by Vera Leff

Marie, Bob and Mrs. Roberts struggled off the bus, trying to keep the bunch of flowers and the smaIl gifts for Pop as intact as possible. But the press of people, all bearing similar parcels, left them standing outside the hospital gates dishevelled and tired already. Saturday was visiting day at Lane End Hospital, and the hours from three to five in the afternoon were electric with subdued expectancy. Even those who were very ill rallied a little at the thought of seeing a friendly and familiar face by the bedside.

Yes, for the loved one’s sake, it was worth hurrying up the housework, taking’ the tiresome journey on bus and clanking tram through devastated city streets, to what seemed the very noisiest and smokiest part of all the town; it was worth braving the terrifying entrance of the hospital with its vast dark interior, and then enduring the long wait in the cold antiseptic waiting-room (well named indeed!) Yes, it was worth pooling one’s few end-of-the. week shillings to buy the luxury of flowers, expensive fruits, a cake he probably won’t be able to eat, but to know that you are going to him with hands as full as your heart – and never caring that next week three stomachs will be a little less full than even rationing allows for! Of course, to be able to bring a little comfort to the ill person was worth all these trials and tribulations, but. . . and to Marie, at least, amongst all the visitors at the Hospital that Saturday afternoon, came the thought: “Don’t we suffer enough having someone we love ill? Must there be these difficulties as well?” She put her thoughts from her, and jumped as eagerly and gratefully as her Mother and Bob, when at last they were led, trying awkwardly to walk without a sound, to Pop’s bedside at the far end of a ward.

Marie’s first thought was how old her father looked. When you live with a person for years you don’t really look at him, and now suddenly there was the active busy working man she knew, lying without moving against a flat white pillow. His first words were not how he was or what had happened to him, but anxious thought for his family: “Elsie, they won’t let me get back to work for a few weeks yet. You know where my insurance cards are ?”
They tried to soothe him and cheer him.
“Wish I could lie in bed and not have to get up early!” said Bob, and they all laughed.
“That’s better!” Mrs. Roberts touched her husband’s hand. “Now don’t worry about anything. Just get better!”
“What does the Doctor say, Pop?” asked Marie, knowing well that Doctor’s pronouncements are usually like a knock-out blow to the patient, even although it hasn’t been a death-sentence.
“Oh . . . nothing. My thigh was fractured. . . a bit,” he  looked at his wife’s anxious face. “But it’s all right now. They set it!” Her face relaxed.
Still, he ought to tell her the truth. In case. . . . There can be no considerate withholding of hard facts from wives who have to shoulder the financial burden. She might have to manage on his sick-pay for weeks, months.
She’d have to be prepared.
“It’s like this, Elsie!” he said, speaking rather slower than they were used to. They noticed the weakness of his voice, but not that it pained him to breathe. “’You see, there was a bit of a timelag before I got to the hospital. And then a sort of young chap set the fracture. The specialist comes here on Fridays. When he saw me he said it was a bit septic. So it’ll have to be done over. Might take a little time before I get well, see?” He laystill, recovering from his exertion. He found enough energy to say with a smile to them, “Now don’t worry! I’ll be all right. It’s just the time wasted, that’s all!”

Time wasted! Is it time wasted to make a sick man well? thought Marie furiously. But she knew what her father meant. So many weeks off work. So much less for them to live on. Had a man no right to be ill? Certainly it seemed that she had none. Her visit to Doctor Anderson was like a far away dream now. And as she thought that she looked up, and who should be standing right beside Pop’s bed and grinning at her but Donald Anderson!
Marie went red. Her thoughts were in confusion. Was she dreaming again? Or was he deliberately following her? She felt Mum and Pop both looking at her, and Bob about to say something awful, although how could they know anything?

“Good afternoon, Miss Roberts!” said Donald, and to Pop’s. surprise he took a thermometer out of the breast pocket of his. white surgical coat and stuck it in the patient’s mouth. “I work here!” he explained, feeling Pop’s pulse with a professional air” but not really concentrating on it. Donald was amused at Marie’s confusion, and determined not to let her elude him this time. What a piece of luck for him that Mr. Roberts had been taken into Lane End Hospital, where he was doing his final six months’  training’ before qualifying. He chuckled to himself. Better leave the thermometer where it was, where it conveniently prevented Marie’s Pop asking what he was doing in this ward!
“I’ll show you over the Hospital grounds if you like, Mrs. Roberts!” said Donald cunningly.
“Oh we’d love it!” Mrs. Roberts seized on the chance of getting one of these white-coated mysteries by her side for a few minutes. Perhaps he could tell her something more about Pop’s condition, and what might be done to help him? She didn’t even, wonder at the unexpected friendliness.
“You’re Dr. Anderson’s son aren’t you?” said Bob. “You used to play football with the Rankin Street gang, I’ve seen you!’
Donald grinned at him. Bless the lad. Now he was properly introduced to the family! “I’ll meet you at the gate in fifteen minutes!” said Donald, and was out of the ward before Marie could make any excuse.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Donald showed them as much of the Hospital as was permitted, and they listened with feeling to his softly spoken remarks. Respect for his superior doctors and fellow hospital workers did not blunt the edge of his critical judgment, and the years of sheer hard work that wearied so many of the medical men like his father had not yet dampened his enthusiasm and faith in the possibilities of the present. “Now’s the time for change, and we’re the people to get it!” said Donald.
“In a hundred years’ time, maybe,” thought Mrs. Roberts, whose own life had held no change from hard work and little money or scope for the enjoyment of leisure. Only war-time or illness brought any change, and that for the worse! she decided.
Donald let them peep into one or two of the wards; all large, spotless rooms, breathing a sort of unrelieved efficiency, and a spartan absence of any “unnecessary” comfort. He took them along to his own special department. “I’m doing midwifery,” he said.
Marie looked at him, awestruck. So young a man to be entrusted with such serious work, she thought.

“I like it!” Donald smiled. “It sort of cheers me to be bringing nice healthy young folk into the world to balance the spoilt unhealthy bodies we’re always patching up here! Of course the doctors do their best, but so much ill-health is preventable!” They thought of poor Pop’s septic fracture. Preventable indeed!
“You should get yourselves better organised!” said Mrs. Roberts acidly.
Marie laughed delightedly. “Why, Mum! He’s converted you already!”
A sound of thin wailing in varying keys but all unmistakable stopped them short.

“I’d like to show you my latest batch of babies!” said Donald, “’but visitors aren’t allowed. They’re a fine lot though!” He was genuinely proud. Beneath them, outside the long narrow windows, the city roared and clattered.

Across the way, almost level with them, workmen were busy like small ants constructing a fine new skeleton building on the wreckage of the old. “Well, come on! It’s time to go!” said Donald. after a moment’s silence. They followed him , full of new ideas and a new understanding.
Marie found herself promising to go to a local dance with Donald that same evening. “If she can’t take a rest from work, She should have recreation, don’t you agree, Mrs. Roberts?” and he insisted that was that.
Marie’s mother was very pleased with this new friendship, and had none of Marie’s uneasiness about it. Marie did try to explain, going home in the jostling bus, that it was not that she “wasn’t good enough” for him, but that they belonged to different worlds. “Don’t you think so, Mum?” she said despondently. “Our ways are different.”
“He played footer with the Rankin Street Gang!” chimed in Bob, who wasn’t supposed to be listening. “I think he’s a good sort !”
“Besides, he’s asked you, so just go and enjoy yourself.” Mrs. Roberts looked at Marie reflectively. “I think you should wear your two-piece black!” she said, in the way of all mothers.

When they got home they spent an hour looking through Pop’s papers and collecting his insurance card, union card and other forms that were needed for making his claim for compensation and benefit.
“Whatever we get it won’t be easy for us,” said Mum, as the three of them, heads together, leaned over the kitchen table strewn with papers, pen and ink, and an inky rubber belonging to Bob. There was much writing and scratching out, and the kettle boiled away unheeded as they tried to get down the right answers to the innumerable questions.
“It seems as though they’re out to catch you. Just like an exam,” grumbled Bob.
“Just tell the truth and you won’t go wrong!” said Mrs. Roberts, but in her heart she felt uneasy. How she longed for Pop to be beside. her to guide and counsel her as he always had done.

Marie slipped away to her room and got out her black two-piece, then the blue silk – no – it was a bit old-fashioned, she thought. She hesitated between the one and the other, trying each in turn in front of her mirror. How do rich women ever decide what to wear, she thought, with wardrobes packed with clothes? But secretly she longed for just one new dress, something special that had never been worn before this one, particular evening.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Marie had never enjoyed a dance so much, although she had had more professional partners than Donald.

“I don’t know ll the fancy steps !”he said, swinging her round with a firm steady grip.
“Neither do I!” she smiled at him. “But I think we’re doing fine!”
The lights had never seemed brighter, the music gayer. Everyone’s eyes and cheeks were glowing, and Donald thought how pretty she looked with the tiredness gone from her and the warm flush of high spirits lighting her face. He held her closer-and they both wished the music would never end.
“Shall we sit this one out?” he asked, as the band struck up an oldfashioned polka.
“Oh no! I love dancing!” she looked at him with eyes sparkling, and they exuberantly joined in with the hopping, leaping dancers.
It was halfway through when Marie suddenly felt that collapsing breathless sensation that had been bothering her at her work.
She stopped, and tried to cover it up with a laugh. “Out of breath!” she gasped.
“I’m a fool” he thought crossly. “Letting her overdo it like this!”
With tender consideration he took her arm and they sat down on a small settee at the far end of the dance-hall. The music and the excitement swirled round Marie and through her faintness she held on to his warm firm hand. In a minute she had recovered and tried to apologise.
“Sorry for spoiling the fun!” she said ruefully. And then she added, suddenly in a sad and sober mood: “I shouldn’t have come with you at all!”
“I shouldn’t have brought you to this hot noisy place. We could have gone for a nice bus ride!” he said slyly. “What about it now, eh?”
She put from her the memory of their first meeting. Now was the time to speak firmly, and forever, she decided. “Donald, We shouldn’t go out together. And I think I’ll go home now.” She half-rose, but he restrained her.
“Wait, Marie. You must rest for a few minutes anyway!” She wasn’t going to get away with it this time. The air had to be clear between them once and for all. “Are you engaged?” he asked.
She found it hard to meet his eyes. “No, it’s not that.”
“Then why can’t we go out together?” By the sheer power of his character he was compelling her to explain herself to him, when she would much rather have jumped up and run away, from him and from her own feelings.
“I . . . we . . .” Marie groped for words, and could only repeat what she had said to her mother earlier. “We belong to different worlds.”
“What do you mean?” he asked with that quiet persistency. “”Well you’re a doctor’s son – you’ll be a doctor soon. I work in a factory. I don’t mean I’m not as good as you!” she said quickly, and he nodded, thinking that if he kissed her that would be one way of stopping the foolish words, but better to let her have her say!
“Well-” Marie floundered on, feeling very cross with him now, looking at her like that ! “You’ll be going with other – Other sorts of people – and I. . ..” How could she tell him she was afraid of falling in love with him, when he should marry someone able to play the lady and live the usual sort of life that one ex-expected from a doctor’s wife?
“Marie!” he took both her hands and held them firmly. “I know what you’re getting at, but you’re wrong. We belong to the same world. And our ways lie on the same road too! You’ll find out!” impulsively, he jumped up.
“I’m going to take you along to meet some of my friends! Get your coat, girlie! We’re going places!” He grinned mischievously, and feeling happily that there was nothing more she could do against this dynamic young man, Marie went obediently for her coat.
He took her along familiar shabby streets, and she wondered nervously if they would be interrupting some sort of evening party where she would feel completely out of it. Donald didn’t seem to be worrying; he had tucked her arm in his and was striding along whistling happily. He was honest and a straight-dealer, she felt, with growing affection for him, but then most other people weren’t like that.

To her surprise, he stopped at an old, three-storied house not unlike her own home. She was familiar with the type of cracked worn steps and the dark, shabby entrance-hall.
“They might be a bit busy, but we could help too. You wouldn’t mind would you Marie?” He squeezed her hand encouragingly.
“Not if I can help!” said Marie, bewildered and shy.
Before they went up the flight of stairs he kissed her warmly. Light-footed, they ascended the narrow steps. A chorus of welcome greeted them as Donald flung open a door on the first landing. Marie stood blinking in the light and to her sudden joy she recognised the familiar person of old Mrs. Smithson.
“This is Marie,” said Donald, and then he pointed round casually to the people sitting at a big table piled with papers and envelopes. “Linda Farrell, Jock Knight, Alan, Ma Smithson. . . . He went to the table and started to read the leaflet they were folding.
“I know Mrs. Smithson,” said Marie, smiling shyly.
“Who doesn’t, dearie ? You look like one of the bonnie babies I brought into the world, grown up just as pretty, eh?”
Marie blushed. “She always claims credit for the good looking ones!” smiled the man introduced as Jock Knight. “Come and sit down!” he said, and explained to her while his long, well kept hands busily folded leaflets.
“We’re sending these out to advertise our meeting on New Health Services. Next, Saturday at the Town Hall. Hand me those would you?”
Marie hesitated. “Couldn’t I help to do some?” she asked. still shy, although feeling more at home every minute. Donald was discussing something very seriously with the man called Alan, and he seemed to have no doubt that his friends would be Marie’s friends without any of the drawing-room formalities that Marie had feared. Once he glanced over to her and smiled, and it was as though he had clasped her hand in his. Laughing, Marie pointed to her pile of envelopes, which already mounted higher than her neighbour’s.
“Your fingers are slick!” he said admiringly. “Look, Ma, how much Marie’s done!”
“Is that so?” said Mrs. Smithson, and with her rheumaticky fingers she grabbed another lot of leaflets from the centre of the table. Soon there was a friendly game of competition between them, and while they worked they talked, or rather Marie listened while they discussed their plans and their hopes about the Meeting. All the vague and tangled ideas that had started in Marie’s mind since the evening she had gone to Dr. Anderson’s surgery, now began to straighten out and fall into a definite shape. And the picture she saw had a place for her. In fact, now she understood that it wasn’t complete without her, and all the other folks like her and her family. She stopped for a moment and read one of the leaflets. It said “The Government will be wishing you Good Health. Make it come true for all of us, NOW, HERE, in THIS district !” Marie thought reflectively of her own state of halfhealth, and of Pop, laid up for some indefinite time, restless and anxious. They don’t wish it half so much as I do, she thought.
Linda Farrell came in from the kitchen with some cups of tea. “I made you cocoa, with milk!” she said to Marie.  “Would you. prefer it ?”
Marie looked at her gratefully. “How did you know I felt a bit peckish?”
She sipped the warming drink.
“I’m used to keeping an eye on you willowy girls that live on a bun and a biscuit!” Linda lifted a cup of tea and Marie admired her broad and capable appearance.
“She’s a shop steward at Chappen & Company!” said Ma Smithson. “Pity . . . I think she’d have made a good midwife. Plenty of nerve!”
“Thank’s ma!” Linda laughed. “I need all the nerve I’ve got standing up to that manager we’ve got!”
Marie looked at Linda, struggling with an old familiar memory. And then it came to her. “Didn’t you go to Rankin Street School? I was in a form below you but I remember you now! Of course! And when you left and got work they used to say things about you!” Marie was pleased to have tracked down the memory that had bothered her ever since she saw Linda.
“What things?” Linda said mildly.

“Well. . . .” Marie recalled the disapproval of some of the local people that had surrounded Linda, people like Morley the Grocer, “They said you were a Communist!” said Marie.
“So I am,” said Linda quietly.
Marie finished off the cup of cocoa. “Thanks!” she said. “That was good!” Now she remembered that she had always respected Linda at school, but the criticisms of other people had kept her from making friends with the girl.
Donald brought his cup of tea over to the table. “I should have made it clearer to you, Marie!” he said. “I’m a fool!” His friends all agreed very loudly. “Never mind them! They’re jealous!” he grinned, and then proceeded to point at each in turn. “Doctor Knight, member of the Socialist Medical Association –”
“Like you!” said Marie, glad she had one thing right!
“Yes. Alan, from the Local Trades Council; Linda from the Communist Party, local branch; Mrs Smithson, hmm –” he looked at their old friend doubtfully.
“I represent the women and children of this area, and don’t tell me it isn’t legal!” she said tartly. “And if it hadn’t been for me, you’d never get anything done,” she challenged him.
“All right, you old bully!” laughed Donald. “We have other members of course!” he told Marie, “but this is the Propaganda Committee!”
“As you can see by our efficient and expert methods!” said Jock Knight, waving his arm round the room, which was a bewildering array of indefinite pieces of furniture hidden beneath posters, papers, leaflets, envelopes, heavy medical reference books and other literature, asking to be sorted out into some order.
“None of us have much free time. We do what we can,” ‘explained Linda.
“Could I come in and straighten up when I have time? I’d love to!” said Marie, and she meant it, because in this short time these people had become her friends, and she felt it was a valuable friendship in which she was sharing something really worthwhile with them.
Donald was standing beside her. “You’re a sport, Marie!” and they all agreed heartily. She smiled happily at him, without any further misgivings or uncertainties about their love.

Chapter 6

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: