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The Wonder

Emma Donoghue
Publisher
Picador
Price
ISBN
9781509818389


EXTRACT COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

The journey was no worse than she expected. A train from Lon­don to Liverpool; the steam packet overnight to Dublin; a slow Sunday train west to a town called Athlone. A driver was waiting. "Mrs. Wright?"

Lib had known many Irishmen, soldiers. But that was some years ago, so her ear strained now to make out the driver's words.

He carried her trunk to what he called the jaunting car. An Irish misnomer; nothing jaunty about this bare cart. Lib settled herself on the single bench down the middle, her boots hanging closer to the right-hand wheel than she liked. She put up her steel-frame umbrella against the drizzle. This was better than the stuffy train, at least.

On the other side of the bench, slouching so his back almost touched hers, the driver flicked his whip. "Go on, now!"

The shaggy pony stirred.

The few people on the macadamised road out of Athlone seemed wan, which Lib attributed to the infamous diet of potatoes and little else. Perhaps that was responsible for the driver's missing teeth too.

He made some remark about the dead. "I beg your pardon?" "The dead centre, ma'am."

Lib waited, braced against the juddering of the cart. He pointed down. "We're in the exact middle of the country here."

Flat fields striped with dark foliage. Sheets of reddish-brown peat; wasn't bogland known to harbour disease? The occasional grey remains of a cottage, almost greened over. Nothing that struck Lib as picturesque. Clearly the Irish Midlands were a depression where wet pooled, the little circle in a saucer.

The jaunting car turned off the road onto a narrower gravel way. The pattering on her umbrella's canvas became a continuous thrum. Windowless cabins; Lib imagined a family with its animals in each, huddling in out of the rain.

At intervals a lane led off towards a jumble of roofs that prob­ably constituted a village. But never the right village, evidently. Lib should have asked the driver how long the journey was likely to take. She didn't put the question to him now in case the answer was Still a long time yet.

All Matron at the hospital had said was that an experienced nurse was required for two weeks, in a private capacity. The costs of keep and travel to and from Ireland to be furnished, as well as a daily consideration. Lib knew nothing about the O'Donnells except that they had to be a family of means if they were cosmo­politan enough to send all the way to England for a better class of nurse. It occurred to her only now to wonder how they could know that the patient would need her services for no more nor less than a fortnight. Perhaps Lib was a temporary replacement for another nurse.

In any case, she'd be quite well paid for her trouble, and the novelty of the thing held some interest. At the hospital, Lib's train­ing was resented as much as it was appreciated, and only the more basic of her skills were required: feeding, changing dressings, bed-making.

She resisted the impulse to reach under her cloak and pull out her watch; it wouldn't make the time go any faster, and the rain might get into the mechanism.