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Lubricated Penguins

Chapter Text

Tom stood at the bus stop on the main road adjoining the street where the Turners now lived. Tom was pleased with his morning's work. Over a cup of Typhoo tea and a lemon puff, Edward Patrick Turner's christening had been meticulously arranged. Most of the morning, however, had been taken up by a fully-committed Angela giving the young clergyman an extensive tour of her new house - much to Shelagh Turner's obvious discomfort. There was some embarrassment on both sides as Angela refused to leave out an inch of her new kingdom. He just hoped Timothy Turner would never become privy to the knowledge that the curate had once been in his bedroom.

Tom tightened his scratchy Woolworth's scarf around his neck and pulled his overcoat collar up. Mrs Turner had been right to keep the little girl indoors, even it did result in a hint of petulance from the child. The back garden may be Angela Turner's favourite thing about her new house, but she was definitely better off inside the new centrally-heated, detached new build.

Suddenly, a streak of blue whizzed past his eyes and then pulled up sharply. An all too familiar voice shrieked back at him.

"Hello Tom! Where are you off too?"

It apparently wasn't as cold as he and Mrs Turner had thought, looking at Trixie Franklin waving to him from the passenger seat of an open topped sports car.

"The London, Trixie. Mr. Samuelson." Tom explained.

"Oh, that dear man," Trixie's exuberance dampened momentarily. "Why don't you try and squeeze in, we will drop you off. Won't we Sweetie?" Trixie smiled, that smile at the driver.

Christopher Dockerill and the curate exchanged a glance and a more reserved smile. Tom assured Trixie, that the No.52 was due any minute. He guessed the dentist was on his dinner break and didn't want to share any of that precious time with anyone but his lunch date.

Trixie gave Tom an apologetic smile as she waved goodbye and soon became a blue blur in the distance. Tom smiled. If Trixie had married him she would be stood at this bus stop with him or maybe one like it in Newcastle. Instead she was speeding through Poplar in a sports car. She looked amazing, she looked happy, she looked the part.

Tom was still musing over the differing paths his old love and he had taken as he mounted the stairs of the  dirty, red London bus. A familiar voice shook him from his reverie,

"How do, Reverend. Where are you off too then?" Tom looked up to see Fred's cheery face beaming from the seat behind the stairwell.

Tom told Fred about his proposed visit. Fred closed the newspaper he had been reading and sighed, "Poor old Sammy eh! Too bad, known him all my life, since I was nipper. Grand bloke."

Tom felt he may have given too much away about his concerns for his parishioner and changed the subject.

"Catching up with the news, Fred?"

"Na, not me it's all gloom 'n' doom. If you ask me this country is going to the dogs. I just get it to see how many the 'ammers got beat by and to have a look at the gee-gees." Fred wafted the well-thumbed copy of last night's Evening Standard at Tom.

His voice lowered. "Between you 'n' me Reverend, there is a good thing in the 2:35 at Aintree today. Never been beat, class against muck. Handicapper has let one fly, if you know what I mean?" Tom hadn't the faintest idea what Fred meant, it was like he was speaking another language.

"I will just say this young man, with the help of this little beauty, my Violet can expect something special in her Christmas stocking. If you catch my drift?"

If Tom could have pushed the next sentence that left his lips back into his mouth, he would have. "Fred, I am sure Mrs. Buckle would be pleased with any gift you can afford. Safe in the knowledge you aren't risking your hard earned wages on gambling."

"You weren't so high and mighty about a little flutter on your stag do, was you Reverend. Weren't so proud when it got your girl that big fancy carousel?"

Tom was horrified he had not meant to sound so preachy and Fred was a friend, a good friend. He had been given a stag night to remember, well some of it he remembered. It had all been because of this kind and thoughtful man.

"So what you got the missus for Christmas then, bit hard to top your own personal fairground, ain't it? Set of dodgems, is it?"

Fred stood up and pulled the cord to ring the bell for his stop. He saw the clergy's crestfallen face and wondered if he had been a bit harsh? He liked Mr. Hereward a lot.

"Never you mind vicar about presents, newly-weds can make their own funfair at Christmas." He winked at the curate, trying to ease the tension between the two.

Tom's visit to the London turned out better than he expected. Mr. Samuelson looked so much better than he had on Tom's last visit to his home. The old man confessed to the curate that he was hoping he would be in hospital over Christmas, surrounded by wonderful caring nurses, who reminded him of his late wife Mabel and a grumpy matron, who reminded him of his old Sergeant Major.

His renewed optimism regarding Mr. Samuelson didn't bolster the curate's spirits for long. He couldn't forget his earlier conversation with Fred. What was he going to get Barbara for Christmas? The wedding and simple honeymoon had practically cleaned Tom out. How was he going to top a carousel? When he couldn't even afford a sherbet lolly. He remembered Trixie waving to him from her new beau's status symbol. He knew Barbara would never expect or even want to go skiing for Christmas or be driven around in a sports car. The nearest they got to that was when she let him ride her bike and she had a croggy on the handlebars.

He thought about the scene of domestic bliss he had witnessed this morning. Barbara's and his children wouldn't have their own bedrooms. They wouldn't have a garden to play in. They would play out with all the other kids on the streets of Poplar. The clergy's children would play with the docker's kids. Would they survive? Would they be bullied? He thought of Timothy Turner, he grew up on the East End streets, no one picked on Tim, he was accepted. Playing violin and piano when the other kids were playing British Bulldogs. Going to Grammar School while his mates got jobs on the docks or in factories. You couldn't get a more well balanced happy teenager than Tim Turner, could you? Tom gave himself a shake. She had married a clergyman not a doctor or a dentist and if anyone knew what that meant, Barbara did. Yes, she deserved everything and more that her friends had, but she had chosen differently.

As Tom headed across Whitechapel Road he noticed a new addition to the line of shops near the station. Tom had read somewhere that since bookmaking had been made legal last May, that over 10,000 Betting Shops had arrived in High Streets across the UK. That did seem rather a lot. In his line of work he had seen many families ripped apart by gambling, just as he had by drinking. Yet he still enjoyed a pint of mild, when he had the chance and felt it in no way threatened his and Barbara's happiness or comfort. Everything in moderation his father had always said.

The same thing applied when he looked at Fred. Violet knew all about Fred's little flutters, of course she did and she didn't seem to mind. Then there was Dougie Roberts, renowned for not been able to pass up a bet. What was that expression about 2 boys and a wall? Well, that applied to Dougie. One look at his wife Ruby, told you she wanted for nothing. His two girls were always immaculately turned out and as for their boy, well it was widely acknowledged that nothing was too good for little Douglas.

The building was small and the windows blacked out making it look secretive, menacing almost. He was inside before he even realized what he was about to do. The smell of stale cigarette smoke hit him first. As his eyes adjusted to the artificial light, he glanced at his fellow occupants in the tiny room. No one looked at Tom. The curate made sure his scarf was wrapped tightly around his throat and the collar of his overcoat drawn together to hide his dog collar.

"Alright Darling, next race 2:35 at Aintree."

Tom turned and blinked at the young woman behind the small counter. "Ain't seen you in here before, I'd 'ave remembered. First time is it?" She winked at him.

The bleached blonde with the beehive flashed him a mischievous smile. Tom inwardly chastised himself for putting himself in this position, but before he could make a break for it. The cheeky blonde was beside him and had thrust a small piece of paper in his hand, along with a ridiculously small pencil. She was explaining that all the information he would need on runners and riders was pinned to the wall in front of him.

"Just put, the race time, horses name and how much you want to bet on there, sweetheart. I will do the rest." She flounced back to the counter leaving a scent of cheap perfume and polo mints behind her.

Tom knew he had to leave now. If only at this point the chirpy assistant hadn't turned up the volume on the solitary black and white television set, following a request from a punter. It spouted;

We will just take a look at the runners for our next race the 2:35 at Aintree. The commentator's voice startled Tom. No.1 is a big outsider, first time at Aintree for Glorious Gilbert..."

Tom heard no more, his heart missed a beat. Maybe this wasn't a mistake after all. Tom rushed to the pinned up papers, found what he needed. He scribbled on the tiny slip and presented it to his curious new ally behind the desk. Searching in his trouser pocket, he hesitated only for a second, as he took out a precious ten bob note and handed it over to its willing recipient. It took Tom a full minute to realize what he had done. He moved to a place where he could get a good view of the flickering set. He longed to unbutton his coat, but instead he pulled the collar tighter.

The small room was overheated, a fierce looking electric heater in the corner was whirring and spluttering. They were going down, the commentator informed him, in a few minutes it would all be over. No one would ever know how stupid he had been.

"Reverend! Well this is a right turn up for the books, twice in one day!" Tom froze as a large hand patted him on the back. The girl behind the counter started coughing uncontrollably after swallowing her Polo mint whole.

Rather weakly and somewhat defensively Tom retorted. "I could ask you the same question, Fred."

Fred didn't bat an eyelid. "I often does a bit of business on Whitechapel Market, just thought I'd pop in here for a warm."

"Friend of yours Fred?" the assistant had regained her composure.

"Alright, Thelma love?" tactfully leaving the enquiry unanswered.

Tom was grateful realizing Fred must have just popped in for a lot of 'warms' recently. Fred led Tom away from listening ears and asked him why the last person he was expecting to meet in a Whitechapel Betting Shop was stood next to him. Tom could have said he was looking for a parishioner or putting on a bet for old Mr. Samuelson. Tom knew he was a fool, but he also knew he wasn't a liar. Tom handed his friend the slip he had been clutching so tightly. Fred just asked him why?

"For Barbara," was all he could reply. Fred pulled off his woolly hat, scratched his head and looked bewildered at the curate. "I was pulling your leg, winding you up, you silly sod."

Fred felt bereft he had maybe had some part in the choices Tom had made that afternoon. He looked so uncomfortable, so out of place. "Gambling is a mug's game. I know I am a mug."

Tom protested, "What about Walthamstow, what about Galilee Lad...?" Fred interrupted, "Dogs is dogs. A good dog can beat another good dog any day of the week. Now your thoroughbred, that's a different animal. You've got to know your oats. So to speak."

Tom felt sick and hot and stupid. Fred looked at Tom's slip and shook his head. "66/1, it's a maiden!" Fred couldn't hide his exasperation.

All Tom could offer was that he thought it was a stallion. Fred snorted. "Yes, It is a bloke. A maiden just means it's never won a race. You know, like a maiden's never..."

"Yes, I get the picture Fred, thank you." The simple question why? came again from Fred's face of pity. "For Barbara." Came back the reply.

Fred explained he had popped in for another "warm" earlier and had put on an accumulative bet called a Round Robin. The favourite in this race was Mr. Minty and if he came in for Fred, it was happy days. Tom wondered if a Round Robin was a special type of wager just for the festive season, but didn't ask.

Thelma turned the volume on the television up another notch. As the race announcer declared, And they're off!  

"That's yours in the red and white stripes," she nodded at Tom. The curate looked bewildered at the black and white picture. Fred grinned, winked at him and shook his head.

Even with Tom's untrained eye, he could see Mr Minty looked like a different class from the rest of the field.

"Jumps like a stag!" Fred beamed with pride.

"You mean there are fences!" Tom cried.

"It's winter Mr. Hereward, the National Hunt season."

Not for the first time Tom wondered why no-one was speaking English today. The 6 horses seemed to take each fence in their stride. Mr Minty led from the off and literally flew over every obstacle. Emerald Eyes fell at the 6th. Tom offered up a silent prayer for the horse and jockey. Remarkably both bounced back up on to their feet. Emerald Eyes, now rider-less, soon caught up to her competitors. Welsh Wonder refused to jump at the 7th and was pulled up. Bobby's Girl unseated her jockey at the 9th. Gorgeous Gilbert was last of the 3 remaining runners, it was no threat to Mr Minty, but seemed quite happy to plod on behind and appeared to relish the jumps.

"Your nag has stopped to eat some grass." Fred mocked. Tom realized he no longer cared. As long as horse and jockey got home safety, that was all that mattered now.

"One more jump and we are home and dry, go on my son!" a very excited Fred Buckle yelled. Mr Minty took off for the final time and so did his jockey. He took off from his saddle and somersaulted over Mr Minty's head. The jockey landed unceremoniously on his behind on the turf. Mr Minty didn't miss a step and galloped home triumphantly.

Fred swore. Apologised to Tom and then cursed again. Tom and Fred's gaze returned to the screen, while the cameras had been focused on the fate of the unfortunate favourite. Tom's horse had made up ground on the second. Blonde Bombshell was coming to the last now, as the unexpected favourite. She jumped the fence cleanly, but stumbled on landing. Her jockey pulling hard to maintain his balance. Gorgeous Gilbert jumped beautifully and was now just a length behind the tiring leader.

Fred suddenly became animated, he grabbed Tom's sleeve, "You're in with a chance here Reverend."

Tom was perspiring, feeling sick and dizzy due to the heat, the confinement of the small shop and the overpowering cigarette stench compounded by his confusion at his own actions. Fred was now jumping up and down shaking Tom's arm. "Come on you beauty, come on for Mrs H!" He screamed.

The enthusiasm of his friend did not go unnoticed by Tom, Fred had shaken off the disappointment of his own loss and was right behind Tom's fortunes. The broadcaster continued his quick-fire commentary.

It's a long run in here at Aintree, Blonde Bombshell is tiring, she is losing ground. Gorgeous Gilbert is gaining on her. Here he comes. There is just a neck in it now. They coming up to the line. He has done it! The outsider has pulled off a shock today here at Aintree, Glorious Gilbert the winner at 66/1.

Fred was now kissing a very dazed Tom. The feel of Fred's stubble on his cheek jolted Tom back to reality. Fred pushed Tom towards a grinning Thelma.

"Where you taking me tonight then, Handsome? Now you've cleaned me out."

Fred gave Thelma a stern stare and the assistant took out a wad of notes and began counting out Tom's winnings. "What do you fancy in the next then?"

Tom shaking with the money in his hand replied, "I don't know. I will have a look."

A large hand grabbed Tom's arm and before he knew it, Tom was finally outside. His lungs shuddered with relief at the cold fresh air. Fred had him by both shoulders and was staring Tom right in the eyes. Tom felt faint with the sudden environmental change and the smell of tea, jellied eels, and sweat.

"Now you listen to me Tom! You got lucky, you were given a break. Betting is a mug's game, I know cos I am a mug see. Apart from the day I stepped up at Nonnatus House and the day I married my girls mother and of course my Vi."

Tom was getting his bearings and Fred had his full attention. "I know how you feel mate. Of course I does, your missus earns more than you do. You can't get her the things you'd like too. You don't want her feeling second best. You don't want people thinking you're not a real man because your wife works, or it looks like you can't provide for her. Well none of that matters. They'll soon change their minds, when they want a baby delivering or christening, when they want marrying or burying. They'll soon remember then, how important you and that young lass are to Poplar. When they're in trouble, when they have need of you. They will remember and so should you!"

Fred finally let go of Tom and the smaller man swayed slightly. "Now keep that stash, safe in your pocket and go and find a nice present for Mrs H, that's what all this is about. Ain't it? He smiled at Tom and added, "Let that be the end of it."

"The end of what, Fred?"

The last question didn't come from Tom's soft brogue but from a higher pitched voice, a feminine voice and one that held a hint of anxiety. Fred knew he couldn't answer Mrs Hereward's question and made his swift goodbyes and was lost in Whitechapel Market in a heartbeat.

Tom stared at his wife in disbelief, a feeling mirrored by Barbara. After accompanying a patient to the London for admission, she had not expected as she crossed the Whitechapel Road, to see her husband and the Nonnatus handyman coming out of a betting shop.

Barbara repeated her question, this time to Tom. Tom knew he was a fool, but he was not a liar. His confession poured from his heart. How he resented not being able to give Barbara the lifestyle she deserved. How she should have the sort of things her friends were quickly becoming accustomed too. It broke his heart to see Trixie swanning off skiing, when he hadn't been able to give Barbara a proper honeymoon. He wanted their children to have a room of their own and a garden with a swing and a slide. He hadn't even been able to buy his love an engagement ring. He hadn't been able to bear the thought of their first Christmas as man and wife exchanging some worthless trumpery from the market.

Tears welled up in Barbara's eyes, she held both his hands in hers. "Do you know me so little, that you think I would envy a skiing trip or a ride in a sports car? Do you think I give a damn about the latest fashions or hair styles? For one moment do you think I would swap our cosy little flat in the centre of our bustling, vibrant world for a big house on a faceless new estate somewhere, where we know no-one. Where we would have to cycle or get the bus every time we wanted to see our friends. Tom I would live with you in a bus shelter and would not care if we never stepped out of Poplar again, as long as I was with you."

Tom was struggling to hold back the tears now. Barbara had not finished.

"You are so incredibly dear to me, Tom. I feel I am the luckiest girl in the world. On Sunday morning, I feel this when I hear you preach with understanding and compassion, not judgment and prejudice. I feel blessed beyond belief, when I watch you hold a dying man's hand, comfort a widow, help those in need find a way or just make a child feel important. I burst with pride every time someone calls me Mrs or Nurse Hereward, because that means that out of the whole world the best man I have ever met, chose me."

Tom pulled her close into a soft salty tear stained kiss. He didn't care if anyone noticed his dog collar now. He promised to never be so foolish again.

"Just tell me Tom, how much did you lose?"

"I didn't lose anything Barbara, I won. I won over 30 quid!" Barbara blinked and then gasped in disbelief.

She wouldn't tell Tom just yet, but the pensioners Christmas dinner and the children's party were definitely going to be remembered this year. Their first year as the curate and his wife. As Mr and Mrs Hereward.

"I guess I beat the odds when I married you, Barbara," Tom continued.

"Never mind about that Mr Hereward, I have just finished my shift and if you come with me. It's a dead cert, that you are on a sure thing."

Barbara had pulled Tom onto the No.52 bus before he realized what she meant. Not for the first time today he realized he had backed a winner.

Chapter Text

Phyllis Crane sat on the edge of her bed. She removed her new plum court shoes. She had bought them especially for this most special of days. Today had been one of the most memorable of Phyllis' rich and varied life. Phyllis had never been a bride, she had never even been a bridesmaid, until today.

Phyllis looked around the room she had shared for two years with the bride she had tended all day. The room looked bereft, empty without her-could she actually use the term, yes she could, Barbara had given her permission- without her best friend.

Phyllis changed her pinching court shoes for a much more comfortable pair of lace up granny shoes and went to join the fun of the fair. Nurse Crane intended to just watch her fellow guests enjoy the pretty Poplar carousel. Valerie Dyer however, had other ideas. After quite a struggle she persuaded the more mature nurse to mount one of the ornate horses. A few rotations later Phyllis thought she had placated her friend, but it wasn't so. Valerie dragged Phyllis into a more dignified position, seated in a sleigh as the fairground ride began to turn once more.

Fred was doing his best Billy Bigelow impression, helping people on and off the fairground ride. Valerie had finally had enough and Fred assisted Phyllis' dismount from the carousel. The nurse rebuffed Fred's offer of a hand, but when she tried to negotiate the two large steps to the ground, realized she was quite dizzy and stumbled into the path of a young woman dressed in blue.

"Sorry!" cried Phyllis, "I am dreadfully sorry."

"It's alright Phyllis, I think we are all a bit giddy today."

The familiar Welsh lilt comforted Nurse Crane, at least she hadn't careered into a stranger. Delia Busby held onto her assailants hands very lightly, letting Phyllis regain her balance. Gratefully Phyllis looked into the young woman's face, it was then she noticed that there were tears in those big blue eyes. Unfortunately this had become an all too familiar sight in the last few months. However, this was not the forlorn face that had given Phyllis such cause for concern of late. This Delia Busby was wearing a smile that would melt the newly falling snow.

"Are you two alright?" The voice was sharp, but concerned, "Those contraptions always make one feel awfully disorientated, I find."

"I am fine Patsy and I believe, so is Delia."

Phyllis and Delia dropped hands after the most gentle of squeezes. "May I say Nurse Mount, that you are a most welcome late arrival to this wedding." Phyllis continued with a hint of a smile.

"I hadn't the faintest idea it was today, I am not suitably attired for the occasion, but I hope I will be forgiven?"

Phyllis studied the tall, striking figure in blue jeans, plimsolls and what to Phyllis looked like an old man's raincoat.

"You'll do Patsy, you'll do?"

Once the carousel had completed its last orbit and Horlicks and wedding cake had been gratefully received, Phyllis Crane was ready to turn in. On entering her room she became aware it was a lot less empty, than when she last left it. A blue suitcase stood against Barbara's old bed. She wondered how she had not realized earlier, Valerie now occupied Patsy's old bed and Barbara no longer had need for hers.

Phyllis removed the red carnation from her wedding suit and placed it on her Spanish dictionary, she would press it properly tomorrow. Once in bed, Phyllis weary from the excitement of the day was soon asleep. Though not for long, she was woken abruptly by a loud crash and a curse, then an apology. Nurse Mount unfamiliar with negotiating her new room in the dark had fallen over her suitcase.

"Nurse Mount, I will make an exception on this occasion, due to the nature of the day. Nurse Gilbert and myself had an understanding, allowing of course for on call duties, lights out was set for 10 o'clock."

In the days that followed Patsy kept strictly to the deadline. It wasn't Patsy's compliance around going to bed that worried Phyllis, it was her habit of not staying there all night, that concerned the older roommate.

The redhead had swiftly mastered the room layout in the dark, and the position of the creaky floorboard, and knew just how to leave the door just on the latch, so it opened quietly. For all her stealth, Patsy had not been unsuccessful in concealing her night time excursions from her light sleeping roommate. Nurse Crane had worked too many years on call to be a sound sleeper.

Phyllis couldn't shake off a sense of foreboding each evening. She fretted that Trixie or Valerie would discover Patsy's night time manoeuvres. Or even more catastrophically Sister Julienne or Sister Winifred or more likely a restless Sister Monica Joan; almost as prone to night time wandering as Patsy.

Sister Julienne sat at her desk at the start of her mornings work. The knock on her door signalled an unscheduled visit from Nurse Crane. The nurse took a seat and took a deep breath and began her plea.

"Sister Julienne, as you will be well aware, I am not one to ask for favours or seek privileges. However I do feel it necessary to alert you to a circumstance that I can no longer completely tolerate."

Sister Julienne sat calmly in front of the midwife and begged her to continue.

"I am fully aware that Nurse Franklin is acting Sister, after yourself she is the longest serving nurse at Nonnatus House. You will also be aware that I have been qualified longer than her, or any of the other nurses employed here." Sister Julienne stiffened slightly in her chair, but her visitor continued,

"I do not seek reward for my length of service to my chosen profession, I never have. I do though feel the time has now come, that there should be some sort of acknowledgement to my seniority both professionally and personally."

Sister Julienne intrigued by her colleagues comments enquired, "In what form would you like this acknowledgement to take?"

"I would be most appreciative if you could see fit to allocate me, my own room."

This had not been what the nurse-in-charge had been expecting. Phyllis was fully aware that the only single room designated for the secular midwives was occupied by Nurse Busby. The sister had felt it appropriate to allocate the young student her own room when she came to live at Nonnatus, not fully recovered from her horrific accident.

Phyllis protested that Nurse Busby was now fully recovered from her injury and that her position as a trainee midwife, no longer entitled her to the privilege of a single room.

Sister Julienne was somewhat surprised at the ferocity of Nurse Crane's arguments. Although she sympathized with the midwives position, she really could not justify asking another resident to vacate their room, just because another wanted it. Phyllis knew once she left the office that day, the matter would be closed forever. She had one final strategy.

"Sister, we are not so very far apart in years. Could I be so bold as to enquire, how you would reconcile yourself with the idea of sharing a room with Sister Winifred?"

Delia Busby linked her girlfriend's arm as they walked down the Nonnatus staircase. Patsy immediately untangled herself from her affectionate companion.

"Oh Pat's don't be like that." The rejected nurse admonished. "Trixie links me all the time, when we are out. So does Val, honestly she is such a laugh, she is so one of us, you just need to get to know her. People think it's more peculiar that you always push me away."

Patsy couldn't bear to see the hurt in her lovers beautiful eyes, she had disappointed her so much lately. Patsy grabbed Delia's wrist and wrapped it around her forearm. A triumphant smile lit up the Welsh girls face and then disappeared almost instantly, when on hearing the office door open and shut, Patsy dropped Delia's arm like a freshly autoclaved forcep.

Nurse Crane stood by the office door, she acknowledged the pair and made for the front door.
"Deals, I think I must be very much mistaken, but did Phyllis just wink at you?"

"I dunno Pats, maybe something in her eye."

The office door reopened and Sister Julienne beckoned the two girls inside. The Sister-in-Charge got straight to the point.

"It has been brought to my attention that in some quarters there seems to be a concern regarding some of the current sleeping arrangements at Nonnatus House."

Delia felt Patsy stiffen, she felt herself colour slightly. The sister continued.

"Nurse Busby you were allocated a private room on your arrival here due to your need for recuperation." Delia nodded

"Due to your position here that was an unusual decision, but at the time a correct one. A senior member of staff, has now requested a single room. I would like to stress that her request does not in anyway reflect on her relationship with yourself, Nurse Mount. It is a preference based entirely on her belief that her seniority demands a certain acknowledgement."

Sister Julienne looked at the girls in front of her, they reminded her of two alabaster figures she was familiar with on a mantelpiece in a well visited flat in Poplar. Pale and perfectly still.

"So Nurse Busby, the decision is yours, I will not hold any influence over you on this matter." Delia nodded, but not quite sure at what.

"Do you need more time Nurse Busby?"

"I am not sure I follow you at the moment, Sister?"

"What I am asking you Nurse Busby, is would you mind accommodating Nurse Crane by vacating your single room and moving in with Nurse Mount here?" She then turned to Patsy, "And would you Nurse Mount be agreeable to sharing a room with Nurse Busby?"

Patsy followed Phyllis's strict instructions regarding the positioning of her personal effects in her new room, owing to her swift departure to an expecting mother. As she considered the changes she had encountered at Nonnatus House since her return. The rule of Sister Ursula had ended and Sister Julienne had been reinstated back in her rightful place, so Patsy thought. Trixie had returned from South Africa and seemed happier than Patsy had ever seen her with her dashing dentist in tow. Barbara was now Mrs Hereward and the infertile Shelagh Turner had a baby boy. The barmaid from the pub down the docks was a midwife and sleeping in her old bed. But, most miraculous of all, she and Deals finally had a place of their own.

When Phyllis Crane sat on the edge of her new bed that night, she noticed Patsy had followed her unpacking orders to the letter, as she had expected. She noticed the vase of fresh flowers on the windowsill and she noticed an edition of Garcia Lorca's, Romancero Gitano on her nightstand. Phyllis Crane was not a lover of Spanish poetry but she would treasure this particular volume for the rest of her days, for it had this simple inscription, Querida Amiga (to our very dear friend).

Chapter Text

Trudy Short chewed her gum and heaved a great sigh. She wrapped her arm around her photographers neck and moaned,

" There is nothing here for us Lenny, this gig is a right royal pain in the arse."

Trudy had been assigned by the big Sunday tabloid she worked for, to run a story on the nurses and midwives working in the East End of London. She had come to Nonnatus House, to write a piece on the everyday life of community midwives in one of the less privileged boroughs of London.

She understood very quickly that the chief honcho, a Sister Julienne, was not at all impressed with this intrusion. Trudy also knew, that specialized services like this were scrambling for NHS funding and any publicity, was good publicity. Well, that's what her editor had convinced Sister Julienne's superior.

Trudy had interviewed the very amenable sister and some of her staff. The usually persuasive Lenny had taken a lot of photos, but had failed to convince the lovely blonde nurse, to pose on her bike in her scanties.

He had suggested to the tall attractive redheaded nurse bent over the steamy autoclave, that she was looking awfully warm and may need to unfasten a button or two before he photographed her. That was before the little Welsh nurse appeared. He couldn't quite remember, how the smiley nun had ended up bandaging his burnt hand and administering pain relief to take care of a more sensitive area.

No, it hadn't gone well. The best story Trudy had come up with was the dishy young vicar and his virginal looking bride, but there was nothing here that would get her editor excited and get her promoted to the celebrity and royal scandal section.

Even the juicy titbit, Lenny had found out, about the cute curate being formerly engaged to the Blonde Bombshell before Sandra Dee. Well, it was hardly Profumo. Lenny snapped the mothers and babies at the Tuesday clinic. Trudy was talking to the jolly little nun, who was trying to explain the origins of the Order of St. Raymond Nonnatus. Sister Winifred got a little bit confused about the orders origins in Poplar.

"You should ask Mrs Turner about the old building and the old All Saints' Parish Hall," Sister Winifred said trying to deflect the desperate reporter.

Trudy wasn't sure. The sister informed her that before becoming the local GP's wife, Shelagh Turner had been a member of the Order of St. Raymond Nonnatus and would be able to answer all her questions.

Trudy doubted it, but to placate the nun, muttered, "Which is she?"

She didn't really care, she had interviewed the GP yesterday and although very affable, he did tend to go on a bit about the wonders of the NHS.

Sister Winifred obliged, "She is in the kitchen, on her break enjoying a much earned cup of tea and a pink-wafer."

Trudy wandered over to the kitchen, she collided with a blue uniform at the door.

"Sorry Nurse, but I wonder if I could just have a few minutes of your time Mrs Turner?"

"I am certainly not, Mrs Turner! I am most definitely Nurse Crane SRN,SCM. Spinster."

There was not much that intimidated hardened hack Trudy Short, but she found herself backing off, once face to face with this tall imposing nurse.

Trudy summoned up enough courage to mumble, "Where can I find Mrs Turner?"

The disgruntled nurse pointed into the kitchen at a tiny, slim young nurse with piercing blue eyes accentuated by an up-swept frame and a broad mischievous smile, "That is Mrs Turner."

"Lenny!" Trudy screamed, "I think we got our story."

Chapter Text

He had always been there, the cheerful neighbour with the winning smile. Always ready with a friendly, "Good day to you" or "Keepin' alright?"

She knew about his tragic loss during the blitz and had admired the way he had kept his family together after the war.Those 2 girls could be a right handful, everyone knew that, but no-one said anything of the sort within earshot of Fred Buckle. When they had chosen to move out of London and start lives of their own, he had made sure everyone knew how proud he was of his daughters.

Violet Gee wasn't fooled, she knew he was hurting, but the cheery Nonnatus handyman would never let it show. She watched the way he took care of things over at Nonnatus House. It annoyed her how folk didn't take him seriously. Like he was just one big joke. So what? If he was a bit of a laugh and some of his get rich quick schemes were comical at best, criminal at worst. But this was a man who had served in the war, who was brave and resourceful, a skilled man.

He served the parish, leading the Cubs and the Civil Defence Corp. She hadn't any interest in the Cold War, she didn't fear the bomb. She knew how to read a map the right way up, her Bert had always said she was a good navigator on their frequent Sunday jaunts and trips to Smithfield Market to buy his tripe. She enlisted in the volunteer service only to get to know its jovial but deceptively shy warden.

She saw the way he cared for the sisters and the young nurses. He maintained their bicycles, with as much care and dedication as she supposed he would a tank before going into battle.

He knew all their names and personalities, their peculiar quirks and idiosyncrasies. Nurse Franklin was good for a giggle, but don't tease her too much, she wasn't as confident as she would like people to believe. Nurse Lee had always been pleasant before she had moved on, but sometimes needed a fatherly hug or to feel she made a difference. Nurse Miller or Sister Mary Cynthia as she was now, was quiet and thoughtful, but probably recognised and appreciated the work he put in more than most. He knew Nurse Gilbert was very close to her father and was often homesick. Nurse Crane he treated with the same respect he had for the sisters and helped her maintain her car, he admired her independence.

Violet knew he had become very fond of Nurse Noakes and he felt her absence keenly. After her departure Fred had struck up a good working relationship with Nurse Mount. She had watched them when she supervised the Girls Brigade. The tall redhead had helped Fred get the Cub Pack back in-line. Patsy was a caring, conscientious girl, but Violet felt Fred hadn't been able to get to know her like the others. It was as if she couldn't quite let her guard down. Almost as if she was harbouring a secret and didn't want anyone to get too close. The nice little Welsh nurse who worked for the St. John's Ambulance seemed to have been able to befriend Patsy, in a way the others hadn't and Violet was glad about that.

The nuns had a deep respect for Fred, Sister Evangelina would never admit it, but Mrs Gee reckoned she loved him like a brother. Sister Julienne trusted her handyman implicitly and routinely turned a blind eye to his shenanigans.

If Violet was asked by one of her many friends, what had attracted her to the crafty cockney, she would have said she liked a man's man. She wanted a man about the place again, but that wasn't really the case.

It had been Fred's gentleness that had first attracted her to him. Along with maintaining the bicycle shed and it's contents, ensuring the convent was warm, well lit and safe. Fred's other unofficial duty was to keep a close eye on the order's oldest member. It was this unrewarded self imposed task, that had brought Fred Buckle to Violet Gee's notice. His care of Sister Monica Joan revealed to Vi, a man with endless patience and unlimited compassion.

Later, he had also revealed to her, how concerned he had been about that business with Sister Bernadette. He had known the sister since she had first arrived as a postulant and had looked out for the young Scot, so far from home.

He knew the doctor was a good man. He had attended Mrs Turner's funeral, as had Vi and paid their respects like everyone else. He had afforded particular close attention to Timothy Turner at Cubs, not remaking on the boys tardiness and occasional moodiness. He had been a widowed father himself, he knew how hard it was.

He wondered, if he was not so much to blame, but the truth was, he had been supposed to collect the nun from the sanatorium. The morning his daughter Dolly had gone into labour. He was supposed to take her to Chichester, but he never got.

He later found out Dr Turner had fetched her back. Dr Turner was a good man, he knew that. Violet was now aware Fred had initially struggled to accept the changes. Something had happened on his watch and he couldn't entirely come to terms with it.

He had looked after the woman of Nonnatus since the end of the war. He too was a widower, he too knew loneliness. He also worked and sometimes ate alongside the nuns. He couldn't help wondering if the people of Poplar would have been so forgiving, if one of the sisters had left the order and their vocation for him?

Although he had too much respect for Dr Turner and affection for the woman, who was now Mrs Turner, to ever reveal even a hint of his self-reprimanding, Violet knew. She reassured him everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, when it comes to love. He had nothing to reproach himself for and neither had the doctor. As his cousin, Tommy Mills had once said, it is love that makes us perfect.

When Sister Evangelina had come in for some fresh elastic to hold up her wool stockings. Mrs Gee had been nervous serving the forthright nun. It was common Poplar gossip by then, that the widow who owned the haberdashery was stepping out with the Nonnatus handyman. She was sure the sisters of Nonnatus did not indulge in parish gossip, but she also knew they took a keen interest in everything that happened within the wider community and especially the smaller inner community of Nonnatus House.

Violet had felt she had been slightly defensive when the nun had asked about the whereabouts of Mr Buckle. Requesting that if Mrs Gee, just happened to be fortunate enough to have the pleasure of his company, could she duly direct him in the way of the unruly Nonnatus fireplace.

She had responded by attempting to reassure Sister Evangelina, that her association with the convent caretaker was completely above censure and that her and Mr Buckle were old enough and far too experienced in the ways of the world, not to know how to conduct themselves appropriately and without reproach.

Sister Evangelina had smiled in a way that had reassured Violet. Informing Mrs Gee that the Order of Raymond Nonnatus were not strangers to the ways of the world either. No one would have expected that the kind but awkward Camilla Fortescue Cholmondeley Browne would find love by assaulting a policeman with a deadly bicycle.

She went on to tell Vi, that no-one would have predicted that Nurse Lee's tragic loss would eventually lead her to a new vocation with a new love to support her. The Nonnatus family had been bewildered by Nurse Franklin releasing Mr Hereward from his promise, she may be cocky, but never flighty the old nun had added. Violet had been unable to hide a slight smile, at this.

As for the Turner's, the wise sage assured the shopkeeper, that in the end, you just can't choose where you love and neither can anyone predict what His path for us will be. Apparently for every old sock, the Lord did indeed provide an old slipper.

She also repeated a request from Sister Julienne, the pleasure of Mrs Gee and her fiancé's company was eagerly anticipated at Nonnatus House this Sunday for a celebratory High Tea. Fred's extended family were looking forward to becoming more intimately acquainted with their newest member.

God had padlocked Violet Gee's heart to that of Fred Buckle and thrown away the key.

Chapter Text

Nurse Patience Mount wouldn't call herself a romantic. She was a practical sort of girl, organized and conscientious. She had seen cruelty beyond words, she would never find the words. She had felt grief at such a tender age, before she was familiar with the word. No, Patsy was not a romantic, she didn't believe in grand gestures and sentiment.

She did however believe in love. Delia Busby had not taught Patsy to believe in happy ever afters or good always conquers evil, but she had taught her that hope was not a joke. That love does have power, that healing was possible and however lost you may think you are, the way home is always clear, in the eyes of someone who loves you unconditionally.

When she saw the light go out in Phyllis Crane's eyes on discovering that her new Spanish classmate, could in no way be her soulmate. Patsy felt the pain of her colleague much deeper than she would have imagined. Nurse Mount knew all about hiding feelings. Patsy was proficient in painting on a stiff upper lip. She knew how to make a broken heart tick in perfect time.

Patsy's offer of a cup of tea had initially been rebuffed by a Phyllis trying to keep those wretched tears from the eyes that had foolishly glimpsed something she thought she liked, maybe even something more? Phyllis saw something in Patsy that wasn't awkwardness at best or pity at worst. She perceived compassion. What was that new word they were bandying about in all the recent nursing mags, like sympathy but not, yes empathy! That was what nurses were supposed to show in the 60's. Nurse Mount wasn't offerings tea and sympathy, she was offering tea and empathy.

Phyllis's brave face turned towards her young friend and she somehow found the words to reassure her that she was fine, but not in the brisk way she intended. Suddenly she found herself confiding in her junior, revealing just enough of her dashed hopes to repay the kindness that had been offered to her. Regaining her composure, Phyllis thanked Patsy for her offer of tea, in a way that made Patsy wonder for a moment, who was comforting who?

Patsy had lived in a world where it was possible to lose everything, even your sense of self through man's inhumanity to man. She had found in that same world a way to care, to heal, to treat injury and had also learned how to love deeply and purely, but had also been told that her love was anything but pure. The world was a very confusing place indeed, for someone who loved order and clarity, someone such as Nurse Mount.

Patsy didn't know if Mr Smith loved Phyllis or if Phyllis loved Mr Smith. What she had witnessed was two people who were falling in love with life again and it's bedfellows, hope and joy. Only to be admonished and separated by society, propriety and piety. If Delia had taught Patsy anything, it was that love was a precious gift that was not to be squandered or taken for granted.

All love stories don't end in a white lace dress. They don't all end in a common surname. Not all end with the patter of tiny feet. But all love stories contain an element of courage and with Delia hiding behind the door, egging Patsy on. Nurse Mount knew she would not leave the nurses desk until the courageous Nurse Crane vacated it and went to change into her best green dress with a little polish from Nurse Franklin, for her Flamenco Night!

un poco de té y empatía puede tener mucho valor

Chapter Text

ALL of the following takes place in the mind of Sister Monica Joan.

The pastry forks are facing the wrong way. What is she doing? Sister Bernadette should know better than that.

Argh no girl, the butter knife lies on the bread plate. Should I tell her? I suppose it does not really matter. Oh, this will never do. Now the teaspoons have just been abandoned aimlessly on the saucers. I am surprised at Sister Bernadette. I must tell her. It is for her own good.

Impudent young woman, how dare she. Why would I call her Bernadette? Sister Bernadette left us long ago, she has a family, she married the doctor. I was there. She wasn't.

The trouble with that young nun is, she spends too much time gossiping with the nurses, when she should be partaking in the privilege of silence.

Sister Evangelina would keep her in order. It grieves me to say this, but at times I find things to be rather remiss around here, since the sad departure of my dear friend and nemesis.

There is far too much savoury as opposed to sweet on the table. Our humours will be all at odds.

Ah, here is Mrs Dyer, she must have come to help. No, it can't be Mrs Dyer, but… Oh, Valerie of course, so like her mother.

I remember them all, somehow you do. I can't seem to recall what paltry morsel I endured for breakfast, but I remember every birth. Each precious child, I was privileged to guide onto this most blessed of planets, in this miraculous universe. It did not matter whether Venus was in retrograde or by the light of an auspicious blue moon, during the bleakest of winter nights or in the heat of a July noon.

Who is this? Ah! At last someone who was brought up with some due care and attention. I suppose Nurse Dyer's family were not fortunate enough to delight in frequent occasions on which to display the best china and silverware, if they were even fortunate enough to have such non-necessities handed down to them.

Now this girl, she doesn't just know how to arrange by Dewey. That's right! First the forks, handle to the left and then the teaspoons at 6 'o'clock. She talks about her mother, I imagine they had little more than Valerie Dyer, but I think her mother knew how to keep a good table.

She has promised to take me on an outing to the British Library on her next day off. I have agreed to her demands, she means well, as long as she does not mither me and lets me wander and find my own amusement. Not take me by the sleeve like a tiresome toddler.

The edges of the salmon and cucumber sandwiches are starting to curl. We will just have to go straight to the cream scones.

The bell, she is here, at last... No, that's not her...Where has this one been all dressed up like a dog's dinner? With that glorified barber I presume, in his sports car. How sharper than a serpent's tooth is he.

She thinks she is the first one to feel the wind in her hair, the thrill of the chase. I was the first woman in my set to drive a Sunbeam. Alas, I was not the owner, it belonged to a beau. Yes, I also have had admirers, just like you, my dear. And just like you, I left them all in my dust. Does he know your dazzling suitor that your heart is not yours to give.

They ridicule me when I say Nurse Franklin in my day would have taken holy orders, but what else could she have done? So bright, so intelligent, so ambitious, what other life would have given her the opportunities and freedom she enjoys at her age. I could not imagine her choosing to be pitied as an old maid, forced to look after some sickly relative or governess to some spoilt progeny.

Girls such as my lady here, were taught first how to make tapestries and then how to make babies. I imagine not that different to Nurse Dyer's grandmother, who was first taught how to make shells for explosives and then how to make babies.

There are always exceptions, brave heroines who somehow find a way to prosper in this male dominated cadre. I recall meeting Gertrude Bell, newly graduated from Oxford, of course that achievement wasn't added to the university records, after all she was a woman. Unfortunately so many of our modern day female Argonauts, unlike the original Atalanta, appear to end their quests in tragedy under the knife or fever or in misery bound to the daily grind.

No, no don't fuss and kiss me dear, you're not my granddaughter. Would she be like you? Stubborn, compassionate, a little foolish even at times. But this midwife is neither my descendant nor my legacy, yet maybe she is both.

I know your secrets, my dear. They think I don't, they told me some nonsense about being overworked, fatigued. No, I knew before they did. They drink the Russian spirit now, because it leaves no odour. In my time, it wasn't so frowned upon, I can't say I knew a day when Sister Consumpta was sober. She never departed company from her bicycle and there was never a complaint, in fact she was frequently requested, maybe because she always had something within her bag to wet the baby's head. Consumpta was never unhappy though, she would make Sister Winifred look like a depressive.

This one, now looks much better since her leave of absence. There is a light back in her eyes. Oh yes, it's not the breath or the gait, it's not in the speech, it's the eyes, it's always in the eyes. You can mask most everything else, but not the eyes.

Oh! The egg and cress has gone hard and now resembles some sort of epidermal plaque. We will just have to forsake the sandwiches and sad looking sausage rolls and go straight to the cherry and almond.

Ah! Is this her?... No, apparently Dr. Turner is picking up my company and as doctors are prone to be and no one here had the sagacity to foresee, has been called away to administer to an unfortunate individual.

The Northern one has a vehicle, why could she not convey my guest...Spanish? It is a rich language. There are many intriguing works in that tongue, but perhaps Latin or surely Sylheti would be more appropriate.

Apparently Mrs. Turner is coming to tea, so that is why Dr Turner has been burdened with the task...but Mrs Turner is dead, I... so young and leaving a child...surely? I must ask Sister Evangelina to warn these young girls of the dangers of their idle chatter.

What is that monstrosity in the centre of the table? Why anyone in their right mind would put a tropical fruit with a method of consuming pork then add a dairy derivative and continue by piercing a wooden stick through the heart of each of them? With the sole purpose of keeping them in much closer proximity than they would probably wish to ever be. If that wasn't completely ludicrous enough, then insist on using multiples to try and reconstruct the form of one from the erinaceidae family.

And they think I am the one who is bewildered. Ah the bell, it is her, at last here is Mrs Valentine, finally some conversation worthy of cake. 

Chapter Text

The Marilyn Monroe look alike that had introduced herself as, “Beatrix, but most people call me Trixie,” was giving her idol a run for her money singing along to a Gershwin classic.

As she purred over the lyrics straining from the wireless, #Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you #. Chummy was in no doubt that her new colleague was much more familiar with bringing, #the gypsy out # in men than she was.

Sitting at the dining table in the convent’s snug laundry room, Chummy found comfort in the fact that the entire nursing contingent now surrounded her. Used to dorms bulging at the seams with girls at both boarding and nursing school, there was something reassuring about only having to try to make friends and fit in with so few.

The nuns might be a different matter; the senior sister had been most welcoming. The addition of another pair of hands had seemed to displace any disappointment that those hands couldn’t immediately be put to work. Unfortunately, a suitable uniform could not be found to render the new nurse not only decent but mobile.

Fortunately those hands held other skills. The irony that her old needlework qualification would prove its worth; while the ink was not yet dry on the rather begrudgingly written but accurate pass of her midwifery qualification, was not lost on Chummy.

The pattern that Chummy was creating seemed to cover the large wooden table that took up most of the floor space in the utility area. The midwife who had been introduced as Cynthia, was sat at the table nursing a lukewarm cup of tea. Chummy had noticed that the girl had positioned herself and her tea things to be of least bother to her new colleague’s industry. Camilla didn’t consider herself to be a good judge of age and would often freeze when being put in the position of being asked to guess, however good humoured the enquirer. There was an innocence and timidity that placed Cynthia in the newcomer’s mind as being the youngest of her three new companions.

Cynthia obviusly knew the lyrics of the popular song as the mimic with the wooden spoon microphone. She also had a sweet voice and was holding the tune. Her gentle sway to the crooner’s dulcet tones seemed to come from some place different to Trixie’s overstated if not entertaining gyrations. On second glance maybe Cynthia was older than her wide-eyed appreciation of all that surrounded her belied. An old soul and a young heart, Chummy mused.

Trixie was in full nose-wrinkling teasing flow now. Another advantage of such a small group was the ease of remembering everyone’s name following first introductions. Although Chummy had wondered if she was “most people” and therefore expected to lean toward Trixie rather than Beatrix. Ms Franklin, as seemed more appropriate, in the current situation gestured towards her adoring fans and Chummy found herself blushing. She knew Trixie was playing the crowd, but just for a moment she had thought the songstress had singled her out for attention.

She had seen similar actions many times, that sly wink, a smirk, the rise of an eyebrow, shared overtly between friends. They were commonplace at school and during her training; the one that resulted in dressmaking and the one that concerned the results of babymaking. She always chanced on intercepting these not so subtle gestures of friendship. The brief sign that meant, this is our joke, our secret. She had never dared to send such a signal herself and of course had never been the happy recipient. But, just for a fraction of a second she was sure Trixie had directed her playfulness at her.

Behind her the steam iron hissed its disapproval. Of course Jenny was stood behind her on her third petticoat. It was obviously the girl stood behind her, Trixie was connecting with. Chummy had been told the brunette’s arrival had only preceded her own by weeks. Yet, she seemed so at home, such a part of the antique mahogany furniture that Chummy could scarcely believe it. She had also learned that Jenny was also newly qualified, Chummy didn’t need to be told that Nurse Lee hadn’t just scraped a pass.

The decapitating of the reigning monarch’s sister was most unfortunate; Chummy yet again wondered how she had divulged too much of her otherness, when she had been so determined, this time, not to reveal anything that would set her apart. The virgin midwife buried the fears that had been brooding in the back of her mind about the brusk nun who had been the first to open the sacred convent door to her future. Those fears had been fed by the mischievous Trixie and the well meaning Cynthia. Chummy had caught the not always benevolent attention of sisters, teachers, matrons before, she was well equipped to weather yet another storm. She would take strength from the tiny crucifix that hung below her high starched collar. She dared to contemplate, that maybe for the first time she would also find strength from something more tangible. A small group of friends who had somehow already embraced her.

Chapter Text

The news that their numbers were no longer to be unconscionably depleted should have been met with much more jubilation than it was, Phyllis admitted to herself following tea. The winter of 1962 coming into 63 was a hard one, no different to any regular January out on the Yorkshire Dales, if truth be told. But Phyllis had learned best not to always pride herself on sticking rigidly to telling the truth where London folk were concerned. Best to be in agreement that they had never had it so bad. To be fair this lot had lived through the worst of the Blitz and weren’t quite as soft as her neighbours had led her to believe as a bairn growing up in Leeds. Assault from the sky, be it Doodlebugs or hailstones, the East End would always keep calm and carry on.

So the addition of a new midwife to their ranks should have been met with a lot more exuberance and she could tell by the brief flicker of disappointment across Sister Julienne’s piqued face she had felt it too. It wasn’t that Nurse Anderson wasn’t welcome, let alone needed. It was just that before Phyllis had been given time to do the maths, the nun had stated what in all honesty was the bluming obvious. The new midwife would bunk in with Nurse Crane.

Phyllis had been most disconcerted when her spirits had sunk to the floor, like the mercury in the convent thermometer. It’s not that she disliked sharing a room, she had no preference either way. Company was good for easing the mind and the conscience after a taxing day and also for practicing Spanish adverbs. Solitude was often welcome to a tired mind and conscience after a taxing day and also for practicing Spanish adverbs. It wasn’t the reluctance to accept a new companion that had unsettled Nurse Crane it was just that one word- new.

Nurse Franklin had a gift not many attributed to her, but she possessed it all the same. Phyllis was a very good judge of character, 30 years of nursing had made certain of that, yet she still hadn’t quite figured out if Trixie did it by volition or by happy accident. Whichever it was the young nurse had a way of directing everyone’s attention to something more frivolous, something less painful and she did it maybe too often to be an error of judgment. When Sister Julienne reluctantly dished out the medicine it was often Nurse Franklin who supplied the spoon full of sugar.

Trixie had jumped to Phyllis’s defence explaining that the single occupant had just turned Barbara’s old bed into a studio couch. Oh how daft! For a name to cause such a vacuum in the heart, Phyllis admonished herself, it is after all just a name. Bold Nurse Franklin defending the make-over as if Phyllis was Barbara Hepworth and would require a sofa couch to accommodate all the artist’s models she needed to sketch or sculpt between her rounds.

The void in Phyllis’s soul filled with amusement and appreciation at Trixie’s abject horror that her colleague could not possibly survive without a studio couch in a convent bedroom. Phyllis also knew it was Trixie who had decided her old roommates bed should become a studio couch and transformed it into such a thing. She also remembered a very long Saturday afternoon in Fenwicks looking at suitable fabrics for scatter cushions. Phyllis had never been an advocate of cigarette smoking even when Bette Davis made it look more than an accessory or Philip Morris reassured folk of its health giving properties. But that day she did envy Valerie just nipping out for a fag, while she again listened to Trixie’s rational between her preference for burnt orange over tangerine.

 

Phyllis transformed the studio couch back into a single bed. It was only when she had completed the reconstruction that she realized why Trixie had persuaded her to make the change. The spare bed was a solid reminder of its last occupant, much more than the chic imposter. Phyllis wasn’t sure when Nurse Franklin had exactly arrived at Nonnatus, she had never thought to ask. She knew her years of service among the current midwives to only be surpassed by Shelagh Turner and Sister Julienne. Phyllis presumed it was somewhere in the middle of the last decade judging by her age and confidence, Trixie must have witnessed a fair few comings and goings at Nonnatus, including Nonnatus itself. How many roommates had Trixie out-stayed? Did she feel the loss of Patsy, Sister Mary Cynthia, Mrs Noakes? Maybe there were others? A Jenny was often mentioned. Did the young nurse miss her old friends as much as she missed Barbara? Did she miss Barbara as Phyllis did?

 

Phyllis saved a golden cushion to adorn the freshly made bed and passed the others on to Trixie and her latest roommate Valerie. The girl’s laughter lingered as long as Trixie’s Miss Dior as Phyllis returned to her silent room. She would not make the same mistakes again, 3 years ago she had been the newcomer, but it had been Phyllis who had laid down lines of demarcation and imposed rules and regulations. Barbara and her laughed about it now, but that was because Barbara had a forgiving generous heart. Phyllis still flinched at the memory of her abrupt behaviour on arriving at Nonnatus. She had used temporary contracts to keep a nurse of her experience and knowledge involved in the front line of the NHS. Knowing if she stayed in one place too long she would be pressured into taking a more senior role. Distancing her from the reason she got up and put on her uniform each morning, which was to administer patient care.

 

Phyllis laid the elements of the signature Nonnatus uniform out on what she kept reminding herself was no longer Barbara’s bed. She recalled her own reluctance to accept the uniform that Sister Julienne pointed out would identify her as “one of us”. She had returned her agency uniform many years ago and was proud to wear the Nonnatun blue and red. She had chosen a different neckline to the younger nurses, she knew they believed it to be a decision made out of modesty. Phyllis smiled to herself being “one of us” had become so important to her, but there was nothing wrong with being “one of us with a difference”. Hopefully the precisely laid out uniform and the addition of the ornamental gold cushion would reassure the newly qualified midwife she was also “one of us”.

It wasn’t the easiest of tasks trying to explain to Sergeant Noakes’ (in Phyllis’ opinion less than satisfactory) replacement that she only had a vague knowledge of the one of us that was missing. The irony was not lost on Nurse Crane that Lucille Anderson was being missed even before she had arrived at Nonnatus.

Lucille was sound asleep when her roommate arrived back after a challenging evening with her palliative care patient Ruth Gelin. Phyllis undressed quietly in the dark, many years of nightwork had resulted in her eyes adapting easily to the lack of light. Val had brought her up to speed with Lucille’s eventful journey from Somerset. Phyllis couldn’t help but wonder if her new companion’s long trip from Jamaica had been as fraught with obstacles as a cross country journey with British Rail. Failing the morning alarm, Barbara had required one of Phyllis’ slippers to rouse her when she first arrived, she decided to show a little more compassion for her new colleague and opted for a gentle shake; after all Lucille hadn’t snored all night.

 

The night Nurse Crane arrived back at Nonnatus after ensuring there was no more she could ever do for Mrs. Gelin, and had done all she possibly could for now for her husband and daughter. She still remembered to turn the bedroom door knob as gently as she could as not to disturb her roommate. Dr Turner had prescribed antibiotics and lemon barley water and Lucille’s body had prescribed sleep. Phyllis was surprised to find Nurse Anderson rather than Lucille behind the door, she guessed she hadn’t just been trying the uniform on for size either.

Lucille had been reunited with her suitcases. Apart from a squashed Sunday best hat everything appeared to have survived the journey from the West Country, better than Nurse Anderson had. Phyllis wasn’t sure if it was the excitement at finally being able to practice some midwifery; Lucille struck Phyllis as the kind of young'un who would want to be of use. Or maybe it was the relief that her belongings had been safely gathered in. It could be just the effects of fatigue from the infection followed by sudden exertion, but the young lass seemed animated and running slightly on adrenaline.

Phyllis lowered her aching body onto her mattress, as pleased as she was to see her young colleague restored to health and reunited with her worldly goods, Phyllis wasn’t sure after such a difficult day she was up to being sociable over a piece of fudge, even if it was of the clotted cream variety. All Phyllis wanted was a nice warm bed to rest her aching muscles and stiff joints on and eventually her troubled mind and heavy heart. Her body had supported others all day, her mind had searched continuously for the right word, her heart had held a shattered family together.

Phyllis would partake in the fudge, the girl’s mother would approve. She had just been doing her job as Lucille must have been doing hers too. She probably wanted to tell Phyllis all about her first day. She didn’t want to take the shine off her first Poplar birth by burdening the midwife with her own contrasting shift. Phyllis took a deep breath and pasted on as genuine a smile as she could, ready for the onslaught of joy that threatened to overwhelm her from Lucille.

“And I...put a hot water bottle under the eiderdown for you. I thought you might need it coming from a deathbed.”

Phyllis pressed down the covers with her hand, the warmth radiating through, soothing her tired fingers that had polished treasured candlesticks as carefully as they had done what was permitted prior to the arrival of the Chevra Kadisha. The warmth in this new friends actions warmed the old nurse's heart. At last Phyllis could let herself embrace the grief she had kept at arms length all day and ease the body and mind that had cared for those who had needed her as this relative stranger had now also cared for her. Just like any one of us would do.