On the platform at Dieppe, at a corner so near the sea and the boat as to be part of the quay, there stood a small nun, flanked by three shapeless bags of that old-fashioned kind known as portmanteaux. Lovely as a black wallflower, large-eyed by nature, her eyes were enormous: for she was looking across the quays with delight at the sun-blazing confections of houses on the other side. Now and again an old nun came hobbling up to her from the busier end of the platform, muttering something that drew a shadow across the lovely face, and then hobbling away again, head down, to this official and that official, wavering around like a top as each one hurriedly threw a few words at her and rushed past. At last the old nun came back to the novice, with her two hands out in appeal. The novice, followed by the old nun, at once walked straight down to the first official she saw and said in clear English: “Where is the train for Rouen?” The official glanced at her, then smiled, then bowed, and said politely, indeed with deference: “There it is, mademoiselle,” and pointed to it. “Mais non, non,” babbled the old nun. “Pas aller a Rouen! Aller a Leesoo!”
“That’s all right, Sister Patrick,” said the other. “We change at Rouen.” And taking charge of the situation, she led the still-protesting nun up to the waiting train, put in the bags, helped—almost pushed—the old woman before her, and settled herself for the journey. The old woman clambered out again, red with fluster. Once more she ambushed official after official, all of whom said a word so like “Wrong” that she insisted on hauling out her companion.
“Listen, Sister Patrick,” begged the novice, with saintly-patience. “I know the route backwards. It’s Dieppe, Rouen, Elbeuf St. Aubin, Serquigny, and then Lisieux. This is the train.”
The guard confirmed this, as far as concerned Rouen, and they clambered in at the last moment; but the old woman was still saying that they would never get to “Leesoo,” that they would find themselves landed in Paris in the middle of the night, that she had told Mother Mary Mell not to send her, that thirty-one years is too long out of a country for anyone to remember the language, and so on and so on, while the younger nun gazed wide-eyed out of the window at the passing fields.
“Our pilgrimage has begun,” she said in a dreamy voice, almost to herself.
“And what’s going to be the end of it at this rate?” snapped the old woman. But then she gave a frightened look at the little face before her. The big eyes had lowered. A tremble was flitting across the red lips. The old woman immediately calmed down, laid a rough hand on the novice’s knee, and said, gently, “Sure, don’t mind me, Sister Teresa. I’m all of a flusther. We’re on the road now. Just as you say. When we get to Leesoo, ‘twill be all right, a gilly. Saint Teresa will look after you and . . . Look’t, I have no sense. We should be eating our lunch.”
“I’d love a cup of teal” said the girl. “I have a raging headache.”
“Tut tut,” clucked the old woman, and then she grabbed the girl’s flank. “Are ye wearing your double petticoat, Sister Teresa?”
“Yes, Sister,” said Teresa, with a blush and a warning look into the corner of the carriage, where an old Frenchman was devouring a roll and slugging red wine.
“Have ye the red-flannel drawers on ye?” demanded the old nun.
“Yes, Sister. Ssshl” “There’s nothing like red flannel next the skin,” said the nun, fiddling with the lunch-parcel. ” ‘Tis a touch of cold you’ve got.”
” ‘Twas the heat down under that deck,” said Teresa, and big floods of water entered her eyes. Her chaperone did not notice. “I never saw Dieppe from the sea,” she whimpered. “And Mother Mary Mell says that it’s lovely to see it from the sea.”
“Will ye have egg and cress, or tomato?” asked the old woman, too intent on her own appetite to take notice of anything else. “We earned it,” she laughed, with a happy look about her and a countrywoman’s smile and nod to the old Clemenceau in the corner. He just dug a chunk of his roll off with his penknife, wiped the back of his hand right and left across his moustaches, and with an idle glance at her, opened both mouth and eyes simultaneously to devour the chunk.
The nuns began to nibble their food. Two hens could not have pecked more nimbly or neatly. Their travelling-companion finished his lunch almost before they had well begun. He carefully stowed away his bottle, produced a long cheroot, and began to fill the carriage with smoke. Then, to the dismay of the novice, he leaned across and closed the window tightly. By the time she had finished eating, she had already begun to lean her aching head on her palm. In minute imitation of the Frenchman, the old woman rubbed her moustaches and her beard clean of crumbs, leaned back, closed her eyes, began to eat chocolates and to breathe through her nose. She woke with a start to hear Teresa say to the Frenchman:
“C’est assez chaud, monsieur? Avoir la bonte d’ouvrir la fenetre.”
The old tiger-face glared, growled, tapped his chest fiercely, poured out a flood of uncompromising French, and leaned back. His sideward glare thereafter was like a cat ready to pounce.
“What’s that?” asked the old nun apprehensively. “My head,” groaned Teresa.
“Offer it up, girl,” advised the old woman. “Offer it up to Saint Teresa for the success of your intention.”
“I’ve offered it up on the boat the whole way over,” retorted the novice.
” ‘Tis a cross,” said the old woman easily. ” ‘Tis put on you by Saint Teresa to try you. Suffer it for her sake.”
The girl looked at her coldly. Then she observed that they had a second travelling-companion. He was a cavalry officer, who, with more consideration than their “Clemen-ceau,” was walking up and down in the corridor to smoke his pipe. Each time he passed the door he glanced up at his luggage on the rack. She raised her eyes appealingly the next time he passed. He paused, glanced at her, was about to pass on, and paused again to look. A tiny gesture of her hand, a widening of her eyes held him. He came in, sat down, looked around him, and stared at her.
“Monsieur,” she begged. “J’ai mal a la tete. La fenetre. Pouvons ouvrir?”
“With pleasure,” he said, in English, stalked over to it and slapped it down.
A raucous argument started up at once between the officer and his fellow-countryman. Sister Patrick sat up, glared at her charge, and drew herself in from the combatants. The argument ended with the abrupt flight of the old man, cursing as he went, a laugh from the officer, and a frightened smile from the novice, accompanied by a glance at her chap-erone, who, in the greatest suspicion of the officer, had lowered her head to look crookedly at him, like a duck, out under her coif. He was stroking his little line of moustache and smiling at Teresa. When Patrick slewed full around to survey her charge, Teresa had cast her eyes down demurely on her clasped hands.
Presently the officer got up, and went out to smoke another pipe. Every time he passed, he bowed in to the two nuns. Teresa never looked higher than his knees. When he had passed for about the sixth time, Patrick said:
“Sister, do you realise that officer is bowing to us every two minutes?”
“He is very kind,” said the little nun. “Everybody is very kind,” she sighed, and began to pray on her beads.
But when he passed again, and bowed, the old nun said crossly:
“I believe you’re looking at him, Sister Teresa!”
Teresa shook her head sadly and looked out of her big eyes at her chaperone.
“It is sad,” she said. “He will be killed in the wars,” and her eyes swam with tears.
“And what’s that to you?” whispered the old nun angrily,
“He reminds me of my brother, Jim, in the army,” said Teresa. “He will be killed on the battlefield, too. Oh, let us pray for the pair of them.”
The old nun could not refuse to do this, so they prayed together, and when the officer passed, and bowed, and smiled, the two nuns bowed and smiled back, and went on with their prayers for the repose of his soul when he would be killed in the wars. But he was useful at Rouen. He bought them two lovely cartons of cafe-au-lait, with buttered rolls, and showed them where the auto-rail would start. Then for the last time he bowed, and smiled, and went away, and they never saw him again.
It was the fading hour of day before their little auto-rail came and took the two travellers (and about eight others) trotting out of Rouen. A light haze of rain began to float down through the air. They passed a village deep in trees. There the first lights were beginning to contest the supremacy of the day. Soon the rain shone in rivulets on the lighted windows of the auto. The other travellers leaned closer together and chattered in loud voices, as if to keep the night at bay.
“I wonder,” murmured Teresa, “what are they doing now back in Saint Anthony’s?”
“Ah, yes I” sighed the old nun wearily. “It makes England seem very far away to think of Saint Anthony’s now.”
“And Dublin?” smiled the novice sadly.
“Ha!” said the old nun, with a yawn that dropped the subject into vacancy. Her youth and her friends were too remote for serious reflection.
“I know what my sisters are doing now in Dublin,” whispered Teresa. “Having tea and making plans for the night.” And she looked out at the evening shower and the thickening night. “I wish I never came,” she said suddenly. “I feel terribly lonely.”
“Sssh! Tut tut!” chided the old nun; she had begun to eat more chocolates, and did not want to talk.
“It’s all right for you,” complained the novice. “You’re going to meet your aunt. “I’ll know nobody in Lisieux. And if I find out there that I have no vocation, what’ll I do?”
“Now, now, now,” grumbled the old woman, “you know you’ll get peace and calm in Leesoo. The saint will reveal your heart to you. You’ll quieten down. You’ll know that all these scruples of yours mean nothing at all. Sure, we all had them!” In spite of herself she became impatient. Her soothing voice gradually took on an edge. “And anyway, goodness knows, you were eager enough to cornel And let me tell you it isn’t every Reverend Mother would let you. And it’s not a holiday you’re on, miss. It’s thinking of the holy saint you should be, and not of gillygooseys in Dublin.”
She stopped. The novice withdrew into herself. She was too tired to pray; from sheer repetition the words were becoming meaningless.
Presently the old nun said, as if she were thinking aloud;
“And even if I have an aunt . . . Ha! . . . I suppose she won’t know me.”
She stopped again and folded her hands deep into her sleeves.
“Thirty-one years,” she mused to the window.
The auto-rail rattled along for several miles. Then, Patrick leaned over and said comfortably:
“A terror for the hot milk at night. She’d drink two pints of it. Sure, ‘twas enough to kill a plough-horse.”
From that on she kept on letting occasional little gasps of laughter escape her. It was as if somebody tickled her every three minutes. Then, after a protracted giggle out of each side of her mouth, she went off into a beatific sleep and the broad smile never left her face until they stopped abruptly in Lisieux.
As they left the station and emerged on the great square, Teresa cried in delight:
“But it’s really a big place!”
Through the rain the little town shone into the station like a prismatic waterfall. She saw a green neon light flitting through the wetness over a hotel door. She saw a vis-vis crawling shiningly across the Place, and it made the town seem both cosy and intimate, and at the same time enormous and important. But Patrick had flown into a hurry and scurry, fumbling with her umbrella, and clutching her bags, and gazing all around her in a new rush of timidity; the two, in this conflict of absorption, nearly lost one another in the crush. The novice said:
“Oh, Sister Patrick! Couldn’t we have one cup of tea in a restaurant before we go to the Hostel?”
“Wh-a-at?” cried Patrick, hunching up her shoulders, and laying her hand on her guimpe like a stage Frenchwoman. “Mon Pethite, que dites vous? Du th Vous savez bien . . . Vous savez bien que nous . . . Il faut . . . Il faut . . .” She groaned furiously. “I can’t talk French. I told Mother Mary Mell . . , Are you talking about tea? Do you realise, miss, that you’re on a pilgrimage? Gosthering in the middle of the street! Hurry! Hurry!”
They did hurry, under their two black umbrellas, like two ants with top-heavy loads. Suddenly Teresa stopped and sneezed resolutely; once . . . twice . . . four times. Patrick towered over her. She started to gibber at her like a baboon.
“You’re after getting a cold on me! That’s yourself, and vour window, and your fine officer!” Teresa sneezed a fifth time. “Are you sure,” demanded Patrick, “that you have the double petticoat?”
The novice’s big eyes were directed miserably into a confectioner’s window. It was bright with the brightest cakes.
“Dear Sister Patrick!” she wheedled. “Don’t you think we could have one small, tiny little cup of tea?”
The nun opened her mouth to say “No,” looked at the window, looked at Teresa, and after a struggle said:
“Well! Since you have a cold coming on you, I’ll let you have just one hot cup of coffee. Just one, mind you!”
It was warm in the cafe. Patrick had an eclair. Over their heads a radio kept weaving waltzes that made the novice sway gently on her chair. Patrick had two eclairs. The novice made her coffee last as long as possible. Patrick had a third eclair. Then, in spite of a fleck of cream on her jaw, Patrick’s face was unusually forbidding as she looked up and said:
“Well, Miss, I hope you’re feeling better now?”
“Thank you very much, Sister,” said Teresa, and rose with an air of firm resignation. “We must go to the Hostel.”
A bell rang eight o’clock as they emerged. They wasted ten minutes searching for the Hostel, a baldfaced house rising plumb from the pavement. Its brasstipped, reed-woven half-screens were damply inhospitable. Its closed door and iron grille were shining with the rain. The lay-sister who drew the slide of the grille spoke in unintelligible, provincial French, of which they understood only one word, “Impossible!”
“Quoi?” squawked Patrick, clawing the grille, as the slide shot to in her face. “What did that wan say?” The bell jangled down the hall again. This time the laysister was even more emphatic, and therefore even less intelligible, and she became still less intelligible as Patrick hung to the grille and blustered in Franco-English. Teresa firmly pushed her aside, with a calm sanity:
“Vous ne comprenez pas. Tout est bien arrang Notre me a rit une lettre votre me. . . .”
The lay-sister interrupted. She said, “Trop tard.” She said “Huit heures.” She said these words several times. She closed the grille with the slowness of a curiosity that commented on the folly of the two foolish virgins who had come too late. Teresa turned to Patrick, and burst into peals of laughter at the look of horror on her face.
“We’re too late !” she cried, joyously. “Now we must go to a hotel!”
Patrick rent her.
“You and your tea! You did it deliberately! Wait until we get back to Mother Mary Meli! I’ll tell her you’re not fit to be a nun ! You’re a little flitthermouse ! You’re a gilly-goosey! What a pilgrim we have in you! There’s your answer for you! You’re not fit to be a nun! You’re a slip! You’re a miss! What’re we going to do? What’ll my aunt say to me? What’ll Mother Mary Mell say to me? What’s going to happen to us?”
Teresa began to cry. Patrick at once hushed her tirade, unfurled her umbrella (it was as big as a bookmaker’s), dragged up two of the bags and set off, in a mouth-buttoned fury, to find a hotel. The rain was now a downpour. Their bags weighted them down. She halted. She gave the girl a look that was worse than a blow, shoved her into a doorway, and said, “Don’t stir from there till I come back.” She left the bags in her care, and butted out into the rain.
Men kept approaching the door, and seeing the nun, they would stop dead, and push away. At first this merely frightened her for she did not realise her predicament: but suddenly a cistern flushed noisily behind her; she recognised that she was standing in the doorway of a cabinet. Clutching her bags, she fled down the street, down a side street, another side street, and halted panting under a cafe awning. The old proprietor came out and looked at her, cocked his head to one side, bowed, considered her, smiled, said that it was a bad night, and wiped his indifference on to the tabletop. Then he gazed around him, looked at her again, shrugged, and went indoors. More men passed her, on their way in or out, always pausing, after the first glance, to smile and bow. Twice she got up to fly, wondered whether Patrick would ever find her, sat again on the damp iron chair. A drunken old man with a beard finally put her to flight by taking off his hat, leaning on the tabletop, and starting a flowery speech. She ran into a gendarme who was accompanying Sister Patrick down the street. Patrick threw her two hands up to the sky preparatory to a tornado of abuse. She was soaked; her guimpe was a rag; her coif hung around her face like lace. Before she could speak, Teresa hurled herself on the old woman’s breast and sobbed out all her awful adventures, so that the gendarme and the nun calmed her with difficulty. They took her bag, then, and led her, whimpering, to the little pension-pub that Patrick had chosen for their night’s lodging. There Patrick put her into bed, in a cosy little room all to herself, with red stuff curtains and a dusty-looking carpet—it was merely thread-bare—and with her own two hands Patrick lit a fire, brought an omelette, rolls, and coffee, and tucked her in for the night; and all the time Patrick kept begging her pardon for that outburst at the hostel. What with the comfort, the kindness, the vestigial excitement, the little novice was melted to tears of happiness.
“Our pilgrimage is beginning,” she whispered happily to Patrick. “Isn’t it, dear Sister Patrick?”
” ‘Twill begin in the morning,” temporised Patrick. “And then the saint will smoothen everything out.”
Right cheek touched right cheek, and left cheek touched left cheek, in the way of all nuns kissing. Old fingers laid out her glossy black hair on the pillow. The light went out. A rough palm smoothed her forehead. The door clicked. The flames flickered on the ceiling.
In Kent, at Saint Anthony’s, the only sound around the convent at night had been the crackle of twigs in the damp wood, the hoo-hoo of an owl. Here she heard footsteps in the street below, an occasional motor-car swishing over the cobbles, the soft, whispering downfall of April rain. Looking up at the wavering ceiling, she attended to those sounds, whose tumult, and whose unfamiliarity, and whose sugges-tiveness made England and her convent, Dublin and her home, utterly remote—less part of another country than part of another life. More than anything else they said, “The pilgrimage has begun I” They said, “O dear Saint Therese, I will leave all things in thy hands.” They said, “0 most omnipotent God, I yield all the world to Thee.”
“I want to be a saint!” she cried out, and beat the coverlet with her palm. And at that she fell asleep, curled up in bed as softly as a cat.
Only the hens were awake as they walked to first Mass at Saint Pierre. The sun was glittering in the water between the cobblestones. Teresa felt that she alone possessed the town; that all things converged on the forthcoming visit to the shrine; that even the warm prophecy of the steam rising from the streets and the cloudless whiteness of the sky seemed not something general to everybody in the world, but particular to her life alone. She whispered to Patrick, “Therese is calling! I hear her!” Patrick nodded, too excited to speak.
After breakfast they began the ritual of Lisieux. Buison-nets, the Martin home (Saint Therese Martin), was exactly as they had foreseen it, just like all the photos and description in biographies of the saint. They saw the “trim lawn in front of the house,” and “the useful kitchen-garden at the back.” From the attic windows there was the expected “distant view over the plain.” Teresa said to Patrick, with a sign of happiness:
“It was all made for her. If I had lived here, I, too, would have been a saint!”
Patrick nodded in agreement with the general proposition. For the novice to say that she could have been a saint was merely a way of saying that God had chosen one and could as easily have chosen another.
” ‘Tis Heaven!” she murmured, and clasped Teresa’s hand.
It was the same in the sacristy of the Carmelite convent, where the saint’s hair lies strewn under glass in its reliquary, and the walls are covered by mementoes of those who have paid honour to her memory—decorations, orders, swords, letters from all over the world. Here, where Patrick became almost incoherent at the prospect of meeting her aunt, thirty-one years after, now a Reverend Mother in the Carmelites, Teresa filled with sadness.
“The folly of the world!” she murmured, sighing again and again. “They honour her now. They did not know the sorrow of her heart while she was alive.”
The two touched cheek to cheek again. A Carmelite lay-sister next led them to the grave of the saint. From that they would go on to the convent proper to meet Patrick’s aunt. They began to palpitate in mutual sympathy. The grave calmed them by its simplicity.
When they rose, the aunt stood beside them. Patrick toddled to her with cries of joy. The aged woman, her head a mere skull, her hands bony and ridged, gave no sign of recognition other than to say, “God bless you, my child.” Old Patrick drew back like a frightened child. Timidly she introduced the novice. She explained falteringly why they had come.
“She’s not sure if she wants to be a nun, Mother.”
The Carmelite looked at the novice. She, too, at once drew back. But the Carmelite smiled to hear the English name, Teresa, and took her hand gently and led her (Patrick following) across the garden to the convent ante-room. On the way she talked of simple things like the budding shrubs and the blessing of the rain. They sat in the ante-room and the Carmelite rang a bell. They talked of the price of vegetables, until a faint passage of light in one wall drew their eyes to the grille—the last portal of the inner Carmelite hermitage. Behind the grille was a gauze, and presently Teresa’s eyes made out, behind the gauze, a still face from which the gauze had eroded all recognizable character. All she could see was the vaguest outline of a countenance. As if she realised, in that second, how the discipline of the Order must have likewise eroded from the little girl of Les Buissonets all human emotion, and in a flash of understanding knew what sacrifice really means, she flung herself at the Carmelite’s knees and cried out hysterically:
“Ma mere! I have no vocation!”
Patrick intervened hurriedly:
“Pay no heed to her. She’s upset and sick in herself. The child doesn’t know what she wants.”
The aged Carmelite waved her aside and lifted the novice to her feet. Looking into her face with a clear eye, she said, after a frightening silence:
“Could you be a Carmelite?”
“No!” panted the novice, and she drew back, as if she were at that moment about to be imprisoned behind the grille.
“If you cannot be a Carmelite, my child, you can be nothing.”
“She’d be happy enough,” intervened Patrick comfortably, “in an easier Order.”
“She will be happy—we will all be happy—only in Heaven,” said the Carmelite coldly. “Could you not even try to be a Carmelite?” asked the aged woman.
“No!” begged the novice. “I couldn’t do it!”
“I’d always be shut in,” trembled the girl.
“It is an enclosed Order,” agreed the Superioress calmly. “I couldn’t stand it!”
“How do you know?” catechised the Superioress.
For answer the girl burst into such a sobbing wail that Patrick drew her to her broad bosom and turned on her aunt.
“Ye have no heart!” she upbraided. “Badgering the poor child! ‘Tisn’t that we expected from you! Don’t heed her,” she comforted Teresa. “My poor little girsha! Don’t mind her. Sure we can’t all be saints. You’ll do your best. You can’t do more.”
“But,” sobbed Teresa, “I want to be a saint. ‘Tis to . . . to . . . to be a saint I joined the nuns.” Her voice came out through her nose, miserably. “If I can’t be a saint, I don’t want to be a nun!”
The old woman comforted her, and finally restored her to a whimpering silence. Looking up, they saw they were alone. The grille was closed. The veil was hidden. The Superioress had gone.
The two pilgrims went back to their pension. That afternoon, without discussion, they went on to Saint Malo. There the novice was expected to find bodily rest, as at Lisieux she had been expected to find calm of soul.
Saint Malo faces across a wide estuary the modern watering-place of Dinard. At night they saw the lights in the hotels, and cafes, and beaded all around the roof of the casino; and sometimes they heard music across the still surface of water. Steamers from Southampton and the Channel Islands floated in the bay at anchor. Patrick was charmed with her room in the convent where they stayed. It looked directly across at Dinard. She wrote to Mother Mary Mell that she had a “grand-stand,” and that she was thinking of going across in a row-boat some night to gamble in the Casino and make the fortune of the Order. Becoming serious in a postscript, she said that Teresa had not yet made up her mind, but that she was behaving “with the most edifying devotion.”
Not only did the novice attend every service in the convent, but she had become pious beyond description, daily spending long hours alone in adoration in the chapel. But when Patrick noticed that she left her lunch untouched on her table on the third day of her arrival, and went up to the novice’s cell to ask if it were wise, she made a frightening discovery. She found that the mattress and bedclothes had been rolled up and put away under the bed, and all the girl’s flannel underclothing was hanging in her cupboard. At once she went down to the chapel, and hissed at the solitary worshipper to come out, beckoning madly with her bony finger.
“Sister Teresa,” she said severely, “You are refusing your food. Is there any reason for this?”
The novice hung her head and said nothing.
“Answer me, Sister.”
Still the novice kept her eyes on the parquet.
“I command you, Sister, to answer me.”
“There is no reason,” whispered the novice.
“Then eat up your food in future,” ordered the nun. “Do you want to make a skeleton out of yourself?” And she added more easily, “Don’t you know right well I’m supposed to bring you home as plump as a duck?”
The novice raised two large, sad eyes.
“Sister Patrick,” she begged, “I will obey if you command me. But I want to do penance for my sins, and for the sins of the world. I feel I have received a higher command.”
“What higher command?” blustered the old woman, taken aback. “What on earth are you talking about, Sister?”
“The sins of the world are all about us,” she smiled sadly. “I see them every night from my window, across the water, in the dens and gambling-houses. All lit up like the fires of Hell to lure poor souls astray. I dreamed the first night I came here that the Devil lives over there. I saw his red eyes in the air. I saw that this convent was put here specially to atone for the wickedness that surrounds it.”
“Holy Mother!” cried the nun. “What are you talking about, girl? Sister Teresa, let me tell you that if you ate a proper supper . . . And by the same token, miss, no wonder you have dreams if you sleep on the laths of the bed. Do you,” she threatened, “sleep on the laths of the bed?”
The novice once more hung her head, and once more she had to be bullied into replying.
“I do, Sister,” she confessed unhappily.
“Well, then, let there be an end of it! What right have you to be going on with these andrewmartins off of your own bat? You know right well you must ask permission of your superior before you do the like. And that reminds me,” she cried, grabbing the girl’s flank, and then standing back from her in horror, with her gummy mouth open. “You haven’t a stitch on you! Go upstairs at once, miss, and dress yourself properly. I’ll be after you in two minutes. I’m worn out and tormented with your vagaries! Ten times I told Mother Mary Mell . . .”
She pointed upstairs—a figure of Justice.
The novice went, tearful, head-hanging. In two minutes the old nun followed. She opened the door of the cell. The girl lay on the ground, her arms stretched out like a crucifix, her dilated eyes fixed as on a vision over her head. The old nun entered the room, closed the door, and thundered:
“Get up out o’that!”
The novice did not move.
“Miss!” said the old woman, pale as a sheet, “how dare you disobey me!”
The novice trembled as if a wind had ruffled her spirit. With her heart battering inside in her, Patrick walked over and looked down. The big brown eyes, so strikingly dark in that pale pink-and-white face, stared up past her. Patrick looked all about her. The thick-moted afternoon sun slanted
m across the bed. A hissing suspiration below the window was followed by the little groan of the gravel dragging back under the wave. Then she saw a slimy brown insect, with wavering head, creep to the white ear of the novice, and she screamed:
“An earwig ! Climbing into your ear!”
Teresa sat up as if she was stung. The fright passed. The two looked at each other with hate in their eyes. At the door, Patrick said:
“I’ll wait in the garden.”
In complete silence they walked four miles that afternoon. They did the same the following morning. That was their last full day. On the final afternoon they walked out again. On the way back, Patrick spoke:
“We will be in Saint Anthony’s to-morrow night. Do you know, yet, my dear, if you have a vocation?”
“I have decided to join the Carmelites,” said the novice.
They halted. They looked across the sea-wall into the dusty blue of distant Dinard. A few lights were already springing up over there—the first dots in the long, golden necklet that already they had come to know so well. A lone sea gull squawked over the glassy water. The sunset behind the blue pinnacles of the resort was russet.
“And what’s wrong with our own Order, Sister dear?” asked Patrick of the vacancy before her.
“I feel, dear Sister Patrick,” judged the novice, staring ahead of her, “that it is too worldly.”
“How is it too worldly?” asked Patrick in a whisper.
“Well, dear Sister Patrick,” pronounced the novice, “I see, for example, that you all eat too much.”
The little wavelets fell almost inaudibly, drunken with the fullness of the tide, exhausted and soothed by their own completion.
“I shall tell Mother Mary Mell that you think so,” whispered the old nun.
“There is no need, dear Sister. It will be my duty to tell her myself. I will pray for you all when I am in the Carmelites. I love you all. You are all kind and generous. But, dear Sister, I feel that very few nuns really have the right vocation to be nuns.” Patrick closed her eyes tightly. The novice continued: “I will surrender myself to the divine Love. The death I desire is the death of Love. The death of the Cross.”
They heard only the baby tongues of the waves. The evening star blazed in the russet sky. The old nun saw it, and she said, in part a statement, in part a prayer, in part a retort:
“Sweet Star of the Sea!”
Teresa raised her dark eyes to the star and she intoned in her girlish voice the poem of Saint Therese:
” ‘Come, Mother, once again, Who earnest first to chide. Come once again, but then To smile—at eventide.’ “
The old nun fiddled with her beads. She drew long breaths through her nose. She tried several times to speak. She gestured that they must go back. They turned and walked slowly back to the convent, side by side; the old nun as restless as if she were in bodily agony, the novice as sedate and calm as a statue. After a while Patrick fumbled in her pocket, and found a chocolate, and popped it into her mouth. Then she stopped chewing, and threw an eye at her companion, At the look of intense sorrow in the face beside her, she hunched up her shoulders and as silently as she could, she gulped the fragments whole.
On the journey homeward they did not speak one word to each other: all the way to Rouen in the trotting auto-rail; in the clanking train to Dieppe; on the boat; in the English train. In silence they arrived at Saint Anthony’s, among the dank beechwoods, now softly dripping, in time to hear the first hoo-hoo of the owl, and to troop in with the rest of the community for evening chapel. Mother Mary Mell barely had time to ask the old nun how she had enjoyed her holiday—that first holiday in thirty-one years. Patrick’s eyes fluttered. She recalled the golden lights of Dinard. “It was lovely, Mother 1”
Mary Mell caught the flicker of hesitation. Just as they crossed the tessellated threshold of the chapel, she whispered quickly, “And Teresa?”
Patrick who had been waiting for that question ever since the final afternoon in St. Malo, and yet had no answer ready, took refuge behind the chapel’s interdiction of silence. She smiled reassuringly, nodded, smiled, nodded again, and then, very solemn and pious, she walked in with her head down. She said her prayers badly. She slept hardly at all that night. She heard every crackling branch and fluttering night-bird. For what, in the name of the Most High, was she to say to Mary Mell. And what was she to say to the community in the morning? As she tossed and tumbled, she thought of Teresa sleeping peacefully in her cell, and the old woman burst into tears of rage.
In the morning there was no Teresa. She had left the convent, through a ground-floor window, before anybody was awake, and gone on the milk-train to London. She had walked across the city at that hour when the sun emphasises the position of the East End, and the sleepers in the Parks that she traversed are unwrapping their newspaper-blankets. A sister-in-law coming out to collect the morning post found a nun sitting on the doorstep. She had breakfast, in a tennis-frock, along with the family.
She saw the convent only once again—when she brought her husband to see it about two years later. As they got out of the train she looked up, into the familiar beeches, as the steam of the engine caught in the leaves and branches, and she remembered how every train used to make the woods seem infinitely lonely and the convent darker and more melancholy, because that-white steam tore at her heart. It suggested people travelling, and the luxury of the world she had renounced. Her George, who was a Protestant, and who was very much excited by this expedition, nodded solemnly, and began to get an uncomfortable feeling that he was married to a nun. They were entertained politely. Old Sister Patrick did not appear. As they left, the starting train again sent its gushes of steam into the branches, ana now those branches again seemed to Teresa to clutch not only at the white smoke but at her own heart. She felt that the woods enclosed a refuge from this world of which she had, irrevocably, become a part. As she snuggled down into her fur collar, she gazed out of her big eyes at her husband, and said, with a shake of her little head:
“All George! George! You will never know what I gave up to marry you!”
He smiled adoringly at her as, in obedience to a gesture, he leaned over to put a cigarette between her rouged lips.
“My precious Teresa,” he murmured softly, and patted her knee.
She shook her head at him again, with a pitying smile.
“Has it upset you, my sweet?” he asked dismally.
Saying never a word, she kept gazing at him fixedly, as if he were a stranger. He huffed, and hawed, and hedged himself behind his newspaper, looking as despondent as he considered proper. For as he explained to his colleagues in the morning, his wife was “a very spiritual woman” and on occasions like this she always made him feel that he had the soul of a hog.