Posted on 2014-08-03
The year 1949.
"Fred! Fred!" Enid Musgrove's voice echoed around the Nonnantus Clinic's halls.
Enid nearly stumbled upon a hapless medical orderly. "Have you seen my husband?"
"No, Mrs. Musgrove. Not for a while. I think he went outside. He is helping the Applebee Thorntons with their removal."
"Sure he is. He has forgotten that he was to pick up Shelagh from the train station. She is coming from Chichester today."
Enid running after Fred over something he had either forgotten, or to be more precise, decided to miss altogether without making a big number of it, was a familiar sight at the Nonnatus Clinic. Fred was a retired doctor, and to keep himself occupied, he served as a self-appointed major domo of all things at Nonnatus.
Fred and Enid had met when he was a widower with one grown-up son and Enid the matron of the Nonnatus Clinic. Now she was retired, too. It was a happy marriage in old age, as marriages go - when both partners have the wisdom of not trying to change the other too much.
Enid finally found him, happily chattering away with James Applebee Thornton. The gentleman was the new resident obstetrician at the Nonnatus Clinic. He came forward to Mrs Musgrove and took her hand cordially into both of his big hands.
"Mrs. Musgrove! So here we are at last. So nice to see you. I am sorry we missed the last sad occasion."
"You are very welcome to Poplar, Doctor Applebee. Oh, there is Mrs Applebee Thornton! Lovely to see you."
Mrs. Applebee was a much more modest person than her ebullient husband, but her eyes twinkled kindly and there was great warmth in her voice when she greeted her: "Dear Mrs Musgrove. Thank you for all your help. The trip from America was nothing when there were such friends to be met here."
There was a small figure standing at the other end of the yard watching this scene. She had a bag in her hand and she was dressed in a light grey two-piece suit. Her light-brown hair was shining in the sun, and a pair of intelligent blue eyes were behind stylish glasses. Every now and then there was an anxious flash in them.
It was as she was measuring Mrs. Applebee very carefully. It seemed that she didn't find anything missing in her, and yet she was disturbed to see her.
If you would have heard her thinking, it would have been: "She does not look like him at all. Wait. There is that characteristic shrugging of the shoulders."
"Shelagh! There you are." Enid came and hugged the bespectacled lady. "Fred, your timing failed again. Shelagh has had to come by bus from the train station."
Fred hurried to take Shelagh's bag and gave her a light kiss on the cheek. "I am sorry, Shelagh. So much to arrange for, with the Applebees and then everything. You are all right?"
Shelagh pressed her hands in his. She really liked Fred, although he was not a direct relative, just the new husband of her aunt. "Perfectly all right."
"Now let me introduce you to the Applebees. This is Shelagh Mannion, Enid's niece. A nurse and a medical student."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Mannion." Mrs. Applebee was kindness itself. "I have heard so much of you from my brother." Shelagh's heart missed a beat. "Timothy says you are a very competent medical student."
Shelagh breathed again. Yet she had some difficulty in forming a sensible thought."We have heard so much of you from...Cynthia, I mean Timothy. From both of them, really."
A shadow fell over the faces of the company.
"Yes. It was sad that we could not attend the funeral."
Fred clapped his hands. "Come, come, let's get you inside the house before we proceed deeper into the family business."
Mrs. Applebee obliged readily that it was indeed best to do so.
After some hours, the Applebee household was in a reasonable order. The Applebees, the Musgroves and Shelagh Mannion sat down at the Nonnatus Clinic kitchen for some well-deserved tea and scones.
"What lovely scones these are, Mrs. Musgrove!"
"Fiddledeedee, sir, they are just ordinary scones. I am sure you have enjoyed them a hundred times."
Doctor Applebee lifted his index finger up. "Jane, we haven't told them the splendid news. Jane's brother is going to join us in a fortnight."
"Yes, that is true. He has been given a research grant to study at The London Clinic for a while."
"Good, good." Mrs. Musgrove seemed a little puzzled. "We haven't heard that Timothy will be back. Trixie hasn't said anything, and neither has Tom."
"Oh, we are not talking of Timothy. It is Patrick who is coming back to England from Minnesota. He's been studying neurology there for five years. Two last years as a resident researcher." There was a hint of pride in Mrs. Applebee's voice.
"Oh, I remember Patrick." Fred started to reminiscence. "Wasn't it during the Blitz we last had the pleasure of meeting him? Enid and I were newlyweds, eh..." He gave her a gentle push with his elbow."Hush, Fred, you don't need to remind me of that blessed time. Shelagh, what year it was that Doctor Turner the senior was here? You certainly remember?"
Shelagh certainly did. "It was in 1941. Before he left for North Africa in October 1941."
"Oh yes. North Africa."
After some more polite, happy conversation, Shelagh said that she wanted to withdraw to her room. Applebees seemed to think this a bit sudden.
Enid watched the retreating back of the well-known, well-loved niece. "Shelagh needs her time and peace. She used to be a nun."
The Applebees looked at each other and were on the verge of asking something. Enid briskly moved on to other topics. Fred winked at James. "Another long story," he whispered.
In her room, Shelagh stared in the old mirror. She had some fine lines on her forehead, but otherwise she would have looked younger than her thirty years, if there had been some life and colour in her delicate features."In a fortnight, he will be here." Then she fell on the bed and put her hand to her eyes.
The year 1941. Patrick's Point of View. Part 1.
Patrick stared through the window in the ante-room of a operation theatre at the London Hospital. It had started raining. That old half-circled Victorian window had always been his favorite. But he didn't see the rain. He was thinking of what a difference a radiant pair of blue eyes makes above a surgical mask.
He felt a slap on his shoulder.
"Turner, thanks." It was his friend and colleague, Aubrey Tracy. A successful operation was over. "What are you staring at? Bloody weather."
"That nurse, Mannion. Who is she?"
"I am not sure, but I like to look at her."
Dr Tracy got serious.
"She is a capable nurse. Used to be a medical student. A follower of Dick Sheppard, that famous pacifist. Certainly you have heard of him. She is an odd one: a miniature form, such grace, quiet but clear-headed. A true believer."
"That clergyman with an ideology...of non-resistance. How can that be?"
"Sister Julienne is her godmother. The Nonnatus Foundation works in a close alliance with the Chichester House, where the nuns of the Order of St. John now reside. Their family, including Sister Julienne's famous brothers, the Earl of Chichester and the Bishop of Southwark, are all supporters of the Peace Pledge Union."
He chuckled. "You remember The Honorable Monica Joan St. Vincent?""That old bird. Sure I do. She was a great speaker, that I must confess."
"This Nurse Mannion is her great-niece."
"The aristocracy in this country...is not always something to be proud of. That family, the Chichesters, they seem an odd crowd of sensible progressives and idealistic ...shall I say...cranks."
Aubrey snorted. So typical of Patrick to first tap into his working class roots. "Do not bite the hand that feeds you, my dear fellow." A great part of the research funding of The London Lab came from that foundation.
"Anyway, didn't that Sheppard fellow die? And didn't his wife leave him, or something? Doesn't the present state of the world in war mean anything to them?"
"A believer stands for his beliefs. I understand that medical work in military hospitals is not considered war work anymore by this branch of pacifism. When it comes to Sheppard's marriage, are you really the one to judge?"
"Sorry, Aubrey. No, I am not. But such a waste."
"What waste, Patrick? Nurse Mannion is doing useful work. Although I'd like her to continue her medical studies. She is a good research assistant, but she could do more."
"She is capable and clever, that is what I mean. It is a shame to waste that energy and resources in unnecessary religious quixotic escapism."
"Well, to each his own."
Patrick sighed. He seemed uncharacteristically rattled.
"Take care, Patrick. "
"Take care of whatever you're thinking of. We are here to work. You should know better. You do know better."
Patrick gave him a sheepish look.
"I know. I do."
It was a fairly well-known fact that Dr Turner was divorced. He had not tried to hide that information, and in truth, couldn't, as his former wife had worked at The London as a receptionist before their marriage. The marriage was brief, only two years, and none of the details of their break up were officially known. Some people had heard gossip of an American-born officer the ex-Mrs. Turner was now seeing.
Yet little else was known about the private life of Patrick Turner, a divorced man, a MD, a resident in obstetrics, except that he was kind, a good professional, and had a brother, Timothy, who was also a MD. It was known that he intended to climb the ladder of medical research. He talked in a lively manner of cricket, war events, movies and the newest expansions in his research field. It could be said that he was direct, but had not an open temperament. Aubrey Tracy wondered what it would take to make him live a little, to take personal risks. That it might be the blue eyes of a pacifist nurse was a surprise.
For the purposes of this story, the movie Brief Encounter was made in 1941. :-)
The year 1941. Patrick's point of view. Part 2
The coffee hour discussions at the London Hospital could be hilarious. The students, the nurses and the researchers mixed fairly easily. The war, albeit the evil in many cases, had lowered the social barriers. Patrick enjoyed the informal atmosphere.
That afternoon, the conversation was about the new movie Brief Encounter and the always interesting topic of forbidden, but unconquerable feelings.
"Oh, it was so soppy. "Please, let me see, I am a doctor," one medical student sneered.
"A good pick-up line. Have to use that next Saturday," another giggled.
"I thought there was such a beauty in their relationship. It was like looking at Rembrandt's still life..."
"But there was that fantastic moral tension there. Should you succumb to the...things that overmaster you? Or not? That is the question.""If Trevor Howard looked at me like that, I would not give a damn for such a value discussion," someone stated emphatically.
"Isn't the problem that you know the value of things only after they have overmastered you? Sometimes, only experience can tell the value of a...feeling, " Nurse Mannion was heard to say.
"Oh Shelagh, you're always the great analyst."
Her opinion and the manner she gave it pleased Patrick. He joined the conversation. "How many times can you bite a whole apple?" He wondered if anyone might recognize the catch.
"Exactly. The old philosophical conundrum. After one bite it is no more a whole apple." Nurse Mannion's clear gaze met his. He smiled. She smiled back.
Someone was eagerly pushing the discussion to another direction: "But shouldn't we, as scientists, as we replicate the tests, rely only on those results that stay constant in continuous testing? Shouldn't that apply to moral values as well?"
"Oh, if you wish to subject Mr. Trevor Howard to rigorous testing, I'll volunteer as a guinea pig very quickly."
Patrick could detect Nurse Mannion's silvery tones even in the general laughter that followed. It disconcerted him. Those blue eyes. The apple bitten or not, that is the question...
After a period of a few months, he had a vague sensation that something had changed in Nurse Mannion's appearance. It dawned on him slowly that it was to do with her hair. He didn't anymore see her golden hair. She always used a veil.
Usually, all the nurses wore cupcake headdresses, and so did Nurse Mannion at first. Her hair was often tied in a French knot above her neck.He had of course mostly seen her at operations, when she was fully clad anyway in the protective white garments.
Now she wore the veil at other times as well. Like when she was having breakfast at the London Clinic kitchen. He also saw her leaving the hospital wearing that veil with her overcoat. Odd.
Posted on 2014-08-06
The year 1941. Patrick's point of view (and some bold Shelagh).
Then a very peculiar case at work led Doctor Turner to have a long discussion with Nurse Mannion. She had been trying to prepare a very difficult patient to have her baby at the hospital. Mrs Mave Carter was pregnant and lived with her husband and her identical twin sister, Meg. There were some very crude jokes on this odd household at the hospital, but Shelagh saw with satisfaction that Dr Turner never participated in them. Finally, when the push came to shove, Mave Carter gave birth to twin girls at the hospital, after much persuasion. It had to be an emergency Caesarean in the end. Doctor Turner performed it, and Nurse Mannion took care not only of the body and soul of poor Mrs Carter but her husband and her sister in her engaging, but efficient manner.
Afterwards, Doctor Turner was smoking in the lab watching the early sunrise. He had opened a window. There was a wonderful dew in the air. Nurse Mannion came in and he quickly offered her a cigarette, too. She took it without much fuss.
They smoked a few moments in silence. She was wearing that old-fashioned veil even though the operation was over.
"Good work, Nurse Mannion. Very good work."
She made a small dismissive gesture. "The end's well, all's well."
"Can I ask something? Does that veil...mean anything?"
"Yes. It means something. I have been a novice at the Order of St John for two months now."
Patrick felt a twist in his guts. It was only a slight one at first, but then it started to grow. It was like watching a dark cloud rising over that beautiful sunrise and dew. The beauty and the fear, joined together. He tried to shake the weight off from his shoulders. Why was he so agitated by this information?
"My turn. Can I ask something from you?"
"Yes. Fire away."
"Do you think this man, Mr. Carter...can he manage with his...two wives?"
"They aren't exactly his two wives. After all, only one was pregnant."
There was a remarkably heavy silence. Shelagh had never had a conversation this direct with a male colleague before.
"But I see what you mean. They are very dependent on each other. I don't know. Most men manage...somehow. And the babies mean a future."
"What will your future be, Doctor?"
There it was again, that dazzling sharpness, like she had a right to know.
"Do you ask that because you want to know or because you need to know?"
She turned her back at him and started to organize the pipettes and tubes.
He decided to answer anyway. Although that meant that he didn't deny her right to know. The idea made him dizzy.
"I'm glad you asked. I have enlisted in the army. I am joining the medical corps in North Africa in three weeks' time."
She turned around abruptly and gave him a blank stare. "Oh."
"Yes. I am ready to go, even if it means a delay for my research. But in times like this, wouldn't you say that a faith in your country matters?"
"I have been taught to keep faith...in higher things. Even in times like these. Especially in times like these."
"I know that you don't approve this war."
"Isn't it obvious from my choices? When I give myself, it will be for life. That is the belief ingrained in me. I have given myself to serve the humanity."
He started to see a glimmer of hope. She seemed to be preaching...to herself. The lady doth protest too much? An unreasonable giddiness took over him.
"I have always thought that I have given my life... to humanity, too. It just seems that the concept means different things for us."
"It definitely appears so." Shelagh felt her resistance grow weak under his discerning eye.
Then he let his head drop. After a while he said: "I hope you won't find me...morally reprehensible."
"I don't think any human has a right for that. Only God has."There was no suitable answer to that.
"I am sorry but I must ask this. Was your question of a man with two wives...totally guileless?"
"Perhaps... it wasn't. It might have even been...unforgivable. I apologize."
"I have never tried to suppress the truth about my circumstances. Everyone here knows that I am a divorced man. Whereas you hadn't told me that you were...a nun."
A silence. Then he said: "I don't know who decides what is forgivable or unforgivable. You should not be so harsh on yourself."
"Perhaps not. Please, Doctor Turner. Let us not quarrel. Give me another Henley. I love Henleys..."
He chortled. "A nun and a smoker. A first for me. Never could I have believed..."
He lit her cigarette somewhat nervously.
He was on the brink of confessing his emotional turmoil to her. The unhappy fact that he loved her. But that veil must still mean something. He must respect that.
"That there could be circumstances in life more damnable than mine. Your vocation, your pacifism, your future as a medical student...You really have taken an enormous burden. It must be a hell."
"Burdens are not taken, they are given."
"Yes. That is there we do not agree."
The year 1941. Patrick's point of view (and some bold Shelagh).
Two weeks later, due to the damage of bombings at the London Hospital, the Lab was temporarily moved to the nearby Nonnatus Clinic. The removal made it more difficult for Doctor Turner to combine his working hours with his research interests, as he now had a longer trip to the Lab from his room at the London resident wing. At the Nonnatus Clinic, everything was crowded: pregnant ladies, infants, medical students, all under the command of the long-suffering Doctor Musgrove and the Matron, his wife Enid Musgrove. Doctor Turner learned that the ever-elusive Nurse Mannion was a niece of Mrs. Musgrove. It seemed she was lodging with them.
One night there was an air raid alert again when Doctor Turner had just arrived at the lab. He followed the others to the bomb shelter, but at the threshold decided to turn back. The shelter was totally full and very noisy. He thought he would prefer to spend some time at the lab with his tubes and spirit lamps and scientific reading, It would now be nice and quiet there.
At the lab door, he startled. Someone was already there. Nurse Mannion was trying to light a spirit lamp.
"Good evening. Anything important going on, Nurse Mannion?"She turned around. "I thought I'd spend the air raid cleaning these spirit lamps."
"Do you often stay here during air raids?"
"Yes. No. Sometimes. I'd like to keep the regular offices while on duty. It is easier here than in the shelter."
"Oh. The prayers."
"It is easier to pray here than in the shelter. Oh, this lamp, it is so stuck."
"Let me help you." Nurse Mannion was going to give him the lamp, but at that moment an explosion was heard outside and the lamp fell and broke. "Oh, no! " She knelt down and tried to pick up the pieces.
He knelt, too. "Please, Nurse, don't. You will hurt your hands. " Then he realized that she was crying.
"It's only a lamp. Shelagh. Look at me."
She sat down on the floor and leaned her back onto the desk, her head in her hands. He sat by her.
"Shelagh, what is it?"
"Oh. This wretched war. This...my life is in million pieces."
He hesitated. Then he put his arm around her very lightly.
"No. You're not in million pieces." She didn't resist his arm. "You're a beautiful human being."
She leaned a little deeper on him and shook her head."What's to become of us? Doctor..."
"Patrick."She stuttered a little. " Patt...rick. I don't know anything anymore."
"You don't have to. Shelagh, let's get you up." She rose slowly with the support of his arm. "So, that was not so bad, was it? Let's take you to the other room. These shards of glass. It's dangerous.""The bombs are coming down and you're afraid of some pieces of glass." Patrick gave a nervous laugh. "That's good. Keep the spirit up. Walk with me. Let's take this examination table and you can rest on it. You certainly have a long day behind you."
She lay herself down on that table. She was still shivering. He sat down by her on another bed.
"There is something I'd like to ask," she said in a nearly inaudible voice.
"Would you mind lying down beside me? And holding me for a while?"
He swallowed and made an effort to speak. "Shelagh. Nurse Mannion..."
"Would you just...do it? "
"All right." He did what she asked. He put the other table close to hers and lay down and put his arms around her. After some minutes he made one more effort to say something.
"Hush...Would you mind...not talking?" she said.
"No. I don't mind."
"It is after all the Great Silence. A convent rule. No conversation after the midnight prayer."
"All right. No conversation".
The all clear sign was heard. The noises of people leaving the shelters were heard from the street. Then a loud bang was heard from downstairs. The Nonnatus Clinic door hit something. Nurse Mannion rose quickly and fled to the ladies room.
Doctor Turner was there alone when the Matron arrived with some nurses.
"Oh, you were fast. Didn't I see you in the shelter?"
"Yes, you did." Patrick didn't wish to reveal that he had left the shelter during the bombing.
Nurse Mannion arrived.
"Shelagh, where have you been? I didn't see you all night. Surely you didn't spend the night here again?
"I am perfectly all right. Let's go home, Aunt Enid."
The day unfolded grey and foggy. There was quite a lot of damage at the docks, but Patrick couldn't think about it. He was going to leave for his regiment in Africa the next week. He had briefly checked how his ex-wife and her family were doing at Aldwych. They were fairly well, considering. Then he went to his lodgings at the London.
He found out that Nurse Mannion was not at work at the London that day nor the next day.
He went to see the Musgroves. He had to see Shelagh once more. Mrs. Musgrove received him with the news that Nurse Mannion had gone to Chichester.
"She is such a wonderful girl, but the war has taken a great toll on her. It is good for her to stay with Sister Julienne for a while.""Could you...give me the address to Chichester, please. There is some research literature I need to deliver to her."
"Certainly. But I wonder if she will really be interested in that now. You know she will give the promises next year. We hope of course that she will continue working here, but I am not sure if it will be allowed."
In a hurry, he wrote her a postcard. In addition to his regiment's address, there was only a short sentence on it: "A letter follows. Captain Turner."
He wrote to her from Dover, and twice from his post in Africa. He never got any answer. Doctor Tracy wrote once and told that he had seen the Nonnatus Clinic people, and that the Musgroves sent their best regards. There was a short post scriptum:"Nurse Mannion seems to have gone permanently to Chichester."
Finally, by some accident, he got in a post a circular letter from the Friends of Nonnatus. There was a picture of the new nuns in it. "After joining the Order, Sister Bernadette will be carrying on her duties as a Ward Sister in the temporary military hospital at Chichester." That Sister Bernadette had the delicate features of Nurse Mannion.
Women. He could not make the sense of it. The dusty evening in Africa seemed suddenly dustier than ever. A sense of not only a loss, but a betrayal was nagging him. Yet what had she promised him? Was he in a position to demand anything? Words, revelations shared with a cigarette or two, the odd encounter on the night of the bombing. Why was he still thinking that he had a, let's say, legitimate interest in Shelagh Mannion? Sister Bernadette. The new name choked him.
Her body had felt so warm in his arms. Just two strangers passing in the night of London? She had been in a shock. She seemed to be going through a crisis. There surely were enough reasons for that, like the clash of her needs and beliefs in the great devastation of the war. He still thought he had been right in not trying to persuade her to trust in him and to tell what was the matter. She was a novice, for God's sake. What is a man expected to do? She had shattered his world more than he cared to acknowledge.
His comrades were shouting at him. "Come on, Turner, let's go for a drink." Men have died and worms have eaten them, but not for love. He wasn't sure if it was true, but amid so much death he felt he could not tell. He left for a drink.
The year 1941. Shelagh's point of view.
The bleak morning after the bombing dawned at the Musgrove household. When they had their breakfast, Fred was comparing the devastation by this attack to others in a monotone manner.
"Well, keep calm and carry on. That's what I say. Shelagh, you are unnaturally quiet, even for you," Enid commented.
"Sorry, Aunt Enid. I am rather done."
"You should be better than us, you had more room and peace perhaps at the Nonnatus than us in the shelter." Shelagh's cheeks gained a slightest shade of blush at this.
"By the way, I heard the oddest thing. It concern's the good Doctor Turner."
"What about him?" Fred asked.
"I heard in the shelter that he is living again with his wife. I mean his ex-wife. And his mother-in-law. Ex-mother-in-law."
"I heard it from their neighbour from Aldwych."
"What was a neighbor from as far as Aldwych doing in our bomb shelter spreading undue gossip?"
"You're a good man, Fred. I am glad I married you. But I think it is not gossip, but plain truth. Isn't it a good thing if that marriage was saved?"
"Perhaps he is just helping them in these dire times. I think a lot of Aldwych people were bombed out of their lodgings a couple of times. Perhaps they need a temporary place to stay."
"I don't think it seemed that temporary."
"Didn't you say the Doctor has taken a room for himself at the London resident wing? So this explains it."
Enid gave a grunt. "He's an excellent doctor and a nice man. But with women, he is hopeless."
"Oh come on, old girl. It is not appropriate for us to take such a keen interest in the lives of our fellow men. Shelagh, what is it? You look pale. You should go to bed."
Shelagh was swallowing hard. "Yes, I will go to bed. But tomorrow, Fred, Enid, I will travel to Chichester. I need rest. I need to see Sister Julienne."
"Of course, dear. Take a day or two off."
The Chichester House. 1941. Shelagh's point of view.
"But Sister Julienne, surely there are circumstances that explain that."
"Yes. He perhaps should be there for his family, even if it is his ex-family. Perhaps there is even a chance of a reconciliation."Shelagh winced at that. The old compassionate eyes of Sister Julienne didn't miss her reaction. Poor girl. She had been left too much to her own devices lately.
"But Shelagh, you can't seriously be thinking of leaving the Order...on such flimsy flirtation? To let such a vague...attention to lead your choices in life?"
Shelagh wanted to shout: it was not flimsy! It was not vague! It wasn't even flirtation! It was as enlightening and fundamental...as the Gospels. But she couldn't say that to Sister Julienne. She was still aching from the memory of his arm around her on that examination table.
Perhaps she was not the best judge of this. He hadn't after all been completely forthcoming towards her. He had told of his divorce, but not that he was staying with his ex-wife.
"Didn't you also say that he had joined the army? Do you find it easy to accept that?"
Sister Julienne was referring to the pacifism she was born and bred with. She had been brought up by these great people. She had admired them and listened to them since she was a child. They were her family.
"I have thought about that. I confess...that nowadays I don't see that as much more different than me working at a military hospital."Sister Julienne sighed. "I can see that you don't. To tell the truth, I do not see the differences very clearly myself anymore." Shelagh felt her old tenderness for Sister Julienne come back with a force. "Of course, it is difficult for you, especially for you". Shelagh gave her a hug.
She seemed so frail in Shelagh's arms. Shelagh understood that her disappointments with the peace movement had been severe. She had also taken Dick Sheppard's wife leaving him very badly. Then Canon Sheppard had died so suddenly, leaving them all bereft, under the cloud of the coming war. How could she not follow her wishes, in the few years this old lady still lived on this earth? She suspected that she was in much worse health than she pretended to be.
"Shelagh, I may not anymore be in a position to guide you." Sister Julienne had retired from her post as a novice tutor a year ago. "Would you still consider, as a favor for me, to not take any steps toward a solution in this matter until the war is over? If there is any measure of a man and his intentions, it surely is his capacity to wait. Surely you, such a gifted person as you are, with a vocation, should not throw your purpose in life away in such a rapid manner? At war time when all values are easily distorted?
Shelagh felt she could not resist this. How could she be so certain that he cared for her? Wasn't that foolhardy and silly? She hadn't really dated anyone since she was sixteen. How would she know?
"And please, do not try to keep up a correspondence with him.""Why do you ask that?" Shelagh was a bit taken that she had the knowledge of that postcard sent to the Chichester House. "It is no good. He knows that you are a novice. He must know that novices are not allowed to correspond freely with seculars. He has to wait. Besides, how would you ask him of his ex-wife in a letter?"
Yes, that was a direct shot in the heart. She really didn't know.
The years 1941-1949. Shelagh's point of view.
The events of life and death rolled over the problems of a conflicted novice, who soon became a nun, a Sister Bernadette. In the year 1943, Sister Julienne died. In her will, she had reserved a sum of money to Shelagh's medical studies. That seemed odd to some. The same year Sister Bernadette left the convent and her nursing work and became again a Miss Mannion, a medical student.
After the death of Sister Julienne, she grew closer to her Musgrove family. Fred's son, a clergyman, had married one of her old nursing colleagues, Trixie Franklin in 1944, and they now had two small girls. The Musgroves had the courtesy of not making too much fuss over Shelagh's journey in life, which surely looked wayward to some.
In the intervening years, news about Doctor Turner were scant. It seemed he had received a grant to study neurology in America in 1944. From what she heard, there was no indication that he had married again. Neither there were news from Aldwych neighbours nor anyone about his ex-wife or mother-in-law.
Then something surprising happened in the early months of 1949. The younger doctor Turner, Timothy, took a position as a neurologist at the London Hospital. He was a popular guy, much more sociable than Patrick, although some may have expressed a preference for the more sober elder brother. Cynthia, Trixie Musgrove's sister, who was doing her midwifery course at the London, fell in love with Timothy, and after a short courtship they were engaged. Soon, however, it came to a close in a tragic manner. Cynthia caught polio in that year's epidemic and died in March. The grief of the families Franklin and Musgrove was great. The event shattered Timothy so that he made an abrupt decision to leave for Australia where he was offered a teaching job at The University of Queensland in Brisbane.
"Those Turner boys, such rolling stones," was a murmur heard by some of the members of the medical community, but by and large, the Franklins and the Musgroves didn't join the chorus. The loss of Cynthia had one somewhat odd outcome, though. Trixie, pregnant with her third child, became anxious and was certain that something would go wrong. She had a habit of making herself the focus of attention in many ways, but childbirth had never been her worry before. Tom tried to speak sense to her, but he made a promise that extra care would be taken in the face of the coming event.
The romance of Cynthia and Timothy had been conducted at such a whirlwind speed that Shelagh had met Timothy Turner only twice. He had a fairer complexion and a more sanguine temperament than...her Doctor Turner, as she sometimes shamefacedly called him. Shelagh had been disturbed by the expectation of becoming so close a relative with the Turner family. Thus, she felt an unreasonable guilt over Cynthia's death. She had promised to Trixie that she would be her midwife.
It seemed odd that the Turner family with such a long engagement in the fight against viruses, especially polio, would have to suffer a polio death among their own. The circumstances strengthened her decision to continue her medical studies, a decision that was still sometimes frowned upon by some.
"She will be an excellent doctor. But her talents would suit domesticity as well." That was a general idea in the Musgrove family and the opinion of some of her braver male colleagues who were begging for a date.
It was also odd that a family like hers, with pacifist roots, had been engaged in so much war work, albeit medical. Shelagh closed her eyes. The heritage of Sister Julienne and Dick Sheppard, there wasn't much left of it.
She had at last, in 1943, after she had left the convent, read Doctor Turners's three letters to her which he had sent in 1941. How she had managed to get the letters to herself, that had needed some detective work and a thorough knowledge of how a convent operates. She felt justified in her actions: because she wasn't going to read them, surely there was no harm in getting them. She would only look at his handwriting and touch his name on the envelope.
The first one had just a few personal tidbits.
Dear Miss Mannion, I hope you received my postcard. I hope that you have recovered from whatever ailed you when we spent the air raid at the lab.
Do you recall one idle chat about Brief Encounter and Trevor Howard at the London coffee break? I have always considered myself a man of reason. Suddenly it seems like I am a character in a romantic movie, and it may be true, as you yourself once said, that we can understand the value of a feeling only when it has overmastered us.
Yours sincerely,Captain Patrick Turner.
The second one seemed to be from a man leading a life of quiet desperation. It really hurt her, even after all this time.
Shelagh. Please let me at least hear that you are alive and well. Surely you owe me that.
I saw today some nuns from afar: there is, oddly enough, a Catholic monastery here. They made me think of you. The sunrises are really magnificent here. They make me think of you at the lab after the birth of the Carter twins.
Please write a few words.
The last one was different in tone. It was from a man who had given up, even if angrily.
Miss Mannion, "I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow?"
I think we all have known Gerard Manley Hopkins's hope of a spring that does not fail. I suspect that some uncertainties in my fate will remain with me for the rest of my life.
I truly think that a man is responsible for his or her actions and that he or she must not escape from the duty of correcting a wrongdoing or a faulty decision.
You believe in seeking or bestowing forgiveness. Grace, absolution of sins or forgiveness may be good, but they don't compensate for this striving of man. That is the humanity I believe in.
I don't believe that you are intentionally losing yourself in your religious vocation. I just think in general that it may be an easy way out of some of the strides of life. Like a relationship between a man and a woman.
There. I have said what I think. I do not think you are a coward, but I think that we have different ideas of courage and how it should be applied.
Yours sincerelyCaptain Patrick Turner.
The letters didn't hurt anymore as much as they did in the beginning. She could see his stand, but she could also understand her own. She had been weak, but there was no ill will in her weakness.
Yet how eloquent she could have been, if she had been asked about this issue. She had a conviction now, learned rather late in life. Youthful fancies are not to be ignored, they should be nourished, they would not always lead into temptation and misery but into a full bloom.
Full bloom was what was missing in her life.
She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning. Even though the imminent arrival of Doctor Turner made her anguished and revived some of her former pain, she still could not be entirely unhappy of the course of the events. She was glad, in a melancholy way, that she had met him. He was everything to her, except hers.
She checked the time. It was her turn this week to visit Mrs. Smith. The burdens are given, she had once said. Carrying this special burden made her own pains somehow lighter. Like she was a fellow passenger of Doctor Turner the senior. Like she was in some invisible way taking part in his life.
Posted on 2014-08-08
The year 1949. Patrick arrives.
Mrs. Applebee Thornton, that gentle soul, was taking a secret inspection of her brother who finally was sitting there in their Nonnatus House apartment. He was not anymore the dashing figure with an unblemished, dreamy face, but a lean, gentlemanly figure with slightly stooping shoulders. His face wore the marks of a life lived, with a few lines. There was some silver in his hair. She was pleased with what she saw. Sometimes she mused that same question that Doctor Tracy had once wondered: what it would to take to make him live a little again? In his professional life, he was a risk taker. It was rumoured that his work in America had made him not only famous but rich. If he had heard it, he would have laughed ironically.
He was commenting his finances to his brother-in-law in a lively manner.
"Research, James, it does not pay. Not even in America. But I am glad I went there. A new country, a new beginning.""Surely you, more than most of us, deserve a new beginning. To work at the London lab now, that is fantastic for you," James Applebee-Thornton pondered.
"Yes, the neurological research group is exactly what I have hoped for. With Aubrey as the head, we will get this polio vaccination project ahead in full speed."
"You yourself could be the head of that department. "
"Yes, but I have a too checkered past for that."
"Do you really think the Nonnatus Foundation will care about that now, after the war and everything?"The details of his private life were rarely touched, even if the brothers-in-law had a very good rapport.
"I meant my checkered past in research. First obstetrics, then virology and neurology. My years in North Africa left me a bit behind as well. I might still do some clinic work, if you will have me."
"Pregnant women and small children, Patrick. That is the Nonnatus focus. Are you sure you'd like to earn some pounds with us? I could organize you a shift or two. Once a week, perhaps?""Sure, I'd like that. I am an old war horse. Send me to the beaches, sorry, breeches." He gave his best Churchill imitation: "We shall fight them to the beaches."
After laughter died down, his sister said:
"I am afraid that childbirth is still blood, toil, tears and sweat."
"That is what our father suffered in The Somme. Surely his offspring can stand a few years of the same?"
"Yes. Prepare yourself for a perhaps too friendly welcome," James warned.
"Doctors and eligible men were missing in Poplar for the duration of the war. You'll be twice appreciated. There are new nurses both here and at the London, and a few female doctors or medical students as well, all eagerly waiting for you."
"I might be expecting them, too, with pleasure. Once, I might have preferred a pair of enemy binoculars to any of them."
His sister took his tea cup and gave him a concerned look. She was not sure if his suave nonchalance was real or a camouflage of something. She decided to take a plunge:
"But Patrick, surely you are thinking of getting married again? I wouldn't want to spoil our first evening with sadness. But now that Peggy is...gone, shouldn't you think about it? You're not so young anymore, remember.""Phew, thanks for the reminder. From my older sister." There was a general hilarity. "Yes, Jane, I will think about it. There are certain qualifications, though, that must be met. I want someone with a firm mind and sensible values. I might fall in love with any lady under forty, if I didn't keep some standards. "
Jane looked still anxious.
He patted her hand. "Jane, dear, I have given this some thought. You know I have. I have had my share of youthful follies and tragedies. I have paid a price and won my personal freedom. Now I am ready to lose it. Sensibly. " His voice sounded a bit melancholy.Jane and James looked at each other. "Well, that could be the right attitude, " Jane conceded. "As far as these things are dependent on a good plan."
The Year 1949.
Doctor Turner had come across the name of Shelagh Mannion again even before he arrived in Poplar. He had seen it in an article by the research group led by Doctor Aubrey Tracy. "The possibilities of using weakened polio virus for immunization: the results from long-term experiment on rats." By A. Tracy, S. Winifred, C. Hatton and S. Mannion.
Doctor Aubrey had indicated that this Mannion was the former Nurse Mannion, also the former Sister Bernadette. During his brother's engagement to Cynthia Franklin, Timothy and Jane had written some sentences about Shelagh, who wasn't a nun anymore. He had shrugged his shoulders. Not any concern of his.
The years in Africa and America had taught him resilience and self-confidence. He had learned the American manner of small talk where you could continue speaking with strangers with ease. He was glad to accept the invitation to the London research group and the name of Mannion certainly did not deter him.
Besides, it was nice to be in England together with Jane and James. The people at the London and Poplar were friendly and welcomed him, especially the Musgroves and Franklins because of Cynthia and Timothy, poor things.
James had invited him to join their communal Sunday lunches. "We have maintained an old habit from the wartime. On Sundays we all gather together for a Sunday lunch at the Nonnatus House Common Dining Hall. Those who are not on a duty at the hospital. Mrs. Musgrove kindly takes care of cooking, provided we give her our ration cards the previous Thursday. That way we will have a proper feeding at least once a week. "
"So, who comes to these lunches?" Patrick had asked.
"Oh, Doctor Mount, our visiting researcher, a great character."
"And a good-looking girl."
"Stop it, Jane. Tom and Trixie Musgrove visit often with their children. You know that Tom is now the Vicar of Poplar. They are wild to see you."Patrick chuckled. He remembered Nurse Franklin, a fearsome blonde. How had she settled into that marriage? Cynthia had been very different, he had gathered.
"Nurses Hayter and Harville and the medical students Winifred and Hatton. The Crofts from the Lab. Shelagh Mannion, of course."
Of course. She would be there. No problem. He'd better get used to this proximity."All right, I will be there."
Their first meeting was auspiciously neutral. Doctor Tracy introduced Doctor Turner senior to the staff at the London. Doctor Turner nodded when Aubrey said "This is Miss Mannion, whom you have met before." Their eyes met. Then a lab meeting continued in the normal manner.
She noticed that his frame was more robust, his stature not so boyish anymore, and that his face was more lined. All in all, his manner was still the same. There was the same moderation in his speech and there were occasional humorous quips. His active eyebrows still had a habit of popping up.
Although he seemed outwardly a person at peace with himself, Shelagh felt that there was a certain kind of heaviness in it. Was he a happy person? She did not know.
The second meeting was more informal. Shelagh had heard that Doctor Turner had promised to join the Sunday lunches at The Nonnatus House. It was impossible to avoid small talk.
Despite his nonchalance, Patrick had similar anxiety, too. What are you supposed to say to a woman with whom you have spent a night your arm around her, to a woman who never answered your letters, to a woman who used to be a nun?
"Hello. So you are not a nun anymore. How about that?"
When he met her in the dining hall of the Nonnatus House, he managed to imply an air of perfect indifference.
"So, you have moved on from nursing to medical research?"
"Haven't you moved on from obstetrics to virology and neurology?" she responded.
"Yes. But I was always going there. You were going to be a nun."
"There was a war. It is like a serious disease. It changes things."There it was again. That directness of speech executed with such a splendid flash from her blue eyes that it felt...rather a sweet blow.
"Yes, doesn't it." He wasn't going to be the first to list the changes.Shelagh was at loss. There was nothing to say. Fortunately Fred and Doctor Mount approached them.
"Doctor Turner, meet our newest recruit. Doctor Patsy Mount has some experience on tropical diseases as well as polio. She is a visiting researcher from Australia for six months."
"Indeed. That is interesting. Where did you study?"
"Singapore war camps, University of Melbourne and a stint at the Queensland clinic of Sister Kenny."
"Oh, that Sister Kenny. I have heard of her work in Minnesota. Physical therapy for polio patients. My brother has written about her...Doctor Mount, would you mind having a cigarette with me at the balcony?"
They retreated to the balcony maintaining a friendly conversation on the latest news in the medical research on polio.Doctor Appelbee couldn't help commenting this in his jovial manner. "That was quick. For Patrick, I mean".
"James, you know how he is with his research interests." Yet also Jane added: "They look good together. Both so tall and handsome."
"She really is something, that girl. Her CV is rather impressive."
Shelagh sighed. She vanished to the kitchen. Even there, from an open window, she could hear the baritone voice laughing a little and Patsy explaining something eagerly with her deep contra-alto. Shelagh had become quite a specialist "in the art of knowing our own nothingness". It had become just not a necessity for her. It had become her forte.
Yet the next Sunday lunch was worse than the first one. Trixie and Tom Musgrove sailed in with their two adorable children and with a not unnatural curiosity about the man who might have been their brother-in-law. Jane Applebee Thornton was a dear, but they had already spent hours with her. Patrick Turner was a novelty, even though Trixie had met him a few times in the year 1941.
Tom's amiable temper pleased Patrick and they got on well, even though he was no believer in the Anglican Church. Quite a lot of talk was about Timothy, but Trixie in her determined manner led the discussion to other topics. Shelagh knew that behind all that bravado, she was mushy when it came to Cynthia and her fate.
Shelagh decided to focus on Trixie's and Tom's children, Angela and Teresa, aged four and two. She even offered to take care of Teresa's nap time in the general after-lunch drowsiness. That way she didn't have to take part in the social scene. What she accidentally heard when she was in the kitchen fetching a mug of milk for Teresa was a blow. Thankfully, Trixie and Doctor Turner didn't seem to notice her.
"So what do you think of our Shelagh, Doctor Turner? Didn't you work together for quite a while in 1941?" Trixie was in her full conversational force.
"Yes, we did. "
It was clear that she was waiting him to elaborate his answer. He had only a brief acquaintance with Trixie but naturally the engagement of his brother to her now dead sister meant for her that intimate subjects were allowed to be taken up and he was required to answer them. To her credit, Trixie did not know what she was asking of him. She continued to chatter in a confessional manner:
"I am glad that she has taken up medicine studies again. She needs a new focus in her life. She is even a research assistant at the London. Do you think she looks well?"
Her looks. Being under the spell of those blue eyes, even with the Diamante glasses, was his Achilles heel. The old feeling of being ill-used flared up in Patrick.
"Yes, she does. A little stern. Older. But then I mostly saw her in a veil in 1941, so perhaps I am not a good judge of her looks."
"Oh, Doctor Turner, you are a harsh observer, I see. Quite unlike Timothy."
Shelagh felt like she had been punched to the stomach.
"We all hope her every success in her studies. Doctor Tracy thinks very highly of her," Trixie continued.
"I know Doctor Tracy well. I think you can rely on his word."
"Thank you, I am pleased to hear that," Trixie purred.
In the loneliness of the guest room, a breathless Shelagh went over and over again his words in her mind. There was certainly a feeling behind them. Her silence to his letters must have hurt him. It still hurt him? Was that possible?
Even if he was hurt by her actions, he was capable of not letting his feelings cloud his judgment. Even if he could not think of highly of her, he was ready to concede that someone else, in a professional capacity, could. She was thankful for that. She had to gather these small crumbs of his good opinion, for her sanity.
At a third Sunday lunch, Shelagh had a glimpse of the Doctor Turner she had previously known.She had been preparing the pudding at the kitchen when Angela Musgrove, a four-year-old blessed with her mother's tenacity and temperament hugged her legs forcibly from behind and begged to be taken into her lap. "Please, Angela, I can't. I have a cream jar in my hands. Let go. There will be an accident if you don't behave."
The grip of that little girl was surprisingly hard. She knew how to demand.
Suddenly Shlelagh felt how the grip was loosened and she was eased of the little girl's weight. Doctor Turner had taken Angela and had withdrawn with her to the farthest corner of the sitting room, singing "Humpty Dumpty" to her loudly. Clearly he didn't want her to acknowledge in any way what he had done. Probably, if he would have been at liberty to express himself, it would have been:" Now get that bloody pudding ready, woman." Nothing else.
She relived painfully some of his earlier kindnesses to her in her memory. He was capable of kindness still. Just not to her, except when a pudding was in danger.
On the fourth Sunday, Shelagh had sat for a long time alone at the bay window, reading a Lancet copy while the others cracked jokes and created pictures of a world free of polio, painting themselves as the benevolent saviors of the humankind. Then she had left her place to fetch a cup of coffee and to exchange a few words with Sandy Winifred and Tom Musgrove.
When she came back, some of the guests had already left and the room was suddenly quiet. Doctor Turner sat at the bay window and leafed through that Lancet copy absentmindedly. She had to shuffle her feet to make him notice her.
"I beg your pardon. This was your seat". His manner was detached and distant. He left without waiting for an answer.Oh, anything is better than this cold politeness.
Despite his careful avoidance of the company of Miss Mannion, Doctor Turner learned bits and pieces of her life.
Not surprisingly, there was a place for Miss Mannion in the friendly but nosy hospital gossip. As she was, as even Doctor Turner admitted, a fine-looking young woman with no boyfriend, she was an interesting girl to many, even if on the brink of permanent maidenhood. It seemed though that she had an efficient manner of turning down any proposition to have a coffee or going to a movie.
"That girl, there is not a snowball's chance in hell with her," he once overheard one presumably rejected suitor say.
"It is no wonder, she has been locked up," said his mate.
"Surely not. She is not crazy. "
"I don't mean a nut house. She was a nun."
"Really? Is it possible to get out of a monastery?"
"It was an Anglican convent, and she has been working as a nurse all the time."
"Oh." The man was surprised and a bit relieved. "That explains it. What a waste."
Patrick resisted a strong urge to enter the room and give that jerk a piece of his mind. Yet, what was there that he himself had not thought of at his darker moments even if his linguistic expressions might not have been as vulgar? He was ashamed of himself. The Musgroves were a kind of a family to him now, so perhaps it wasn't so odd that he could not stay so neutral.
Once, he had been sitting at the coffee table with the elder pair of Musgroves and had listened to them dissecting Miss Mannion's life.
"It is a wonderful second chance for her." Fred Musgrove directed his words at him. "Her godmother left money in her will for her studies."
"But Shelagh didn't need to have left the Order because of that. The Order is now redefined, they invite professional women to join the order, too," Enid pushed her opinion.
"Please, Enid, it may not be as simple as that..."
"I will just say it. She would have been an excellent head of the Order, if she had stayed."
"But she didn't."
These conversations began to leave Patrick restless. For so many years he had told himself that it didn't matter if there was a such person as Sister Bernadette, Nurse Mannion or Shelagh.
Now he heard himself saying: "So, did she ever give any reasons for leaving the Order?"
"No. I know the wagging tongues keep saying it was an unhappy love affair, but we never heard anything, did we, Fred?Fred nodded. "No. And we are the closest people to her now that Sister Julienne, his brother and Mrs. Monica Joan have gone. Although there was a time after she had left the convent when we thought she and our Tom might become an issue."
"They had a fair share of religious discussions. A common belief is a great uniter."
Fred took Enid's hand and smiled at her. "We have a good reason to recommend it."
Those two silvery heads looked at each other tenderly. Patrick felt that he was an outsider.
"They also had such temperamental compatibility," Enid continued.Then she turned confessional: "To tell the truth, we would have preferred Shelagh to Trixie. Shelagh is such a dear girl, and so good with children."
From afar, they could see Shelagh having a serious conversation with Angela. Then both laughed and Shelagh picked her up and turned her upside down. The girl screeched amused.
Patrick found breathing hard for a moment. His eyes grew misty. "She seems...a natural."A vision of fair-headed girls and dark-eyed boys started to march from his repressed imagination, making his head spin. He could hear the dull thump of his heart in his ears.
"Yes, but it was never a chance after Trixie and her high heels, " Fred laughed. "Tom was so smitten from the start.""Yes, he was," agreed Enid. "So here we are, the happy grandparents of children with Tom's dreamy looks and Trixie's spiky temperament. Not a bad result, although a bit demanding." "Not bad."
Tom approached Shelagh and his daughter and took the girl from her. Angela let out a belly laugh. Tom sat by Shelagh and took her hand and kissed it. They seemed complacent and comfortable.Patrick turned away. These would have been his family, his relations. He stared at the dark window. The wind outside seemed suddenly shriller than ever.
Patrick was a bit surprised. His weekly duty at the Nonnatus Antenatal Clinic was nearing its end. Trixie Musgrove had been added to the list at the last moment.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Musgrove."
"Hello, Doctor Turner. I have come to ask you something."
"We've already asked Shelagh to be my midwife at the birth. She has agreed to that."
"Would you be the obstetrician?"
Patrick was a bit taken back. "Mrs. Musgrove...Trixie. Are you sure you need a doctor at the birth? This is after all your third child. The pregnancy has been proceeding as it should. A midwife will manage perfectly fine."
"I know. I have been silly, Tom says so, too, but I have these premonitions. Doctor Turner, I will ask this because of Timothy and Cynthia. Would you please do it as a favor to...them?"
He still made a weak effort to disengage himself. "I am sure if you have Nurse Mannion as your midwife, you will have nothing to fear. No-one is so capable...or proper...as she"
At the same moment Shelagh Mannion arrived in the Great Hall.
"Shelagh!" Trixie exclaimed. "Come here. Doctor Turner has nearly promised to be at the birth of our baby. The only reservation he seems to have is that you would perhaps steal his thunder as you're so excellent midwife. Please, persuade him."
Shelagh glanced at Doctor Turner. She made no effort in persuading him. He looked helplessly from one woman to the other. At last he sighed.
"All right, Mrs. Musgrove. I will do it."
"Thank you, Doctor Turner."
On one Sunday, Enid Musgrove was missing at the beginning of the traditional lunch. She arrived by the time they were finishing the soup.
"Enid! Finally you are here. Shelagh has been the main cook. The lunch is delicious," Fred said a bit deviously.
Enid winked at the present company. "I seem to have a rival at my hands."
"Really, Aunt Enid. I am not a patch on you."
After Enid had tucked in some lunch, Fred asked her:
"How was she today?"
"Not good, not bad. I suspect we are seeing her final year."Doctor Mount ventured to ask: "Who have you been visiting? Surely not a patient."
"No. An old friend. An old friend's friend in need. A Mrs. Smith".
"Is that a code name, like Smith and Jones?" Patrick had heard some separate sentences on this mysterious lady, but he hadn't asked before who she was and why she was visited so regularly.
Fred , Enid and Shelagh looked at each other. "Her name is indeed Mrs. Smith," Fred volunteered. "Mrs. Alison Smith, nee Carver, previously Mrs. Alison Sheppard."
Doctor Turner was surprised. "Canon Dick Sheppard's wife?"
"Yes," confirmed Shelagh quietly. She kept looking at the table when she spoke, but Patrick felt that she directed her words at him. "Sister Julienne's will consisted of two requests. That I would return to my medical studies with the funds provided by her, and that we would continue to look after Mrs. Sheppard. Or Mrs. Smith as she is now, she was briefly married to a man called Archie Smith, who died in 1942."
"The request was addressed to Shelagh, but in practice Fred and I, with the help of Tom and Trixie, have shared this duty," Enid said. "That way Shelagh can concentrate on her studies and yet that flame is kept alive. We owe this both to Dick and to Sister Julienne."
"Why do you think Sister Julienne made such a request?" Patrick asked, hesitantly.
"In her later years, she felt that Alison Sheppard did not deserve the treatment she got, " Enid sighed. "Sister Julienne had taken badly Alison's leaving her husband, but then Dick died so soon, and that made everything worse. It seemed more shocking because of the order of the events. Sister Julienne wasn't alone in her regrets. Many Peace Pledge Union members help Alison with what they can."
Fred looked to a distance. "After all, Alison took the responsibility over a sick man and was with him for twenty years. It was an odd marriage. She used to be his nurse."
"Yes, she took care of him since the Great War. He was always sickly."
"I think it is admirable that you take care of her and respect his legacy, too, in this way, " Doctor Mount said.
Jane's mild voice was seldom heard at lunch time. Now she seemed to make a special effort. "I always thought that it would have been better for James's parents to have lived apart. It was a terrifying household while his mother was alive. Fortunately, his father mellowed a little in his later years."
Doctor Applebee took his wife's hand and kissed it. "That is true, Jane. I know I am so blessed to have survived it with so few scars."
"After the war, there certainly have been many odd family arrangements. I knew a woman who after years in the Singapore prison camps had adopted three surviving children of her fellow prisoners. I was their doctor. She was a divorced woman with no children of her own, " Patsy told.
Then a silence fell.
Patrick broke it. "I had to take care of my mentally deranged ex-wife and my ex-mother-in-law during the war."
"Patrick, you do not need to..." Jane intervened.
"Jane, hush. I think I do. And they are both dead now." Jane patted her brother's hand which lay on the table, the fingers restless tapping the cloth.
"My wife Peggy turned out to be manic-depressive. That is why she left me, for another man, in one of her...manic phases. I gave her a divorce as she wanted that. Her liaison with that man did not last long, though. During the London Blitz, she was bombed out of her lodgings when she was living with her mother. We moved back together because she was in a pretty sad state by then and she had no-one else to turn to. This was in 1941. In practice, I was in Africa and in America, or living at the London hospital resident wing. Jane and James took care of her when I was away."
He could feel the pained gaze and the uneven breathing of Shelagh from the other side of the table. Suddenly he felt not able to carry on.
"Patrick," Doctor Applebee started. As Patrick remained silent, Doctor Applebee continued: "Jane and I tried to help where we could. Peggy died from tuberculosis in 1945, and her mother the next year. The good Lord does not always let us choose whom we love."
"Or how we love," added his wife.
"And we don't have a choice over what happens when we love," concluded Enid.
Tom and Trixie looked at each other. Trixie was near crying, she was thinking of Cynthia. Tom decided to lighten things a little:
"So, to sum it up. Around this table every man and a woman - or their family members - have been actively helping the life of a divorced, misplaced or an unhappy person. In the past five years or so. One agnostic-don't take offense, Patrick, you're too wise for that," Tom added quickly, "one Methodist- that's you, Patsy, and seven Anglicans-of both high church and broad church stands.
"True Christian charity at work," Patsy said with irony.
"True ecumenism at work!" Doctor Applebee chuckled.
"The end is nigh! Keep watch!" quipped Fred.Laughter and general hilarity followed.
"It does not make sense, I agree," Tom mused.
"We only learn the strength of the ties when they are tested. And we have to learn how to go on living after this war. That is all." Enid was starting to pile up the dishes. "And now no more of this highbrow theology. Whose turn it is to help me with the washing up?"
"My turn." This was heard simultaneously from both sides of table. One deep baritone and a silvery soprano. Patrick had already risen. He stared at Shelagh with a somber, inscrutable look in his eyes.
"All right, please follow me, one good agnostic and one good Anglican. The kitchen sink is all yours."
Posted on 2014-08-12
"Timothy! You're back! You should have sent a telegram. We weren't expecting you until December!"
The brothers Turner gave each other a friendly, manly hug. "What a surprise. Please, come in."
They entered Patrick's apartment, and Timothy put his luggage on the floor.
"Good to be here," Timothy sighed.
"Welcome to England."
"Patrick, I really would like to stay at your place."
"I am sure Jane and James would like to accommodate you. They have more room."
"Yes. I just don't like to stay so close...to The Nonnatus Clinic and the Musgrove tribe."
"Of course." There was a moment's silence. Patrick had of course missed Cynthia's funeral, but he also did not know much about the romance. He had found it odd that he had been so close to becoming a relative, although a distant one, to the Musgroves, and well, to Shelagh Mannion. Then it came to nothing. All possibilities of them being relatives seemed to be doomed.
Patrick swallowed and put his arm around Timothy's shoulders. "Let's find you a bed. I think there are a hundred unused camp beds somewhere in the store rooms of this hospital. And let's go for a beer."
"Oh, the English hospitality! Hard beds and warm beer. Thank you, brother!"
Timothy's arrival caused some ripples in the medical community of the London Lab and the Nonnatus Clinic. His irrepressible energy charmed men and women left and right. He wanted to tell all about the polio rehabilitation therapies he had studied in Australia. He had become such a good friend with Sister Kenny. And oh yes, the sunrises in Australia were magnificent.
He was a great favourite, and kept his court at the London Lab until Doctor Tracy ordered him to leave. There is such a thing as being too pleasant. After that, he visited the hospital cafe often and Patrick saw him there at ludicrously early hours chatting with other early birds. Usually Doctor Mount. Especially Doctor Mount.
At the Sunday lunches Patrick found his smoking tete-a-tetes on the balcony with the alluring Doctor Mount invaded by Timothy. Patrick was mildly annoyed. Surely Timothy could see that there was no point in endless discussions of Australian landscapes? Surely polio was more important. Well. That, and other things.
During his first week, Timothy had visited both the families Musgroves. Trixie was in her 34th week and emotional. She was heard to say "it was a delightful visit - perfect, in being much too short."
Patrick had been amused to know that he and Doctor Mount had been connected with each other in the hospital gossip. Now, waiting for a lift, he overheard that there were new developments that interested others.
"That Doctor Mount. The younger Doctor Turner does not quite look at her with askance, does he? I sense a bitter sibling rivalry coming."Patrick didn't mind that. He could fight and win. But the continuation of the gossip left him...shall we say...silent.
"Doctor Mount is so handsome. But I must say, even if it is not fashionable to say so, I prefer Miss Mannion to her."
"Oh so do I. So do I. But all men are wild about Patsy. Miss Mannion is too delicate for them."
"Well, I think she is not too delicate for Doctor Tracy."
"No, he does not dislike his best research assistant, does he?"
"Oh no, that is clear enough. One can guess what will happen there. They are always together. He lives in that lab, and she is nearly as bad."
"Doctor Turner! Doctor Turner!"Patrick turned around and saw Enid Musgrove calling him on a Poplar Street. He was coming from the London and was going to visit the Applebee Thorntons.
Mrs. Musgrove nearly ran to him. She seemed agitated.
"What's the matter?"
"Trixie's labour has started."
"All right, I will come at once. Is Miss Mannion already there?"Enid Musgrove was out of breath. "No, that's the trouble. She has gone to visit Mrs. Smith at Woodford Green. She lives a good 15 miles from here. Would you be so kind and take your car and fetch her? Mrs. Smith does not have a telephone at her cottage."
"Yes. Yes, I could do that. But can you manage with Mrs. Tom? You know she has asked me to be there. With Miss Mannion."
"I think I can take care of her. Please go. Just go. Woodford Green, Agnes Street 15. You know the village?"
"Yes, I know the village."
Patrick ran back to his apartment and hopped into his car. It was new and he had never driven it at the highest speed. The fog made it difficult to keep in the road. Finally he reached his destination. He knocked the door of Mrs. Smith's cottage. The maid told him that Mrs. Smith and Miss Mannion had gone for a walk.
He dashed to the direction she had given him. There, in the end of a long village lane, he could see two small figures."Shelagh!" he shouted. Shelagh turned around and was startled when she saw him.
In the fog, she looked like someone from another world. Her hair had turned curly in the damp weather and she was touching some wayward locks of her hair, trying to sweep them back. She lowered her gaze as in confusion.
He remembered that the only other time he had used her first name was their night at the lab. He corrected himself. "I mean, Miss Mannion!"
"Yes, Doctor Turner?"
"Miss Mannion, Trixie and Tom have sent for you. Trixie's labour has started."
"All right. I will come." She kissed Mrs. Smith a goodbye and ran with him to the car.
Did he notice a shade of blush on her cheeks? That must be from the running. Or nervousness about Trixie. That must be it.
They started their journey back to Poplar.
"What do you know of her situation?" Miss Mannion asked.
"Early first stage labour. She has been given chloral hydrate."
"Good." Suddenly she flashed a smile at him. "I think we are going to be all right," she said.
He felt feeble.
A beautiful baby boy had been born to the world. Trixie was like her old self again when she commented on him: "I'm glad he has his father's eyes. He will be a lady killer in 15 years of time."Everybody burst out laughing. Tom was embarrassed. "Trixie. What a thing to say...of a son of a clergyman. Our boy will be my altar boy by the age of nine. "
"Now, my dear Reverend, that might be a possibility. He will charm the parish grandmothers out of their ...church hats. By the way, where did Shelagh and Patrick go?"
"They went for a cigarette." Tom had a knowing look.
"Really? Sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette."
"I think this might be a very special cigarette..."
"I hope you're right, Tom. I don't want her to be hurt...again."
Outside, the Doctor and the Nurse were ignorant of this match-making behind their backs. Both felt a little bit vulnerable. A birth is such an intimate thing to attend. They hadn't been through a birth together since the Carter twins.
Patrick lit her cigarette a little uncertainly.
"Thank you, Doctor. For Trixie."
"I should be thanking you. I wasn't needed, as it should be. Just the way I like it." He paused a little. "You really made Mrs. Musgrove feel comfortable. That's a mark of a good nurse."
"I am not fishing for a compliment. I never was. "
"No. You never were. But people change."
"I am not that much changed."One could hear the hum of the ships at the port and the traffic on a nearby highway.
"It is a period, indeed. Eight years." He inhaled fast.
Shelagh felt a spell of sweetness flow through her.
The baby boy was a week old. There was to be a night at the pub to wet the baby's head. Tom had mischievously called that event a Thanksgiving on the Eve of St. Martin's Feast, "since it really is the 10th November on Saturday." Tom had invited his father, James Applebee Thornton and both Patrick and Timothy Turner there.
On that day, though, Fred and Shelagh met outside the Nonnatus Clinic an anxious Doctor Applebee Thornton. He was puffing and panting.
"Oh, Mr. Musgrove and Miss Mannion. Good to see you. I just have heard some...odd news. I hope you will not be too disturbed by it."
"No, unless it disturbs our night at the pub," Fred laughed. "Does it?"
"I am afraid it does. Doctor Turner, I mean Timothy, has just gone to see Vicar Musgrove."
"What is it?"
"Oh dear. In one way, it is the best of news. It is a wedding."
"Oh. Who is getting married?"
"It seems that there will be three Doctor Turners here soon. You see, Patsy, Doctor Mount...will soon be a Mrs. Turner."
Shelagh felt a sword at her heart.
"Oh, she is to wed Patrick?" Fred asked.
"No, no. That would be the news Jane and I have sort of been waiting for. But this is a little surprising. She is engaged to...Timothy."
Then Doctor Applebee continued his story more easily. How Patsy and Timothy had met in Australia before she even came to London. How they had fallen in love. How Timothy had felt that their engagement must come as a shock to the families of Musgrove and Franklin, because so little time had passed since the death of Cynthia. With Trixie pregnant and everything, they had decided to keep their relationship secret, until the baby was born.
"Now there is this healthy baby boy and everybody is happy and Timothy felt that they don't want to wait anymore..."
Doctor Applebee might have explained the meaning of life and Shelagh would still have heard nothing. His words were only a buzz in her ear, her mind was in confusion.
Fred seemed to be asking if the Applebee Thorntons were happy with this engagement.
"Oh yes, perfectly happy, we like Patsy. Patrick is happy for his brother, too. All we wonder is how you are going to take it. Especially Tom and Trixie."
"Well, it certainly is a surprise. But it is not the end of the world." Fred promised to smooth the way at the both households of Musgroves.
Doctor Applebee was relieved. There was still one worry left, he acknowledged. "Patrick, poor man. He will have to start to seek new female companionship. Again."
Doctor Patrick Turner saw Miss Shelagh Mannion on the steps outside the London Hospital entrance. She was clearly shivering in the rain.
"You shouldn't be out in the rain."
"I am waiting for someone. It shouldn't take long."
"May I please at least loan you my umbrella. It is fairly dry, so far."
"You need not trouble yourself."
He cleared his throat. His mind needed clearing too. "You have heard the news, of course?"
"Of Doctor Mount and your brother. Yes."
"I hope it didn't shock you."
"I could say the same to you. I understood from Doctor Applebee Thornton, that... I mean, I hope that Timothy's actions didn't make you feel...bad."
Something must be said to that. He fervently wished to say something to reassure her.
"Please now, take this umbrella. No, no, I don't need it. You keep it to yourself." She liked his commanding tone. It betrayed a familiarity which had so far been lacking in their encounters.
"This is a long story." She meekly surrendered. For a moment she thought how well this agitation became Doctor Turner, the vibrancy in his face and movements made him very attractive.
"Now then. Timothy and Patsy. Both rather brazen, bold characters. I was only surprised. They seem an excellent match. A suitability of temperaments is certainly there."
"Yes?" It seemed that there were a thousand questions in that tremulous monosyllable.
"They seem to be happy. I am not perhaps a best judge of matrimonial stakes." There was a strain in his voice when he said this. "They have all the possibilities of succeeding. "
"Everyone seems to say so. I understood from Doctor Applebee Thornton that both families approve the marriage."
"Yes. There are no impediments. Yet there is one thing that I wonder. Patsy Mount is an excellent girl, with many good qualities. Some that Timothy may lack, such as resilience. I hope she will keep him on his best behavior."
"But he is always so kind and charming."
"He is capable of kindness, and he certainly is filled with charm. Even though he is my brother, I must say this. I have been told that he was very much in love with Cynthia. Now, only eight months later, he is in love again. A man does not recover from such loss so quickly. He does not. He should not."
Either from the consciousness, however, that his brother had recovered, or from some other consciousness, he went no farther. Shelagh was struck, gratified, confused, and beginning to breathe very quick, and feel an hundred things in a moment.
Finally, Doctor Turner came to his senses. "Since that day we spoke of Mrs. Sheppard, I've tried to learn my lesson. I try not to make judgments. Listen to me now, " he said disparagingly. "Anyway, Timothy is the golden boy in this family. I am the black sheep."
"Surely your sister and brother-in-law do not think so."
They both seemed to listen to the rain very intently for a while. Then the front door swung open, and Doctor Aubrey Tracy arrived in a great state.
"Shelagh! I am so exceedingly sorry I am late. Let's take a cab. Oh Patrick, hello."
"It's all right, Aubrey. Doctor Turner has given me the pleasure of his company and the shelter of his umbrella. Here, you can have it back, Doctor Turner."
Aubrey. Shelagh. They were on first-name terms. Patrick felt a dreary agony rise to his mouth. He took his umbrella and vanished into the night. If he had turned around he would have seen Shelagh's lingering gaze fixed on his retreating back."Come now, it is so damp!" Doctor Tracy was coaxing her into a cab.
"Oh, that looks good. You have so many talents, Shelagh. I don't know which I should appreciate most: your lab work or your skill of making puddings..."
"Stop it, Aubrey. The lunch will be late again. This is just an ordinary cherry pudding, and I need to get it done."
Doctor Turner was looking at them from the threshold of the Nonnatus House kitchen. He had been ordered to fetch the milk jar, Miss Mannion "and any old fool who might be there harassing her", as Enid Musgrove had so impeccably expressed herself.
He had listened to this banter for some seconds, frozen. Miss Mannion was nearly through the finishing touches of a cherry pudding. Now he saw how Doctor Tracy was feeding one cherry to her."These are good, aren't they? The proof of the pudding is eating it."
Shelagh suddenly became aware that someone was standing at the door. "Hello, Doctor Turner."
"Sorry, would you please say to Mrs. Musgrove that I had to leave. I have forgotten an appointment."
"On a Sunday, Patrick? Surely not," Doctor Tracy sneered.
But Patrick was already going. Shelagh ran after him. He stopped, turned around and looked at her directly in the eyes.
"Do you not think this pudding is worth staying for?" she asked, a little breathlessly.
Doctor Turner turned his back at her. "No. There is nothing here worth my staying for." He hurried to the entrance hall of the clinic and left.
Doctor Tracy met Shelagh's inscrutable face at the kitchen.
"What's the matter with the old boy?"Shelagh said nothing. For a moment her gratification was exquisite.
"Patrick...I have heard a rumour at the hospital. Concerning Aubrey and Miss Mannion. It is said that they're soon to be engaged." Doctor Applebee Thornton was looking at his elder brother-in-law in an earnest manner.Patrick felt his heart sink.
"And that they would be married as soon as possible, if they only found an apartment. You know that our apartment was in fact reserved for the head of the Lab, but Aubrey kindly let go of his right to stay there. He preferred West London lodgings instead."
"What are you saying, James?"
"I'd like you to convey to Miss Mannion, in the nicest possible manner--you know how--that we are perfectly content to move out before the lease finishes. We are going to find a house anyway, and we could easily move out earlier than was intended. So, would you do this for me, Patrick?"
James was an affable soul and if he had known what a burden he placed on his brother-in-law, he would have cried in pain. There was no choice for Patrick but accept this task.
"Miss Mannion. My brother-in-law...has asked me to say something to you. I hope you will not be offended by what I say."
It was somewhat frightening to look at her, diffident, innocent, in a white coat, sitting there at the lab desk.
"It has come to his knowledge...that you might be on the verge of getting engaged. To Doctor Tracy. And that you might wish to marry soon."
Shelagh was watching him, blandly at first, but then her eyebrows started to frown. Then she went scarlet and she gave her full attention to the microscope again in an angry manner.
"Heavens," she murmured under her breath.
"Please do not be disturbed by this. James...Doctor Applebee wants to kindly offer you and Doctor Tracy his apartment to lease. If you wish to live there. James and Jane have already been seeking for a house for themselves and are quite ready to move. In the case that you are...to be married."
Shelagh raised her head slowly and watched him. Her gaze was clear and even, the flush had faded away.
"Please, tell Doctor Applebee that there is no need for that. There is no truth in the rumours. " Then she slapped her hand at the table. "The people...always talking. Sorry Doctor Turner, please excuse me." She left the room in a hurried manner.
Patrick was left there staring after her. There was no truth in the rumours. He felt as if he was on the brink of something enormous.
Posted on 2014-08-15
The next day, Shelagh entered her aunt's home. To her surprise, she found Doctor Turner the senior there, having what seemed a serious conversation with Uncle Fred.
"All right, in the circumstances, it might be better if I did it. I can understand how you feel, Mr. Musgrove," she heard Doctor Turner say. Then with just a nod to her, he retreated into the corner of the sitting room and started to write something at the small desk there.Aunt Enid put two cups of tea before Shelagh and Fred. Then she left for the other Musgrove household to talk about the catering at the Christening service.
"May I offer you something stronger?" Fred asked Shelagh. "We have yet to wet the baby's head."
"No, thank you, Fred. May I ask, what is Doctor Turner doing here? What is he writing?"
"Oh, he is writing to Cynthia's mother and father about Tim and Patsy."
"Oh. I see."
Fred heaved a sigh. "It may be impossible for them to not be a little hurt. Yet I also feel for poor Timothy. It was a dilemma for him, really: we all have our feelings, and I must say that Timothy understands the difficulties in the situation. For obvious reasons, he didn't ask Tom to do it. Then he thought that I as his old scout leader would be the man for the job. It seems he didn't dare to ask Patrick. But I did. Now he is writing that letter. I must say I am happy to be relieved of this task. "
"I think Cynthia wouldn't mind, after all. She was a gentle soul."
"Yes, she was."
Fred grumbled a little."It is not that I think that Timothy...I think he deserves every happiness. Patsy is an admirable girl and she will follow him to the end of the world."
"Quite literally, in this case. I have understood that they are going back to Australia."Fred harrumphed. "Yes. She will take good care of him and his career."
"We all like Patsy."
"I am not one for brooding. You know me. I am a cheerful old dog. But something in this last war and in its aftermath...does not please me."
"I think you will find many survivors who need to put the past behind them."
"I know, to go on living."
"It is only the few of us...who have the double-edged inclination of ...keeping faith with the past."
"Are you talking of yourself, Shelagh? You should not have any regrets for what you have done or for who you are. There is no reason for that."
"No, I expressed myself poorly. It is a special kind of constancy that I like to reserve a right to. Loving the longest. When existence...or hope is gone. That is the privilege I claim. A slightly sad one. Not anything to be envious of."
There was a pause in the conversation. Doctor Turner's pen was scratching the paper making a noise. He was writing really fast.
"But I wouldn't deny anything from Timothy. Or Patsy. They both have been through a lot, " Shelagh said.
"Oh, you're a good soul. I won't fight with you." Fred patted her hand.
He turned to Doctor Turner. "Are you ready there?"
"Not yet, just a few lines."
"I am in a good anchorage here and in want for nothing, " Fred smiled at Shelagh.
Finally Doctor Turner finished his letter. He was putting it into an envelope in a hasty manner.
"All right, Mr. Musgrove, let's now go and post it."
"Right away? All right. Thank you, Doctor Turner. Let's do that indeed."
They both left the house and left Shelagh there, a bit astounded. Doctor Turner had not made a slightest effort to notice her, he hadn't acknowledged her presence in any way.
Then she heard his voice in the hall. "Sorry, Mr. Musgrove, I forgot my gloves."
Doctor Turner was back, he indeed collected his gloves from the desk. At the same time he pulled a letter under a pile of books and put it on the table, in plain sight for her to see. He glanced at her with eyes of glowing entreaty and in one instant, he was gone.
Shelagh went to the desk. "To Miss Shelagh Mannion", it read on the envelope.
While supposed to be writing only to the Franklins, he had been also addressing her. On the contents of that letter depended all which this world could do for her. Anything was possible, anything might be defied rather than suspense. Sinking into the chair which he had occupied, her eyes devoured the following words -
"I don't know if what I am about to say is too much or not enough. Tell me not that I am too late. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.
Since the first moment I saw you at the London in 1941, I felt the keenest interest in you. Since our discussion on the Carter twins and other things, your blue eyes have pierced my heart. Since I held you in my arms on that night of a bombing at the Nonnatus Clinic I have loved you, even though I had no right to ask such a thing from a novice.
I don't deny that I was hurt by your rejection in 1941. I don't know if you ever read my letters or heard about my circumstances after 1941. I was a pretty devastated guy, I have to admit. It made me reconsider all relations with women.
Remember "the springs that do not fail?" Am I wrong in believing that you and I could be approaching a second spring? Kind of funny for two such steady, middle-aged persons... But there it is. For you alone I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I would not have waited even these two months, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write.
I am glad that you believe in the right of loving the longest. Let us compare our experiences on that. I will not be a loser on this one. Take me out to a pub, take me to the lab, take me out on the streets of Poplar, but, please, let me find out what you think of this letter. I will meet you at any place you wish, at any time you wish. Your Patrick."
"Fred! Uncle Fred!"
Mr. Musgrove turned around and saw his niece. The happy grounds of The Coach & The Horse had rarely been visited by her. "Shelagh, what are you doing here. Fancy a pint?
"They told me at the post office that you had talked of going to this pub. Where is Doctor Turner?"
"Oh, he suggested that we come here, but then he seemed to have changed his mind after drinking only some sips of his drink. See, it is this glass, half full."
Shelagh tried to be patient. "Where did he go?"
"He said he'd like to take a stroll at the port. He said he wasn't feeling very well. To tell the truth, it seemed that he had something on his mind. I must say that he didn't seem to be that anxious about writing to the Franklins, in the beginning, but the task seems to have taken its toll, oddly enough. He has never met the Franklins..."
"Uncle Fred. Where at the port he said he was going?"
"Oh, to Bath Park, I assume. That small wilderness by the India Street. Shelagh, are you leaving already?"
She was gone. Fred stared after her. Some odd goings on today.
She ran as fast as she could. There was a little bit of rain in the air. She could feel the dampness, her own ragged breath and the expectation in her mind and body. She felt dizzy.
She came to the steps leading to the Bath Park area and she saw Doctor Turner standing there looking at the ships.She ran the stairs down. He had turned around and saw her taking jumps over two steps at a time. At the bottom of the steps she made a conscious effort to calm down.
She came forward to him, taking tentative steps now, trying to avoid some puddles from earlier rain showers. It was like watching a movie in slow motion. The seagulls kept screeching in the sky, the ships were being filled with cargo, the workmen were shouting their orders and children were riding their bikes at high speed, laughing at each other. He could see or hear nothing of this, only the small, graceful creature approaching him. Her eyes shone, and her lips were pinched together.
He lifted his hands to her collar and tried to turn it up to protect her from the cold and damp.
"Don't you ever leave the house properly prepared for rain?" It was a bit arch, but Shelagh could instantly see that the archness was needed to control his tears. She put her still shaky hand on his cheek and wiped his corner of the eye.
"Sometimes I do. At other times I have to run for my life..."Although he would have preferred to let the hand rest there for a hundred years, he thought he should act.
"This won't do. You'll get cold." He took his overcoat off with one swift movement and put it around her despite her resistance.
"Patrick, you don't need to...I am not cold." He was covering her with his coat in a determined manner. Then his hands drew the collar together below her jaw and held it there. His thumb was caressing her chin.
He lowered his head and their lips met briefly, then he pulled her close to him in one violent move and deepened the kiss. He could feel her arms around his neck and shoulders, hugging him with such abandon. There was no caution, no limits, no reservation in her embrace of him. He felt his breath taken away. He felt, rather than saw, how her cheeks flushed. He wasn't sure if he should continue, but she felt so soft, so small and so responsive to his administrations, that he didn't wish to end it.
Her body seemed to anticipate his every yearning, it yielded to his slavish adoration with astonishment and gratefulness, it seemed to pity his brokenness, it understood his abject need that only she would satisfy. If he seemed a bit single-minded and headstrong in this first taste of bodily discourse, if a bit clumsy in his intensity, or a bit helpless in his dependency on her comfort and caresses, it was not in the least difficult for her to engage in it. She reveled in his directness, she surrendered easily to his passion that thrilled her and caused her to shiver. There seemed to be a well of sweet sensations in her body and it just flowed over. She could have shouted a thousand joyous affirmations to everything he was doing to her.
"Not cold, you say..." he murmured. "Yes, you are quite warm."
"Patrick, this is a public place."
"You know what, I don't wildly care..."
She giggled. It was a most exquisite sound to his ears.
After some moments he loosened his hold and took a proper look at her.
They grinned at each other in happy rapture.
"My girl. You're so beautiful. Didn't I say that eight years ago...a beautiful creature."
Shelagh silently took the honey in this compliment and let the earlier sting forgo. It was lovely to be thought beautiful, because it told of the strength of his returning feelings for her more than anything else. The discerning critic was gone. Only the enchanted fiancée remained.
"You have said more important things to me this past month than eight years ago. Let that be what matters."
"I am glad that we are finally talking."
"So am I. Oh, to have...gained this. Never could I have thought it possible."
"Shelagh. I know I may have been unjust and angry. But I was never indifferent. That 'never possible' was what made me so angry."They sat down on a bench that Patrick first tried to dry with a newspaper he found in his pocket, but was yet forced to put his jacket underneath them, since his coat was already in use. The event, after all, called for grand gestures.
"This is such a ...teenage thing, to sit on a park bench talking of ...love," Shelagh snorted.
"I would say you still are about nineteen, and me. I feel like...twenty.
Seriously, we deserve this. Don't you dare to question our right to a bit of silly happiness. How old are you, by the way? "
"And I am thirty-eight. Let's talk about love--as you suggested--in such an appropriate manner," he laughed.
"Oh, you tease me. I loved your letter."
"Good. Will you marry me?"
"Oh my goodness, this came so suddenly. Was there a notion of that in the letter? I didn't notice."
He drew her close again. "Sweetheart, you are the tease here. What else would a man do...when he finds the love of his life...again...than contemplate marriage? This is a match made in heaven."
Her eyes were suddenly filled with tears. "Shelagh, please, don't cry."Shelagh made a gesture with her hand, but her trembling lips revealed the level of her agitation. She found a refuge in the crook of his neck. He put his arms around her and let that moment of bliss and tremor continue in silence. She seemed unable to stop crying.
"The last time I held my arms around you, you were crying, too."He had to help her over that last bridge.
"So how many years you will keep a man on hold? I am still waiting here for a straight answer."
She lifted up her happy, teary face, trying to say something...She could only nod.
"I take that as a yes, then." He let his head lean on her golden head and held her tight.Finally she found her capacity to speak.
"Patrick. Take me...out of here. Anywhere. Not to the Musgroves, please. Not to the Nonnatus House."
"Oh, I think we might go to the Nonnatus House. To the Clinic."
"I think there is a certain corner there where a couple of examination tables might be pulled together. We might enjoy some rest there. It is after all an evening, and it is quiet there. Does this please you, madam?"
"It does. I love the way your mind works."
"His penance had become severe." Persuasion, Ch.23
The evening light danced on the walls of the Nonnatus Clinic great hall. It was the only element of nature that dared to invade the privacy of the happy couple.
They lay on two examination tables pulled together by the wall. Their limbs were mingled with each other. Shelagh felt his left leg over her right thigh. She fondled his head in her bosom, kissing the dark hair at random, if continuous pace. His eyes were shut and he had a dreamy look, Shelagh thought. His hands were intermittently but lazily exploring her midriff and shoulders, giving her the sweetest thrills. The sensation was of purest delight. There is nothing in the world more beautiful and satisfying than this, and there is no need to deny that, she thought.
Occasionally they changed a word or two. Sometimes even long sentences. So much had happened between them when they were strangers and couldn't speak. Their curiosity about each other's thoughts and actions needed to be satisfied. Every occasion of their renewed acquaintance was given a detailed attention and analysis. There would be a peace with no words, a silent trance of lovers later, but there was too much of interest to address before that blessed state.
Finally, when every incident had been given a treatment of necessary interjections and expressions of regret, enchantment, delight, tension or surprise, there was a moment's silence.
Shelagh broke it first.
"What are you thinking of? Where did you go? In your mind, I mean."
"Can you feel that I traveled somewhere? The lady reads my mind. We are like married already."
"I was just wondering...If I had tried to find you, to meet you...in the year 1945, after the war ended. When Peggy died. Before I went to America. Would you have been persuaded to meet me? To...date me?"
A helpless look on Shelagh's radiant face told him the answer to that.
"Would I have been persuaded to meet you? Oh, Patrick."
"Oh, you would! I am sorry, sweetheart. I have made us miss four delightful years."
"Just make it up to me."
"You know there is such a thing as penance in religious life. They can be severe."
"I suspect that I might rather like this aspect of religious life..."
"It means you are subjected to discipline and you are not to protest in any manner."
"Oh, I will be good, I will be good," he shrieked in a spirit of happy mockery.
Shelagh drew his head to her level and said: "Do nothing and receive you punishment. You are not allowed to resist or react in any way." She kissed him, it started with a lingering tenderness but grew to demanding intensity. He squirmed and groaned and whimpered under this delicate, but precise handling.
"No protest? No resistance? How is a man to endure this harsh life of penance!"
They collapsed into uncontrollable laughter.
He recovered first. He pulled her into his arms. "Oh my wife. My dear, harsh, lady wife. How I love you."
Epilogue 1. Patrick Turner and James Applebee Thornton, the latter learning some surprising stuff.
"James, you were right. Miss Mannion is to be married soon."
"Oh, that is good, Patrick. I have to congratulate Aubrey."
"Please, don't do that."
"Why? Surely we should wish them well? Do they wish to have this apartment?"
"I want to have this apartment."
"Oh, Patrick, that surely is not a right thing to do. Why would you want this apartment?"
"Because Shelagh Mannion is going to be married. To me."James Applebee was stunned for a moment.
"Yes, to me. We have loved each other since 1941. A long attachment, wouldn't you say? No need to wait anymore."
"Oh Patrick. All the best to you. To both of you. Such a wonderful girl. But what about Aubrey?"
"He never had a snowball's chance in hell."
"Don't be so shamelessly self-confident," James laughed.
"Seriously, I have been informed by my fiancée...," this was a very good moment to use this expression, and he did that with pride, "that there is no truth in such rumours about them."
"All right, all right. I believe you. So, you wish to live here? How soon?"
"We have to negotiate that. What's a few apartments between brothers? This is such an important place for us, Nonnatus House. We have already spent a night here together."
"Oh, it was a long time ago and very chaste, to do with the air raids. "
He kept a theatrical pause. "But when two people take it into their heads to marry...what can you expect? When we have tied the knot, we will certainly spend a night here. Or at the Great Hall at the Clinic downstairs."
"Patrick, what are you talking about?"
Epilogue 2. Doctor Aubrey Tracy is scandalized.
On the Monday morning after Shelagh Turner's submission of her Doctor's thesis and a successful viva, Doctor Aubrey Tracey strolled happily along the halls of the London Lab. It was 8 am and he was sure that after all that post-Viva partying at the weekend, no-one had succeeded to arrive at the lab this early.
He opened the door and saw the newly-minted Doctor Shelagh Turner in a close embrace of her husband, who despite the fact that his doctoral laurels had withered a long time ago, seemed to kiss her with an eagerness much more suitable for a hungry, greedy undergraduate on a path to...ermm...scientifically confirmed results in the art of making love.
Doctor Tracy harrumphed.
"Oh, hi Aubrey," said Patrick in a muffled voice.
"Good morning, Aubrey," piped Shelagh in a similarly absent-minded way, her focus being somewhere else. "We were just going to check the first overnight exposure results on the guinea pigs."
"And then we were going to start the tests on bunnies," reported Patrick somewhat uncertainly.
Doctor Aubrey frowned his eyebrows. "Shelagh, when I said to you that you should properly celebrate your achievement, I didn't mean early morning snogging at the Lab. Are the shades of this respectable place to be thus polluted?"
"Go away, Aubrey," Patrcik muttered.
"Yes, please, Aubrey, get lost. Shoo. Shoo shoo," commanded the always correct Shelagh.
"You are shameless. Both of you." Doctor Tracey withdrew, and Doctor Shelagh Turner, still in that tight hold in her husband's arms, made them move closer to the door and kicked it close with her foot in high heels.
"May I say, dear Doctor Turner, a beautiful move," Patrick snickered.
"May I say, dear Doctor Turner, a good riddance. Now Patrick, let's take a look at those bunnies..."
"So soon? You are so dominating now that you have climbed higher on the ladder of medical research."
"Let's reserve domination to..ermm...other areas of life."
Doctor Tracy puffed and shook his head. He headed to the coffee room. There he found Timothy Turner and Patsy Turner enjoying a similar warm discourse of kisses and embraces.
He turned around. "Bunnies, guinea pigs, four doctor Turners. What has my life come to?"
Epilogue 3. Shelagh Turner had become the mistress of a very pretty landaulette
"Now change the gear to three. Good!"
Shelagh was excited at the wheel. She flashed a radiant smile at Patrick.
"Here we go."
The MG purred nicely after coughing up a little. Patrick was pressing his hands on to the seat. Was it such a good idea to teach Shelagh to drive a car?
Shelagh noticed the terror in his face.
"I am glad that you are willing to take risks with your life with me."
"For a former nun, you sure are a...fast one. Slowly, more carefully, please!"
"Oh, is the good Doctor afraid?" she gloated.
"You certainly have taken me for a ride."
"Yes. A ride of your life. This is the right road, Patrick, trust me."
"Yes, but is this the right speed...?"They passed Trixie and Tom Musgrove, walking there with a pram. They watched the car pass by in astonishment.
"Was that Shelagh driving? This is it. This is the last straw, Tom. You must teach me to drive."
"Absolutely not. I'd like our children to have a mother for a long time to come."
"But Tom, I am pure spatial awareness on wheels..."
Epilogue 4. The past becomes present.
After the private, delicious moments, there were serious conversations,. The lovers' trance gave way to reaching a deeper understanding. to create more perfect union.
"Why didn't you speak to me about your wife? Not in your letters. Not in any way."
"I know now that I should have. It was too complicated to write about. I thought I'd ask you to meet my sister Jane and hear some parts from her. But then I thought that might seem preposterous. Like you had a duty to hear my story."
"I would have listened. Oh, I would have liked to have heard it. That seems one lost opportunity." There was a pining in her voice. It pierced Patrick's soul.
"You see..." He had a lump in his throat. "I had experienced Peggy fleeing from me to her illness. Sometimes she was there, although not for me anymore. The divorce had made our relationship dry and non-existent. There was for both of us a conscious effort to keep distance...because we were ashamed. She was ashamed of exposing herself to me in her manic acts. In her clearer days, she felt a remorse of the...humiliation I had suffered."
"You mean her...lover."
"If you can call him that. I don't know what to say about it. But I was ashamed of other things, too. For not seeing early enough how ill she was. She was such a sweet girl when I first met him. I was a doctor and could not see my wife descend into a medical crisis. Not that it would really have helped her. There is no effective treatment. But I felt I should have been more understanding, more constant---she was hurting herself more than me. There was a question of pride: I believe in science and in reasonable order. This illness was too much to me, a medical man. It was odd to be so vulnerable."
"Did I make you feel vulnerable?"
A pause. "Yes, you did. Although the time we met, I was not living my vulnerable but my proud, defensive phase. It felt odd that you would choose...Jesus and the life of a nun. It seemed like having a lightning strike twice. I am not superstitious, but it made me...think myself a bit cursed."
"I wasn't using you when I expressed a preference to...your company."
"Or when you expressed a preference to having me to hold you..." he quipped lovingly, "do not forget that." A pause. "What were you doing then? This is an earnest question. I'd like to know."
"Patrick, I needed you holding me. A human touch. Perhaps a man's touch. I was at crossroads and I had very little means or courage to...ask or say anything."There was a pregnant pause. An angel flew by.
"I also had very little experience...with men."He kissed her hair. "I should have...understood that. Forgive me."
"You are forgiven. It seems now more shocking because of the order of the events. My boldness and losing my boldness in such a rapid sequence. One day it was there, then it wasn't."
"I could see that you had used all your powers of courage that night. That is why I didn't press you to speak to me, and tried to leave you some room, if you so wished. I was magnanimous then."
He sighed. "But you see, the greatest humiliation with Peggy was that she didn't need me anymore. You perhaps didn't need me more than for one night--I was a bit priggish. After all, can you give a man a harder run than...how would I say this..."
"Persuading a nun to leave the veil for you? A competition with Jesus?"
"Yes, all that. Your family, your ideas of war, your intelligence...even your beauty scared me."
Shelagh gave a melancholy snort.
"Then that distance, however, seemed not a good solution, not from North Africa. I could not write to you the stuff that was needed."
"I could not read your letters. I was afraid of what might happen if I did. I was in-between worlds there, and the war made me shortsighted. The only thing that my courage finally suited was stealing your letters from Mother Jesu Emanuel. I think it was, in the end, a good thing to read them."
"I am proud! My pretty little thief!" he chuckled. "But it took a long time for you to read them."
"I had to be ready to accept whatever there was in those letters and that I had perhaps ruined the chance of - there ever being us. I could understand your resentment and helplessness. Yet, for me, it would have been easier if you had, even with difficulties, told about your wife and her illness."
"Yes. But I did not know you then. I loved you, but I did not know how an upper-class girl like you, a professional medic, a nun, would take such a thing. That was my weakness. Not trusting you."
"My weakness was...taking false advice. Bending under the circumstances."
"Do you think Sister Julienne's advice to you was false? I think so, but I am biased."
"It was perhaps one of those times when the value of an advice will be confirmed only by the following events. I myself would not give such advice to a young woman now. Sister Julienne also showed her remorse of that advice by giving me a second chance to study again. She was a wise, lovely woman, she could learn new tricks even in her old days."Patrick let out a positive grunt. "I may have to forgive her, posthumously."
After a moment, he turned to her, cupped her face and drew it close to him.
"Talking of learning new tricks..."
"Behave yourself, mister! Do you mean I am old?!"
"No." He had found the touch of her mouth, the tip of her tongue, he let his lips wander on her cheeks, he kissed her jaw, he studied the soft skin in her neck. She had started to shudder under this siege. "I mean my old days."The End