Authors: Elizabeth Houghton
The ways of the tiny island hospital seemed strange to Sheila after her strict training. Much more disturbing was the ill-tempered Dr. Alan Greenwood!
Griffiths leaned over the railing as the small coastal steamer,
Queen of the Isles,
edged its way cautiously through the reefs to the landing stage at Mary Harbor on the Pacific Coast of Canada. A small quiver of excitement began to tingle from the top of her fair head to the tips of her toes. There was a sparkle in her gray eyes as she told herself this was the biggest moment of her life. She drew a deep breath and tried to count the breathless events that stretched between the big city hospital in England and the tiny cottage hospital tucked away among the coastal mountains of British Columbia. From being one staff nurse, among the many, to junior sister in her new post was a change separated by thousands of miles of stormy seas, endless forests wild and unplanted by man, far-reaching prairies alive and green with growing wheat, and mountains that towered unbelievably to the skies.
Sheila shook her head to shake away the cobwebs and clutched at the reality of the scene before her. Her eyes searched the wooded shore for her first glimpse of the Harbor Hospital. The white buildings, sprawled at the foot of Gordon’s Hill, gave her a slight feeling of disappointment. She had expected something more modern and streamlined. She heard footsteps behind her and turned to see the First Officer standing there.
He grinned as he saw the look on her face. “Not big enough? Give us time. Once the new road goes through and we’re linked with Vancouver you’ll find that everything grows like wildfire, and the Harbor won’t be far behind.”
Sheila stared at him. “You mean you can’t get to Vancouver by road! But there are cars parked by the landing platform!”
He laughed. “Of course people have cars, but the roads are only local.”
Somebody brushed past them carrying two heavy cases. He was six feet tall and broad-shouldered. Sheila caught a glimpse of serious brown eyes before the redness of his hair struck her like a blow. It wasn’t just red; it glowed like a flaming torch, and the crisp curls obviously defied any attempt to subdue them. Intent on picking his way over the coiled rope hawsers that lay ready for the landing, he walked straight into a neat pile of cases stacked beside the gangplank. The air sizzled before he subsided into a muttered query as to who was fool enough to put things in a man’s way.
“I’m awfully sorry.” Sheila stifled her rising laughter long enough to murmur the words.
She was aware of a brief look that almost scorched her with its intensity before he put aside her quiet apology, dropped his cases on top of the now untidy pile and stalked to the bow. “Who is he?” Sheila whispered.
The First Officer chuckled softly. “That’s Alan Greenwood, your new chief. As you’ve probably noticed, his temper matches his hair.”
Sheila stared at him. This was no triumphant beginning to a new life. “But Greenwood wasn’t the name Matron mentioned in her letter.”
The First Officer nodded. “I know, but this chap is taking his place until further notice. I have an idea that Doctor Graham was taken ill suddenly.” He hesitated. “I don’t know whether Matron has told you about the rest of the staff, but watch your step with a small piece of mischief known as Clare Boothby. She and Matron are bosom pals, but what’s more important, rumor has it that Clare and Alan were that way about one another. Could be that she was chasing him, but you never know. Seems they worked together in Vancouver.”
Sheila glanced toward the bows at the tall figure standing there alone. “You mean he’s just starting the job too?”
The First Officer patted her on the shoulder. “Cheer up. You’ll both be new brooms together.”
The steamer hooted twice, making Sheila jump.
The First Officer moved away. “See you later after we’ve unloaded. I’ll see to your baggage.”
Sheila scarcely heard him. She was too busy watching the scene on the approaching shore. There hardly seemed to be an inch to spare on the landing stage; apart from a small pile of mailbags, it was thick with people, all more colorful than Sheila had expected. There were big brawny loggers wearing lumber jackets of brightly clashing
ues. Even the fishermen seemed different from the ones she remembered at home. Instead of the heavy navy jerseys they wore sweaters knitted from natural unwashed wool with Indian designs in brown and black that stood up boldly against the creamy background; only their Wellingtons and sou’westers were familiar. The women wore either slacks and bright blouses or cotton dresses, while the children who raced around the edge of the landing platform balancing precariously over the water wore miniature versions of their parents’ garb or jeans and T-shirts. Small boats powered with noisy outboard motors escorted the
Queen of the Isles
to her berth.
A cool voice sounded in her ears. “You must be Miss Griffiths. Welcome to Mary Harbor.”
Sheila looked up quickly to meet the steady gaze of a plump white-haired woman. Some air of authority flicking through the greeting warned Sheila that this must be Miss Painter, her new matron.
“Thank you, Matron,” she said quietly. She gestured toward the crowd. “I understood from your letter that Mary Harbor was a very quiet place.”
Joyce Painter smiled at the tall fair-haired girl. “This only happens on boat day. Otherwise, apart from the occasional boat putting in for gas or provisions at the store, the place is deserted.”
The Matron’s blue eyes roved over the group of passengers with a puzzled expression. When she spoke, it was half to
erself. “I don’t see any sign of Doctor Graham.”
Sheila hesitated. “The First Officer did say he understood Doctor Graham was ill, and he pointed out someone called Greenwood, someone with very red hair.”
The Matron stared at her. All the friendliness had gone out of her face, the gentle curve of her mouth had disappeared into a thin straight line, and even the blue of her eyes had faded into sternness. “Alan Greenwood? Are you sure, girl?”
She spoke roughly, and Sheila knew disturbingly that the woman was furious. Sheila nodded, but before she could say anything more, a voice sounded behind them.
“Miss Painter? I’m Alan Greenwood, the new surgeon appointed to Harbor Hospital.”
Sheila felt sorry for him, although she still felt a burning resentment at his recent rudeness to her.
The matron looked him up and down, and Sheila could feel his six feet shrinking down to size. “New surgeon? It’s news to me. I’m expecting Doctor Graham.”
Alan Greenwood tried to be patient. “Doctor Graham is ill, and the hospital board have appointed me in his place. No doubt the letter has been delayed, and may be in one of the mailbags coming ashore.”
Joyce Painter showed no signs of relenting. “Indeed! I suppose, since the board has seen fit to appoint you, we will have to put up with it.”
Alan’s face visibly paled as he strove to control his rising temper. Even his hair seemed to pale. “I’m very sorry that I’m a disappointment to you, Matron, but I assure you that I will do my level best for Harbor Hospital.”
The Matron shrugged her shoulders. Her anger seemed to leave her as abruptly and inexplicably as it had come. She pointed out the places of interest as the hospital launch made its way to the head of the bay where the hospital had its own landing platform. A small truck drew up, and a short, wiry man leaned against it.
Matron was crisp and to the point. “Jim, take the doctor’s and Miss Griffiths’ luggage over to the hospital and then come back for the stores. Paddy hasn’t turned up? Drunk again, no doubt!”
Jim scratched his head and moved leisurely toward the pile of cases. “Yes’m. I guess you’re right. Paddy never was what you’d call reliable.”
The Matron ignored him and led the two newcomers along a wooded path through an unexpected rock garden nestling at one corner of the hospital. She ushered them into a small lounge; one wall was all glass and revealed a breathtaking view of the sea and mountains beyond.
Alan and Sheila moved with one accord toward the window and looked spellbound at the scene.
The Matron watched them with a peculiar smile of satisfaction on her face, and once again there was a gentle curve to her mouth. “I’m glad you like our view. We were lucky to have an architect with a sense of beauty as well as one of utility. Perhaps you would like tea before I show you your quarters.”
Sheila and Alan were left looking at one another quizzically. “She can blow hot and cold, can’t she? Whew! She had me guessing for a bit. English, aren’t you?”
Before Sheila could answer, there was the sound of running feet, the rustle of a starched uniform and a small, vivacious figure rushed up to Alan and started pummelling him with impatient fists. Sheila caught a glimpse of green eyes shadowed by up
curving eyebrows below a mop of black curls.
“Alan! How dare you turn up like this without even writing! Joyce tells me you’re our new surgeon. I suppose this is your way of getting in by foul means when you can’t get what you want by fair.”
Sheila was puzzled by the deep distress in those brown eyes that looked miserably across at her. “Clare, you know I had to see you again to explain ... a letter isn’t any good.” With a gentleness that seemed foreign to his big frame he trapped those small angry hands in his large ones, and turned her around to face Sheila. “Clare, I don’t think you’ve met Miss Griffiths, the latest addition to your nursing staff.”
Sheila was relieved to see some of the coldness go out of the girl’s green eyes. “Sorry, Miss Griffiths, this is a fine way to meet you. I’m Clare Boothby, Sister-in-Charge, for what it’s worth. You must find this all a bit rough and ready after England.”
Matron came in with the tea tray, and the little group appeared to be a friendly one, but Sheila was still conscious of crosscurrents of underlying tension. She remembered the First Officer’s warning about Clare and decided that perhaps he didn’t like green eyes.
Clare seemed amiable enough as she showed Sheila to her room. “Like it? Mine’s the corner one at the end of the corridor, but the view is the same.”
Sheila stood in the doorway, and her eyes traveled around the compact cosiness of her new quarters. An easy chair sat in front of the window, which stretched from floor to ceiling, catching in its frame the glorious blue of the sea.
Clare smiled understandingly. “Takes a bit of getting used to, doesn’t it? Looks all right in the sunshine, but wait until the winter winds begin to blow, and you’d exchange it for something more cosy and less majestic.”
Sheila shook her head. “I doubt it very much. You see, I live in the Midlands; getting to the sea is quite a journey for us, and believe me, it’s nothing like this.” She crossed to the window and stood, a tall slim figure, the sun catching the gold of her hair and setting it ablaze.
Clare’s green eyes studied her appraisingly. “What made someone like you come all this way for a job?” The undernote in her voice was not a compliment.
Sheila felt a little foolish as she tried to translate her ambitions. “I wanted to see the world, and I wanted a job that was different,” she said lamely.
Clare snorted. “It will be different all right.” She hesitated. “If you leave your packing for a bit, I’ll show you around. I mean if you’re not too tired and would like to.”
The invitation hung in the air between them. Sheila wondered if it were an olive branch and decided that it would be safer to accept it. “Thank you, I would love it if you’re not too busy.” She tore her eyes reluctantly away from the view and found a heavy pair of shoes and a warm cardigan.
To her surprise Clare didn’t bother to change out of her crisply starched one-piece uniform, but only paused long enough to pick up her coat. “Come on, we’ll take the boat.”
Sheila followed her down to the landing platform and watched Clare walk past the hospital launch to a small open boat with an inboard motor.
“Careful how you get aboard. The
a bit cranky.” She chuckled as she saw Sheila’s face. “Never mind, you’ll get used to it.”
Sheila settled herself gingerly and saw with admiration how quick Clare was at casting off the boat and starting the engine. “Why the
?” she raised her voice above the noise.
“Because she’s so small,” was Clare’s brief reply. She was busy weaving the boat in and out among the reefs, which showed in the wake of the ebbing tide. She headed the boat toward the outer harbor where the fringe of islands gave some shelter against the winds.