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Authors: Elizabeth Houghton

Love for the Matron

BOOK: Love for the Matron
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LOVE FOR THE MATRON

Elizabeth Houghton

 

 

Elizabeth Graham had a difficult task in succeeding a paragon of a predecessor as Matron of St. Genevieve

s Hospital. She hoped her new-found love for the surgeon William Gregory would help her to surmount her difficulties—but found that the resentment of his two teenage children only added to them.

 

CHAPTER ONE

As the door c
losed behind the secretary who had shown her into her into her new office Elizabeth Graham crossed to the window and looked out.
St. Genevieve

s Hospital was old enough to belong to a more gracious age, and wide spacious lawns sloped down to the river that flowed through the town and trees spread their whispering branches in the shadow of castle walls that had once been a town

s protection against invaders. Daffodils thrust up their green spears where once enemy arrows might have fallen, and aconites spread their golden blossoms as lavishly as any king. There was the distant sound of traffic as vehicles made their slow and difficult progress through the winding maze of streets, the clear high voices of children playing down by the river, and the occasional echo of footsteps going past in the corridor outside her office.

Elizabeth left the window reluctantly and went over to her desk to sit down for the first time in the matron

s chair. How odd it seemed to be sitting facing the door instead of facing the desk; and the blotter on the writing pad was as new as herself. The secretary had placed a pile of letters for her attention. She picked them up and ruffled through them. Some were addressed to The Matron, St. Genevieve

s Hospital
...
others to Miss M. Brown, Matron: that would be her predecessor, who had finally retired after a long period of ill-health. Elizabeth wondered whether they were personal letters for the much older woman she had replaced or if they merely referred to hospital matters. It was apparent that the secretary expected Elizabeth to open all the mail and decide which required her personal attention.

Elizabeth sighed and began to slit the envelopes. How far removed from the actual hospital such a task seemed. When she had been persuaded to put her name forward to take the Senior Administrative Course at the Royal College of Nursing she had pictured a gradual climb up the ladder of responsibility. It had come as a complete surprise when she had completed her course to receive a letter from the Matron of her own training school:


...
my old friend Miriam Brown has had to retire and I know they are anxious to have a younger matron to take her place. St. Genevieve

s is due to change over from a
general
training school to one training assistant nurses as well as being extensively modernized. I would be only too pleased to act as one of your referees
...

Because she hadn

t anything else particularly in mind, and having her own personal reasons for leaving London Elizabeth had applied, and to her astonishment had been asked to go for an interview. As a result she sat in the Matron

s chair in the month of her fortieth birthday feeling a trifle bewildered and perhaps a little resentful of the distance that appeared to loom between this quiet little office and the wards she loved.

There was a tap on the door and before Elizabeth could answer a man strolled in carrying a newspaper. His black hair was generously sprinkled with silver and heavy brows gave a suggestion of fierceness that went oddly with the gentleness of his face and the sensitive lines of his mouth. Elizabeth saw a look of amazement come into his eyes and he stopped short and stared at her.

“Where

s Miss Brown? I don

t seem to know you, and you

re sitting in her chair, aren

t you?” He seemed at a complete loss.

Elizabeth felt sorry for this bewildered stranger. “Miss Brown has retired,” she said
gently, “and I

m the new Matron. Is there something I can do for you?”

He appeared nonplussed by her question, but before he could answer, the inner door opened and Elizabeth saw her secretary coming in with a tray in which there were two cups and a pot of tea.

The girl looked a trifle anxiously at Elizabeth before she said hesitantly, “Doctor Gregory always has a cup of tea with the Matron before he does his round.”

Elizabeth waited for the secretary to put the tray down and go before she got to her feet and went around her desk to greet her senior consultant physician.

“Good morning, Doctor Gregory. I

m sorry I didn

t have the opportunity of meeting you on my previous visit. I am Elizabeth Graham, Miss Brown

s successor. Won

t you sit down?”

William Gregory held out his hand. “Welcome to St. Genevieve

s, Miss Graham. They told me about your appointment, but I suppose I hadn

t realized that you started today.”

Elizabeth was conscious of a pair of clear hazel eyes studying her gravely and she wondered whether he would approve of her or
n
ot. Then he sighed and took the chair she offered him. “St. Genevieve

s has survived a lot of changes in the past and no doubt will survive a great deal more, given time. Life moves more, slowly in the towns, as no doubt you

ll discover, Miss Graham. I understand you

ve come from London?”

Elizabeth picked up the teapot. “Do you take milk and sugar, Doctor Gregory?”

He seemed taken aback by her question ... as if he expected her to know already. “What
?
Oh yes, milk and sugar, please, and not too strong.”

“I did my training in London because my family lived there, not necessarily because I preferred big cities to towns, Doctor Gregory,” Elizabeth said
quietly. “I enjoy the country, do a lot of walking
...”

He smiled for the first time. “You

ve come to the right place, Miss Graham. There are many lovely walks within reasonable distance of the town. I used to do a lot when my wife was alive, but the children aren

t so keen now that they

re older. I believe they think it

s too slow a method of getting anywhere.”

Elizabeth passed him his cup. “Is that all right for you, Doctor Gregory? How old are your children?”

Again he wore that slightly puzzled expression of wondering why she didn

t know the answer already. “Robin

s nineteen and Susan

s nearly fourteen
...
just the age when they think they know all the answers and seem surprised when your answer is different from theirs. Miss Evans is very good to them, but I

m afraid she

s inclined to spoil them,” he said with the helplessness of someone who didn

t know quite how to deal with such a problem.

Elizabeth gave him an understanding sort of smile. “I suppose Miss Evans is your housekeeper.” She made it not quite a question.

His heavy brows lifted a little as he stirred his tea. “Miss Evans? She

s more than that really ... secretary, housekeeper, acts as hostess if I have to entertain. She

s more or less managed things for me since Mary died.” He chuckled. “She keeps the unwanted ones away in a tactful kind of way
...
murmurs that the doctor is busy just now.” He stared at her suddenly. “What brought an attractive woman like you to a small hospital in a market town, Miss Graham,, or is that an impertinent question?”

Elizabeth hesitated. She didn

t really want to admit that it had all happened so quickly that she couldn

t claim much actual part in the proceedings.

“I think I was beginning to feel that the large
hospitals were becoming too impersonal,” she said finally.

He nodded. “And now you intend to pick up the cloak reluctantly discarded by Miriam Brown and carry on where she left off
...”
He kept a questioning note in his voice
.

Elizabeth glanced down at her half-empty cup. “I don

t think it

s as simple as that. There will be the change-over in the training school and the building program and the general modernization of the hospital. I know it won

t happen in a flash, but from what the Committe
e
told me I gather that it

s well past the planning stage and the builders will begin next month.”

She had his attention now. “And you really expect that to happen?” he demanded.

It was her turn to look at him. “Of course
...
that

s one of the reasons for my appointment. Our first class of girls for training as assistant nurses starts in a fortnight

s time and Sister Tutor is drawing up their program.”

“She

ll never stay. St. Genevieve

s has been a proper training school for far too long. I know the Committee

s as full of brave new ideas as any sch
o
olboy, but that doesn

t say they

ll go down,” he said with a trace of impatience.

Elizabeth stiffened. “I don

t think you realize, Doctor Gregory, just how many excellent nurses would never come into being if it weren

t for the assistant nurses

training schools. They would have had their chance in the old days when not so much education was required. There isn

t enough variety of cases for training fully-fledged S.R.N.s here
...
not by present-day standards.”

“They could get the extra experience within the Group,” he maintained stubbornly.

Elizabeth shook her head. “Not enough to give them a fair chance, Doctor Gregory. I

m sure that you would be the first to insist that St. Genevieve

s deserves the best we can provide. May I give you another cup of tea?”

He sighed heavily and passed it to her. “If an older man might presume to offer his advice, Matron, could I suggest you move slowly with your changes?”

Elizabeth busied herself with pouring his tea before she answered. “If it can be done, the waiting I mean, without impairing the efficiency of the hospital service I would agree with you, but some things can

t
wait ...
the new training school opens in two weeks and various things have to be organized in connection with that. With the builders coming in next month some of the ward arrangements will have to be altered and their staff rearranged accordingly so that the workmen and patients will be inconvenienced as little as possible and
...”

“Just a moment, Matron,” William Gregory interrupted her firmly. “I thought you said this was your first day!”

Elizabeth looked at him with a mixture of astonishment and amusement. “It is my first day, but I must confess I did a little
homework
.”

He laughed ruefully and got to his feet. “I

d better get on with my ward round while I still know my way. You might have altered it by tomorrow.”

Elizabeth Graham pushed back her chair and stood up. “I

ll try to leave a few signposts for you.”

There was a flicker of resentment in the hazel eyes that regarded her so steadily. “I must lend you the history of our town ... it never has been very kind to reformers
...
Thank you for the tea, Matron. I trust that that will be one thing you won

t be in a hurry to change.”

With that final remark of mingled warning and gratitude William Gregory took himself out of her office and closed the door quietly but very firmly behind him.

Elizabeth stared at the blank wooden panels for the space of a breath before she walked back to
her desk and pushed the buzzer for her secretary. When the girl appeared she pointed to the tea-tray.

“When you

ve taken that back to the pantry perhaps you

d be kind enough to let the Assistant Matron know that I

m ready to do my round.”

The girl hesitated and grew rather pink before bursting out with: “Miss Brown never did rounds until the afternoon and the Assistant Matron will be busy with the House keeping Sister just now
...
she always is at this time.”

Elizabeth regarded the unhappy girl for a moment. “You might let the Assistant Matron have my message and add ... as soon as convenient, if you please,” she said firmly.

“Yes, Matron
...
right away, Matron.” The secretary snatched the tray and fled from the office with almost indecent haste.

Elizabeth sighed and took a little notebook out of the pocket of her smartly
tailored matron

s frock whose soft brown matched the dark brown of her eyes, and added yet another cryptic remark to the collection already noted down. It was all very well to take the Senior Administrative Course, but it would help if her senior staff had taken the same one at the same time
.

He
r
own Matron hadn

t been able to give her much in the way of information except that both the Assistant Matron and the Housekeeping Sister were more or less of an age with the unfortunate Miriam Brown whose chair Elizabeth was now occupying. She had met them both when she ha
d
come to be interviewed by the Committee, but as she had never expected to get the job she hadn

t paid too much attention except to notice that the Assistant Matron was tall and plump and easy-going and the Housekeeping Sister was small and thin and harassed. Her train had got in too late last night from London for her to do anything more than allow her taxi driver to take her to a hotel where she had been fortunate
e
nough to
get a room for the night and breakfast this morning. Apart from the girl who said she was the matron

s secretary in a frightened sort of way and who had reluctantly showed her into her own office, Elizabeth had met no member of St. Genevieve

s staff
...
except, she amended, her senior consultant physician, who had made it very clear that he wouldn

t welcome change—in a very courteous voice that hinted at the firmness amounting to stubbornness that lay beneath the somewhat absent-minded manner.

There was a knock on the door and the Assistant Matron came in rather breathlessly. “I

m sorry I wasn

t here to receive you, Miss Graham. I don

t know why, but I thought you would be arriving later in the day.”

“Good morning, Miss Selby. I arrived last night, as a matter of fact,” Elizabeth said quietly.

Miss Selby blinked uncertainly. “But there were no lights, on in the Matron

s house,” she got out with an odd sort of triumph.

“My train was rather late, so I stayed at the Red House,” Elizabeth explained.

“What a pity that had to happen! If I

d known
,
we could have met the train,” the Assistant Matron murmured apologetically.

Elizabeth got the impression that the most senior member of her staff wasn

t as regretful as she sounded.

BOOK: Love for the Matron
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