It’s January 1936, and as the nation mourns the death of King George V, there are also changes ahead for the Nightingale girls…
Dora’s evil stepfather may have gone, but her family find themselves facing financial hardship with one less wage packet coming in. Dora has the agonising choice – her future or her family? And then there’s her heartache over Nick, the man who got away. A new arrival on the ward promises to put a smile on her face – but can she really forget Nick so easily?
Millie is also torn between the two men in her life, her fiancé Seb and dashing doctor Will Tremayne. But an unexpected friendship with an elderly patient makes her question where her heart – and her future – really lies. There’s also a new face at the Nightingale in the shape of the new Night Sister, Violet Tanner. But who is she and what dark secret is she hiding? As the mystery deepens, Sister Wren is determined to find out the truth.
It was a bitterly cold December evening in 1935 when Violet Tanner arrived at the Nightingale Hospital.
Fires were lit in every ward, as the biting, snow laden wind howled like a wild beast outside, flinging fistfuls of sleet at the windows. Babies cried in fear on the children’s ward and even the men on Male Orthopaedics, usually so full of jokes and bravado, stared fearfully at the tree branches crashing against the glass and agreed they’d never known a night like it.
Outside, nurses on their way to supper clutched their thick navy cloaks around them as they hurried across the courtyard, heads bent, hands pinning their starched caps as best they could.
Sister Wren saw her first. She usually liked to arrive early to supper, but she’d stopped to reprimand a student she’d found taking a shortcut down the passageway to the dining room that was reserved for sisters.
The girl had whined that she couldn’t go outside because she’d forgotten her cloak. But Sister Wren was having none of it.
‘And whose fault is that? That still doesn’t give you the right to wander down corridors reserved for sisters, does it?’ she had snapped.
‘No, Sister.’ The girl, a second year called Benedict, was just the kind of girl Sister Wren most despised, with that perky blonde prettiness which drew medical students like wasps around a jam jar.
‘No, indeed. Now go back the way you came and cross the courtyard like all the other nurses.’
Benedict glanced apprehensively at the sleet thrashing against the window, then back at Sister Wren. Her round blue eyes were full of appeal. No doubt if Sister Wren had been a man, she would be falling over herself by now, offering to carry her across the courtyard.
‘No, Sister,’ she sighed.
Sister Wren watched her walking back down the passageway, her head bowed in defeat. She smiled to think what a bedraggled state she’d be in when she returned from supper. With any luck, her ward sister would be utterly furious.
She turned, saw the woman standing at the far end of the passageway, and hurried towards her.
‘You there!’ she called out bossily. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘I’m looking for Matron’s office.’ Her voice was low and husky, with the slightest trace of an accent. Sister Wren had to draw close to hear her.
‘And you are?’
‘My name is Miss Tanner. I’m the new Night Sister.’
‘Oh.’ Sister Wren appraised the woman with a glance. In her early thirties, very tall – although most people towered over Sister Wren, diminutive as she was – and dark. The hair that curled out from under her hat had the blue-black sheen of a magpie’s wing. Sister Wren always jealously noticed hair, because hers was so thin and poor, no matter how many miracle permanent waves she had. The woman’s coat looked expensive, but not the latest fashion. Sister Wren read Vogue and knew quality when she saw it, even if she couldn’t afford it herself.
In short, someone worth knowing, she decided.
‘You’ve taken a wrong turning, I’m afraid. I’ll walk with you and show you,’ she offered.
‘There’s no need. If you just tell me which way – ’
‘It’s no trouble. I’m going that way myself.’
She was actually heading in the opposite direction, but there was no chance she was going to miss being the first to find out everything about the new Night Sister.
‘My name is Miss Trott, and I’m Sister on Wren ward, which is Gynae,’ she introduced herself to Violet as they set off. ‘But you can call me Miriam.’
Miss Tanner nodded, but didn’t offer her name in return. In fact, she didn’t offer much conversation as Sister Wren led the way through the warren of passageways that led back to Matron’s office.
‘It’s rather a maze, isn’t it?’ She tried again. ‘So easy to get lost, with all these buildings stuck together in such a higgledy piggledy fashion. But you’ll get used to it in time.’ She glanced sidelong at her. ‘Was your last hospital a large place, too?’
‘I was nursing a private patient.’
‘Oh, where was that?’
‘Suffolk.’ She bit out the word, as if she was reluctant to allow a single stray syllable to escape from her lips.
‘Really? I have some family in Suffolk.’ Sister Wren seized eagerly on the titbit. ‘Where were you?’
‘A small village. Very rural. I doubt if you’d know it.’
‘Well, I might – ’ Sister Wren took one look at Miss Tanner’s shuttered face and did not dare go on.
She tried again. ‘I suppose you’ll be moving in to the Sisters’ block, if you haven’t already? Prue – the old Night Sister, that was – had the room across the hall from mine. Not that she died in that room,’ she assured her hastily. ‘No, she dropped dead on duty. Can you imagine it? She made sure she gave her report to all the ward sisters first, though. Typical Prue, always so conscientious.’ She sighed. ‘Anyway, her room was very nice. It’s on the corner, so it’s double aspect. And it looks over the gardens – ’
‘I won’t be living in.’
Sister Wren stared at her. ‘Why not?’
‘I have made other arrangements.’
‘But all the sisters – ‘
‘Ah, I see where I am now. Matron’s office is end the end of this corridor, isn’t it?’ Miss Tanner cut her off bluntly. ‘I won’t keep you any longer, I’m sure you have a great deal to do.’
‘But – ’
‘Thank you very much for your help, Miss Trott.’
‘Please, call me Miriam – ’ Sister Wren called after her. But Miss Tanner had already gone.