Two new postulants arrived. One of them left two weeks later. The other, Sister Margaret, well... they all knew she would be leaving soon.
"Really, sister," said Sister Mary, in front of Sister Julienne's desk, "I know it's wrong to talk about one of my sisters like that, but that girl will end my patience. I don't understand what she's doing here if she hates working."
"I'm sorry to hear that. We know that Sister Margaret is a little...particular."
Julienne really did not know what to do. She was used to situations like this, but after the arrival of the efficient Shelagh, Bernadette, her name is Bernadette, stop calling her by her real name, the ineptitude of anyone who came to Nonnatus was more noticeable, because nothing could compared to the Scottish girl.
Sister Mary frowned in frustration.
"I'll do my best to get along with her, sister," she declared, standing up, "But God willing she changes her attitude."
They heard screams from the hall. They both looked at each other and went out to see what was happening.
Sister Margaret ranted something about her shoes and her books, while Sister Bernadette watched her quietly and withdrawn, but with her eyes full of fury, like a cat preparing to attack.
"What's going on here?" Julienne asked. Instinctively she moved to Bernadette's side.
Margaret looked at her with contempt.
"It's her. She has better shoes and books than me. And everyone seems to worship her as if she were the Virgin Mary. Today a patient told me to get out of his house and call "the little nun with glasses"!"
"Don't you think maybe it's because I'm a normal person, while you look like a bad witch?"
Julienne stared in shock at Bernadette, who continued to watch at her "rival" with her arms crossed.
"Sister Bernadette! You can't say that to your sister!"
"But…!" Bernadette looked indignant, "You heard everything she just told me!"
"Margaret, go to your cell. You'll stay there until I order you to."
"Because this is a convent and there are rules!"
"I haven't made my vow of obedience yet!"
"To your cell!"
Margaret threw her books and shoes on the floor and slammed the door behind herself.
"Sister Mary, go and do your things," Julienne said firmly. The nun nodded and left quickly.
Then she looked at Bernadette, she was still with her arms crossed, her veil was twisted and a lock of blond hair was escaping.
She must be severe, even if it cost her a lot, too much, to do it.
"What you said is very wrong."
Bernadette lowered her head.
"Im sorry, sister, I know I was wrong but…"
"Enough excuses, sister. Go to your cell and reflect."
Bernadette looked up, looking directly at her. Julienne gulped, clearly the girl was holding herself back from screaming and slamming the door in an identical way to Margaret.
"Very well, sister. But it's unfair," she hissed.
Julienne opened the cell door and looked at her. Sighing, Bernadette entered.
She was not surprised when just an hour later, Sister Margaret had left her cell and was in the office, veil in hand, asking to leave. Nor was she surprised when it was easy for her to let Margaret go. Rather, she felt relief.
The woman left, slamming the door again.
She looked at her books, now complete with numbers neatly drawn by Sister Bernadette. Julienne thought of the young girl, it was necessary to tame her as if she were a colt, and that is why she was not opening the door of Bernadette's cell telling her that everything was solved.
No, she was Sister Julienne and as much as it hurt, she had to impose her authority and set limits. Something like what had happened was punished firmly in the Mother House. This was Nonnatus, and while some rules were sometimes broken, not everything could be a party.
The phone brought her out of her thoughts, with good news. The NHS would be sending two nurses and midwives next week. They would stay in Nonnatus, and would set up a clinic once a week, to attend to pregnant women and babies. There were many needs at Poplar, but there were also many babies who needed attention as quickly as possible.
They never had lay people in Nonnatus, that would be a challenge. She thought about what had happened that afternoon between two nuns and sighed. With two young nurses, worse things could happen.
She stood up, dinner was ready.
"I'll take this to Sister Bernadette," Sister Monica Joan had a tray with a plate of food, a glass of water and two books.
"No," Julienne said firmly, "She's grounded."
She noticed how Evangelina looked at her, clearly surprised.
"But the girl…" Sister Monica Joan was distraught.
"She's a postulant, she must learn many things before becoming a novice. And many more before becoming a nun. And also, she must reflect a lot. Sister, take that tray into the kitchen and sit at the table."
In silence, they all ate. Then they said Compline, and went to sleep.
The next day, Bernadette went out with Sister Mary, after praying Lauds.
Sister Julienne did not see her all day, she knew that together with Evangelina they were preparing everything necessary for the prenatal clinic that would begin soon. They needed to buy things, fix the parish hall, ask for donations, and a myriad of other things. Julienne treated several patients in their homes and when she returned in the afternoon, she saw Bernadette only for a couple of seconds, because she immediately left with Evangelina to attend a birth of twins, something that Evangelina assured her would be "spectacular for her education". When they returned, Evangelina had a smile painted on her face.
"I like her because she learns fast. Others turn pale when they see two babies and Sister Bernadette doesn't. She's cold-blooded, I like that."
"I know," Julienne said, helping her clean the instruments.
"I know I shouldn't get involved but last night was too much. We know the whole mess was made by that crazy Sister Margaret. And now you can't punish me for what I say, because the woman has already left, slamming the doors.
Julienne did not reply.
"Today she worked all day. I think she didn't even stop to go to the bathroom. She will fall asleep while we pray Compline, I don't doubt it. Anyway, I like her."
She nodded, calmer in knowing that Evangelina now completely accepted Bernadette and would not be bothering her with hurtful words or gestures.
She looked up, the girl had just entered, dragging her feet. She smiled at her, but did not get the same response.
"I'll go to my cell to study," Bernadette announced.
"Wait! Give me your instruments, I'll clean them for you," Evangelina smiled, "You worked a lot today, you deserve some help."
Bernadette left, returned immediately with her bag. She opened it, without looking at Julienne, and began to remove the objects one by one. Suddenly a clamp fell to the ground.
"Sorry," she whispered.
Julienne looked at her. Bernadette was pale, very pale, and suddenly her eyelids closed and her knees buckled.
Evangelina caught her before she hit the ground.
"Quick, a chair!" shouted the older nun, as she took Bernadette's face and shook her slightly. Julienne felt her blood run cold and immediately brought a chair. Between the two of them they sat her down.
"She's burning with fever," Evangelina said, removing her glasses and veil in almost the same motion.
Julienne put a hand on her forehead, it was indeed very hot.
They heard a groan.
"Sister Bernadette," Julienne said over and over, she could feel her heart beating in her ears. If something happened to that girl, she would not know what to do.
Bernadette barely opened her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Don't say that," Evangelina sat her more upright, "Come on sister Julienne, bring some water."
She walked to the kitchen, and saw her hand shaking with the glass as she filled it with water. She returned as fast as she could, feeling her eyes fill with anguished tears.
She found Bernadette with her eyes wide open, but still very pale.
"Do you want to believe that she hasn't eaten anything since yesterday?" Evangelina said, clearly indignant. Then she looked at Bernadette, "You are a very silly girl, of course you passed out. You were lucky you were here and not on the street."
"I didn't know this could happen," Bernadette whispered, her pale cheeks barely turning red.
"And I know very well why you did it," Evangelina continued scolding her, pointing a finger at her, "You did it to show that you can work and that you are useful. Ah, do you think I don't realize it? I appreciate that you like to work but you don't have to kill yourself in the process. Here the dead are of no use to us."
"Take the water," Sister Julienne brought her the glass, Bernadette took a few sips.
"Even so, the fever is not normal," more calm, Evangelina kept observing Bernadette, "Have you felt sick yesterday?"
"It's just a flu."
"The flu should not be underestimated. Come on, we'll take you to your bed, and you'll eat, do you understand me?"
She let herself be carried away by both, Evangelina took care of putting her to bed.
Julienne was afraid to approach. She felt like it was all her fault, that maybe, if she did not punish her, she would have noticed that Bernadette felt sick, and the girl would not have tried to show her that she was not a girl who liked to fight, but that she was a girl who could work and do it very well.
"I'll make you tea with biscuits, so you can eat something," Evangelina said, leaving the cell. Julienne looked around, walked over to the bed and took one of Bernadette's hands.
"Do you feel good?"
In response, she shook her head.
"Now you will eat and feel better."
Bernadette opened her eyes, they were dark. Her lips were dry, she wet them briefly.
"Sorry about yesterday," she whispered.
"Oh, don't apologize for that. I...I was wrong."
Julienne knew she was making a serious mistake. Acknowledging that to someone she barely knew and who should obey her was not good, but she needed to do it, assuring Bernadette that nothing was her fault and that she should not demonstrate her ability and good judgment.
But Bernadette did not answer, she just groaned and raised her hands to her head.
"Does it hurt a lot?"
She just nodded.
Julienne saw Evangelina enter with a tray, and seeing Bernadette, the nun denied.
"We will call Dr Turner, this girl is very bad."
"No, please," Bernadette said, her voice muffled by her hands covering her face.
"Oh come on, don't be stubborn. I'll call him."
Evangelina left quickly.
"I'll help you sit down so you can have your tea. You need to eat something," Julienne said, but the girl only denied several times.
"I want nothing."
The tea grew cold as Julienne placed wet cloths on Bernadette's forehead. The girl dozed a bit, then moaned in pain, or muttered something unintelligible.
At last Dr. Turner arrived.
"Is she the new postulant?" he asked.
"And the only one," said Evangelina, "The others escaped like rats."
The man barely smiled, and began to check on Bernadette. Julienne did not move away, she watched his every move.
"Not only does she have a fever but her head hurts, and she has not wanted to eat anything," Julienne reported.
"Does your stomach hurt too?" he asked softly. The girl nodded.
"I feel nauseous."
"It's a very bad stomach flu. It's not strange, today I already saw two more people with the same."
"Oh no, a new thing hanging around Poplar," Evangelina muttered.
"I can only give her something for the fever, we must wait it passes by itself."
"But will she be without eating?" Julienne felt the weight of guilt growing stronger. If she had not committed the atrocity of leaving Bernadette without food for one night, she would not be like this now. She would be strong and healthy, without being prey to viruses and bacteria.
"It's important that she is hydrated. But I'm sure that tomorrow she will be able to eat again."
Evangelina accompanied him to the door, but Julienne remained sitting in a chair next to the bed, watching the girl shivering with cold although her body burned.
The hours began to pass. She saw many such people, and people in worse condition. In fact, a patient like Bernadette was a mild patient who healed with rest.
But she could not move from there.
"You should sleep," said Evangelina, "Come on, she's an adult, she's not a baby."
"No," Julienne shook her head, "This is my fault."
Evangelina just rolled her eyes.
"If you are going to get like this every time you put a limit, then go presenting a resignation. Nurses will be arriving very soon, and if you are unable to keep them in order because you feel guilty, Nonnatus will become chaos."
She watched her sister go, closing the door with little care.
She doesn't understand. I won't be like this with everyone. I'm just fair.
She knew she was lying to herself. In fact, she knew, very secretly, that Bernadette could easily kill someone and she would still see her as a special girl.
Why? Because she felt that girl as if she were her daughter.
Why? She could not know.
She just felt that.
Bernadette stirred, a blanket fell from her bed. She said something between her teeth.
Julienne lifted the blanket, placed it on a chair, and put her hand on the feverish forehead. It did not seem to slow down, it even seemed worse.
She saw her squeeze her eyelids, from which two big tears fell.
"Dear, wake up," Julienne whispered. The fever was causing nightmares.
Bernadette just groaned, said something unintelligible again. Then she opened her eyes, but Julienne saw that there was not the reason, but delirium.
"Mom…" she whispered.
The air left her lungs. She heard her repeat it.
"Sister, don't worry, you are here in Nonnatus," Julienne took her hand, squeezed it gently, "You just have a fever, don't fear."
But the girl shook her head.
"Mom!" she exclaimed, louder and clearer this time, "Mom, don't go!"
She felt everything around her freeze. This girl, this girl who seemed so special to her for so many reasons, was ill and was asking for her mother as if she were a three-year-old child.
And Julienne could not do anything, just look at the watch and wait for dawn to come and these nightmares to pass.
She saw the tears running down Bernadette's cheeks, as she continued to whisper her mother's name.
"Sister, calm down. Everything is fine," she took her hand again leaning over the bed, "Sister, listen, you're fine, everything is fine."
She began to pray, hoping that would calm her down.
But she kept calling for her mother, a whispered wail, born of raw pain.
This girl had no mother, she lost her when she was a child. Julienne had no idea how, she did not know how much Bernadette remembered about her mother, if she saw her die, if she saw her sick, if her life changed too much when she had no one to take care of her and protect her, and give her love.
And then, knowing she should not, Julienne sat up on the bed and stroked Bernadette's warm forehead.
"Shelagh, I'm here," she whispered, "I'm here, my dear."
And Bernadette calmed down. She even returned a small smile.
When the rays of the sun appeared in the morning, Julienne stood up. She had spent the night responding with an "I'm here" to every call from Bernadette, Shelagh, asking for her mother.
The girl opened her eyes, they were clear and her forehead was fresh.
"Good morning, sister," Julienne said, knowing she would look completely drained. But Bernadette's smile, adorned with rosy cheeks, was a reward.
"Good morning, Sister Julienne. I feel so much better this morning," she said, sitting up slowly on the bed.
Julienne smiled, and went to the kitchen to make her some tea.
She did not know if Bernadette remembered what happened the night before.
Deep in her heart, Julienne hoped Shelagh can remember it.
Hi! Thanks for being there, reading and commenting. I hope everyone is in good health.
In a few days I'll start posting a story with Shelagh and Anna Bates from Downton Abbey. They are two characters that I love, and I also love actresses Joanne and Laura. So if you would like to read a story with them as sisters, I'll wait for you!