My story continues. You can start at the beginning here.
Archie pushed back his empty plate. “That was great, lovie. How you do it on rations, I don’t know. How’s the tummy been today?”
“Ee, no worse love, no worse. Are you still wanting to go and check on those wee children?”
“I reckon, lovie, I reckon… You be OK?” He hadn’t told Jenny that the mother, who had probably wanted to fetch something for her children, had been killed instantly by the blast.
“Course I will.” Jenny sighed. “But you know what George Baird’s always telling you. I dunno, something about getting – or not getting – what is it he says?”
“Oh, yes, I know what you’re getting at. ‘Emotionally involved’ he says. But I can’t help it, you know that. It’s just me.” Archie rolled his eyes at his wife of nearly thirty years. “I got ’emotionally involved’ as George says, with a pretty girl, once. Jenny Randall, her name was…”
Jenny playfully slapped the back of her husbands hand. “Well, you better be going, so you can get back in time for some sleep. That shipyard needs romantic men like you.”
Archie kissed his wife and grabbed his coat. A few moments later, the ting of a bicycle bell signalled his departure.
Archie reached the children’s ward just as the sister was passing the door. “Ah, Mr. McGeoch! Always glad to see you, even if we’re off our feet, as usual, only worse. Give me ten minutes, all right?”
Archie raised his hand in ready acceptance. “Thank you, sister. Appreciate your trouble.” By now, he knew Helen Anderson well, but maintained formality in public. He watched thoughtfully as the nursing staff battled on…
“Nurse Jamieson, keep an eye out for a few minutes, will you? I’ll be in the office if you need me.”
“I’ll do that, sister. Is Nurse Fraser around?”
“I sent Annie to get herself a bite to eat. She’d been going non-stop since three. She’ll be back any time. Can’t keep herself away from the action for long. But if anyone collapses on this ward, it’s got to be me.” With a weary grin, she made for the ward office door.
“Nursie Jamieson! My leg hurts again. Ow!”
“Yes, sweetheart, I know. We’ll get Nursie Fraser to look at that bandage when she comes back. Brave girl.”
“I like Nursie Fraser. Are both of you going to make me all better? Will I walk again by myself soon?”
Oh, help. Nursing school didn’t tell you the answers to these kind of questions. The poor kid didn’t even know about her twin baby sisters yet.
“Well, yes, pet, but it might all take a wee while. All right?”
When Archie tapped on the door of the office and entered in answer to the response, Sister Anderson had just finished using the tiny spirit stove in one corner to boil water for tea. She paused to rub her eyes with her fingers, then nodded towards a chair.
“Well, Archie… I suppose you were on duty two nights running?”
“Couldn’t very well do anything else, could I? We could have used many times the men, and many times the equipment. But there you are. That’s a war for you. And it’s the same for you anyhow. I don’t suppose week-ends off are going to be a big part of your menu, are they?”
The sister shrugged. “I’d only worry about what was and wasn’t happening in here. Half the staff just about out of nappies. Mind you, Evie Jamieson’s just twenty, Annie Fraser’s nineteen, and although on paper they’ve still got stripes to earn, Evie can near enough run the ward, and she’s about trained up Annie by herself. An old school chum, evidently. Anyway, what can I do for you?”
Hell, woman, you know why the man’s here. Face it.
“Just wanting the up-to-date on those three from Trafalgar Terrace.”
“Well, the four-year-old’s doing fine. A few bangs and bruises, a nasty gash on the right leg we’re keeping an eye on, and one or two tiny burns. But… she’ll be fine…”
“And what about the wee twins?”
Pull yourself together, woman. You’re a trained nurse since that last lot, for any sake.
Helen quietly put a cup of tea in front of Archie and looked down.
“Archie… I’m sorry. The human lungs will only stand so much hot smoke. We did what we could with oxygen, but it didn’t work. Not this time.”
Archie sipped his tea in silence for a whole minute. He knew what the poor woman had gone through. You did your best. You forgot about yourself. And sometimes that just wasn’t enough. And it got to you. Because you wanted a happy ending every time. He didn’t need to say any more about the two poor mites he’d carried out to an ambulance crew, one in each arm, two nights before. And he knew Helen would know about the poor mother.
She shook herself sharply and looked up. “What?” she murmured.
“Those two you told me about, out there on the ward. You mother them, don’t you?”
“You don’t miss much, do you? Trouble is, they’re me. Twenty-five years ago, in France, in the last fuss. I see myself. All eager. Wanting success, every time. Like I still do. So what do you expect me to be like?”
Archie nodded slowly. Then he smiled his thanks for the tea as he got up…
The first six parts make up the first main section of my story. Part seven begins a new section; you can read it here.