JILL IN LONDONCategory: Land + People
Jill took a taxi from Victoria, justifying the extravagance by her ignorance of the right bus — and her impatience to be with Martin. He had been maddeningly reticent over the telephone, refusing to enlarge on his plan unless she came to London, and she was longing to know what was really in his mind. He had apologized for being unable to meet her train because he had an important sitting this morning, but he would be waiting for her at his studio.
This expedition into his world made her nervous. One moment her hopes were rioting wildly, the next she wondered if she were making an utter fool of herself. Soon she would be with Martin —- not in the familiar comforting atmosphere of Lilac Cottage, but among his own friends, in his own house.
The taxi slowed up, passing a huge, grey building with the pale sunlight glinting on hundreds of windows. Daffodils and hyacinths in gay pots stood on the window-sills, now and then she could see the flash of a white uniform as a nurse passed an open window.
Jill stared eagerly at the vast pile of the building, forgetting for an instant her fears and hopes of Martin. The most famous maternity hospital in the world occupied her mind to the exclusion of everything else. She imagined all that was going on benind the high, impassive walls; the long wards with their spotless beds, each with its cradle slung at the end, the bright cheerfulness, efficiency, and skill. They had all sorts of patients at Queen’s. Women from terrible overcrowded slum areas, working women who paid a small fee, wealthy women who chose the hospital in preference to any nursing-home on account of its world-wide reputation. And in all of them —even in the mothers who hadn’t the faintest notion how the new mouth was going to be fed — the same joy and glorious relaxation when their ordeal was over, the same slow, tender smile for their babies.
Oh, they were a million times more real than Martin!
The grey building slid from her sight but it remained in her mind vividly. It must be wonderfully satisfying, she thought, to be really efficient at one job instead of moderately capable at half a dozen. She might still train of course. [...]
The bustle and colour in the King’s Road made an instant appeal to her, urban, exciting, human. The jostling, good-tempered crowds, on the grey pavements, marketing among the bright shops and costers, barrows gay flowers or piled high with fruit made a kaleidoscope of colour and movement that struck a new and original note for Jill. Here was an undercurrent of tragedy and laughter and daily risk, the rich material of crowded, festering humanity.
The taxi turned aside from the bright pattern into the cool dignified sweep of Cheyne Walk and drew up before a tall house facing the river.
Inside the gate was a paved courtyard, with a central Italian fountain playing over clusters of ferns. Against one wall of the courtyard ran a long wire aviary, and the twittering of dozens of brightly-coloured birds mingled with the soft plash of the water. It was a scene for which she was utterly unprepared, and it held her spellbound with pure pleasure in the little secret place. When Martin himself opened the front door she met his smile without embarrassment.
“I’ve been watching you.” He took her hand and drew her over the threshold. “I must paint you like that — looking down into the pool as if you’d recaptured the magic of your childhood!” “It is so — unexpected. Like a trick that might disappear any moment. I thought one could only have a grass plot and a few blackened old trees in London!”
“You don’t know Chelsea. We have all sorts of wonders to show your Royal Highness. Old curiosity shops that’ll take you straight back to Dickens. Sunsets over the river. Hidden gardens. But wre have all our lives in which to explore London. My dear, it is lovely to see you here, in my home.”
(From Rhapsody in Spring by D. Quentin)