Excerpt from Courageous Heart

     "There. That's much better," Hillary said.
     "In whose opinion?" snarled Miss Scott.
     The young nurse turned to look at her patient now, more visible in the natural daylight. Her skin was papery and white, an abundance of wrinkles and creases. Her soft, angel-like hair was pulled delicately to the top of her head. She was old, in her late seventies or maybe her eighties. But her eyes contradicted the fact.
     For in that face that showed the signs of so many years of life, two bright and very alive eyes stared out and took in all that was going on around them. At the moment she was giving Hillary the most thorough inspection that the girl had ever received.
     Hillary stood quietly before her, trying to interpret her gaze.
     "Let me tell you something, Nurse. Let us get this straight. I am in charge here. I make the decisions about everything that goes on in this household. You, as well as any other of my employees or guests, will do exactly as I bid. I am not a person to be argued with. And if that situation is not something that you can comply with, then you may pack your bags and go your pretty way. Am I understood?"
     In her life so far, Hillary had often been barraged by inquisitive lawyers, by pious boarding-school matrons, by demanding nursing instructors, and by temperamental surgeons. She had always held her tongue and her temper, flushing with rage at times, admittedly, but nevertheless refraining from losing her composure and giving vent to an emotional outburst.
     Perhaps she was tired on that particular day. Perhaps she was feeling resentment, a deep inner anger for being obligated to take this Eagle's Watch position. Perhaps she just instinctively felt that this woman before her was a personality to be immediately reckoned with, a personality in which she had met her match in stubbornness and strength. But whatever the reason, Hillary opened her mouth and answered the lavender lady sitting so arrogantly before her.
     "No, Miss Scott. I'm afraid that you're not understood. First of all, my duty as a nurse is to assist you in every way that I can to make you as comfortable and as healthy as is humanly possible. And while I am in your employ, I cannot answer to any of your wishes that may be detrimental to your health, either in my own opinion, or in the doctor's. Furthermore, I am not a scared little rabbit who is going to hop at your beck and call. If that's what you want, then you've hired the wrong nurse. I am a person, and I insist on being treated with respect. I have taken this position out of a strong feeling of duty, and I fully intend to do the best that I can. But if my work is not satisfactory to you, I'll pack my bags at a moment's notice and be gone before you can give it another thought. And now, are we both understood?"
     Hillary knew that her face was burning with a telltale red flush. She was breathless, and her eyes were flashing and angry. And she fully expected the white-haired woman to explode at her outburst.
     But she didn't. She just sat there in silence. She sat and stared coolly at the young, freckled redhead who stood proudly in front of her, the nurse who had been sent by her very best friend in the world, Matilda Waverly.
     Hillary waited in the deafening silence for the blow to fall, for her employer to send her abruptly away. She was already regretting her impulsive words, if only out of fear that an emotional upset could aggravate her patient's condition.
     But Priscilla Scott said nothing for quite some time. And then, very slowly, the traces of a smile began to etch their way on her withered face. Her eyes were dancing.
     Then she spoke.
     "Now that we've gotten to know each other, Hillary, don't you think it's time we began to work?" She pointed to the doctor's folder that Hillary still clutched in her hand.
     Hillary was dumbfounded. She stared into the clear and intelligent eyes of her employer. And slowly, the realization of what was going on dawned on her.
     "You just baited me, Priscilla Scott. Didn't you?"
     The eyes smiled gleefully back at her.
     "And it was such fun! My, I haven't had such a good time in ages." She chuckled in a low, throaty voice.
     "But why?"
     "To put it bluntly, Hillary Holt, because I had to see who you were. Because I had to see what kind of stuff you were made of. Because I had to make sure you were here on your own accord, an independent person, and not a little snip of a girl who was doing her great-aunt's bidding because her great-aunt held the purse strings."
     "But I am here to please Miss Matilda," Hillary said honestly.
     "Because you feel you owe her something. Which is admirable. But not because you're interested in the rest of her money. Which would not be uncommon. But if that were the case, then you would have cowered before me. You would have done whatever I demanded to stay in her good graces. You wouldn't have dared to risk it all!"
     Hillary giggled now and sounded like a young girl. Despite her earlier anger, she felt herself warming toward her patient.
     Miss Scott spoke again. "But you blew your cool. And so now I know that Matilda was, as usual, right in her judgment of character. Which is very, very fortunate for me."
     Hillary shook her head in disbelief. "Miss Matilda doesn't know anything about me. Miss Scott. I've never even laid eyes on her."
     "That just goes to show how little you know, freckled Hillary. She knows just about everything there is to know about you. She's followed your life every step of the way. She cares very much, you know."
     "But why has she stayed so far away?" Hillary felt a strange pounding in her ears. Did the answer mean so very much to her?
     "She had her reasons, Hillary. She thought it was better that way. And she's usually right, as you will hopefully one day find out. Matilda's a bit of a character. Quite a bit. That's why we're such good friends. But enough of Miss Matilda. We'll have plenty of time to speak of her. Right now, I want to welcome you to Eagle's Watch and tell you how glad I am that you're here. I need you very much, you know."
     "I'll help you all that I can."
     "I know you will. I'll be open with you and admit something I've never admitted to another soul. This stroke has been quite a shock to me, Hillary. I feel dependent and vulnerable, a state that doesn't agree with my disposition."
     Hillary could well imagine, remembering her employer's sharp tongue on her arrival. "When I read the medical information, I'll have a better view of your condition. I can see that you're the type—well, the type who likes to be on top of things."
     "How politely you put it. I'd just say I like to rule over everything in sight. Rather hard to do when you can't stand on your own two feet. By the way, I hope you're a good bird watcher."
     A bird watcher? Hillary swallowed. This was all too strange to be true. Was Miss Scott a little senile? It was hard to believe, with those clear, piercing eyes. But still, a bird watcher?
     "If you mean eagles, Miss Scott, I must say I didn't see a trace of them as I pulled up."
     "Bah, eagles. We'd have to have your head examined if you thought you saw any of those. I haven't seen one for over thirty years. No, it's vultures I'm talking about."
     "Vultures!" Hillary cried helplessly. "What vultures?"
     "The ones who will be descending on Eagle's Watch very shortly, Nurse Holt. My not-distant-enough relatives, as soon as they receive word of my recent illness. You'll see. Vultures."
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