That spring — the spring of 1950 — had been particularly wet.
An area at the bottom of the garden at Hart House flooded, creating a shallow pool through which the crocuses gamely raised their little flounced heads, like cold shivering children in a swimming class. The blond gravel on the garden paths had turned green, each pebble wrapped in a moist transparent blanket of slime, and one could not sit on either of the two cement benches that flanked the river gate without first unhinging the snails and slugs adhered to them.
The excessive moistness of the garden was of no concern to anyone at Hart House except for the new nurse, who had arrived on Thursday, and had attempted, on the two afternoons that were somewhat mild, to sit outside for a moment, away from the sickness and strain in the house. But she found the garden inhospitable, and so had resolved to stay indoors.
She was the nurse, officially at least, only to the old lady, Mrs Hart, who was dying of cancer. Her son, Major Hart, who had been wounded in the war — he seemed to be missing a leg or at least part of one, and moved his entire body with an odd marionette stiffness — did not, officially at least, require a nurse.
Coral Glynn was the third nurse to arrive in as many months; it was unclear what, exactly, had driven her predecessors away, although there was much conjecture on the subject in the town. First it was supposed that the Major was perhaps a Lothario, and had made disreputable advances, although he had never acted that way before — in fact, he had always seemed to hold himself above romance of any kind. Then, when the second nurse, who had been quite old, fled as fleetly, it had been assumed that Mrs Hart was impossibly difficult, since dying people often are, and Edith Hart, even when in the bloom of health, had tried one's patience. The new nurse — the third — was young again, and was expected to be seen escaping, either from unwanted seduction or abuse, on any given day.
There was one other person in the house besides Coral and Mrs and Major Hart: an elderly woman named Mrs Prence, who acted as cook and house keeper. Before the war there had been a real cook and a maid, but now all the burdens of the house hold fell upon Mrs Prence, who bore them with a grudging dutifulness.
Hart House was several miles outside of Harrington, in Leicestershire. It stood upon a slight rise in the water meadows beside the river Tarle, near the edge of the Sap Green Forest. There were no other houses within sight, for the meadows often flooded, and the air was damp and considered bad.
From Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron. Copyright 2012 by Peter Cameron. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux LLC. All rights reserved.