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Nurse Abroad

By:Essie Summers


Sarah Isbister stood at the rail gazing at New Zealand, or, as she believed the Maoris called it, Aotearoa ... The Land of the Long White Cloud. Sarah hoped that now, for her, the clouds would lift.

It was a wonder Rory and Pauline were not up on deck with her, but they’d been so excited at the thought of landfall near last night that they had been unable to sleep for hours.

She was glad of this brief period of solitude, a breathing-space in which to brace herself for whatever the day might bring.

In spite of the courage she had buckled about herself in London so many weeks ago, when she had reluctantly agreed to accept this legacy for the children’s sakes, Sarah shivered now in the cool dawn wind, acknowledging to herself that she was afraid.

Last November who would have dreamt of this? Then, she had been looking forward to leaving the hospital wards for the Christmas break, and counting herself lucky to have qualified for long leave, because short leave was no use when you had to go right to the Orkneys.

Sarah’s stepfather had had a parish there long before he had married her mother. Sarah’s eyes misted over, remembering Roderick Rendall and all he had meant to the young Sarah who could not even remember her own father.

Rory and Pauline, her half-brother and sister, had known little of any other way of life—till now. How would they fit in, in this new land? Pauline, with her passion for crusading against injustice and cruelty for helping lams dogs over stiles, for lost causes; Rory with his quiet devotion to the land, his way of bottling things up but Sarah told herself fiercely, it was better—anything was better—than having them sent to an orphanage!

If Father hadn’t been a minister ... if they had had a home of their own, however small Sarah could have found work other than nursing, to tide them over the years till the children could support themselves; but with no money to buy a place outright, or a salary big enough to pay rent, and to keep and clothe the three of them, she had known it couldn’t be done.

Besides, Duncan Alexander had wanted it like this; it was the only thing that had eased his last moments—the knowledge that Sarah had decided after much doubt, to accept his share of the Challowsford Estate in North Canterbury, New Zealand.

Poor Duncan ... his remorse at being the cause of the accident that had killed her mother and stepfather had been deep and cruel. In vain Sarah had striven to reassure him ... to tell him that these things happened, that he must not whip himself with such poignant regret.

He’d said, knowing there was no hope of recovery for him, “It’s the one thing that will make me go out with an easy mind, Sarah, the knowledge that you and Rory and Pauline will not suffer financially.”

Finally, she had agreed, to ease his agony of mind, and for Rory’s sake and Pauline’s. Duncan had worked against time, holding death at bay, got solicitors to his bedside, showed incredible endurance, refusing all drugs that might cloud his mind, till the papers were signed. Then he said.

“Tomorrow, when I’ve got over this effort, I’ll write to Grant, my nephew and partner ... We’ve been great pals, he’ll understand.”

Sarah had doubted the understanding. The nephew probably expected to come into the whole property on his uncle’s death, even though, normally. Duncan could have lived for many years yet. She had also doubted that Duncan would see another morrow.

He didn’t. But he had died happily, free from pain at last, his hand in Sarah’s, his mind at rest.

“Glad I got that all tidied up, Sarah. I never did like to see any ends sticking out ... always liked to finish things ... and I feel that you and Grant...” But she never heard the end of that sentence. Duncan Alexander had got his accounts squared and crossed the bar.

So here she was ... this passage had come up unexpectedly early. The shipping office had said there might not be another till the end of February, and the solicitor added his persuasions.

“Better to get away now. The school year in New Zealand starts at the beginning of February. You can get the children settled in, and they’ll have the lovely long summer holidays in which to adapt themselves to a new country, and to get over the shock they have had.”

It had been for the best, Sarah knew. The children hadn’t been well, cooped up in a London flat she had procured at short notice, and which had been the best she could do for them. There had been such long hours alone for them, when Sarah had been on duty, though Matron had seen to it that she did day duty only.

Yet she’d rather have had time for a longer correspondence with Grant Alexander. As it was she had written a stiff little note air-mail, saying they were coming, and evidently there had not been, time for a reply.

Oh, well, she’d spend a night at Wellington, then see about getting to this place in the Cheviot countryside. The captain, who’d been like a father to her, had told her there were two ways of getting there. She could take the all-night ferry steamer to Lyttelton in the South Island, and go north to Cheviot by bus, or fly across Cook Strait to Blenheim, and go south by rail-car or bus.

Sarah knew that in spending a night in Wellington (ostensibly to show the children something of the capital) she was in reality trying to postpone the evil day when she must meet Duncan Alexander’s nephew.

Wellington sprawled on its hills, much, as any port might, except that Sarah could see that on the fringes of the commercial area the houses were spaced well apart, and each was set in its own. garden. The dawn was flinging streamers of coral and flame above the distant ranges, and for the first time Sarah knew a stirring of the pulses at the thought of new horizons. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such an ordeal meeting this partner of Duncan’s ... perhaps he would have an understanding of the dilemma she had been in ... yet at the thought Sarah’s heart thudded painfully against her side, and there was a queasy feeling at the pit of her stomach.

. It was a new world, and, from first impressions, a lovely world ... if only one still had one’s independence. If only one did not have to face a stranger who might regard one as an usurper.

She turned; a steward was at her elbow.

“A radio-telegram for you, just received.” He smiled, and added, “You could have had a longer beauty sleep, Miss Isbister. We may be in the Heads, but we’ve got to lie off in the stream a bit. Won’t be disembarking before midday probably.”

Sarah smiled back. She was going to miss the companionship of shipboard life. This had been a carefree oasis between the grief of the last few weeks in England, and the dread of the unknown ahead of her.

Sarah ripped open the envelope. It was brief and to the point: “Meeting you at wharf.—Grant Alexander.”

So ... she wasn’t to have even one night’s respite. Oh, well, best to get it over. She shook herself mentally ... don’t cross your bridges prematurely, Sarah. Isbister. Grant Alexander may be of the same calibre as his uncle ... fine, kindly, with a great sense of justice.

Grant Alexander, had she but known, was still at his hotel.

The news that the ship would not berth till nearly midday hadn’t pleased him ... though in any case, as they’d not get a plane till afternoon, it was perhaps better than having to fill in time in Wellington with a girl like Miss Sarah Isbister! He took a crumpled air-mail letter from his pocket and read it over once again.

Dear Mr. Alexander, (it began) I’ve hesitated many times over the writing of this, would have liked to shirk it, but feel, as I am responsible for Sarah Isbister’s meeting your uncle in the first place, that it is my duty to write, however unpleasant I find it.

You may not be conversant with the situation, so, briefly, it is this: Miss Isbister is an acquaintance of mine, and was for a time a neighbor; she ceased to live in hospital and took a good-sized flat in this block after your uncle’s death. Your uncle was brought to my flat by some friends, and in the course of the evening mentioned that while he was here in the Old Country, he would like to make a visit to Orkney. He didn’t want to stay at hotels, because he was interested in farming and would rather meet country folk.

I immediately thought of Miss Isbister’s people—her stepfather had a parish in the Orkneys, and I introduced him to her. I ought to say that she is not at all the type you would expect of a minister’s stepdaughter. Blonde, admittedly beautiful, and the type man fall for.

However, I knew her people would make your uncle very welcome, manse folk are used to offering hospitality, but had not realized it would bring him into contact with Sarah so much—and she never misses an opportunity, believe me.

It was evident quite soon what she was after. I think, had he not met with that tragic accident, your uncle would have returned with a bride.

As you know, your uncle was bringing Mr. and Mrs. Rendall to London with him, on a surprise visit to their daughter, when the car overturned, killing them, and gravely injured himself.

It was most unfortunate, for him—and, indirectly, for you—that he was sent to the very hospital where Sarah was nursing. She turned every moment to her advantage. To insist that it was his fault that she and her half-sister and brother were orphaned was quite unforgivable. It did not ease your uncle’s mind in his dying moments. I think, had there been more time, there might even have been a last-minute bedside marriage.