|“John, hello!” Rix was shocked at how frail his brother looked. He had been lying on his pillows, staring miserably out of the large window at the falling rain. The expression on his face had been uncharacteristically melancholy; Rix was uncomfortably reminded of the summer past. “It’s fantastic to see you – I can’t tell you how much.” |
“Dad said I gave you all a scare,” John smiled and looked much better, “I was hoping you’d come. How is everyone? How are the kids? Have you heard from Mike?”
“Yes – everyone’s fine. The kids have sent you letters,” Rix placed them on the table over John’s bed. “Mike sent us a parcel at the Quadrant of all your things from the ship, letters and books and things. I’ve just left it on your bed for now. So what have you done to yourself?”
“Cracked my spine, busted a couple of ribs. Bashed my head. Oh, and this,” John lifted up his left wrist, which was in plaster. “Lucky I’m not the surgeon of the family, isn’t it?”
“Can I read your notes?”
“Like I could stop you.” John rolled his eyes, but smiled. “I think I’m finished in the Navy though,” he said, quietly.
“I’m sorry,” Rix quickly flicked through the notes, rather alarmed by the extent of John’s injuries, especially the memory loss; and put the notes back on the end of the bed. They had never been overly demonstrative with each other but now he put his hand over his brother’s uninjured one. “We thought you were drowned, Jackie. It was just – awful. So don’t expect me to be upset you’re not going back out there.”
John seemed to mentally shake himself. “I can help you out at the Quadrant.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Rix said, wryly. “No, there must be things you can do still – they’ll give you a desk job, surely?”
“I don’t know. Do you think you could get me out of here? I mean, you could get Uncle Jem to pull a few strings, couldn’t you? And your friend, Con’s husband – he’s quite well-known isn’t he. They’d listen to him, wouldn’t they?”
“Don’t get excited – I’ll see what I can do. We might be able to get you to the San, seeing how you’re such a famous hero.”
John’s eyes darkened, “I’m really not.”
“I’ll get Rayner to visit you. He might even do your last op himself. You should rest now. I’ll be back tomorrow – I’m going to stay overnight.”
“Rix – wait. Why can’t I remember what happened?”
“Well – there could be several causes.” Rix sat back down. “It could be physical, or psychological. Didn’t they discuss this with you?”
“It’s not important anyway. What matters is that you’re safe and you’re going to recover – and Mike’s OK, and the others. There was only one casualty, wasn’t there? The captain of the other ship?”
“Yes.” John looked away.
“So think of all the people who would have died if it wasn’t for you, John. That’s just amazing. We’re so proud of you.”
“I want to sleep,” John said, abruptly.
Jana Olsen, in her dressing-gown and still looking poorly, played with the dolls’ house that Daniel Lyndhurst had requested and David, with some difficulty, had found. Daniel sat next to her, occasionally talking to the small girl, mostly watching her play. Sometimes he would scribble some notes on his writing pad. David and Francis Rayner watched through the glass pane in the doorway, with interest.
“She seems better after the op. Do you think her slow recovery is psychological?” Rayner asked.
“Maybe,” David shrugged. “I don’t know, but I think it’s worth a try.”
“You don’t think the mother...”
“I don’t think so. I tested for poisons too and that all came back clear. Besides, she certainly seems to be fond of the kid. Poor little mite.”
Rayner nodded, looking back through the door. Lyndhurst was deep in conversation with Jana, who seemed animated for once. The doctor was smiling too.
“Rix phoned me from Gosport. John wants to come here. Well, he wants to get out of there and this is the nearest option. Would you take him as a patient?”
“Don’t forget we’ve got the AGM too. It’s at the end of May - only weeks away. My father will be here, he and Mother are flying over and they want to see Jack. The Bettanys lived with us when we were kids, you know.”
“I see. Spinal trauma, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Rix said he had memory loss. Still, it sounded pretty awful from what Aunt Jo wrote. Maybe he’s better not remembering…”
“I’d be happy to take the case. It’s my field, so it makes sense. Let me know what you need me to do.”
“Thanks. I’ll let Rix know. Hello, Jana! Did you like playing with the dolls?”
“Yes,” Jana slipped her little hand into David’s and look up at him adoringly. “Dr Daniel said I could have it in my room if you said yes.”
“Of course you can – I’ll bring it along myself. Why don’t we get you back to bed now and you can have a little sleep?”
“Were you talking about John Bettany?” Daniel asked Rayner, as David went off with Jana and the two of them went in search of tea in the staffroom.
“Yes, do you know him?”
“We’re friends, yes. How is he?”
“Not very happy in Haslar, from all accounts. Russell’s getting him here instead.”
“A few weeks, I should imagine, just to sort the paperwork I don’t envy Russell that task! I’m in Brighton next week anyway visiting my aunt so I thought I might go along and introduce myself. We’ve met before, but it was at Richard’s sister’s funeral. He won’t remember me.”
“I’m worried about his mental health. He was very active – it can be hard to adjust,” Daniel replied. “Would you let me know how he is?”
“Sure. Unless you want to come with me? I was going to take the family. You know my wife, don’t you? We can fit you in. We can leave you there while we visit my aunt.”
“Thank you,” Daniel visibly brightened.
John awoke, sweating, his heart pounding in his chest. He had been dreaming that water had been flooding the hospital. It took a while for his breathing – beyond painful, with his broken ribs – to slow. Lewis had been there; John tried to remember again but nothing would come, besides Lewis on the bridge, the gun on the table in front of him.
He would never tell anyone about the gun. He had been very careful during the various debriefings and the awful, formal press conference to mention how heroic Commander Keeler had been. Walsh had been pleased; it made the whole thing so much less of a disaster for the good name of the Royal Navy. John had used it as leverage – Walsh would organise an honourable discharge – and John couldn't think about how the rest of his life would be.
Joey looked up from her knitting as her third son came into the Saal. He had been given six weeks’ survivor’s leave and was now well into his third week. They had all given him a rapturous welcome and he had been congratulated by old friends from both School and San. Nevertheless, he had been preoccupied and at times even moody. Jo had discussed it anxiously with Jack.
“He’s been through a lot,” Jack had reassured his wife and quietly given his son sleeping tablets. Mike took them because it was better than lying awake at night, alone with his thoughts.
“Hello Mamma,” he said, using the baby name. Joey threw her knitting away at once, not even caring that quite half her stitches were lost.
“Mike, come and sit down – we’ll have tea and I know Anna baked this morning.”
“Thanks,” Mike stared out at the Jungfrau, visible through the drawing room window, as his mother fussed with the tea trolley. He wasn’t really hungry but he wanted to talk things through with someone and his mother was really the only person who would be able to help. He would just have to hope she would be satisfied with his rather vague explanations and not quiz him until everything was exposed.
He supposed he at least owed John Bettany that for saving his life.
They sat there, each clutching a cup of tea. Joey waited eagerly for Mike to speak, at the same time not wanting to frighten him by demanding too much. He had been so different lately! It was as though he had a terrible secret weighing on him.
“Have you ever found out that someone wasn’t who you thought they were?” he asked, rather cryptically; Jo thought. “I mean, someone you looked up to?”
“It’s a good job Auntie Hilda isn’t here to hear your grammar, my lad,” Joey said, lightly. “No, I don’t think I ever have. Of course, everyone has their flaws. They wouldn’t be human otherwise, would they?”
“I suppose.” Mike said, glumly. “It just changes things.”
“Nobody can be a plaster saint.” Joey added, gently. “Does it really change things?”
“I think so.”
“Nobody’s perfect, Mike.” Joey looked at him, hoping he would say more, but it wasn’t to be.
“John?” Daniel’s voice was low. He hated to wake John when he was sleeping but they only had a few precious moments while Rayner was away hunting down John’s doctors.
Still, it was some comfort to look at him. He sat down next to the bed, his eyes on John’s pale face. His eyes were closed. Daniel risked a hand on his arm, careful of the IV and other wires.
John awoke, frowning, but relaxed as he saw who it was. “Daniel,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
“It’s so good to see you,” Daniel said, quietly, snatching his hand away as Francis Rayner strode in.
“Hello, I’m Francis Rayner. We have met – I’m not sure if you remember me. David Russell asked me to take on your case when you come to Armishire.”
“That’s good – hello. I can’t wait to get out of this place.”
“A couple of weeks and you’ll be back in Devon.”
“Months, you mean. But you can do something, can’t you? Rix said you could.”
“I’ll try my best. It’s not as bad as you probably think. You’ve got a good chance of recovery. Try and stay positive – that’s very important.”
“It’s good of you to come all this way…” John looked directly at Daniel and, to his horror, felt himself becoming tearful. Not the reunion for which he had hoped.
“Ssh, it’s OK.” Daniel was reassuring. “It’s the shock of it all. You’re recovering well, though. You’ll be home soon.”
“I’ll get you some water.” Rayner left, discreetly. Lyndhurst was very good with distressed patients.
“I thought you were dead,” Daniel had hold of him and John had stopped crying. Daniel’s voice was very quiet and intense. “They wrote in the newspapers that you’d died. I did everything I could to find out – I didn’t believe it. Then it sank in that I’d never see you again. Then your cousin telephoned – I couldn’t believe that either. And now you’re here, safe.”
“I don’t remember what happened. I can’t.”
“Don’t try to force it. It’s not important right now. You hit your head – that can cause memory loss. The important thing is you’re going to be all right. Listen – there’s something I need to tell you.”
“I missed you, I’m so glad you’re here.” John said, fighting against the need for sleep. “Don’t go, will you? Stay for a while.”
“Of course I will. I missed you, too.” Daniel hesitated, then spoke almost shyly, “I love you.”
“I – “ John was prevented from replying as Rayner returned, with the water. He hoped he hadn’t heard anything. Daniel extricated himself and stood up.
“Maybe we should leave you to sleep.” Rayner automatically checked the IV.
“I’ll stay until you do sleep,” Daniel said, gently.
“He’s gone,” Rayner stated. “This is a high dose – I’ll look to start getting that down, I think. So, what do you think?”
“I think he’ll be fine. Did you really mean that about discharge in weeks?”
“Eight to ten weeks, I reckon. When do you go to America?”
“Next month.” Daniel checked John’s pulse, more of an excuse to touch him. He wished he’d been able to tell John about his trip. A lecture tour, six months in length, followed by treatment on his leg. It had been planned to coincide with John’s naval service and now although he had tried, he couldn’t unpick the arrangements.
“We can come back tomorrow. It’s a shame Con couldn’t come with us in the end.” Rayner said, leafing through John’s medical charts. “Though he isn’t exactly fit enough for crowds.”
“It must have been ghastly.” Daniel said, soberly.
“He seems in fairly good spirits, considering. Now, shall we go and eat somewhere? We can come back tomorrow morning.”