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Authors: Celine Conway

Tags: #Harlequin Romance 1963

Ship's Surgeon

BOOK: Ship's Surgeon
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SHIP’S SURGEON

Celine Conway

When Pat Fenley boarded the liner “
Walhara

to take a young patient to Ceylon, she didn’t expect to find that the patient would be in grave danger. Nor did she expect to find her unpleasant stepmother on board. Least of all was she prepared for the shattering effect the ship’s surgeon, Bill Norton, was
to have on her.

 

CHAPTER ONE

In the surgery adjoining the bright little blue and white hospital, Dr. Bill Norton was attending to the first casualty of the trip—a ten-year-old who had been so eager to board the
Walhara
that he had pitched forward on the gangway and ripped his knee. Three stitches, the boy noted with martyred pride; that should be good for a pronounced limp and a deal of sympathy, except that the doctor seemed to think a small dressing with a band or two of adhesive tape was an adequate covering.

“Okay, cut along,” said Bill dismissively.

The boy sighed, looked from the rugged-featured doctor to the plump middle-aged Sister, and dragged his way out of the cabin.

Sister Edwards smiled. “You should have let me bandage him, Doctor. It would have made his trip.”

“We’ve other things to do, Sister. Let’s look at the list.” He ran a strong spatulate finger down the brief column of names. “Is the tonsillectomy comfortable?”

“Nurse Broderick is watching her.” She shrugged, and added in her native accents, “Sounds daft to me—a tonsillectomy only two days before sailing. The woman waited till she’s thirty-six—a few more weeks couldn’t have mattered.”

“She probably thought the sea air would help her recovery, and so it will. How’s the angina?”

“He’s quiet now. I told him you thought he might rest in his cabin from tomorrow onwards, and he seemed pleased.”

Bill dropped the list on to the desk. “Well, another voyage, Sister. They’ll soon be coming thick and fast. Take it easy while you can.”

Sister Edwards cast a look round the neat little surgery. “Your last trip, Doctor. Are you glad?”

He shoved a lean hand over thick golden-brown hair. “In a way. These three spells have been enjoyable, but I’m chafing to get stuck into my new job.” He moved towards the door. “I’ll be in the tourist for the next hour. Give me a buzz if you need me here.”

“You won’t forget the Sinhalese girl?”

“Of course not. She’s almost our most important passenger. If her nurse comes in tell her I want a word with her. And you might...”

A rap at the door cut short the sentence. In his usual brisk fashion he pulled the door wide, and then for a brief moment he stared at the girl who stood framed in the doorway. She was slim and bronze-haired, had a clean spare face and wide-spaced eyes which were a clear green. She wore an impeccable white belted coat with wine-coloured epaulettes, the left of which was embroidered in gold with the word “physiotherapist”.

“Dr. Norton?” she asked politely. “I’m Patricia Fenley—in charge of Miss Deva Wadia. Miss Wadia’s surgeon told me to get in touch with you right away. He gave me this letter for you.”

Bill took the envelope, said, “All right, Sister. I’ll talk with Miss Fenley in here.”

Sister Edwards gathered the few record cards and case book and went through the curtained opening into the sick bay. Pat Fenley entered the surgery and sat in the chair to which the doctor carelessly waved her. He slit the envelope, read the two pages of details, and went behind the desk. He didn’t sit down, but dropped the letter and shoved his hands into his pockets. Dispassionately, he looked down upon the wide white brow and trim reddish-dark hair of the girl in the chair. So this was the kind the physiotherapy schools were turning out nowadays. No brawn, not even that hearty look that he remembered from his student days. She looked intelligent, but not nearly muscular enough. Early twenties—no more than twenty-three, he was sure. He was thirty-four himself, and mentally he sometimes felt it.

“The letter is strictly medical,” he said. “Tell me what you know about the patient. I know that her home is in Ceylon, that she’s the daughter of a rich man who sent her to England for the open-heart operation, that you’ve been given a full plan of treatment to last the voyage. What else?”

“That’s about all. I have to build up the general musculature and gradually increase the strength of the cardiac muscle. Miss Wadia had complications, and had been in bed for three months when I first saw her two weeks ago.”

“You mean you haven’t been in charge of her case from the beginning?”

“I applied for the job of accompanying her to Ceylon and took over from a married physiotherapist.”

“I see.” Faint sarcasm entered his voice. “Working your way round the world?”

She looked up at him almost detachedly, but he caught a flash of green fire before she lowered her glance. “What else did you want to know, Doctor?” she asked politely.

Maybe she had more to her than he’d thought. Still, a girl of her age shouldn’t have crescents of weariness under her eyes, and she shouldn’t snap back even with a glance when a doctor just mildly took a mickey. She must have had plenty of experience of doctors.

“I understand Miss Wadia’s father stipulates that she live in her own stateroom. Nevertheless, it would be easier for you to give your treatments in the ship’s hospital, where we can fix you up with a couch and plinth in a curtained recess. We’ll send you a wheelchair and the steward will do the lifting.”

“Deva’s not heavy. She’s fifteen and weighs barely five stone. So far we’ve done most of the exercising on a bedside chair, and I manage the massage while she’s in bed.”

“Is she walking?”

“A few paces. She’s been in a private nursing home and had lot of attention.”

There was a pause. Then he said, “We’ve been sailing just on two hours. I didn’t know Miss Wadia was on board till an hour ago, when her name was added to my list. Why wasn’t I called to supervise her arrival?”

“It was all laid on by the nursing home. She was carried straight through to the stateroom and put to bed. She has a personal servant with her. My duties are strictly physiotherapy and light nursing; nothing more.”

“Then you’ll have time on your hands, won’t you?” he said calmly. “When we get out into the sunshine in a couple of days, you’d better spend a few hours sunbathing every morning. You appear to need it.” Then, almost menacingly, “Have you been crying?”

She stood up. “Certainly not. I had a hectic few days before we sailed, and not enough sleep. Is that all, Doctor?”

“That’s all,” he said brusquely. “Let me know when you’re giving the next treatment and I’ll watch it, and test the heart. I’ll call in and see your patient some time before then. All right, Miss Fenley.”

She went out smartly, a disappearing white back with a slender waist, neat ankles and rubber-soled white shoes. Bill Norton read the heart specialist’s letter once again before slipping it into a drawer.

They’d had a post-operative case last trip, too, but that had been a querulous old man who’d been recovering from a simple appendectomy. This one might be interesting. If Bill hadn’t gone in for tropical medicine he might have specialized in heart cases himself. He’d had a leaning that way until he’d joined the research unit in West Africa. After that, he’d soaked up tropical medicine for three years and decided to make it his life. And in about two months from now he’d be ploughing into the kind of work that absorbed every part of a man ... even the part that still occasionally remembered the attractive young woman who had wanted him to be a fashionable and popular drawing-room medico.

Between finishing with West Africa and starting the job as a plantation doctor in the Fiji Islands, he had had six months to fill in. Too impatient in his mind to sit back and take a vacation, Bill had decided to mention his loose-mindedness to an uncle who was a director of the shipping line, and as a result he was booked for three relief trips on the London-Australia slow liner,
Walhara.
And he had found they were just what he needed to put him back in touch with different aspects of human nature.

A buzzer sounded, and he pressed a switch on the intercom. “Dr. Norton.”

“You’re needed in the tourist, Doctor,” said a hollow voice, “and there’s a call from the crew—a wrenched shoulder.”

“Right.” Bill Norton swung aside the curtain and called, “Sister! Prepare a cubicle with a couch and plinth, will you? And in your off-time you might get to know that girl who’s looking after the Sinhalese. She’s tightened up and needs to relax—though it may be only a fear of seasickness.”

After which, Dr. Bill Norton got into a white jacket, dropped his stethoscope into a wide pocket and strode out into the corridor.

Actually, even though the ship was taking on a swaying motion as it emerged into the open sea, seasickness was a long way from Pat Fenley’s mind, as she made her way back to the stateroom on A deck. She’d forgotten Dr. Norton, too. In fact, she could think of no one but Kristin, with her sloe-black eyes and dark hair, her carefully preserved olive skin, her sleek black suit and mink stole. Kristin, who was thirty-nine and looked not a day over thirty; who had flaunted on her left hand a diamond the size of a hazel-nut and smiled gently at the ox of a man who was escorting her along the dock towards the
Walhara.

Pat had seen them clearly from the stateroom’s window. Her heart had frozen, her jaw become rigid. Kristin here ... saying goodbye to someone? That must be it. But what a coincidence! She couldn’t have known Pat was sailing on the
Walhara,
and even if she’d been aware of it, was hardly likely to come to the dock to wish her
bon voyage.
Kristin and Pat had nothing more to say to each other, nothing at all.

But the sight of that beautifully preserved face and model’s figure had jarred Pat right through to the centre of her being. The one person she never wanted to see again was her stepmother. How long was it since Kristin had first walked out of the house and left her husband and twin sons, not to mention her stepdaughter—about five years? Later, she had returned for a couple of months, and Pat’s father had basked in a spurious contentment, believing his lovely young wife had had her fling and had returned, penitent, to the nest. But next time Kristin left them they knew it was for good, because she had taken with her every portable article of value and all the cash she could lay her hands on. If she could possibly avoid it, Pat never thought back to those grim days following Kristin’s final departure. Her father’s blank misery, the boys’ utter lack of comprehension, the sudden load of responsibility on her own young shoulders.

The twins, only seven at that time, had had to go to a boarding school. Pat lived at home and ran the house between training for a career, and physically her father slid quietly downhill till a sudden pneumonia killed him. Which left only Pat to cope with the boys. There was a little money which Kristin, through the solicitor, had magnanimously decreed should be used for the boys’ education. Against her will, Pat had written to ask Kristin for further help; Tim’s left eye had needed an operation to correct a squint. Kristin’s reply had been typical; the State would pay for the operation and no doubt Pat could get some sort of grant to cover the extras Tim would need.

Well, that bad patch had been passed and left far behind. Tim looked as boyishly ordinary as Keith now and could hardly remember that he once wore glasses. But their education fund was depleted; necessarily, they must remain at boarding school, and Pat had discovered that the money would finance just one more year. After that ... well, it didn’t bear thinking about too deeply. She simply had to plan.

And that was why she had taken on the job of accompanying young Deva Wadia to Ceylon. The salary was excellent, her expenses paid, and Ceylon was more than halfway to Australia, where Uncle Dan lived.

“Miss Fenley!”

Pat started violently, looked at the pleasant face of the assistant purser and realized she was passing the ship’s bureau.

“Yes?” she asked.

“It’s about Miss Wadia,” said the young man through the grille. “We have several cables for her, and there are some bouquets. Would you like the steward to bring them all to the stateroom?”

“Yes, please. I’m going there now.”

“There are special arrangements for her meals. That serving woman of hers has permission to get what she likes from the kitchens.”

“Thank you.”

“You’ll come to the dining-room, of course. Anywhere you’d particularly like to sit? I’m about to put up the table plan—you can have first choice.”

His eagerness got through to her and she smiled faintly. “I’d like to sit somewhere close to the main entrance; otherwise I’m not particular.”

“Do you mind having a couple of the ship’s officers at the same table?”

“Not at all.”

Pat saw that he was pushing the seating plan towards her and pointing out the two or three tables usually occupied by the officers. Beside the plan, on the counter, lay a heap of typed slips, each bearing a name and mounted a flag on a pin. The young officer stirred them with his fingers.

“By the way,” he said, “we have a Mrs. Fenley on board, too. Here she is ... Mrs. K. Fenley.” He held up the tiny flag by its pin. “She was here a few minutes ago and I asked her if you and she were related. I hope you won’t think it was cheek, but you’re so unlike, and yet the name isn’t all that common.”

“Did ... did Mrs. Fenley think it was cheek?”

“No, she was charming. Said she hadn’t a relation in the world.”

“She’s a ... a passenger?”

The assistant purser put his head slightly on one side, as though listening to the rushing sea. “She’d better be,” he said with a grin. “First stop Gibraltar!”

Somehow, Pat got away from him. She lurched down the corridor to her own cabin, thrust open the door and let it close behind her. Leaning back against the solid teak and staring at the small porthole above her head, Pat tried to get a grip on herself. Kristin was here on the
Walhara,
posing as a widow who had no relations. No relations! What of her two boys? And what was she doing on this ship? Could there possibly be a connection between Pat’s presence here, and Kristin’s? There had to be, and yet the idea of it was fantastic.

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