By Vera Leff

Whereas the Granada Cinema was undoubtedly the most glamorous building in the whole district, the dullest and the most forbidding-looking place was certainly the Unionist Club. Small boys who were not afraid to blaze a trail of chalk markings right across the front door of the Town Hall, never even dared to swing on the big iron gate which guarded the entrance to the Club. No sign of life appeared from behind the heavily draped windows, although outside the front drive a few large, shining cars were lined up.

Donald hesitated at the gate.
“Do you think I need come, Dad?”
Dr. Anderson immediately felt a shaft of disappointment. He had been looking forward to spending this evening together with his son And if he had other motives in taking him along to meet -the “big men” of the area, could Donald not please him for once?
“If you want me to come to your meetings” he said, “you should at least give my sort of friends a chance”.
“All right. Dad!” Donald laughed. “But I hope they don’t throw me out!”
They both smiled at the idea.
Inside the Club, they walked soft-footed across deep carpets to the general lounge. Through the tall, rather dusty palms, came the tinkle of feminine laughter.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. This is ladies’ night!”
Donald looked at his father suspiciously. And to think that he could have been with Marie, enjoying any pleasure, the films, or even a walk, just because he was sharing it with her. But she had persuaded him to spend this evening with his father. “And I’ll be writing a long letter to my Pop, so we’ll both be dutiful children!” she had smiled. Donald tried to recall her smile, it was so full of charm, and yet he never could picture it unless she was there before him, in the flesh.
“Dad!” He turned impulsively. “I must go! I forgot –”
“Look! There’s De Vere Price! He’s calling us over!” Dr. Anderson grabbed him firmly by the elbow. “I’ve always wanted you to meet him. He’s a big name in obstetrics. If you ever wanted to specialise –” he  muttered under his breath to Donald while he steered him over to a low table at which sat the eminent doctor and two other people; a fat, elderly lady and a man who was so elegantly dressed that he seemed more a suit of clothes than a person.

“Dr. Price! I’m glad to see you, sir! This is my son, Donald. A medical student, you know!” Dr. Anderson beamed.
“Have a drink with us, won’t you?” They arranged themselves round the table, and were introduced to the other two people.
“Mr. Macintosh, of Sunrise Insurance, and his good lady!”
The good lady beamed. “We don’t often see a young face at the Club!”
She giggled over the rim of her glass at Donald, who began to feel rather uncomfortable. Judging from the other people present in the lounge, including the women, he must be a bit of an oddity, he thought. Most of the men were over forty, and whatever different shapes and sizes they were, they all seemed to have been sleeked over with the same smooth hand of ease and luxury. They smoked cigars blandly; their well-cut clothes and shining shoes did not speak even remotely of war-time or rationing. More of them were fat and paunchy than thin; not one face had. those deeply-etched lines of care that had bitten so sharply into his memory. What were they? Bank managers, business directors, heads of insurance companies, an eminent Harley Street specialist. “Dad and I are really outsiders here!” he decided.

The women were even more conspicuously different from ordinary folk than the men. Even they seemed a little ill-at-ease in this essentially masculine club. They were there on sufferance, once every two months. Their highly-pitched voices seemed an affront to the heavy atmosphere of  the place, the dark curtains, the stags’ heads glaring from the walls, the gloomy though expensive lighting. “They don’t even look smart, in spite of their velvet and brocade bridge-coats, or whatever they are!” thought Donald, and remembered with appreciation Marie’s gay, chic appearance, even in a cheap cotton frock.

“You didn’t come to the last B.M.A. meeting, did you, Anderson ?” Donald looked round, but it was to his father De Vere Price was speaking. He drew slowly on his cigar.
“You must turn up next time. We’ll be discussing the Health Services again.”
Donald pricked up his ears.
“The time you’re wasting on it!” said the Sunrise Insurance man irritably. His stiff shirt seemed to crack. “I thought you were a powerful body!”
De Vere Price sat up more erectly in the comfortable chair. “Indeed we are, Macintosh, as these would-be reformers will find out!”
“Would-be dictators, you mean!” snorted Mr. Macintosh. “Trying to dictate to men like you and me how to run our own affairs.” He puffed angrily at his glowing cigar.
The smoke whirled round Donald’s head; he felt slightly sick. “Don’t you think health is as much the people’s affair as yours?” His voice cut cool and sharp through the stuffy atmosphere. Mr. Macintosh seemed to rise a little out of his protective armour of elegant clothes. A flush rose across his rather scraggy neck and up to his frowning brow. The humblest clerk in the Sunrise Insurance offices could have told Donald that Mr. Macintosh was extremely annoyed, and that somebody was going to be “for it.”
He half leaned across the table at Donald. “You are trying to interfere with the rights of private enterprise –” He banged his fist on the table, and Mrs. Macintosh’s glass jumped a little. She giggled nervously. “But you haven’t succeeded yet. No, sir!”
De Vere Price eased him back into his chair, where he sat glaring at all around him. He felt at a loss because there was no one near at hand whom he could dismiss, or at least threaten with dismissal. That was always such a satisfying way to end an argument.
Donald turned to De Vere Price. “I thought the British Medical Association was in favour of the new health services. In principle, anyway.”
De Vere Price had a bedside manner which was worth anything up to a hundred guineas a case. He found it was useful on other occasions too.
“Of course we’ll back up the Government!” He leaned back and waved his cigar expansively. “We don’t object to improvements being made, naturally!” He caught a sideways glint in Mr. Macintosh’s light grey eyes. He leaned forward and addressed them in a confidential tone. “We just don’t want the rights of the individual doctor being interfered with. That’s fair enough, isn’t it Dr. Anderson?”
Donald’s father had been listening closely to the conversation. He wanted desperately to hear convincing arguments from the lips of such respected members of society as Dr. Price and Mr. Macintosh, which would justify his own desire to cling to the old tradition. But what had he learnt from their remarks, and more clearly, from their tone of voice? A devoted loyalty to the shareholders and directors of the Sunrise Insurance Company; a demand for the rights of the individual doctor. But how could he compare his rights, say, with the rights of De Vere Price? The eminent doctor was looking at him across the table, a half ingratiating smile on his face. The others, too, were waiting for his reply.
“I’m beginning to wonder what is the fair, the just thing.” Dr. Anderson spoke hesitatingly, but sincerely.
“Good for you, Dad!” Donald’s jubilant voice rang across the room. “Thank God you’re not joining the bigwigs and the humbugs!”
De Vere Price stood up with all the dignity and importance he had acquired in Harley Street and the drawing-rooms of his wealthiest clients. But before his open mouth could deliver the first syllable of acid reprimand, he was interrupted by a humble tap on the arm.
“What do you want?” he snapped at the uniformed servant.
“An urgent call on the ‘phone, sir. Mrs. Millerton the name was!” The servant waited apologetically, feeling unreasoningly it must be his fault the telephone had rung at such an inconvenient moment.
“Oh, doctor! Is it a baby?” Mrs. Macintosh twittered.
“Baby my foot! She’s only a few months, and I examined her only this morning, she was all right! What can the woman want?” The temper that had been intended to scorch Donald was being diverted on to other sources of annoyance; nevertheless, Mrs. Millerton’s fee was going to be seventy-five guineas, and if Mrs. Millerton wanted him, he was at her service: By the time he got to the telephone in the discreet alcove, his bedside manner had returned.
“Yes, Mrs. Millerton?” he said sweetly.
“Let’s get out of here, Dad!” said Donald under his breath.

The lounge was full of little groups of people, laughing politely over their glasses, talking in half-suppressed voices as though it was indecent to let one’s lungs expand heartily, or merely sitting and smoking in silence, because no effort on earth could produce an idea to talk about; besides, it seemed, no effort was worth making except to sink down more comfortably into the easy chair.
The lounge doors swung open and a tall, distinguished-looking man entered. He wore. a black jacket and striped trousers and there was the mark of the professional about his deliberate air as he nodded to people and walked across the room to the buffet.
“Ward-Chapman; The very man!” Mr. Macintosh made a dive past Donald; he spared one moment to glare at him and Dr. Anderson. “Dictators!” he muttered, and Donald couldn’t help laughing at the lightening changes of expression that went over his mean-looking face.
“Wait just a little, Donald,” said Dr. Anderson. “At least we must say good-night to De Vere Price!”
They stood against the wall, and watched the pantomime show of Mr. Macintosh dancing attendance on Ward-Chapman. He provided him with a drink and a plate of sandwiches, and introduced his beaming wife as an afterthought, all the time talking animatedly.
“Wonder what they’re up to?” thought Donald idly, and then in a flash he realised that Ward-Chapman was the local Member for Parliament.
De Vere Price came back to the table, anxious to finish off Donald once and for all, as well as to mollify Mr. Macintosh. After all, as a patient Mrs. Macintosh was in the Mrs. Millerton class. He was annoyed to find they had all gone. Really! His eye fell on Donald’s slouching back, but even as he strode over to him, he saw the couple at the buffet.
“My dear Ward-Chapman!” With hands outstretched, he went towards them. “You’d think he was a long lost brother instead of a Tory M.P.” growled Donald. Then another idea came to him. “Don’t you know him, Dad?”
“I only voted for him at the last election!” Dr. Anderson smiled.
“That’s good enough!” Donald dragged his reluctant father over to the group.
De Vere Price looked on the intruders with disfavour. This impudent young man was beginning to get right beneath his bedside manner. However, in the presence of Ward-Chapman. . . . Off-handedly, he introduced them, then turning his back on Donald he tried to continue their conversation in an undertone.
“But my dear doctor, I would most certainly not vote against the interests of the individual, doctor or businessman!” the Member of Parliament spoke quite loudly, unaware that these other members of a noble profession were rebels in the camp.
“But will you vote in the interests of the individual man-in-the-street – the worker?” Donald thrust himself into the centre of the group, and faced the M.P. squarely.
For a moment even the stuffed animals on the wall seemed to come alive with surprise. Some men were raising their voices in the Unionist Club! It was even possible a row might ensue! Everyone went on genteelly talking and laughing, but they all had an ear cocked and an eye turned in the direction of Donald and his little circle. Mrs. Macintosh blushed and fiddled with her hair, but her menfolk were too annoyed to be aware of the small stir they were creating.
“Don’t you think we’ve had enough of you tonight, young man?” said De Vere Price.
“It’s time you were taught a lesson!” Mr. Macintosh was wishing he was as strong as Donald. He had a profound belief in the power of the mailed fist, second only, of course, to the power of the signed cheque.
“Oh come now, gentlemen!” Ward-Chapman was not unused to hecklers, although he preferred to face them from the superior height of a platform.
Besides, he was still assuming that they were all ‘gentlemen,’ in his sense of the word. He turned to Donald. “Naturally, I take the views of my constituents into account when I cast my vote in Parliament. But I understand that a great many men of importance, in the medical world and in the business world, are definitely against the new health scheme. And, sir –” he drew himself up, after all, who was this young man, so badly dressed in flannels and shabby tweed jacket. “I am always prepared to listen to men of worth!”
“We are against it on principle!” said De Vere Price.
Mr. Macintosh nodded his head violently, Ward-Chapman glowed in the warmth of their approval, and the rest of the people in the lounge became more absorbed in their own affairs once more.
“Let’s go, Don,” said Dr. Anderson quietly. He felt the uselessness of talking to these men. Donald shook his arm free, and spoke so loudly that every voice stopped chattering, every head was turned, and no one thought for the moment about what is and is not ‘done’ at such gatherings.
“When one of your patients has a baby you’re there at her beck and call if she needs you or not.” Donald glared straight at the outraged Harley Street specialist. He turned to the others: “Only last week my father and I saw a woman in childbirth die, because she didn’t have your filthy seventy-five guineas, or even five guineas, or five-pence, to buy your services. Is that your principle ?”
Donald expected an answer, a defence or an insult, but he did not expect what happened. De Vere Price gripped one arm and a tall attendant, sprung from nowhere it seemed, gripped the other.
“If there weren’t ladies present” De Vere Price hissed, “I’d have you thrown out!”
Donald wrenched his arms free.
“Don’t worry! I’ve no wish to stay here! Come on, Dad!”
Outside the Unionist Club the air seemed cleaner and sweeter than they had ever known it.
Suddenly Donald burst into laughter. “I told you they’d throw me out!”
He looked quizzically at his father. “But I didn’t think they’d throw you out too!”
“I wasn’t thrown, I went!” Dr. Anderson took his arm. “Come on, son. Let’s be on our way!”
Donald left his father when they were nearly home. “I’ve got to see a friend!” he explained.
“Isn’t it rather late for visiting?” said Dr. Anderson mildly.
“This friend won’t mind!” Donald grinned, and was off down the dark road.

The lights were glowing behind the curtains, and a burst of gaiety welcomed him in as Marie opened the door. In the passage, he kissed her and wouldn’t let her go. It was so good to be with someone honest and straightforward, after these men he’d met at the Club.
“Let me look at you, sweetheart!” He tilted her chin.
“Oh! don’t be silly!” Marie evaded his eyes shyly and ran into the kitchen-parlour.
“Here’s a friend to join the party!” she called gaily. Donald blinked in the noise and chatter of the room. Bob was making a grand row on a battered mouth-organ, trying to accompany the hot jazz that was pouring out of the wireless. Mrs. Roberts was handing round cups of tea to what seemed a roomful of people, judging from the talking and laughter, but really there was only two of Mr. Roberts’ workmates present, and a woman neighbour, in addition to the family.
“So that’s why you sent me off to the Club! What’s the idea?” Donald grabbed Marie’s hand, pretending to be angry.
“Dad’s coming home tomorrow!”yelled Bob, after ending the tune on a jarringly wrong note. “I have to take the day off from school, don’t I mum! You know Dad’ll want to see us all!” he pleaded, but he couldn’t help grinning mischievously.
“We told Dad’s friends, and Mrs. Murdoch, our neighbour, heard, and now we’re celebrating!” said Marie happily.
Donald was moved by the deep sense of relief and joy that filled the little room at the thought of the father’s homecoming. He too, celebrated with a cup of tea and a big slice of Mrs. Robert’s delicious fruit-cake. Then he told them about his experience of the evening, and they all listened with great interest. Such people and such events as Donald described were very far removed from the usual happenings of their lives, but Donald made them see that this question of a health service was something that  really mattered to them.

“What are you going to do now?” said Marie, her pretty face very serious.
“They’ll always have it their own way!” said one of the men, gloomily.
“That depends on what you do!” said Donald sharply.
“Us ?” Some looked incredulous; some sarcastic; but soon they were all taking up Donald’s suggestion very eagerly.
“We’ve got to persuade Ward-Chapman to be on the platform at our big meeting!” said Donald. “I couldn’t persuade him myself, but –” He looked at the others. . . “A deputation of all the people on our Committee, and delegates from, say your factory, and your place of work. . .”
“What about me representing the schools!” interrupted Bob excitedly.
“Get your schoolmates to elect you!” smiled Donald.
“And don’t you think the women would like to be better looked after in their health?” protested the woman neighbour. “What about us?” She frowned. “I could tell this here M.P. a thing or two if he’d only listen.”
Donald nodded. “The women could do a great deal if they’d only get together!”
“It’s the woman what suffers!” she agreed. “I could speak to the girls at work!” said Marie, her eyes shining. She felt so proud to be able to pull her weight alongside Donald. And she had been so afraid once that they weren’t of the same class. Now, confident of, his love and respect, she could laugh at her doubts.

Saying good-night to Donald at the door, she told him more about her father. “Ma doesn’t know yet!” she said sadly, “but he’ll never be able to do his old job. The trouble with setting the fracture has made it heal up  badly. Still –” she smiled at him, because she and her people were used to accepting ill-fortune and making the best of it. “So long as he’s home with us again, we’re happy!”
“You deserve happiness, Marie!” he kissed her tenderly.
At the gate he turned to her. “And now for that deputation!” he called. “We’ll show’ em ! We’ll show the whole damned lot of ’em!” He strode off vigorously.

Chapter 7

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: