once or twice in the hospital, that I should never see Oudehof again. I do hope you are going to be happy thereâit is very quiet, and you are so young and pretty, you should be having fun.â
Maggy laughed rather wistfully. âDinna worry, Mevrouw Doelsma, Iâll not miss what I seldom had.â
Her patient raised her eyebrows. âBut, Maggyâ¦ Iâve not liked to ask you before, but surely you must have boyfriends, or one special one?â
Maggy chuckled. âNay, where will I find a wee man to top my size?â Her gaze fell on the sleek car loitering behind the ambulance and she looked away quickly with pink cheeks. âIâll be very happy, Mevrouw Doelsma; Iâve never been in a foreign land, and everything is strange and exciting to me.â
She broke off as the ambulance turned off at right angles from the main road. Her patient became quite animated.
âMaggy, tell me anything you see, so that I know where we are.â
They travelled several kilometres thus, with Maggy describing windmills, canals, and houses as they passed them, until they turned off the narrow road through a pair of magnificent wrought iron gates and bowled along a semi-circular driveâMaggy could just see its other end sweeping back to the road again via another pair of gates. She twisted round and craned her neck to see through the tiny window behind the driver, and caught her first glimpse of Oudehof. It was red brick, square, and so symmetrical that it appeared to have been cut out of cardboard, and then stuck on to the surrounding countryside. There was an imposing door, approached by double steps, and flankedby large flat windowsâthe same windows crossed the face of the house in two neat rows above the door, capped by a steep roof. The house had the air of having been there a long time, and had every intention of remaining just as it was for a comfortable forever.
The ambulance drew up in front of the entrance, and before the driver was out of his seat, the Rolls had slid to a halt a couple of feet behind them, and it was the doctor who opened the door. His eyes went at once to his mother.
âAll right, Mama? Iâll carry you up to your room.â He slid the stretcher partly out on its runners, picked her up in his arms, and strode off to the door, where a small group of people had gathered.
Maggy, collecting the odds and ends of their journey, thought how much nicer it would have been if he had at least suggested that she should go with them. She eyed the figures in the doorway, feeling shy. Doubtless Dr Doelsma expected her to follow him. She walked across the broad sweep of the drive towards the door, and as she did so one of the people standing detached himself and came to meet her. He was grey-haired and pleasant-faced, and when he spoke she realised he was English. âIâm Pratt, the butler, Sister.â He took her case and her cloak; he didnât smile, but she sensed his friendliness towards her. âIâll take you to Madamâs rooms, and later on, if you will ring, Mrs Pratt will take you to your room.â
She gave him a grateful glance and followed him into the hall. It was square and rather dim, and the black and white tiled floor gleamed richly underfoot. The walls were panelled and hung with portraits. There were doors leading off on either side, and a broad staircase, elaborately carved, rose from the back of the hall to a half-landing, and then branched off on either side to the floor above. Maggy foundherself gently ushered past the handful of men and women gathered near the door and led upstairs to a broad corridor. He crossed this and knocked on a door decorated with swags of fruit and flowers, delicately carved in the wood. The doctorâs voice answered and Pratt opened the door and ushered her in. Mevrouw Doelsma was lying on a fourposter bed; the doctor was in the act of covering her with a rug and looked over his shoulder at Maggy.