by Vera Leff

The Benevolent Concert was being held at the local Town Hall. It was a spacious, modern, well-equipped building and often gave Dr. Anderson a twinge of envy when he passed it on his way to the out-patients’ department of the old hospital, to which he gave a few hours of his time each week, “just to keep up-to-date.”

The Organising Committee of the Concert were busily running from the artistes’ room off-stage to the canteen, and thence to the entrance hall where one or two early arrivals stood hesitating before the many large doors that lined the corridor. The Committee always enjoyed this occasion, for not only could they indulge their passion for “organising,” but also had the comfortable feeling that they were discharging their duty towards the “sick poor” of the locality; they meant well, these kindly ladies and gentlemen, but they took it for granted that each year the hospital would naturally be in financial difficulties, and that they had done all that could be done by raising a few hundred pounds to make the balance of debt a little less overpowering. Without their efforts, the hospital at times was in danger of closing down, so you see things were better than they might have been, and all was for the best in this best of all possible worlds!

Marie stood shyly in the Hall, but retired behind a pillar when she saw one of the Committee ladies bearing down on her. She wasn’t quite sure if she really wanted to go to the concert. She had only come here with the Doctor’s ticket because she was putting off the hour when she must go home and tell Mum that she was going to be off work for a whole month. She stood behind the pillar and rather enjoyed watching the people arriving in twos and threes and then more and more, chattering and laughing on their way into the concert-room. Some of the people she recognised; there was Morley, the grocer at the end of her street, and the Dudleys, mother, father and the three children. She heard Doris Dudley say; “Don’t suppose they’ll have a crooner, or a decent swing band” and Mr. Dudley muttering something about “old stick-in-the-muds, them Councillors.” Marie still hesitated about going in, although evidently the concert had started. A rather tinny band struck up an old fashioned march, the heavy doors clanged, and lights were lowered. A few late-comers were still arriving, and through the opened door Marie caught a glimpse of a lanky figure in trailing green velvet, dwarfed by the magnificent stage draperies at the end of the concert hall. The fat, bustling wife of the Mayor, Mrs. Evering, came on to the side of the stage.
“Miss Margaret Pickton will now sing – er – ‘Roses of Picardy’,” she announced, and bowed herself off to very slight applause.
The doors were shut on the thin voice just as Miss Pickton stood on tiptoe to reach the high note; and decided now, Marie turned to go.
“Quite right, too!” said a voice found herself face to face with the her attention earlier in the evening.
“I got a complimentary ticket!” he grinned.
“So did I!”
They both laughed, and somehow, all the disappointment of the concert vanished.
“Well, I’ll be going now,” said Marie shyly, and started to go towards the exit. She came out into the cool evening air, and there he was still beside her.
“I say!” he said, looking steadily at her. “I know this sounds phoney, but haven’t I seen you before?”
“In your father’s surgery, about an hour ago!”
“Of course! Those grey eyes!!”
Marie had a few boy-friends that she knew from living in the district, and she did not go in for picking up casual acquaintances, but somehow, when he suggested a bus-ride to make.up for their spoiled evening, his frank manner made her first refusal seem silly.
“Some fresh air will do us both good!” he urged.
“I gave up a meeting tonight because Dad told me to relax, and it would be nice if you would keep me company! Besides,” he added roguishly, “we would have been sitting beside each other at the concert!”
If I don’t go home for another hour, thought Marie, Mum’ll be in bed, and I won’t have to tell her about myself till the morning. It’ll be better then. “All right, I’ll come!” she said, and almost gaily they set off for the bus-stop.
He took an all-the-way ticket. “We can always get off when it gets past the Park and nearer the slummy part!” he explained.
They sat in the back seat, and Marie took off her felt beret.letting the cool air blow gently through her hair and on her uplifted face.
“After all those hours of heat and noise in the factory, it’s lovely to feel free!” she said.
“What do you do?” he asked, and with the lights of the city and the sky twinkling around and above them through the growing darkness, she told him of her work, and her increasing tiredness and fatigue after these war-driven years. “I don’t mind my work!” she said. “But somehow, it’s been too much for me lately. Dr. Anderson said I need a month’s rest!
“And a better Doctor you couldn’t find!” he said. “Except myself, when I qualify!”
She looked at him with awe. “It must be wonderful to be a Doctor!”
“I’m beginning to think it’s a heartbreaking job!” he said, ruefully.
She shivered a little, and gently he put his arm round her. “Keep you warm!” he said, and she accepted his protective arm without shyness. The bus was passing underneath the overhanging branches of the great old trees which lined the Park. On the other side of the street stood the massive luxury flats, high buildings with a stern beauty and a guarantee of spacious living for those who could afford it.
“But I’m not going to be the sort of Doctor my father is,” said Donald decidedly.
“You said he was the best!” Marie teased.
“Ah– but he doesn’t see things the way I do. Overcrowded panels, oldfashioned hospitals, everything badly organised or not organised at all. And all the time fighting against slums and poverty without getting to the root of the matter! But I’m boring you, eh?” His arm tightened round her shoulders and he looked deep into her wide grey eyes.
Marie could feel her heart beating. She loved the warmth and strength that seemed to radiate from him, and she wanted him to go on talking, to become as close and well-known to her as a lifelong, dear acquaintance.
“You’re not boring me at all!” she said so intensely that he felt inspired to go on to tell her of his belief in the noble profession he had chosen.
Yes, it could be noble, he told her, in spite of the Harley Street ramp where the rich could buy the services of specialists that ordinary folk might hope to obtain only after much waiting and endeavour and sometimes too late; in spite of the muddle of the hospitals, glorified by the name of tradition; in spite of the lack of attention to the private troubles of the ordinary people, all of which Donald knew was part and parcel of their health.
“Like me and my troubles!” said Marie, feelingly.
He smiled at her in the passing gleam of a lamp. “You’ll be all right!” he said, and somehow she suddenly felt she would be.
“But how would you like your work as a Doctor to be?” asked Marie, snuggling down to the pleasant occupation of wishful thinking. But with Donald his vision of a new medical service was not only a dream. “We can make it come true!” he told Marie.
“I’d read about it in the papers!” she said vaguely. “But until tonight, it didn’t seem to be real!” His warm hand on hers was real enough, anyway, and any hopes that were his must be real too, she felt.
The bus-conductor ran upstairs for the thousandth time that day. The top deck was empty except for the two young people sitting closely together, fair head and dark head almost touching, there in the cosy back seat. He went downstairs again, whistling softly, and if anyone had told him what a serious conversation they had been having, he just wouldn’t have believed it. They changed buses and went homewards.

. . . . . . . .

“Will you meet me tomorrow evening, Marie?”
In the romantic dark everything seemed possible, even a growing friendship with Doctor Anderson’s son.
“All right!” said Marie.
He looked at her quizzically.
“Pictures?”
There’s a good film on at The Granada!”
“The Granada. Seven-thirty, eh?” .
She nodded, and then he struck his forehead dramatically. “I forgot. I’ve got a meeting! You mustn’t lead me astray you know!”
“A meeting?” she said, wondering! Salvation Army? Race? Billiards? What could it be?
“Yes – you see – I’m a member of the S.M.A. That is, the Socialist Medical Association. I shouldn’t cut my meetings. I say, you’re not shocked are you?”
“Oh no!” she said, a little bewildered. “Dad’s always voted Labour. But still –” she couldn’t explain her feeling of doubtfulness about their continued acquaintance. He sensed her indecision, and felt urgently he must not lose touch with her now.
“Make it The Granada, tomorrow. I’ll make up for my meeting” another time. Good-night. Sleep well, Marie!” and he was off down the street. She listened till she could no longer hear his sturdy resolute step, then feeling most strangely happy, she opened the door and went into the kitchen, where unexpectedly a light was still burning.
The first thing she saw was her mother’s tear-swollen eyes. Then young Rob, not in bed but in his pyjamas, sitting in a kitchen armchair.
“Oh Marie!” her mother greeted her with a sigh of relief. She gripped her daughter’s hands. “Pop’s had an accident!”
Marie felt the ground slipping. “Is it bad?” she managed to ask.
“He’s in there!” Her mother nodded towards the bedroom. “Doctor Anderson gave him some stuff to make him sleep. He tried to get him into a hospital but they haven’t a bed. He said he’ll fix him by tomorrow. He thinks he needs an X-ray! Oh, Marie !”
Marie was so relieved that her father was at least alive, that she felt quite brave. She made her mother sit down while she got her a cup of tea. “How did it happen?” she asked. “He was doing that job over at Mumfords, and while he was up on the roof he must have got dizzy and fell. They picked him up unconscious!”
“Poor Pop!” said Marie. “Poor Pop”. He would be off work now, perhaps need a lot of extras, medicines and other things to get him well again…. And then she thought, “Poor Mum!”
“You had better get some sleep now Marie!” said her mother. “You know you have to get up early.”
“Yes, Mum!” said Marie, bidding farewell to her month’s rest. “Don’t worry. We’ll pull through. Come on Bob – time you were sleeping too!”
Their hearts stopped as a groan came from the next room.
“If only they’d had a bed!” said Marie’s mother, and through her unhappiness Marie remembered Donald, and his enthusiasm and his dream.

Chapter 3

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 595 other subscribers.

Follow us on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: