Dr Alexander Townsend was very demanding for a guest who had been forced to stay beyond his initial invitation, Annie decided with a wry smile as she carried his tray of mid-morning broth and a fresh water jug upstairs. Quite different from the kind, considerate and hard-working doctor she’d known in the ship’s hospital. He’d obviously been in his professional stride then, working all hours to control what could have been a much more serious epidemic.
Maybe this was his true personality. Or was he just impatient now he was on the other side of the desk, as it were?
Dr Brooke had arrived an hour after Dr Townsend had been helped in, and said it looked worse than it was – heads were notorious for bleeding from only a slight wound. In his opinion it didn’t need stitching. He’d ordered Dr Townsend to rest for a couple of days, here at Amber Bay if possible, where he could be watched for any signs of delayed concussion.
‘Good, it’s you,’ Alex said, his smile lighting up his face as Annie stepped in. ‘Stella keeps on apologising every time she puts her head in the door.’
‘Mrs Scott-Lawson is naturally concerned.’ Annie set the tray on the bedside table.
‘Oh, I know she is.’ He hoisted himself up on the three plump pillows and took the tray Annie handed him. ‘She also feels guilty.
She thinks the accident was her fault.’
‘What do you mean?’ Annie wouldn’t normally dream of questioning a houseguest, but after all, Dr Townsend wasn’t a stranger. She was relieved to see that he didn’t appear to notice anything untoward.
‘Stella saw the cat first and shouted a warning to Bertram. He swerved without knowing what he was supposed to avoid.’ Alex stopped to taste the broth. He glanced up. ‘Delicious. Did you make it?’
For some extraordinary reason Annie felt shy. ‘Yes, sir.’ It felt strange calling him ‘sir’ after she’d always called him ‘doctor’.
She’d even thought of him as Alex in her private moments. This relationship of houseguest and servant was very different and she didn’t really like it. On the ship they’d worked together, but this new situation brought home to her the gaping difference between the classes. But the time they had spent on the ship was over. She must put it out of her mind.
As though he had read her thoughts, he smiled and said, ‘Please don’t call me “sir” when we’re on our own. I’d much prefer you to call me Alex. Especially as we know one another.’ He twinkled at her. ‘Even worked together. I wonder what they’d say if they knew.’
‘If you mean Mr and Mrs Scott-Lawson, then I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t say anything,’ Annie said. She looked at him steadily.
The last thing she wanted was Mr Scott-Lawson mentioning to Ferguson what a coincidence that she’d helped Alex to nurse the patients on the ship. That would be sure to set him off again.
Alex raised an eyebrow.
‘It’s just that…I’d rather keep it between us.’
‘It will be our secret, I promise. And,’ his eyes danced, ‘the other secret is when you lost Ferguson just after we docked.’
Annie’s pulse raced as the scene at Melbourne docklands replayed. Dr Townsend bending down to retrieve her cherished nightgown. She’d prayed he wouldn’t mention that encounter. She looked at the far wall, unable to answer him.
‘We are friends, aren’t we?’ Alex spooned the last of the liquid from the bowl. He put it back on the tray, then looked up at Annie.
‘It’s different now…’ she answered, bringing her gaze back to him, ‘…sir.’ Alex’s mouth twitched. ‘Well, I must go.’ She caught a whiff of tobacco from Alex’s pajama top as she picked up his empty glass on the bedside table. She glared at him theatrically. ‘Tell me the truth. Have you been smoking?’
He looked like a naughty schoolboy who’d just been caught stealing a child’s pencil.
‘How did you know?’
She went over to the window and fully opened it.
‘It wasn’t difficult.’ She turned. ‘Well, I’m pleased you’re feeling better.’
‘I loathe being in bed,’ Alex said. ‘And being a patient, but if it means I can see you sometimes, it’s worth it.’
She wasn’t close enough to read the expression in his eyes.
Then he smiled again. It was a beautiful smile which softened the lines of his face, and made her feel he knew everything about her, faults and all; that she was accepted in spite of them.
Her blush deepened. He really shouldn’t say such personal things but it wasn’t her place to admonish him. Instead, she threw him a look of disapproval which made his smile even broader.
‘I must go,’ she said again, catching a glimpse of the bedside clock.
‘Will you be back with lunch?’
‘So you’re expecting lunch, are you, sir?’ Annie kept a straight face and for a moment Alex looked disconcerted. Serves him right for being presumptuous, she thought, holding back a smile.
Two days later Dr Alexander Townsend left Amber Bay without saying goodbye to Annie. She doubted she would ever see him again. Somehow the thought depressed her.
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