’s flushed face, Gregory Paston was not disposed to be particularly charitable. “That type never make mistakes themselves and so they find it difficult to make allowances for their more unfortunate brethren. They know where they’re going right from the beginning and carve their way accordingly, and in the process their powers of understanding become slightly blunted. This accident will have caused a great deal of inconvenience in the well planned life of Mr. Bruce Melmore. It will have cost him a lot of valuable time, for one thing, especially as he has been forced to return by sea.”
“Did he fly out?”
Paston nodded. “A couple of weeks ago, I believe. I got the gen from a near neighbor of his who is travelling back with us this trip. She came out three months ago on the
Chiltern’s her name. Mrs. Oliver Chiltern.” He laughed abruptly!” She’s one of these people one meets on every voyage. Knows all the tittle-tattle within minutes of coming aboard and adds to it daily, so that there’s not a lot of use for the news bulletin!”
Moira filed the name away at the back of her mind for future reference, because Gregory Paston was rarely, if ever, wrong in his assessment of a woman, but she did not think that Mrs. Oliver Chiltern would greatly influence her life.
That she was to be proved wrong, and quickly, did not enter her head as she went out on deck for a last look at Africa receding swiftly behind them in the haze of sunlight.
As the great ship ploughed its way through the blue water she was almost in solitary possession out here, the expanse of white deck before her deserted by the passengers who had waved their last goodbyes and gone below to settle into their cabins, and she was glad of these few minutes alone to adjust her thoughts and accustom herself to her change of circumstances. When the boat docked at Southampton she would be out of work and she had no idea where she wanted to go. Her parents were both dead, her father killed during the war in Italy and her mother surviving him for a little more than a year afterwards. There was only Jill left, and her sister had made no bones about selling up the family home when they had both decided on a nursing career. Jill had little use for sentiment in that respect. She prided herself on being a realist.