01. The Goat and the Nightie
Shelagh finished hanging up the laundry, then stepped inside to check on Dr. Myra. The mission doctor was recovering nicely, though she was a restless and obstinate patient. Shelagh found her making margin notes on Reverend Hereward's report for the mission society. She let Shelagh take her temperature and ask the routine questions regarding her comfort, digestion, et cetera. After which, she reluctantly conceded to being brought a cup of Typhoo.
"Have a look if you like. I've just finished," she told Shelagh as she set the file on the blackwood end table. When she spotted a packet of Choc-Kits that Shelagh brought along with the tea, she scoffed and waved it away. "Where ever did that come from?"
"Port Elizabeth," Shelagh answered primly.
"I don't remember asking for that! Put it in the clinic pantry. It'll come in handy for bribing our younger patients."
Shelagh smiled to herself. From the start, Dr. Myra's gruffness hadn't intimidated her. But after the events of recent weeks, it was downright heartening to have her snapping again.
Apart from the Noakes, who had spent six months in Sierra Leone several years ago, the Nonnatuns had found the work in South Africa harder than they could have imagined. Complex cases weighed heavier on the heart when follow-up care was sporadic, and specialized care nonexistent. For awhile, it had looked as if even the aptly-named Hope Clinic wouldn't survive. They'd faced one disaster after another. There was the water shortage, the dysentery cases, Dr. Myra's liver abscess…
Only in the last week had things turned around. Dr. Myra responded to treatment at Port Elizabeth Hospital; she was even discharged to convalesce at home. Mr. Starke changed his mind about the pipeline. After that, Fred Buckle, Peter Noakes, and the local workers had the clinic's cistern full of clean water in no time. The Hope Clinic staff and their English visitors had set to catching up on laundry and spring-cleaning the clinic. Their dysentery patients improved, and no new cases were diagnosed.
Shelagh settled on the back porch with her own tea and biscuits and Tom's report. Officially she was keeping an ear on Dr. Myra, and an eye on the laundry line as the cool gray skies threatened rain. Unofficially, she was taking a well-earned break. Reading Tom's optimistic final report felt like running a victory lap of sorts. As did leafing through the attached photographs.
Roza Mphaphane, the clinic's new administrative secretary, posed proudly by her desk and typewriter. Little Mattias Guma stood proudly before the camera, supported by his brother Abel- and by Timothy's old leg braces. The young Muzungulu family posed in front of the cistern that Innocent had helped connect to the fresh spring; Fezeka held her newborn daughter that Phyllis and Chummy had delivered on the veldt.
Shelagh smiled at a snapshot of Fred Buckle and Peter Noakes, clowning around with the local children in front of the clinic lorry. Both men had initially been unsure of their place on this mission trip. But the National Service had given them mechanical, logistical, and engineering know-how that was essential to the pipeline project. Meanwhile fatherhood had prepared them for the peanut gallery.
And then there was Nurse Franklin, posing with a young mother and child she'd seen through a most extraordinary cesarean section. She'd gone from pouting about the climate when they first arrived, to volunteering for an extended stay at Hope Clinic until Dr. Myra recovered. What a difference four weeks could make!
Several snapshots were notably absent from Tom's professional report. They were his and Barbara's engagement pictures. Shelagh and the other women had cooed and passed the pictures around yesterday evening. The pair posed on a rough wooden bench before a laundry line, their merry blue eyes and sunburned cheeks endearingly oversaturated by Phyllis's color camera.
The younger couple's bliss may have rubbed off on Shelagh. Or perhaps it was the anticipatory joy of going home. It could even be the cloud cover that had rolled in yesterday, giving them a reprieve from the sun and a taste of autumn in the Eastern Cape…
At any rate, last night Shelagh had suddenly found the bedroom's candlelight romantic, instead of a reminder of the lack of electricity. With the water rationing behind them, she'd finally had a chance to rinse her Bri-Nylon nightie. She had once again reveled in its flirty frills and flowy, translucent material.
She closed her eyes and remembered Patrick last night. He had been relaxed, and rightfully proud of all they had accomplished. His crooked smile had been a bit roguish, and his gaze had lingered warmly on her. He was quite tan. His arms and shoulders were firm from all the lifting of supplies in and out of the lorry. His hair was sun-lightened and overdue for a trim; his chin was dark with stubble. His light cotton shirt had the top button left undone.
Well at least, it had started with just the top button...
She was jolted back to the present by bleating.
The goats had broken free of their enclosure by the rondavels. Their russet-colored ringleader was set on pulling a nightdress off the line.
"No!" she breathed in quiet horror. "No, no…"
The goat ignored her. Shelagh was too nervous to approach, so she willed herself to speak up:
"B-bad goat. No! That's… that's not very nice…"
The goat yanked the nightdress free and trotted off, one end in its mouth and the other trailing in the dirt. The nightie caught on an exposed tree root and began to tear. Even from a distance, Shelagh could see it wasn't hers. The goat's prize was pink; her nightie was blue and white. But she almost wished it was hers. Then she'd feel less guilty about it being ruined by her cowardice.
"Bad goat! Bad goat!" she managed to yell. The goat turned and stared at her. For one terrifying moment, Shelagh thought it might charge. Then Dr. Myra shuffled outside, wielding a broom like a cricket bat.
"Persephone! Get!" She shook the broom. Before she reached the end of the stoop, Persephone dropped the nightie and fled. Shelagh ran out to retrieve it. She wouldn't have Dr. Myra overexerting herself, on top of everything else.
The nightie was light cotton, with a girlish yet old-fashioned pattern of little embroidered flowers. It was a straight, unfitted shift with plain hems. Shelagh thought it might belong to Nurse Crane, or perhaps Barbara.
But when she held up the torn bottom hem for a closer look, nearly a foot of material at the shoulders and bust rested on the concrete floor.
"It's Nurse Noakes', I take it," Dr. Myra said wryly.
Peter took a late evening walk around the clinic compound. The single nurses were settled in their rondavel; he could see the candlelight in the window, and hear Trixie's dansette over the drizzling rain. The goats and chickens were safe behind their padlocks. There were no unattended tilley lamps in sight. Fred had remembered to park the lorry well off the road. All was in order. Everyone was safe for the night and- almost as crucially- the Afrikaner bobbies would have no excuse to harass them.
He left his muddy boots and damp jacket in the mission quarters' sitting room, then retired to his and Camilla's room. When he came in, she was smoothing on a shapeless blouse with silly blue frills. Apart from a pair of cotton pettipants, she wore nothing else.
"Old Persephone had my nightie for afternoon tea, I'm afraid. Shelagh was kind enough to offer me this." She gestured to her top, raising her eyebrows playfully. "Imagine: a garment that Shelagh Turner and I can both wear!"
Shelagh Turner must swim in it, then, Peter thought. He said: "That was nice of her."
"It was, rather. I think she felt obligated; one got the distinct impression that her caprophobia contributed to my nightie's demise. I would have politely declined, made do with one of your button-ups. Only she pointed out that we have a nine-day ocean voyage ahead of us, while she and Dr. Turner will be snug as bugs back in London the night after next. My need is greater than hers, so to speak," she grinned.
Peter didn't know what to make of the blouse- or nightdress, whatever it was. It was very different from Camilla's usual style. Still, she looked so pleased as she twirled in front of the grimy, black-spotted mirror. She wove the frills between her long, lean fingers; she raised her arms and swayed the flowing sleeves. Peter couldn't tell what material it was. Perhaps it was a trick of the candlelight, but it looked both stretchy and silky.
And a bit see-through, he noticed.
"Is it comfy?" he asked.
"It's a fascinating texture. It's called 'Bri-Nylon.' Come and feel."
He was only too happy to obey. The mission trip had ended on several high notes, and their impending journey home gave things the spirit of a holiday. Weeks of digging trenches and transporting water barrels had Peter in the best shape Camilla had ever seen him in. Meanwhile she'd tanned the most of anyone in their group; in Peter's eyes, she was positively radiant.
He came up behind her and slipped a hand around her waist. She shivered a bit, and perhaps not because of the cool rainy night. She turned around in his arms- the material was quite silky, he noticed. She gently draped her hands over his shoulders, tickling him with those flowy sleeves. They began to slowly sway back and forth together, as if they were dancing.
"Shame we can't hear Trixie's dansette from here," he joked.
She looked down at him, her eyes half-closed but not remotely sleepy, her lips softly open. He knew what that look meant.
"I don't think we'll need music tonight," she said softly.
As she traced a finger down the nape of his neck, Peter had to agree.
A/N: This story idea came directly from a couple of silly Tumblr threads, and I want to keep that spirit of fun collaboration throughout the project. All readers please feel free to give me plot or fluff ideas whenever you want, however you want. Leave a review, send me a PM, or grab me on Tumblr- whatever works! I can't guarantee I will use your idea, but I will certainly squee about it with you. If I do use it, (with your permission,) then I will credit you via closing A/N on the relevant chapter.
Thank you cooldoyouhaveaflag for gosh, so many things. The original concept, the "friendly pressure" to fic it, the beta-ing, even the title! I could not have done it without you, and we are gonna have… wait for it… SUCH FUN.
Thank you weshallc for the mental image of Chummy in the Bri-Nylon nightie- and twirling! (Eeee!) On a related note, thank you bbcshipper for chiming in on the nightie's proportions, and for the preview read!
Thank you callthemoonbeam for reminding me to make rain, especially of the African variety, a motif!
And lastly, thanks to everyone who "nudged" me to heed cooldoyouhaveaflag's fic-pressure and/or offered general support. I have never had a project with so much excitement before I even post it; it's terribly exciting! callthemoonbeam, roguesnitch, tangledupinmist, broadwayfreak5357, thatginchygal, nurseturner, wildlygroovybeliever, and joyfullesbian, thank you!