Trixie pulled back the bedclothes and palpated the uterus. The head was above the symphysis pubis, but she could not feel anything else definitive. There seemed to be lumps all over the place. She stood still, thinking, head on one side.
"Well, Miss Stoopid, what you goin' a do now?"
"I'm going to listen to the baby's heartbeat," replied Trixie coldly, trying hard to ignore the woman's insults.
She took out her Pinards and applied it to the abdomen.
"You better get on wiv this and stop messin' abaht. My sister's in labour, I tells yer."
"Be quiet, will you? I can't hear a thing with you making all that noise."
Meg rolled her eyes to the ceiling and sucked in her breath, indicating her total lack of confidence in the procedure. Trixie listened carefully and counted a steady 120 beats per minute. She stood up, satisfied.
"Well, the baby is quite healthy. Now I must ask you some questions. When did you first feel contractions, Mave?"
Meg answered, "About ten o'clock. Came on sudden. Terrible it was".
"Will you be quiet. I'm asking Mave. Not you."
Trixie was too tired to be patient. She turned to Mave. "And how frequent are the contractions?"
Meg answered regardless: "All ve time. Can'choo see? She's sufferin'." Trixie's slender reserves of patience snapped.
"Will you shut up and get out of here? Either you go or I will go. I'm not prepared to carry on like this."
Trixie was taking a risk and she knew it. If she deserted a woman in labour the consequences would be severe. But the gamble paid off. Meg left. Trixie could now devote her attention to Mave. She was puzzled because, although she had been observing Mave for at least twenty minutes, and although Mave looked and sounded as if she were in advanced labour, there appeared to be no contractions.
"When did this start?"
"About ten o'clock," Mave groaned.
"And how frequent were the contractions? Did you time them?"
Mave looked pained. "They was all ve time. Never stoppin'. Meg says Dr Smellie says…"
"Never mind what Dr Smellie says. Contractions don't just start and never stop. It's not possible."
Mave assumed her martyr's expression.
"You don't understand. I'm dyin'. You don't care." She hung onto her belly and rolled onto her side.
"Stop all this fuss," barked Trixie. "You are no more dying than I am. I haven't seen a contraction since I came into this house."
"That's cause you don't know nuffink. Meg, she says…"
"I won't hear any more about Meg. Now tell me, when did you last open your bowels?"
"What?" Mave jerked round to face Trixie.
"You heard. When?"
"I'm not sure. Couple of weeks ago, p'raps."
"You are constipated. And what did you have for supper?"
"Gooseberry pie and custard."
"Yes. Two 'elpin's."
"Well, that's the trouble, then. You've got gut ache. You're not in labour at all, you old fraud. Getting me out of bed for a stomach ache!"
Trixie was furious. "Do you realise I have been working for forty hours with no sleep, and you wake me up for nothing. I will give you some castor oil and an enema, and then I am going back to my bed and leaving you to get on with it."
You can buy the novel Call the Midwife, the first in Jennifer Worth's trilogy, for £7.59 including p&p. Call 01326 569444 or visit www.rtoffer.sparkledirect.com. Contract for supply of goods is with Sparkle Direct.
Watch repeats of the acclaimed first series of Call the Midwife every Thursday at 9pm on BBC2. The series will return later in 2012 with a Christmas special.