Catherine 16 The Gate

5 Aug

To their relief, Gertie, startled by the strange behaviour of her patients came running from the nurses’ office.
‘What’s ‘appening ere?’ She exploded, her yellow face turning a deep shade of pink.
‘What in evan’s name are you two doin’ ‘ere?’
‘We want to see Bernadette, Gertie. It’s Christmas day and I want to see my sister.’
‘What do you think this is? An ‘otel?’
There was laughter around the ward again and the girls were mortified. Catherine saw that Collie was close to tears and she wanted to run fast to get away from the spectacle of their disgrace.
‘Where is she?’ The voice from the corner queried.
‘She’s in the’ chest ward’.’ Gertie answered. Pneumonia.’
‘Where’s that? ‘Catherine queried, regaining her confidence, and addressing the sympathetic voice in the shadows.
‘End of the corridor, turn right and you’re there.’
‘’ere, I’ll take you.’ Gertie offered. ‘You lot behave yourselves, I’ll be back in a whisker.’
As they left the ward the girls glimpsed the red and swollen face of the woman in the shadows.
‘Thank you.’ Catherine whispered, shocked by the sight.
‘What’s your name?’ Asked the woman.
‘Catherine Cattell.’
There was a brief pause.
‘John’s daughter?’
‘Yes. Do you know him?’
‘Know him? I did once, or thought I did. He told me about you and your brothers. He didn’t forget you,’
‘How do you know him? Where is he now?’
Catherine reeled with the shock of hearing her father’s name.
‘I don’t know where he is. He may be dead for all I know.’
‘Come on if your coming.’ Gertie shrilled, and ushered the girls out before Catherine had time to question further.
She was still dazed by the encounter when they reached the’ chest ward’, where they found Bernie sitting up in bed looking frail but still breathing at least. She shrieked with delight when she saw Colleen and Catherine enter the ward and the three hugged each other.
‘For the love of God Bernie. We thought you’d died on us so we did.’ Colleen was tearful as she clung to Bernie’s hand.
‘Well I have to say, I thought the same for a while.’
‘Happy Christmas!’
Colleen beamed, having fulfilled her wish and oblivious to the gloomy environment of the ward. Her sister was alive and she could hold her hand. That’s what mattered.
Catherine noticed Alfie’s Christmas tree picture beside Bernie’s pillow.
‘Tell him thanks for that. Whenever I’m feeling miserable I look at it and it cheers me up, so it does.’
Bernie smiled, taking the picture and admiring the cheerful image, incongruous in her present surroundings. Colleen felt complete again at the sound of her sister’s lovely voice, the absence of which had left a terrible void in her life.
‘He’s quite an artist your Alfie.’
Catherine nodded absently, her mind wandering to the strange woman in the’ itch ward’. If only she’d been able to stay and ask more about her father, she may have been closer to finding him.
A large, uniformed woman was making her way towards them, wearing an expression unsuited to the festive occasion.
‘You’d better get out of ‘ere.’
Gertie advised in a loud whisper,
‘ It’s Nurse Peg, not to be trifled with.’
And turning to the girls she assumed an air of outrage, hands on hips and shouted.
‘I telled yous two to get out now didn’t I?
The girls fled, leaving Bernie to explain their presence to nurse Peg and wound their way through the maze of bleak corridors, before creeping out and into the half light as the sun set. A crimson sky blazed above the Workhouse, and the girls shivered.
They were so relieved to be out of the dreadful, hospital atmosphere, thick with the smell if sickness and death and able to breath the fresh icy air of freedom, albeit workhouse freedom, that their next wish had been forgotten and not until the chapel bell rang four times to mark the hour, did they remember Maude.
They sped to the little tradesman’s courtyard and Maude’s gate. Catherine stood on the lower bar and peered over the rails, up and down Brownlow Hill.
‘She’s not here. We’ve missed her.’ She murmured despondently, shivering in her cotton pinafore, too flimsy to protect against the freezing December chill. Colleen climbed up beside her, still elated having seen Bernie, but feeling her friend’s disappointment.
‘She’ll be back tomorrow,’
‘Tomorrow we’ll be working.’ Catherine replied flatly.
The gas lighter was doing his rounds and glanced at them piteously as he passed. Catherine was reminded of the time she had passed the same gate with her mammy and daddy, many years earlier in what seemed to be another life and was shocked at the sight of two sorrowful girls peering out at her. Now she and Colleen stood in their place.



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