CHAPTER ONE: The Doctor's Declaration
Sir Humphrey glanced across at the doctor, a haunted anxiety in his eyes, though he strived to keep his face calm for the sake of the patient.
Dr Kennedy caught the glance and half-smiled at her client. Sir Humphrey pursed his lips as if to trap the surging emotions inside his mouth, forcing them back down his throat and into his lungs – if he let his fears escape, he would be confirming their reality, conjuring them into existence. Compression was difficult, but it was safe – perhaps, if he did not allow the worries to tumble from his lips, they would not exist; they would evaporate inside his bowels, and be lost of the greater good and the happiness of himself and the small patient, whose lean form perched beside him on the couch.
Dr Kennedy ended her examination of the patient, and sat down. She was silent for a few seconds, and Sir Humphrey’s brow began to fall, deepening the furrows in his worn face.
“What do you suggest?” he queried at last, his voice deep and scratchy, but still youthful – perhaps one of his most valuable assets. “She should be practically okay now. I admit that walking home from Brownies in the rain was a bad idea, even if it was only five miles. But surely she ought to be recovering a bit more thoroughly. Delia has been going to bed at half six every night for the past week because she’s so tired, as I said. That can’t be natural. And there’s this hard little cough which we haven’t been able to get rid of.”
Dr Kennedy sighed long and low, her face impassive, but seeming as if it wished it could be permitted to betray feelings otherwise. As she opened her mouth to speak, Delia coughed – that nasty hard little cough which struck terror into the hearts of more than just her father and the doctor.
Almost as if she were reminded of the girl’s presence, Dr Kennedy bade her in a gentle voice to step outside the room for a few moments. Delia smiled shyly as she did so – her steps so very quiet, her figure so very wisplike, her movement so very soft, without a ripple in the air, without the energy or bounce a bonny girl of eleven was wont to possess.
“Now can you tell me what’s wrong with her?” demanded Sir Humphrey with a hint of impatience.
* * *
Chapter One [II]
- sorry, this was meant to be split but I had to add the Prologue in after!
* * *
Dr Kennedy fixed him with a stare chilling in its honesty. “It’s time I talked straight with you, Humphrey. Pneumonia is no joke. She was never a robust child, I am aware. But this latest escapade has left her limp and tired. You see how languidly she moves?”
“Of course. That’s why I brought her back. She just simply isn’t up to going back to school.”
“Well, I think what she needs is a real rest, or she may be weak for the rest of her life. Full days plus quiet evenings make good nights and happy, healthy children. She is never truly relaxed. She was on edge the whole way through this interview, and I recommend – infinitely strongly – that you should take your whole family for a long holiday in some mountainous district renowned for good air. Good alpine air will relax Delia enough to really wake her up. I’m sure you know what I mean.”
“Why, yes. Of course,” Sir Humphrey said absently, his voice hazy and blurred with dear memories, past loves, past anxieties, past pains – he was, no doubt, recalling another occasion when the doctor had said those same words to him.
“You take your family somewhere. Fill your days with excursions, don’t fill your evenings with anything, and make sure she’s out of doors as much as possible. I believe that a couple of months abroad will make all the difference.”
“But what about school? I can’t just take her away from school.”
“Humphrey, she hasn’t been at school since mid-May, well before half-term. I wouldn’t send her back. There’ll only be a fortnight left of the school term when you go, and, to be truthful, if it concerned the wellbeing of one of my boys, I wouldn’t hesitate to apply for time off school. She was eleven in April, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, she was.”
“She’ll be starting a new secondary school in September. And you certainly don’t want her health playing up when she’s starting a new school. Besides, she’s missed so much of St Matthew’s I wouldn’t send her back at all. Maybe for the morning tomorrow, to say goodbye to her friends. But not to go into schoolword. She won’t be fit for any of that until you’ve had that holiday I mentioned.”
“I suppose you’re right. But what about the rest of the family? There’s three others at school I must consider, not to speak of Aoife. Of course, she left school nearly a year ago, but as she doesn’t seem to be inclined to go to University or do anything else to speak of, I am entirely responsible for her while my brother and sister-in-law are still painting away to their hearts’ contents in the Caribbean – I do wonder what they’ve found to interest them so long.”
“Take the lot of them. I’m sure Mr Smail of St Matthew’s, at least, will consent to your taking the younger ones away.”
“Mm. He’s been very sympathetic about Delia. He knows our family well, starting with Rob nearly twenty years ago, and then...yes.”
“I expect that the headmaster of the Grammar will let you take Daniel away for the remaining fortnight if you put the point across strongly. Doctor’s orders, remember. She must go without delay.”
“I have another question,” said Sir Humphrey, rubbing his forehead and pinching his earlobe. “Where are you proposing we should go, Liz?”
“Do you know of any mountainous places – in the Alps, preferably?”
“Only of Pertisau am Achensee, the tourist centre in the Austrian Tirol. We went there six years ago, if you recall.”
Dr Kennedy directed a shrewd glance at her old friend. It had been his wife Dymphna’s health which had sent them to Austria the first time, and she realised how terrifying this step could prove to be for Sir Humphrey. Though his wife had survived for three years after that holiday, producing the now-five-year-old Nathaniel in the meantime, Sir Humphrey, with his depth of memory, could be relied upon to have the feeling of history repeating itself. That must not happen. Delia was not going to die – unless Sir Humphrey could not be convinced of how essential this holiday could be for his elder daughter, before it was too late.
As if reading her thoughts, Sir Humphrey turned calm green eyes on the doctor.
“It was Tirol that saved her the first time,” he said, his eyes misting over like foggy window panes. “Dear Tirol! If I hadn’t taken your advice that time, Liz, I’d only have four children right now. And I’m not about to lose my third because I was too scared to let myself follow the same advice that saved my wife the first time. I’ll inquire about hotels right away.”
“No need,” Dr Kennedy said quickly. “A friend of mine has a chalet up by the lakeside, which he had built a few years ago. I’m sure I can get him to rent it to you for the rest of the summer. I know they aren’t going out this year, due to business difficulties. He might be grateful to you, in fact. Pertisau! I couldn’t have thought of a more perfect place myself if I’d thought non-stop till Christmas!”
Sir Humphrey smiled faintly. “Is this chalet large? I might invite my eldest son to come, and bring his wife and daughter too. I remember him liking Pertisau the first time.”
“I’ll inquire into it as soon as I have a spare moment. My husband and I stayed there briefly two and a half years ago, but he’s built on since then. I believe it’s fairly large with about six bedrooms. That would do, wouldn’t it? I’ll sort it out for you as soon as I can. Delia is my penultimate patient for this morning, so I expect I’ll be able to ring you in an hour or less. In the meantime, I’d advise you to book flights and pack to leave on Saturday latest.”
“Saturday? That’s very soon.”
“Delia ought to be away as soon as possible. It isn’t right for a girl of her age to be insisting on bed at half past six every night. She ought to be well past that stage by now. I don’t like that cough at all. You get off as soon as possible, and maybe there’ll be a call for you around lunchtime. You do what I say.”
“I will, of course, Liz. I remember how much you’ve done for my family over the years. Thank you very much.”
“Oh, it’s my job,” Liz Kennedy replied with a sudden smile – a flash of torchlight in a bleak, uncertain world. “And I do love your family. It’s a pleasure to help, if I can –almost a thank you to Dymmie for being such a good friend all those years. Good morning, Sir Humphrey.”