No Greater Love
A Short Story by Ivy Rose Boudreau
"Greater love than this no man hath: that a man lay down his life for his friends."
John 15: 13
This story is dedicated to all of my friends and family, who are the inspiration for all of my stories, and also to St. Therese, St. Anthony, and St. Dominic Savio, my favorite saints.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam - For the Greater Glory of God!
Thank you to a few people in particular. Thank you to my father and mother, who so kindly proofread the whole story and had so many good ideas. Thank you also to my dear friend Hephzibah Kruse, who thought of the name for the story. It has a three-fold meaning to it. It means the love of Our Lord for every one of us. It means the way Meg gave her whole life to God, Who is the best Friend we could ever have. It also refers to the sacrifice Meg makes at the end of the story.
I ran into Father Wiseman's parlor. Behind the piano I always found a safe refuge for reading. Right now I was reading "Treasure Island", that exciting book, so why should I be expected help Mum in my nice blue dress as she hurried round getting everything ready for the Archbishop's arrival? Why indeed?
So behind the big upright that stood in the corner I climbed. The corner was right behind it, making a little triangle into which I just fit. No one could see back there, so really it was ideal.
I opened my book once more and promptly forgot all. I had not gotten very far yet, but here was an opportunity to read, uninterrupted, for at least 2 hours! No one would notice my absence, them being so busy bustling about the house. And I quickly bound and gagged my Conscience, and locked it into one of the trunks of my soul.
I heard the doorbell ring, but very faintly. A faint hum of voices and the sound of feet proceeding down the hall told me the Archbishop had arrived. Then the door of the parlor opened. I heard Mum's voice.
"Here you are, Your Excellency," she said, showing him in. Other people, most likely priests, followed him. Oh well, I thought, I'll be fine. I highly doubt that any of the good fathers will play the piano. One day I had had the great misfortune to be behind the piano when Father Wiseman was interviewing a new organist who had insisted upon showing off his skill at the piano. I thought my skull would split open with his enthusiastic playing! I resumed reading.
I heard the voices leave about 15 minutes later and the parlor door closed. On the other side of the wall I could hear the clink of dishes in the dining room as the important guests were served. Through the other wall I heard Mrs. McGuire exclaiming in an agitated manner, "PAIRSLEY! Lizzie, go pick some! Quick now! 'is Excellency loves it on 'is sailid! Go, ye foolish gairl!" and then more mutterings. I chuckled. Mrs. McGuire, the Irish cook who sometimes cooked at the rectory, was surely very red and agitated as she hustled and scolded Lizzie, the girl who had come to help on this important occasion!
In time the door reopened, but so enthralled was I in my book that I barely noticed. I was at the exciting point when the squire and the doctor are opening Billy Bones's treasure. Then I reached the point when Jim receives the letter from the squire informing him of the one-legged cook. At this point I couldn't take it. The stupid boy was happy!
"Jim, you IDIOT!" I yelled, forgetting I was not alone. "It's HIM! The scary one-leg! You are so idiotic!"
Then I gasped and sat up, suddenly remembering where I was. Sure enough, I heard Father Wiseman say, "Pardon me, Your Excellency." I groaned.
Father Wiseman stood up and walked over to the piano. "Margaret, what are you doing back there?" he inquired. I winced. Good Father Wiseman only called me Margaret when he was scolding me. I stuck my head out.
Oh heavens! This was just to bad! Not only was the Archbishop there, but so were 3 other priests, one of them a Monsignor, and Mother Marguerite-Marie, the French Sister of Charity who had recently come to England to start another convent! This was awful!
I looked up at Father Wiseman, who motioned me out with his head. He gave me a look out of his brown eyes that was slightly disappointed, but a bit amused as well.
I slipped out from between the piano and the wall. My nice blue dress was all wrinkled and, oh dear, the matching ribbon was sliding from my hair! I scrambled out, still holding my book, and smoothed myself as well as I could.
"Your Excellency, this is Margaret Davis." said Father Wiseman. "Her mother is my housekeeper. Margaret is a good girl, but a bit forgetful at times." He looked at me with such a kind look, that, although my cheeks were flaming, I felt a little better.
I smiled apologetically and dropped a curtsy, and then kissed the Archbishop's ring. I looked up into his face and was surprised to see that he wore a smile.
"What were you reading, little bookworm?" he asked.
I smiled back and showed him my book. " 'Treasure Island', Your Excellency," I said.
"Oh, 'Treasure Island'?" he said. "Then your unusual reading place must be excused! When I was young that was my favourite book. Do you like it?"
"Oh, it's wonderful, so far! It might become my favourite too!" I exclaimed.
The Archbishop smiled and looked deep into my eyes. He traced the Sign of the Cross on my forehead. Bending forward so that only I could hear, he said, "You are made for great things, my dear."
I looked at him in surprise. He smiled and nodded.
Father Wiseman introduced me to the two priests and the Monsignor. One of the priests, Father Belleville, had come as chaplain to the Sisters of Charity. The Monsignor always accompanied the Archbishop. The second priest, Father Lewis, I did not know, and no explanation was given.
Then I was introduced to Mother Marguerite. She smiled at me very kindly and said "Hullo" in a rather strong French accent. Her dark eyes seemed to see right through me, but I like her immediately.
A knock sounded at the door. "Sorry to disturb you, Father Wiseman, but - oh, Margaret! There you are! Where were you, child?" Mum did not sound happy.
I bit my lip. "Behind the piano," I was forced to admit.
Mum gasped. "And the Archbishop here and all! Oh, child, how could you? Come along, now!" She quickly bobbed her curtsy and then hurried out of the room, holding me tightly by the wrist. I glanced at Father Wiseman and he gave me a sympathetic look.
Mum scolded me down the hall. "Girl, when will you ever grow up?" she demanded. "You will be 13 next month, not that you deserve it! How could you do such a thing? You were supposed to be helping me, not reading some foolish book!"
"Mum!" I exclaimed. "It's the Archbishop's favourite! It's not foolish!"
"And the Archbishop was here! Father Wiseman had to pull you out from behind that piano before the distinguished guests and introduce you as my daughter, no doubt! What will they think of me! Ochone! When will you grow up and not be such a humiliation to me?" Mum was getting very agitated. Her Irish brogue, which she had successfully lost after coming to London, came creeping back into her voice, as it always did in times of emotion.
My Conscience was freed from its bonds by the hands of Repentance and I suddenly realized that for Mum's sake, at least, I must try to lose some of my reckless, careless ways. Truly, it must be rather trying to have a daughter who was going on 13 acting in such an immature, irresponsible manner. Poor Mum! This had never even occurred to me. Blushes filled my face.
"Mum, I'm sorry. Truly I am," I said. "I will try to do better, I shall!"
"Och, ye always say that! And I never see any change, what's more," said Mum, who was still upset.
"Mum, don't say that!" I exclaimed. "Surely I'm not as bad as all that!"
"I don't know but you are," retorted Mum. "Och, machree, what trials you've given me!"
I was encouraged that she called me "machree", for when she began to call me by the old Irish terms of endearment she was not as angry any more. However this time I was mistaken.
"But I truly mean it this time, Mum," I said. She looked at me with eyes that were as blue as the sky of her homeland.
"Perhaps I believe you," she said. I sighed, for she still was angry, and, if I knew my Irish mum, would be for a while longer.
The rest of the day was spent in disgrace helping Mrs. McGuire peel potatoes in the kitchen. This, however, gave me time to reflect upon the Archbishop's visit. Why was he here, in the first place? And what had he meant by those strange words, "You were made for great things"? I couldn't imagine. I never had given much thought to what I would do with my life, but it suddenly occurred to me that I almost thirteen. I really should start giving thought to it, and so I tried, but I quickly tired of it.
That evening Mum let me go out to the garden even though she was still upset with me. I brought 'Treasure Island' with me and sat down under a tree to read.
I was not there long before I felt a small unripe apple hit me sharply in the back of the head.
"What 'o, Meg!" called a boyish voice. I briefly glanced up from my book.
Recognizing the apple-thrower, I said, "H'lo," and resumed reading.
The boy in front of me was obviously rather surprised at this cold reception. He was clad in dirty shirt and knickers and a cap that appeared to have been used as a fetch ball for the dog, ammunition for knocking apples from trees, and a carrying-basket for various young animals (as indeed it had) on his mussy brown head. He attempted whistling through the gap in his front teeth and failed. Then he turned a handspring and began to climb the tree I was sitting against.
"What's the matter?" he finally inquired.
I slammed my book shut and told him all about the happenings of the day. I was now upset because, in my opinion, Mum had scolded me too hard.
"But, Jimmy, the Archbishop told me the queerest thing," I finished. "He said, 'You were made for great things'. What could he have meant?"
Jimmy hung over the branch. After sufficient reflection and an attempt to eat a green apple, he said, "I dunno."
"Neither do I," I said. "but I'm trying to figure it out."
"Time will tell," said Jimmy philosophically. "But 'aven't I got the jolly news fer ye!"
"Oh, what?" I demanded.
Jimmy rolled his eyes repeatedly, picked another apple with his teeth, and finally said, "I know why the Archbishop was 'ere."
"Oh, why?" I said. "I've wondered all day!"
Jimmy coughed impressively and then bent half out of the tree and whispered, "'e's examinin' people for Confermations tommorer'! They'll prob'ly be next Sunday!"
I gasped so hard and suddenly that I choked myself. Jimmy leaned farther out on his branch to pound my back and only succeeded in falling out of the tree.
"How… how… wonderful!!!" I gasped when I had the breath.
"Oh, ain't it!" agreed my friend. We both wanted very much to be confirmed. We hoped that it would be easier to be good after receiving that sacrament, something we both very much desired. Father Wiseman had told us after the last Confirmations we could receive the sacrament next time. This was next time!
"Oh, what name shall I have?" I said. "Mary? Teresa? Catherine?"
"Take T'resa," suggested Jimmy. "I'm 'aving Vincent."
"For St. Vincent de Paul?" I inquired.
Jimmy nodded his head. "Meg, I've a secret," he said.
"Are you going to tell me?" I asked.
"O' course," he said. "Don't I tell you most ever'thing?"
"I suppose," I said. "Well, tell me!"
"I'm going to be a priest," he said.
I was very impressed and pleased and my face showed it. "Why, Jimmy! I'm so happy! You'll be a capital priest!"
Jimmy smiled his lopsided, goofy grin. "Yeah, I told Father Wiseman at me last confession. 'e said 'e was 'appy and that I'd make a fine priest. Those were 'is words!"
"Oh, oh, I'm so happy!" I said. I much respected my friend for his decision and was proud of him for the words of praise he had merited from Father Wiseman, who was much loved and respected by both of us.
"I want to be in St. Vincent's order," Jimmy said. "'elpin' poor people, that'll suit me just fine."
"You're a very generous boy," I said.
"So are you," he returned seriously. "What are you going to be?"
"I don't know," I said. "Something, though. The Archbishop says I was made for great things, after all."
"P'raps you'll be a nun," said Jimmy. "A Sister o' Charity."
I saw a sudden picture of a young woman who seemed to be me clad in the habit of the Sisters. "Mebbe," I said.
"Well, I gotta go 'elp Dad," said Jimmy. "Tally-ho!"
"G'bye," I said with a wave. I leaned back on the tree and shut my eyes. I remembered when I first came here.
I had been born in the Yorkshire dales to an Irish mother and an English father. We had a happy little home. I was the only child, and only occasionally did I wish I had brothers and sisters, so happy was I with the wind, the moor, and the sun as my playmates.
But then, one cold winter, my dear father caught a bad cold after staying out a very long time in the cold and damp, trying to find a lost sheep. The cold worsened to pneumonia, the doctor was gone, and, despite the efforts of Mum and myself, one night Mum became a widow. What a bitter night that was! Mum cried all night, and could not stop murmuring, "He is gone. Ochone, ochone, how can I live? I cannot… Ochone…" and then would break off into her native tongue. I tried to comfort her as best I could, but I was crying as well.
My dear father! It was 5 long years ago that you died. Your "little Meggie" is a big girl now, no longer the chubby little child you knew. But - oh Father! - how she misses you! And how disappointed you would be to see how much she makes her mum suffer over her Meg's careless ways!
I can remember well how my father looked, a tall, sturdy man with brown eyes and hair and the weathered face of a farmer in the Yorkshire dales. He would pick me up and swing me above his head, saying, in his thick Yorkshire accent, "'ere's ma Meggie!" How I miss him, even yet! And how much more must Mum.
The rest of the winter we struggled along without him, but that spring Mum decided we would sell the farm and move to London so that she could find work. So one bright April morning we boarded a train that took us chugging out of Yorkshire, and away from everything I had ever known.
I still remember looking out the window, a little child in a navy blue sailor hat and blue dress and pinafore, taking one last look at everything she had ever known. Despite the brevity of my years, I was sorry to leave my home. Beautiful Yorkshire!
We arrived in London late one night. I only remember noise, bustle, confusion, and more noise. It was very frightening to a little child who had lived in the country her entire life, and, being tired and hungry as well, I began to cry.
Poor Mum! She was wandering through London, holding the hand of a crying child, and trying desperately to find the house we were supposed to be renting a room at. She had been assured it was very close to the train station, and so had not bothered to get a cab.
But one kind cabby saw us in our plight and, refusing payment, took us easily to the very door of the house we wanted. How kind he was! I still remember his kind, round, jovial face smiling at me through the dark as he lifted me into the cab.
Mum found work at a small restaurant and enrolled me in a day-school run by the kind Sisters. But she was not satisfied with her work and continued to look for another place.
One day she saw a small ad that Father Wiseman at St. Mary's Church needed a housekeeper. Mum went for an interview one day and took me with her, with many admonishments to be good and not say anything astonishing.
The interview went very well. Father Wiseman and I took an immediate liking to each other and he heard our whole story. He promised Mum a place and the small house next to the rectory. I was very pleased with the whole arrangement. The good Sisters had instilled a great love of church in me and I was happy I would be living so near to it. And I was also very proud that my mum had such an important job - the priest's housekeeper!
The day after we moved in, I was exploring the garden that surrounded the church and poking my nose into everything. A man was there with his small son, weeding the beds. I shyly approached them.
"Why, 'ello there, Missy!" said the man in a cheerful voice with a thick Cockney accent.
"Hullo, sir," I said, smiling.
"Now, you be Mrs. Davis's little gel, ain'tcha?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir!" I said. "I'm Margaret, but most call me Meg."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Meg," said the man, extending a dirty hand. "I'm Mr. Windham."
"Happy to meet you," I said, bobbing my head. "What's that?" I added, pointing to a phlox.
Mr. Windham laughed. "Go show 'er round, Jimmy me lad," he said.
The little boy came over to me. He seemed about my age and had mussy brown hair, freckles, mischievous dark blue eyes, and a wide gap between his two front teeth. "Come on," he said.
I learned the name of almost every flower in the garden and made the acquaintance of Master James Windham, who soon became one of my dearest friends. There were no other boys and girls who lived nearby. We knew others, naturally, but we were fast friends because we saw each other every day. I learned that he was the son of the gardener who took care of the church garden along with the gardens of two rich manors. They lived on the other side of the block from the church, rectory, school, convent, and our little house. Jimmy was a true Cockney, for he had been born while the bells of St. Paul's were ringing, and I'm sure you know that if you were born within hearing of those bells you are a true Cockney. He had an accent you could cut with a knife, just like his father.
Those years were spent very joyfully. I attended the convent school of the good sisters, learned my lessons well, and had the great joy of making my First Holy Communion the following spring along with Jimmy and several other boys and girls. Mum learned to smile and laugh again, although she was always a little grimmer, and, for me, Father drifted to a pleasant memory without any pain.
I was not an unusually good or bright child, and apt to be very careless. But I truly meant well and became very repentant after each mistake.
Suddenly I hit upon a new problem. Who should be my Confirmation sponsor? Oh, heavens, so many questions… I picked up my book, but just then Mum called me back into the house.
That evening, as Mum braided my hair for the night, she said, "Meg, do you know why the Archbishop is visiting this week?"
"Oh, yes, Mum! Isn't it wonderful?" I said excitedly turning my head. "He's doing Confirmations next week!"
"And what's so wonderful about that?" said Mum, turning my head back. "You are not being Confirmed next week. You are too young."
"Mum… Mum!" I said. "But Father Wiseman said I could this time!"
"Well, I'm your mother and I make the decisions around here," she said sternly. "Now hold your head still. You're not being Confirmed this year and that is final."
"But Mum!" I said. All of the pleasant feelings I had had all evening after talking to Jimmy and hearing about the Confirmations floated away and were gone.
"But nothing," she said, finishing my braid.
I tried every tactic - begging, pleading, wheedling, reasoning - but to no avail. I began to cry.
"Hush, hush," said Mum. "Perhaps you can next year. Now say goodnight to me. You're tired."
I kissed Mum goodnight with tears streaming down my cheeks and went to bed.
The next morning we attended Mass. I still had a very sorry look on my face. I begged Our Lord to let me be confirmed. I felt like it would be such a help for being good.
After Mass Jimmy came up to me and said, "Come, let's go see t' Archbishop!" Then seeing my face, said, "Why're you so sad?"
"Mum won't let me be Confirmed," I said.
Jimmy looked sorry and surprised. "Why shucks, why not?"
"She says I'm too young," I said.
"Ye aren't too young," said Jimmy. "I'm not! Tell yer what; I'll talk to Father Wiseman about it. If anyone can 'elp, it'll be 'im!"
"Will you? You're a brick!" I said enthusiastically.
That evening Mum was once again braiding my hair. "Meg," she said. "I talked to Father Wiseman about you being Confirmed. He knows your wild and careless ways, but he thinks the best help would be Confirmation. I respect his judgment. He is a holy man of God. You have my permission."
"Oh, MUM!" I said, turning around and throwing my arms around her neck. "You're a dear!" And so is Jimmy! I added to myself.
"I think it will be best, asthore, now that I think about it," said Mum. "You must be open to the Holy Ghost. After you are Confirmed He will start working in your soul even more. He will help you to be good and mend your faults. So will your patron saint. Who shall you have?"
"I was trying to decide," I said. "I think I'll have St. Teresa of Avila."
"That is a good choice," said Mum. "That's my middle name."
"Oh, but Mum!" I exclaimed. "The Archbishop examined everyone yesterday. How can I be confirmed if I didn't go to the examinations?"
Mum and I had quite a nice talk that night. It was the first time since we had come to London that we had had such a nice, confidential talk.
On Tuesday morning I was excused from class in mid-morning. I went to the rectory and Mum opened the door. She smiled at me and said, "He's in the parlour."
I walked, rather nervously, down the hall to the parlor door. Outside I paused to straighten my dress and smooth my hair. Then I tapped on the door.
"Come in," I heard the Archbishop say.
I opened the door and entered the parlour. The Archbishop smiled at me. I curtsied and kissed his ring.
"Please sit down," he said, motioning me to a chair across from him.
"So, Margaret, you are to be confirmed next Sunday?" he said. I nodded my head.
"Yes, Your Excellency."
"How old are you?" he asked.
"I am twelve years old, but I will be thirteen early next month, Your Excellency," I said.
He nodded. "Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you come to London?" he inquired.
I told him the story of my life up to that time. He listened carefully, and then asked me to recite the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Act of Contrition, and the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity. These I knew very well. Then he asked me what the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost were and the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost. I had just a bit of trouble with these, and my face was probably a rather brilliant shade of red. But I got through them all right, and the Archbishop was very kind. He then asked me a few more questions pertaining to our Faith. I had a bit of trouble with a few of them, but I did all right on the whole.
"And how are you liking 'Treasure Island'?" he inquired at the end with a smile.
"Oh, it's very good indeed!" I said. "I knew Long John Silver was bad right from the start!"
The Archbishop laughed. "So he was. Now you should be getting back to school. As you go, will you please go to Father Wiseman's office and tell him I should like to see him?"
"Certainly, Your Excellency," I said. I arose and kissed his ring again.
"I will give you my blessing," he said. I knelt before him and as he pronounced the words of the blessing I felt a very holy kind of happiness steal into my soul. Suddenly I knew that God wanted me for Himself.
"Thank you, Your Excellency," I said, curtsying. He smiled at me and showed me to the door.
"Go with God," he said.
I smiled at him and then hurried down the hall to Father Wiseman's office. The door stood open.
"Father," I said, standing in the doorway.
"Yes, Meg," said Father, looking up from his desk.
"The Archbishop would like to see you in the parlor for a moment," I said.
"All right," nodded Father Wiseman. "How did your examination go?"
"I don't know," I said. "I answered most all of the questions correctly."
"That is good," said Father. He stood up from his desk and stepped out the door. I went back to the front door and returned to school, which was on the other side of church. I began to run until I remembered that I was too old for that now. But my heart and soul had wings and ran and flew, even if my body could not.
Late the next afternoon I was laying under the tree in the garden again, considering whom I should choose as my sponsor. I found that I didn't know terribly many people who would work.
I shut my eyes and tried to remember all the ladies I knew. Well, there was Mum, of course, but I wanted someone other than my own mother as sponsor. There was Mrs. McGuire. No, not her! I barely knew her, and besides, she, well, she wasn't the sort of person I wanted for my sponsor. Lizzie? No, not her. She was too silly. Then suddenly my eyes flew open. Oh, how could I have been such a silly goose? Mrs. Windham! Of course! Who else?! Jimmy's mother had always been a very good friend to Mum and myself. There was no more natural choice than her!
I jumped up and ran to the house. I found Mum sitting by a window with her sewing so that she could catch the rays of light streaming in. "Mum," I said, "I decided who I'm going to have as my sponsor."
Mum looked up from her sewing. "Did you? That's good," she said. "Who?"
"Mrs. Windham," I said.
"That's a good choice," said Mum. "You know her well and she is a very good Catholic, we all know. Do you want to run over and ask her right now?"
"Oh, may I?" I said eagerly. Mum nodded.
"Let me straighten your hair out," she said, reaching up, giving my ribbon a tweak, and smoothing my hair with her fingers. "You can go now, but be back by dinner. Oh, and be sure to ask her for some eggs from her chickens. Tell her I'll pay next time I see her."
"Yes'm," I said and went out the door.
Our little house was on the corner next to the rectory. I went around the corner to the Windham's brick house that stood halfway down the next street. I went to the door and lifted the knocker.
Mrs. Windham opened the door. "Hullo, Meg!" she said, smiling at me. "How are ye this evening?"
"I'm very well, thank you," I said, returning her smile.
"Won't ye come in?" she said. I nodded my head and followed her to the kitchen.
"Have a chair," said Mrs. Windham, sitting down in the wooden chair opposite me. "What brings ye 'ere?"
"Well, first of all, Mum asked me to ask you for some eggs. She said she'll pay for them next she sees you."
"Certainly. You and Jimmy can go get 'em before ye leave."
"And, there's something else, as well," I said, twisting my hair nervously. I finally clutched my Cowardice by the throat and throttled him, and with this menace gone Courage rode out. "Will you please be my sponsor when I'm Confirmed on Sunday?"
A wide smile lit up Mrs. Windham's pretty face. "Why, certainly! I would love to!"
"Oh, thank you! I'm so glad!" I said, smiling into her face.
We had a very nice talk, sitting there at the kitchen table in the last rays of the sun. Next to Mum, Mrs. Windham is the dearest lady I know. But then Mr. Windham and Jimmy came home from working at one of the manor houses. Jimmy had begun to work alongside his father and get paid for it that year, and very proud was he!
Naturally, they were hungry, so Mrs. Windham got up and began bustling around to get dinner ready. This reminded me of my promise to come away by dinner so I got up and prepared to go.
"Jimmy, go with Meg and get the eggs, there's a dear. Here's the basket," said Mrs. Windham, tossing the small basket to her son.
"All right, Mum. C'mon, Meg," he replied. We went out the small back door to the chicken house.
"Why were ye 'ere?" inquired Jimmy.
"I had to ask your mother to be my sponsor," I replied.
"Oh, capital!" ejaculated Jimmy, whacking me on the back with the egg basket. As we were nearing the coop, he inquired, "Do ye need eggs?"
"Yes, that's the other reason I came."
Jimmy climbed up the ladder to the chicken house and then gave me a hand up. The hens squawked and cackled in alarm at the intruders so late at night. They had already gone to roost, as the sun was rapidly setting. We went to the nesting boxes and there found one biddy that stubbornly insisted upon remaining with her eggs.
Jimmy stuck his hand in to remove her and then let out a yell that set the hens cackling and shifting on their perches.
"That old pest bit me!" he exclaimed.
"They usually do," I replied.
With the help of the basket we got the hen successfully emptied from her nest and collected the eggs. It was an impressive baker's dozen!
"So Jimmy, who's your sponsor going to be?" I inquired.
Jimmy laughed. "Ye don't even know 'im," he said. "I asked the oldest son of the owner o' one of the manors Dad and I work at. They're splendid people there, not in the least stuck-up. This chap's really first-rate. Good Catholic, which ye don't find ever'where in England, specially 'mong the rich folks. Always been jolly nice to me, and was pleased as Punch when I asked 'im."
"Oh, splendid!" I exclaimed, whacking Jimmy in my turn with the egg basket. This was, however, rather ill-fated, as one of the eggs flew out and broke on his back.
"Oh, that's a jolly mess!" I exclaimed. I tried to get the egg off his shirt with a bundle of straw, and Jimmy picked up all of the eggy straw from the floor.
"Can't leave it 'round," he said, "else the 'ens'll eat it and get in a reg'lar hegg-eatin' 'abit. 'Gotta' kill 'em when they do that because they'll spoil all the eggs."
We put the eggy straw on the brush heap and returned to the house. It was rather dark indeed by now. Mrs. Windham gave me a paper box for the eggs and then I returned home.
I put the eggs in the ice chest and sat down to dinner with Mum.
After saying Grace, Mum asked, "So, what did she say?"
"She said she'd be very happy to," I said.
"Oh, and Meg, there's something else we must think about," said Mum. "Your dress. Now, I still have the dress I was confirmed in. It might fit you. We can look at it after dinner."
"Oh, how splendid!" I said. "What does it look like?"
"Now, just you wait and eat your dinner first," said Mum, with a little smile. "You'll be seeing soon enough."
Finally, dinner was over. Mum led me into her bedroom and took the oil lamp over to the closet. Opening it, she pulled forth an old trunk.
"This is the trunk I had all my belongings in when I came from Ireland," said Mum. A far-away look came into her eyes, but then she shook herself and turned back to the trunk. Was she remembering parents she would never see again? A dearly-loved brother or sister? A long-ago, almost forgotten lover? A best friend her heart had been broken to leave? I never knew, because Mum spoke very seldom about her homeland and her life before she came to England.
The trunk was old and battered, but still retained some of its former beauty.
"It was a wedding gift to my great-grandmother," said Mum. "It was passed down to each girl after her who bore her name as first or second name. It will go to you, Meg, when you leave your home, because your second name is Norah, which was her first name."
"It's lovely," I breathed. "I didn't know that it would be mine someday."
"It shall," said Mum, briskly opening the trunk. On the top lay a prayer book.
"This was the prayer book I received on my First Holy Communion from my dearest aunt. Dear Aunt Kathleen! She was my sponsor for Confirmation too. You look a lot like her, machree."
Mum picked it up and then removed the layer of tissue paper.
"Oh, I remember that!" I said. "That's the First Communion dress! I wore it and so did you."
"Yes," said Mum, picking up the beautiful dress and setting it aside. "It was a trifle big for you, as you were eight and I had been eleven, but we made it fit. You were always tall and I was always small." She smoothed the veil and layed it on the dress.
Under the dress were holy cards, medals, and other little mementoes from her girlhood. Mum picked these up and gently set them aside. Underneath was a small Irish flag.
Mum smiled. "Aunt Kathleen made this flag for me for my twelfth birthday. I always cherished it greatly, because I loved my Ireland. I never would have thought I'd live in England and love it so, or, much less, marry an Englishman and have a little English daughter! I never would have believed it."
Mum picked up the flag and removed the next layer of tissue paper. I saw a beautiful blue dress. Mum picked it up.
"My Confirmation dress. Mother, Aunt Kathleen, and Grandma made it for me. Isn't it beautiful?"
The dress was indeed very beautiful. It was made of a soft blue fabric, sprinkled with little sprigs of white flowers. The bodice was fairly close fitting, and the skirt was very long and full. Three rows of white ribbon were sewn around the edge of the skirt with white lace trimming the very edge, and the same was around the cuffs of the long, slightly puffed sleeves. The collar stood up and was trimmed with white lace, and a white sash finished it off.
"Oh, Mum, it's beautiful! And I can wear it?"
"I think it will fit you," said Mum. "Like I said, you're tall and I'm small. I was fourteen when I wore it. Come, let's see how it fits you."
We stood up and I slipped out of my dress. I stood in front of the mirror in my chemise and petticoat, and Mum slipped the dress over my head.
"Why, I do believe it's going to fit!" exclaimed Mum.
And fit it did. Mum hooked up all the little hooks and eyes up the back and then stood back. I slowly turned around in front of the mirror.
"You look lovely, allaniv asthore," said Mum, straightening the hem.
"It's beautiful!" I said. "What shall I wear on my head?"
"Oh, I'd nearly forgotten," said Mum, returning to the trunk. She came back with a small white hat. It was straw, with a small brim and a long blue ribbon. She set it on my head.
"There! Now it's perfect," she said.
"Oh, thank you, Mum!" I said. "I am glad you kept this!"
"How could I not," she smiled, but her eyes looked sad. I wondered very much about a lot of things concerning Mum. Why had she come to England? Why did she never talk about Ireland? Why had I never seen any of my Irish relatives? And why did she look so sad right now? I wondered at it all, but I did not think it would be prudent to ask.
The rest of the week flew past and very soon it was the morning of my Confirmation.
Mum did my hair that morning. She pulled it back from my face and tied it with a big white bow. She'd never let me wear my hair pulled back before that; she said I was too young.
"But today you'll reach spiritual maturity, so you should have your hair like that," she said. "Oh, my Meggie! How big you're getting!"
"Don't worry, Mum," I said, sitting on the floor beside her chair and putting my hands on her lap, "I won't be grown for a while yet. Not for five more years, at least! And perhaps I'll act more mature now and not be such a trial and a bother."
"A trial you have been, yes," said Mum. "But a bother, never! Who ever told you that?"
I just laughed and gave her a hug. She hugged me back, but then caught sight of the clock.
"Good land, Meg!" she exclaimed. "It's 9:15 all ready, and Mass starts at half past!"
We quickly jumped up and Mum carefully pinned my hat to my head with a very pretty, fancy-looking hatpin, topped with a pearl. I asked her where it had come from, but she just smiled and shook her head.
We went out the door and walked to the church. The girls were all seated on the right side and the boys on the left. I saw Jimmy sitting towards the back, looking stiff and strange in his new suit. I couldn't help giggling. Then I remembered what day it was and where I was, and I tried to recollect my thoughts.
But it wasn't very difficult. As I knelt beside Mrs. Windham in the church, I felt a great feeling of peace and joy steal into my heart. I felt that God loved me - loved me greatly - loved me especially - and that He wanted me for Himself. I would have a lot to suffer, the people I loved most wouldn't understand me, but God would be there. He would always be there. I would be willing to love Him; willing to sacrifice all for Him; willing to suffer anything, because He loved me! I felt that God had given me a very great and special grace and as I gazed at the altar my eyes filled with tears. Good heavens, I was crying! I had never felt like this before, but it was heavenly, and truly of a heavenly nature.
Then I was Confirmed. I knelt before the Archbishop, with Mrs. Windham's right hand on my shoulder, and heard those beautiful words: "Teresa, I sign you with the sign of the Cross, and I Confirm you with the Chrism of Salvation; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
"Amen," I replied.
He gave me the blow on my cheek, with the words "Pax tecum," and I arose, feeling so very happy. Now I was truly a soldier in Christ's army, and was armed with the armour that would give me the strength to fight for God, to be His faithful soldier and servant.
That day I decided. I was going to become a nun. What order, I was of yet unsure, but God was calling me, calling me so insistently that I could not say no. I did not choose; I was chosen.
For the rest of the day I felt that holy joy and peace that had settled round my heart during Mass. I was blissfully happy and felt more at peace than I ever had.
The Windhams invited us to their house to eat lunch and visit a bit. I met Jimmy's confirmation sponsor, who was there as well. He was a tall, slender, young man of about 20, very handsome and good-natured looking, and had eyes the same colour as Jimmy's.
"This is me friend Meg Davis who I told ye 'bout," said Jimmy, introducing me. "Meg, this is John Wilkins, my sponsor."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wilkins," I said, shaking his hand. He smiled and bowed, saying, "And a pleasure to meet you, Miss Davis. Please call me John."
"And you may call me Meg," I laughed. He laughed as well and I could see he was just a jovial boy under all his maturity. He seemed to be a sincerely good man as well. He was just the person for Jimmy's sponsor.
Later in the day Jimmy and I went out to collect the eggs.
"Say Jimmy, guess what," I said.
"What?" he said, turning to look at me.
"I've decided what I'm going to do with my life. I'm going to be a nun."
"Capital!" said Jimmy, whacking me with the egg basket. Then, settling down, he said, "I've known it all 'long."
"Why, how?" I demanded. How could he have known when I had had no idea?
"Ye…ye…ye just seemed like it would suit ye," said Jimmy, getting red and flustered. "Belongin' t' God, 'elpin' people, all that. I don't know. Ye just seemed good even when ye didn't! Oh, 'ang it all, I don't know!"
"I guess I understand," I said thoughtfully. "I didn't know that. But, it's so good to belong to God!"
"It is that," said Jimmy. I was very glad to have a friend like Jimmy who understood things like that. Not everyone does.
A few weeks after I had been Confirmed something very exciting happened to me! The girl's convent school I attended, which was situated next to the church, occasionally gave plays. I had had some small parts in the past; an angel in a Christmas play, a villager in a play about Our Lady of Lourdes, things like that. So imagine my surprise, joy, and utter disbelief when, at the first practice for the play about Joan of Arc, Sister Evangelista told me I was to be Joan!
I have always loved to act. If I weren't going to be a nun I probably would want to be an actress.
When I came home after school I ran to Mum who was sewing in her usual place by the window.
"Mum!" I cried, sitting on the floor beside her, "guess what!"
"What, machree?" asked Mum, smiling at me.
"You know we're doing the play about Joan of Arc," I said in a rush. "Well, Sister Evangelista says I am to be Joan! I'm so excited! What a jolly thing!"
"Really!" said Mum. She seemed sincerely impressed. "You'll need to pray to Joan of Arc to help you portray her."
"Yes, I will!" I said eagerly. "I've always loved her story, even though she fought the English. But they were Protestants and they killed Joan. She was very holy. Oh, I'm so happy!" I added, leaping up and dancing round the room.
"It's a great responsibility to have the main part of a play," said Mum. "But Sister Evangelista should know if you can do it. Do your best and you'll do fine."
"Oh, I try my hardest!" I assured my mother. "At least I don't get stage fright like poor Millie Wright. Oh, I remember the Christmas play! Poor Millie just stood there. Her eyes were so big and her hands were so cold! She didn't look like an angel, poor girl."
"Poor child," agreed Mum, smiling. "No, you aren't much afflicted with stage fright. You never were shy."
I told Jimmy about the play that evening when he came over to our garden after work. Even though Jimmy was the same age as me, his family couldn't afford to send him to school and he had to work. Even though he never complained I knew he did mind a bit. After all, the poor fellow did want to be a priest.
"Hullo, Jimmy. Guess what!" I called.
"H'lo Meg! What?" he replied.
"Sister Evangelista chose me to be Joan in the play about Joan of Arc we're having at school!" I exclaimed.
"'ow jolly!" said Jimmy.
"That's what I thought too!" I exclaimed. "Oh, I'm so excited! The play is in only a month!"
The month went by rather rapidly. With it came my 13th birthday, which occurred on June 13. Now I was thirteen years old, the beginning of being a young lady!
The Windhams gave me a beautiful rose bush I had often admired. Jimmy and Mr. Windham helped me plant it in my little plot that afternoon. From Mum I received a new prayer book called "The Catholic Girl's Guide".
We had the play on a Sunday afternoon. Almost the entire church attended. They liked our funny little plays and eagerly anticipated them.
The Sisters had built a stage with the assistance of the girls under a little roof on the back of the school. The year we built that was the first year I was at the school. One of the big girls, Lottie Carew, took care of me that day, I remember. She was a sweet girl and I had a lovely time. Lottie graduated the next year and joined the Sisters of Charity.
I was remembering this as I dressed in my costume behind a curtain in one of the classrooms. The Sisters of Charity. The "winged sisters". How they had always fascinated me! I remembered, then, Mother Marguerite. I had met her on that eventful day when I hid behind the piano. How much I'd changed in two months! How happy I was that I had! And how I hoped it would continue! I remembered, too, my conversation with Jimmy.
"P'rap's ye'll be a nun. A Sister o' Charity." His words came back to me clearly as I stood in the stuffy schoolroom.
"Perhaps I will," I whispered aloud. "Perhaps."
"Meg," said Sister Evangelista, entering the schoolroom, "are you ready? It's nearly time to begin!"
I stepped out from behind the curtain and smiled at Sister Evangelista. She was a short, petite lady, still rather young, with big dark eyes that were lively and yet calm, merry and yet serious. She was a very good manager and had a passion for the fine arts - acting, singing, drawing, writing. I liked her a lot.
"Yes, I'm ready," I said.
"Oh, dearie, you look wonderful!" she exclaimed, turning me around. I liked my costume. It was a long brown skirt, ragged at the bottom, a white shirt with full sleeves gathered at the cuff, and a laced gray bodice. My hair was in two braids and I was barefoot.
"Well, come along," said Sister Evangelista. We hurried down the hall.
"Nervous?" she added.
I shook my head. "No, not really," I said. "Just a little, little, bit, but I'll be fine. I just mustn't look at the audience!"
"No, don't look at them," said Sister Evangelista, chuckling. "When I was a schoolgirl I had such a habit of looking at the audience! The problem was, when I started looking, I couldn't stop! As I got older and was sweet on a boy, that was especially important not to start staring at him in the audience!" Sister Evangelista and I chuckled together over this.
I took my place, seated in the middle of the stage, and pulled out my knitting. I was surrounded by little girls from the primary grades who were draped in white sheets, to represent my sheep. I smiled at them and they began to giggle. I held my finger to my lips. Although I sympathized with them, I knew that once they started giggling they would be very difficult to stop!
Mother Anastasia stood in front of the curtains and gave her usual speech, thanking everyone for being present, hoping they would enjoy the play, et cetera, et cetera. Then she said her familiar last lines, "And now, we shall commence!"
On this signal the curtains opened and I could not resist glancing at the audience. Sure enough, there was Mum, and seated with her were the Windhams. Mum looked very proud of her girl, Mr. and Mrs. Windham looked happy and pleased, and Jimmy had a very solemn look on his face. However, when he caught my eye, he gave me one of his big smiles and stuck out his tongue. I took this as it was meant, a sign of encouragement.
I sat on the ground and knit. Suddenly I heard a voice calling, "Joan! Joan!" Turning, I beheld three figures descending from a flight of stairs at the back of the stage. They were all dressed in long white gowns and one carried a sword. They stopped before me as I rose to my feet in awe.
I fell to my knees and gazed at them.
"I am the Archangel Michael," said the figure with the sword.
"I am St. Catherine of Alexandria," said the second.
"And I am St. Margaret of Antioch," said the last.
"We have been sent to tell you that you must go to the aid of France," said St. Michael. "She is in great peril."
"You must bring the Dauphin to be crowned King at Rheims," said St. Margaret.
"You must always be good. Continue to pray and grow in your love for God," said St. Catherine.
I looked at them. "How can I do it?" I asked. "I am just a girl!"
"It is the Will of God," said St. Michael. "We will help you and strengthen you on your way."
"Do not fear," added St. Margaret.
Then the three figures turned and slowly made their way back up the stairs.
I turned to the audience, still on my knees.
"It is God's will that I save France," I said wonderingly. "If it is His will, it will be accomplished, even though I do not see how."
The curtains closed amid applause.
New actresses were hustled onto the stage and everything was made ready, and then the curtains reopened.
I approached Captain Baudricourt accompanied by my cousin Durand. The captain did not seem happy to see me.
"Is it you again?" he yelled. "Be off with you!"
"Sir," I said, "I was truly sent by God. I will save France."
"I do not have time for foolishness," said the captain testily.
"It is not foolishness," I said firmly. "My Voices are from God."
The Captain hesitated. "Come tomorrow and I will tell you my decision."
I left the stage with Durand. The captain said, "Is this girl from God? She is only a simple peasant, but perhaps these voices are real. There certainly is something very queer about her. She does not give up."
There was another interlude, longer this time, as I had to change. Now I wore a long gray dress under a shiny breastplate. I carried a sword. Joan had really worn boy's clothes at this time; however, the sisters did not think it proper that I should wear boy's clothes before all those people.
When the curtain went up again my soldiers surrounded me. Captain Baudricourt did not seem so fearsome. I smiled and my whole face was joyful.
"Go with God," said the captain. "I believe you."
"Thank you, Captain!" I exclaimed. "God will bless you."
We slowly moved off the stage and the curtain closed once again. Now the Dauphin and the royal court entered and the curtain reopened.
"I do not think we should trust this girl," said the Dauphin. "We will give her a test to see if she truly comes from God. You - (motioning to a richly dressed noble) - be seated on my throne. I will stand with the nobles. If she recognizes me as the Dauphin I will believe she is from God."
No sooner were these arrangements made than I entered. I looked among the nobles without a glance at the throne. Then I went to the Dauphin and knelt before him.
"God grant you a happy life, dear king," I said.
"But I am not king!" said the Dauphin. "He who sits on the throne is king."
"No, you are the king," I insisted.
The king looked surprised.
"Perhaps she is from God!" he exclaimed. "But I will test her once more. (turning to me) You must smuggle food into the city of Orleans where our defenders are starving as the English besiege them."
"Of course, that and much more," I assured him.
The curtains closed once more. Now we dragged out the two wooden structures draped in cloths, meant to replicate horses. I mounted one and the Count of Dunois mounted the other.
"How happy the Dauphin will be to hear about this victory, Joan! The English have retreated from Orleans!" exclaimed the Count.
"Oh yes," I said, with a very happy expression on my face. "Oh, would that the Dauphin had wings to fly to us!" I added.
The curtains fell again. When they reopened I was mounted upon my horse speaking to myself.
"The Dauphin has now been crowned King of France. That was one of the things I set out to do. But the enemy is gaining strength so quickly! I tell the Dauphin to take Paris, but he will not."
I bowed my head and looked very tired and worried. But then I straightened again.
"God will strengthen me," I said. Then my soldiers came up. "The English are attacking!" they exclaimed.
I sat up and seized my sword. "Go to it, my men!" I called, and the soldiers rushed away. From off stage you heard the clash of metal upon metal. Perhaps it was not exactly proper or ladylike for girls to act like soldiers and have sword fights, but it was a play!
Then disaster struck. Two big English soldiers rushed up and pulled me from my horse. I tried to use my sword but they held my arms. I was soon in chains.
"My God, help me!" I cried. "St. Michael, come to my help!"
But it was without avail. The curtains closed.
The curtains remained closed, but you could hear us speaking.
"Why have they done this to me?" I exclaimed. "The King is not even attempting to ransom me!"
"Your chief work on earth is finished," said the voice of St. Michael. "The Dauphin is crowned. Now you must suffer so that you may appear before God. Take courage! All is the will of God, though you will have much to suffer."
"God's will be done!" I exclaimed.
The curtains reopened. I was seated in a chair at a long table. My gray dress was now ragged and my face had dirt on it. My accusers sat at the table questioning me.
"Are you a witch?"
"Are you in league with the Devil?"
"I only try to do the Will of God!" I exclaimed, though I looked as though I were going to cry.
"Are you in a state of grace?"
"If I am not, may God make me so. If I am, may God keep me so," I said.
"She lies! She is a witch!" they cried.
"I hereby announce the charge that Joan of Arc is a witch and guilty of death!" exclaimed the chief prosecutor. "She is to be burned at the stake this same day."
Even though it was just a play, I felt a bit of how poor Joan must have felt, and I hope my horror, fear, and sorrow showed on my face. The curtain closed.
When it reopened, I was standing, tied to a stake in the middle of the stage. Piles of straw surrounded me.
"Blessed Mother, help me!" I cried. "Holy Trinity, have mercy on me! St. Michael, St. Catherine, St. Margaret, come to my aid!"
There had been some discussion of what to use for fire. Some of the girls were all for real fire, but Sister Evangelista firmly banned this.
"We don't want to commit another mistake like the English did!" she exclaimed.
So we didn't have real fire, but I think it was in everyone's imaginations, audience and cast, from the expressions on their faces.
"A crucifix!" I cried. One of the English soldiers picked up two pieces of straw and held them in the shape of a cross. I gazed at it.
"Jesus! Jesus!" I cried, and coughed, coughed, coughed. "Jesus!" I said again, and then sagged against the post limply.
"We have burned a saint!" exclaimed the English soldier, and the curtain fell.
There was silence, and then tumultuous applause. I stood up and smiled.
"You were wonderful!" whispered Sister Evangelista. "All of you!"
We all assembled into our long lines and the curtain reopened. We took our bow and everyone applauded madly.
After I had changed back into my usual clothes I went and found Mum.
"How did I do?" I asked.
"You were wonderful, allaniv asthore!" exclaimed Mum. "I am so proud of you." She hugged me tightly.
"Aye, you were first-rate!" said Jimmy, drumming my back joyfully.
"Ye're going to make an actress yet!" said Mrs. Windham.
"Perhaps," I said. As I hugged her I looked over her shoulder at Jimmy and a look of mutual understanding flashed between us.
No, I would not be an actress.
That week I decided to make an appointment to talk to Father Wiseman. I wanted to talk to him about my vocation.
On the appointed day I went to the rectory after school had finished. I went to the front door and lifted the knocker. Much to my surprise, the young priest who had come with the Bishop and whom I had not recognized answered the door.
"Hullo," he said. He seemed very young and very shy. His face turned several odd colours before the words were even half out. "Who are you?"
I smiled at him. "I am Meg Davis, the housekeeper's daughter," I said.
"Meg…Meg…Oh, Meg!" exclaimed the young priest, suddenly looking a bit more at his ease. "You're the girl who was reading behind the piano when the Archbishop was here, aren't you?"
I looked a little shamefaced. "Why, yes, I am," I said.
The young priest actually laughed. "Don't be ashamed," he said. "I was a bookworm when I was your age too."
I laughed. The priest held the door open.
"Come in," he said. "What brings you here?"
"I have an appointment to speak with Father Wiseman," I explained.
"All right," said the priest. "He is in his office." I followed him down the hall.
"You are probably wondering who I am," he said. I nodded with a smile.
"I am Father Paul Lewis. I'm Father Wiseman's new assistant," he said. "I just got out of seminary and this is my first assignment."
"I am pleased to meet you, Father Lewis," I said, cordially shaking his hand.
"I'm sorry I acted a bit queerly when I answered the door," he apologized. "You see, I am a very shy person by nature. I lived in a rich family, so the servants always answered the door, and I never did it at seminary. So that was the first time I had ever answered a door!"
"Well, you did very well, seeing as it was your first time!" I said, meaning to sound gracious.
"But if it had been my hundredth time it would have been very rude?" teased Father Lewis.
I laughed, and then we were at Father Wiseman's door. Father Lewis bid me goodbye and left. I took a deep sigh. I felt a little shuddery inside, and more nervous than I had when I was Joan of Arc. Then I took a deep breath and knocked.
"Come in," called Father Wiseman. I opened the door. Father Wiseman smiled at me and with that kind smile all my fears vanished. How could I be afraid of Father Wiseman whom I had known so well since I was a little child?
"Please sit down," he said, motioning to the chair across from him. I sat down.
"So, what do you need to talk about?" he kindly inquired.
I twisted my hands tightly. "Well, Father, it's like this," I said. "I think I have a vocation to the religious life."
"Do you?" said Father Wiseman. "It doesn't surprise me. But please go on." He looked genuinely interested.
"Yes," I said. "After Jimmy told me he wanted to be a priest, he told me he could see me as a nun. I had never given it much thought before then, but that set me thinking. I think that that is what God is calling me to do."
"You're sure it's not just because you want to please your friend?"
I was silent a moment. This same question had bothered me. But then I remembered the day of my Confirmation.
"No, Father," I said, "I am sure this is genuine. I cannot imagine myself as anything else. And on my Confirmation day I felt like God wanted me. That He wanted me all for Himself. It was such a sweet thought, Father! I knew I would have to suffer, but it would be worth it, every bit! I felt like that too the day the Archbishop examined me."
Father Wiseman looked at me. "Yes, I think you have a vocation," he said. "You are a good girl and you love God. Trust God. He may have other plans for you, but, for now, believe that He wants you to belong to Him as a nun. God bless you, my child. It is a great gift to be called to belong totally to God."
"What order would you want to join?" he added. "Or do you know yet?"
"Well," I said thoughtfully, "I thought perhaps the Sisters of Charity. But I'm not perfectly sure yet."
Father Wiseman nodded. "That's all right," he said. "You still have plenty of time to decide."
We spoke of other things and I came away feeling very happy and comforted. God was so good to have given me someone like Father Wiseman!
I would have been surprised to see Father Wiseman draw his hand over his eyes after I left and murmur, "I do believe the Archbishop is right. That girl is made for great things."
Two weeks passed. Then one day when I came home from school I found Mum waiting for me at the door. She held a letter in her hand and seemed very excited
"Meggie, look at this!" she exclaimed. "It's from your father's cousin and she invited us to come visit them for a holiday this summer!"
I grabbed the letter and eagerly scanned the contents, which were written in a small, neat hand.
Yorkshire, England July 20th, 1900
"Dear Cousin Norah, (the letter said)
"I would like to invite you to come to our farm for a holiday this summer. You have been in the city too long, and we are longing to see you and your dear child Meg. She can play with our children and roam the moors, while you rest and relax yourself.
(Here came a description of all the things we could do while we were there. Then it concluded;)
"Do come soon, dear Norah. Stay at least two weeks. Write me a letter telling us when to expect you.
"I remain, your affectionate cousin,
"Are we going, Mum?" I eagerly inquired. I could vaguely remember Cousin Maria's farm. I had been there once when I was 3 years old and I just remembered John, a boy who was about two years older than myself, giving me wild rides in the wheelbarrow, while Beth, a girl of 6, ran after us, imploring John not to kill me. It had been great fun, and, obviously, I had not been killed.
"Perhaps," said Mum. "I think I could arrange it with Mrs. Windham that she could take my place while we are gone. It would be a lovely holiday and I haven't been away from London in ever so long. Good heavens, Meg, Maria will scarcely recognize you! Oh, it's been so long since I've seen your father's family!" Mum's voice broke a little here and I realized how much she wanted to go.
"Of course we'll go!" I exclaimed. "You need a change, Mum. Go and talk to Mrs. Windham right now, Mum, do!"
"I declare I will!" said Mum, standing up with a determined look on her face. "It's very foolish, of course, but I feel as if I couldn't bear it if we didn't go!"
"It's perfectly natural," I assured her. "Of course you miss your family! There's nothing wrong with that! Here's your hat."
Mum put her hat on. "You come too, Meg," she said. So I put on my hat and accompanied her.
We ended up spending the remainder of the afternoon at the Windham's. Mrs. Windham assured Mum she would be happy to take her place as housekeeper for the rectory for two weeks. Then we went to the rectory and asked Father Wiseman, who immediately agreed. That very night Mum wrote a letter to Cousin Maria, accepting her invitation.
I was so eager to go that I won't dwell on the week before we left. It will suffice to say that I thought I would die of impatience! Mum and I could talk of nothing but Cousin Maria and Yorkshire. I'm sure Jimmy wearied of hearing about it constantly, but he was such a good-tempered lad that he said not a word, just laughed and said he hoped I'd have a good time.
Finally came the morning we were to leave. Mrs. Windham had packed us a huge basket of food to eat on the train and Mr. Windham and Jimmy drove us to the station in their wagon. Mum sat up front beside Mr. Windham, but Jimmy and I sat in the back, each upon a trunk, and chattered like a pair of magpies.
"Well, g'bye, Meg," said Jimmy, helping me alight from the wagon, a rare show of chivalry on his part, "I 'ope ye 'ave a good time. Be sure not to drown or get snakebite or eat too much or anything like that."
"Oh, Jimmy, you silly!" I said. "You sound like an old aunt."
Jimmy laughed and whacked me on the back. Then the conductor shouted, "All abooooard!" and Mum and I had to hastily scramble up with the assistance of the porter. Our trunks were safely on and we had the hamper of food.
When we found our place I quickly threw open the window. There was Mr. Windham and Jimmy. I thrust out my head and arm.
"Goodbye!" I called as the train began to move.
"Goodbye!" they called.
"Goodbye!" called Mum waving her hand out the window above mine.
The last thing I saw was Jimmy giving me one of his big smiles and sticking out his tongue at me. I laughed. That boy!
And then we were at the station in Yorkshire, a little bit of a platform and office. I looked around and my eyes filled with tears. Yorkshire! Beautiful Yorkshire! My home!
Mum and I sat down on the bench. Mum was crying too, I could see. I gazed around me, at the beautiful moors spreading all about me. This is my native land, I thought. I am a part of this beautiful place.
Suddenly we heard a cart rattling up the road. "Why, it's Mr. Lathrop!" exclaimed Mum. We stood up and collected our things together.
"Why, hullo. You must be Norah and that's little Meggie," said the man slowly and quietly as he got down from his high seat. "Lemme take yer trunks."
He easily picked up a trunk in each hand and put them in the back of the wagon. I brought the hamper and scrambled in the back as Mr. Lathrop helped Mum into the front seat.
It was a very quiet ride home. Mr. Lathrop was a very shy, quiet man, and after asking us if we had all our trunks he was silent. This suited me just fine, for I could look around and watch the country roll away under me without needing to answer questions. I'll never forget that evening, the evening of my homecoming. It was beautiful, and all too soon we turned in the yard of a small farm.
The door of the little stone house was thrown open. I could see the figure of Cousin Maria, who I was to call Mrs. Lathrop, standing in the doorway.
"That them, Henry?" she called in her brisk, businesslike voice, rather unusual for a Yorkshire woman.
"It's them," was Mr. Lathrop's response as he helped us down and took our trunks.
We entered the house. It was a small, neat farm kitchen that we entered, with beams on the ceilings and stone walls. There was a large fireplace at one end of the room.
Mrs. Lathrop held the door open for us. Kind Mrs. Lathrop! I'll always remember seeing her standing there welcoming us in, the firelight shining on her golden hair. She had eyes that were just like my father's.
"Norah!" she exclaimed, hugging Mum tightly. "Norah! How wonderful to see you!" Both women were crying.
"It's good to be here, Maria," said Mum, hugging her back.
I stood behind the trunks in a shadow, shyly watching. I am normally not a shy person at all, but this was just overwhelming, seeing these people again after so long, these people who had just lived in my memories.
"And where's Meg?" asked Mrs. Lathrop, looking about. I stepped out from the shadows.
"MEG!" exclaimed she with a gasp. "Good heavens, child, how you have grown! Last time I saw you were just a little child and now…oh, Meg!" She hugged me and I could feel her crying. Then Beth came to greet and hug us, and for a few moments all you could hear were exclamations, tears, and everything else that happens when people very dear to each other are reunited after ten years.
"Well, well," Mrs. Lathrop said at last, "This won't do. Our guests are hungry. Come help me with the dinner, Beth." She swooped around the kitchen like a lively canary.
Mum and I sat down at the kitchen table. I looked around the room.
Beth was helping her mother with dinner. She was now a tall, strong looking, pretty girl of 16, with her dark golden hair wrapped in braids around her head. She looked like her mother, but wasn't as small and brisk.
Mr. Lathrop had come in and was sitting in his easy chair by the fire. He had a pipe in his mouth and had just opened the farming catalogue with a sigh of contentment. His ruddy hair glowed even redder in the firelight.
Beside him was a long, lanky boy with hair of a decidedly red hue. He was lying on the floor in front of the fire playing with the dog, Shep. This, I decided, must be John. He would be about 15 now.
On a little stool in front of the fire sat a little girl sewing. She had a pretty face, and looked as though she kept everyone on their best behaviour. With a shock I realized this was Eliza, who had been a newborn baby when I saw her last.
A very small boy was playing on the floor. This was a new child I did not know yet. A boy of 7 or 8 ran about the room and yelled until his sisters scolded him. He seemed to be a very lively child and I felt that I would like him. A baby screamed in the cradle in the corner.
Then I felt a little hand on my knee and looking down I saw a small girl of about 5 or 6. She had big blue eyes and the only brown hair in that family of red and golden heads.
"Hello," she said. "I'm Alice. What's your name?"
"I'm Meg," I said.
"Hello Meg!" she said with a big, sweet smile. "I'm six. How old are you?"
"I'm thirteen," I said.
"You're a big girl," said Alice. "Can I sit on your lap?"
"Certainly," I said, and lifted her up.
"That's my sister Beth," she said, pointing to the older girl. "She's sixteen and she's nice. And that's John. He's fifteen and he likes to tease people. That's Eliza. She's ten and sometimes she's bossy. That's Peter running around. Shush Peter! We have a guest! He's eight and likes to run and scream. Henry is the little boy playing. He's two and he's cute. And Ann is the baby in the cradle. She screams a lot. Have I ever met you?"
"No you haven't," I said. "I've met Beth and John and Eliza though. That was a very long time ago. Beth was the same age as you, John was five, and Eliza was a tiny little baby!"
Alice's eyes popped open. "That's a long time ago!" she exclaimed. "How old were you?"
"I was three," I said. "John gave me a ride in the wheelbarrow and Beth ran after us shouting, 'Stop, John! The wheelbarrow will fall and you'll kill her!' It was fun," and I laughed at the memory.
Alice laughed too, and then said, "Can you tell me any more stories?"
So I told her about the day I met Jimmy. I was beginning the story of the Joan of Arc play when Mrs. Lathrop said, "Here's dinner!"
Alice scrambled out of my lap and said, "I think I'm going to like you!"
I took my place at the table between Beth and Alice. Dinner was roast beef and a Yorkshire pudding, "to welcome you back you back to Yorkshire," said Mrs. Lathrop. It was delicious, and made all the better by the fact that we were talking so much that we had scarcely any time to eat! Mr. Lathrop alone sat silent, but he was smiling quietly and seemed to be enjoying himself by just listening.
After dinner we sat by the fire. Mr. Lathrop was in his easy chair with Henry on his lap, Mrs. Lathrop in her rocking chair, and John brought a rocking chair down from the attic for Mum. I sat on a bench next to Beth, with Alice on my lap. John and Peter sprawled on the floor in front of the fire. Eliza sat on her little stool.
Eliza and Beth were both sewing, and Mum, Mrs. Lathrop, and I knit. John was mending a broken bridle and Peter alternated between watching his brother with interest and performing gymnastics.
"Well, Norah, do tell us about what has been happening with your life," begged Mrs. Lathrop.
So Mum told them all about working in the rectory, the fact that I had been confirmed, the play, and a thousand and one little pieces of interesting bits of news that would only interest relatives or close friends. She even told them about my hiding behind the piano when the Archbishop visited! How they all laughed at that!
I watched the faces about me in the flickering light of the fire. Beth's face was round and pretty, with a stubborn chin and mouth. Her brown eyes had a quietly stubborn light in them. Her whole face looked gentle and firm at the same time.
Alice had a little face with a pointed chin and turned-up nose, giving her an elfin appearance. She had a peaceful, wise expression in her big blue eyes.
In the rocking chair next to me was Mum. Her dear face looked happier than I had seen it in a long time. She dearly loved our friends in London, but nothing could replace this family that was even more than family to us. She was so happy it brought tears to my eyes.
On her other side was Mrs. Lathrop. She had an almost delicate-looking face that belied her great strength and energy. Her brown eyes, so like Father's, shone out from under the waves of golden hair and she looked so happy to have us here under her roof.
Next to her was her husband. Mr. Lathrop had the rugged face of a Yorkshire farmer, with kind, dark eyes calmly watching the whole world. How kind he was! I had never seen him get angry. On his lap sat young Henry Lathrop, who looked as though he would be a quiet man, much like his father.
I looked at the faces of the boys on the hearthrug. John had a mischievous, freckled countenance that could not be called handsome. Just then he looked right at me. He did have very nice blue eyes, however. They twinkled merrily at me, but made me nervous at the same time. I quickly glanced at his brother to avoid John's eyes.
Peter had a broad, sunburned face, topped by a shock of pale yellow hair. His blue eyes never seemed to hold still for a moment, but they were cheerful, honest eyes.
Ann was in her cradle, sleeping peacefully. She was a very pretty baby with a dusting of red hair. Eliza sat beside the cradle, rocking it occasionally, her curly red-gold braids falling over her shoulders. She had a very stubborn and rather prim-and-proper face. I could easily believe that she was bossy at times.
All too soon Mrs. Lathrop said, "Well, I'm sure you and Meg are tired, Norah. Beth, why don't you show them their room?"
We stood up. Alice had fallen asleep on my lap and I gently picked her up. "Bring her along so I can put her to bed," directed Beth. I went over to Mrs. Lathrop to give her a kiss and so that she could kiss Alice goodnight.
We bid everyone goodnight and then Beth picked up a lit candle and led us to a door at the other side of the room. She opened it, revealing a staircase, and we began to ascend it. It was dark and mysterious, with our huge, flickering shadows sliding up the walls.
Beth opened a door to the left of the stairway. "This is where all the girls sleep," she said. There were four mattresses on the floor. "Here's Alice's bed," she said, pushing back the covers so I could put Alice in. "And here's your bed, Meg," she added, pointing to a mattress on the floor. "Oh, bother, I forgot the trunks! Well, Mrs. Davis, I'll show you your room and then I'll fetch the trunks."
"I'll come with you to get them," I offered.
Beth smiled at me. "Thank you," she said.
Mum had a nice little room at the end of the hall. On the other wall were the doors to Mr. and Mrs. Lathrop's bedroom and the boys' bedroom.
Beth and I returned to the downstairs. "Forgot the trunks," explained Beth. She took Mum's and I picked up mine. John took it and said, "No, I'll take it."
"Oh, thank you!" I replied in surprise.
Eliza came up behind us scolding Peter into his room. John put my trunk next to my bed.
"Thank you," I said.
"You're welcome," he replied. "Goodnight!" and he ducked out the door.
Eliza came in with a candle. "Hello," she said, setting it on a little table. "My brother Peter is such a bother," she added.
"Oh, I rather like him," I said. "He's so lively!"
"That's my problem with him," said Eliza, popping her nightgown over her head and undressing under it.
"What is it like, living in London? Have you ever seen the Queen?" inquired the nightgown.
"I've seen her once," I replied, unlatching my trunk and pulling out my nightgown. "She was very plain looking and ordinary, I thought. But her dress was lovely!"
"She is rather plain," said Eliza, pulling her head out from under her nightgown. "A queen ought to be beautiful, I think."
"What are you girls talking about?" asked Beth, entering the room. "Shh! Not so loud! You'll wake Alice! Alice certainly took a shine to you, Meg."
"Yes, she did," I said. "I like her a lot. She's so sweet."
"She's the baby of the family and everyone's favourite, but she doesn't even know," said Beth, pulling her nightgown over her head.
Eliza was now dressed and she sat bouncing on her bed. "I think it will be fun to have guests!" she said. "We have to show Meg the beck and the haymow and the moor and the gardens, don't we, Bethy?"
Beth popped her head out of her nightgown. "You and John and Peter may, but I need to help Mum," she said with dignity. She began removing her hairpins and her two long golden braids fell down and glowed in the candlelight. She untied the bits of string at the ends and brushed it out. It was quite long, below her waist, thick, and wavy. She began to brush it.
"Oh, your hair is so beautiful!" I said, reaching out and touching it.
"Thank you," smiled Beth. "I rather like it myself."
"I like curls better," said Eliza, unbraiding her hair and releasing many long, loopy red-gold curls. "Hurry with the brush, Beth, I need it!" she said.
"Patience, Lize, patience," said her older sister. "And perhaps Meg needs it."
"Yes, but I can use it after Eliza," I said. "Beth, would you mind braiding my hair up for me? You see, I've never done it, even though I'm thirteen. I know it's silly, but Mum does it every night and I don't know how."
"It's not silly at all, but a very nice custom," said Beth. "I'd be happy to!" She quickly finished braiding her own hair and then slipped the ribbon out of mine. She drew the brush through it.
"Your hair is really quite pretty," said Beth. "It's straight but it curls under so nicely at the ends! Look at all those little bits of red in it, Lize. It almost sparkles!"
The girls oohed and aahed over my hair, which I had always found to be very common looking. But they sounded genuine in their admiration. Beth braided it up and then did Eliza's hair.
Then we knelt down and said a decade of the Rosary.
"Now for bed," said Beth, picking up the candle. Eliza and I scuttled into our respective beds and Beth blew out the candle.
My bed was next to Beth's. On the other side of hers was Alice's, and on the end was Eliza's. It wasn't long before Eliza was asleep, but Beth and I remained awake.
"So, how are you enjoying yourself?" asked Beth, after we were sure Eliza was asleep.
"Oh, it's wonderful, Beth!" I whispered fervently. "I've never been with such a big family before. I'm the only child, as you know, and Jimmy is the only one in his family."
"Who is Jimmy?" asked Beth.
"Jimmy Windham is my dearest friend," I said. "I met him the day we moved into our house. He's like a brother to me, but nicer! He's really nice. We're the same age. His father is the gardener at the rectory and his mother is Mum's best friend in London. She's also my Confirmation sponsor. Jimmy understands me better than anyone else I've ever met. He's a very good boy. You know what, Beth, he's going to be a priest!"
"Really?" said Beth. "He sounds like a wonderful friend. You're lucky."
"I know," I said. "But you understand me pretty well too, Beth, even though I barely know you yet."
"But you'll know me much better before your visit's over!" said Beth. She reached out her hand and took mine. "Perhaps I will show you some of those places Eliza was talking about. I still do like to roam, even though I am sixteen. It doesn't have to change everything. I have a little flower garden I want to show you, and a spot down by the beck."
"I can't wait until tomorrow!" I said. "I miss Yorkshire. This is the first time I've been back since I was seven, and…it's wonderful." A tear slowly trickled out of my eye. "It's home." I added. "London is dear to me, so are the Windhams and Father Wiseman, but this is home, Beth."
"It's in your blood, Meggie," said Beth. "You cannot leave the land you were born in without pain. You're a part of it."
"That's just what I thought when I saw it again. I thought, 'I'm part of those moors.'"
I whispered. I was silent a long while and I squeezed Beth's hand.
"Your mother's eyes are like my father's," I said. "They have just the same colour and shape and expression. I miss my father. It isn't the same without him, especially here!" Then the tears I had been trying to keep in came out in spite of myself.
"Shh, shh, shh," said Beth. She stroked my hair with her other hand. "I know you miss him, Meggie. It must be so hard! But he's in Heaven, Meg; you know that. He misses you, but he knows you and your mum will be there with him soon. Time in Eternity is different from our time. He is impatient to see you, of course, but the time seems to pass quickly and before he knows you will both be there beside him. Truly, Meg."
"Yes, really, truly, Meg. Now try to sleep. Mum said you could sleep as long as you'd like tomorrow morning and then you can do all your exploring. I'm right here, Meggie. Goodnight."
"Thank you, Beth. You're such a dear. Goodnight."
I shut my eyes and when I opened them sunlight was streaming in at the window.
I sat up. I was alone in the little bedroom. Even Alice was gone. I got out of bed and knelt down to say my prayers, then dressed. I did not put on any shoes and then I opened the door and slipped downstairs.
Beth was alone in the kitchen. "Good morning, Meg! Did you sleep all right?" she asked, as though she had not slept right beside me all night long.
"Good morning! I slept very well, thank you," I said, smiling and sitting down at the table. "Where is everyone?"
"Father, John, Eliza, and Peter are out picking the corn. Mum is showing your mum around and they have Alice, Henry, and Ann with them. Mum told me to wait until you got up and then we will go and help with the corn."
I quickly ate the bowl of porridge Beth gave me and then we prepared to go out.
"You should be fine barefoot," said Beth. "But I'll find a hat for you."
She ran upstairs and I gave the room a closer examination than I had been able to the night before. The downstairs was all one room. At one side was the front door. Directly opposite it, on the back wall, was the stairwell. To the left of the front door was a long table against the far wall and the big table at which I sat. On the back wall was a door that I presumed led to the cellar. Next to this door was a pump next to a small table that held a basin.
To the right of the front door was the sitting-area. On the far wall was the fireplace. It had gotten cold the night before, but the weather was warm today and the fire had been allowed to go out. Grouped around it were the easy chair, two rockers, the bench, and the little stool. A brightly-coloured rug lay on the floor before it and a clock ticked on the mantle.
Just then Beth came back down. She was wearing a big straw hat and carried another one.
"Here, let me tie it on," she said, placing the hat on my head. She tied it and then opened the door. We stepped out into the warm, sweet smelling summer day.
There was one small barn, also made of stone, and behind it a horse and a cow grazed behind a stone wall. Chickens clucked and scratched in the dust, and a few took a dust bath underneath a rosebush.
I followed Beth between the barn and the house. On the other side of the house was the garden, but Beth said she would show it to me later. We hurried across the moor. As we came over a rise, the cornfield came into sight.
"Hullo, Beth! Hullo, Meg!" shouted John. "We still have plenty left."
"I'm sure you were careful to leave plenty of carefully selected pieces for me, weren't you?" laughed Beth, pulling his ear.
"Plenty, Beth," said Eliza. "My, but it's hot!" Her face was very red.
Peter came charging up like a steam engine. "I picked lots, Beth!" he said.
"I'm glad you're making yourself useful, Pete," said his older sister, pulling his hair gently. "Show Meg what to do."
"Okay," said Peter, grabbing my hand and pulling me to the nearest cornstalk. "If it's about this big (he demonstrated about eighteen centimeters) pick it like this." He gave the ear of corn a vicious pull. "Then put it in Bessie's cart." He hurled it into the small cart hitched to the big Clydesdale. "Don't let Shep get any," he warned me, pointing at the big collie.
Mr. Lathrop smiled at me and said nothing the whole time we were out there. Peter ran, shouted, and jigged with an alacrity amazing to behold. Eliza daintily picked the corn and moaned about the heat. I didn't tell her it was very pleasant compared to some I've experienced. Beth worked swiftly and well and kept order among her siblings, by whom she was obviously well loved. John teased his siblings and me unmercifully and smiled at me a good deal.
We all had a very good time and the field was entirely picked by lunch-time. After lunch I was given a tour of the Lathrop farm by all of the young Lathrops except Henry and Ann. Alice clung to my hand the whole time.
First, we went out to the garden. It was enclosed by a little wattle fence. Beth showed me her flower bed. It had pansies, rose campions, pinks, and sweet peas, presided over by a big, beautiful rose bush. Mrs. Lathrop's herb garden interested me, as I love herbs. John and Peter proudly showed me their extensive vegetable garden, while Alice pulled me to come look at her little corner of it that had radishes, carrots, and poppies. Eliza grew the border around the three little beds, which consisted of lupines, phlox, stock, and foxgloves. It was a very beautiful little garden.
Then we went down to the beck. It was not visible from the house, because it was hidden in a fold of the moor, and trees surrounded it. What a beautiful spot it was! The beck bubbled contentedly. It was shallow on the banks, but got rather deep in the middle.
We walked along the beck for a while and talked. We all had a fine time. Then we climbed a rise and could see the cornfield and hay meadow.
That evening there was another pleasant time by the fireplace. It got cold enough at night for a fire, even in July.
That night Beth and I talked more after we had gone to bed.
"I wish I had some brothers or sisters," I said. "I never had wished that before, but I never knew what they were like."
Beth was quiet for a moment. Then she took my hand. "Meg," she said, "I don't know if I should tell you this, but you do have some brothers and sisters."
"You do. You have two older brothers and two older sisters, but they all died when they were quite young."
I was dumbfounded. I just squeezed Beth's hand harder and harder and harder. Finally I asked, "Why did no one ever tell me?"
"Your mother didn't want to talk of it after your father died, and you were too young to tell before then," explained Beth. "I hope you don't mind I told you, Meg."
"No…no…it's fine. I'm glad to know. It's just hard to realize. What were they named?"
"The oldest was Joseph. Then came Mary, and then John, and last of all Kathleen."
We talked for a long time that night. It was nice to have another girl I could talk to about everything. After a long time we both fell asleep.
The next morning I got up quite a bit earlier than I had the day before. That day Beth showed me her special place by the beck.
We went down to the beck after lunch. "This beck is the line that divides our property from the rest of the moor. No one really owns it out there," explained Beth. "My spot isn't far from here."
We went on a bit farther, and then came to a point where the bank of the beck suddenly became very steep. A tree grew from the side of the bank almost horizontally. Beth carefully descended the side of the bank and landed on the tree. "Come on," she encouraged me. "Just be careful." I scrambled down until I was standing next to her.
"Now," said Beth, and quickly swung herself under the trunk. I looked down in astonishment.
"Where are you?"
"Right here!" and Beth's golden head popped out from amongst the foliage. "Come down, do!"
I lay down on the trunk and looked down. Beth was in a little cave on the bank that was directly beneath the tree. It was only about sixty centimeters above the water. I carefully put one foot down in the cave.
"You're fine!" Beth assured. "I have you."
I put my other foot down and then slid down, letting myself into the little cave.
"Why, it's lovely in here!" I exclaimed. The floor was dry and dusty, because no rain ever hit it. Even in the spring flood weather it didn't flood, and Beth said she liked going and sitting in there as she watched the waters race by. I never knew gentle Beth was such a daredevil!
Beth turned around and began to rummage in the back of the cave. She came back holding a small wooden box.
"Do you want to see my treasures?" she asked.
"Of course!" I said.
Beth opened the box. On top lay a paper packet, which she opened. In it lay several coils of hair. She layed them out on the sand.
"Gold: Mum. Red: Father. Red: John. Gold: Eliza. Yellow: Peter. Brown: Alice. Red: Henry. Red: Ann. All those dearest to me. May I have a bit of your hair too, Meg?"
"Of course," I said, rather touched by this request. Beth took a little pocketknife from her pocket.
"John gave this to me for my birthday three years ago," she explained, pulling out a miniscule pair of scissors that were part of the knife. She snipped a little lock of hair from my head.
"There," she said. "Now my collection is complete." She scooped the bits of hair back into the packet and replaced it in the box. Next she drew an envelope from the box.
"Do you recognize this?" she asked.
"Why, no," I said.
"Read it," said Beth.
I drew a piece of paper from the envelope that was becoming yellowed with age and read this note in a child's scrawling hand.
"Dear Beth, (the note said)
"I am fin. I hope yu ar to. I hop i can go to your frm agin. I lik it. My cat is fin. How is yur chikn. I am piking floers. I sint yu 1. I hop yu lik it.
"I wrote that?" I exclaimed. "How funny! Why, I don't remember it at all!"
"You were about four years old," said Beth. "I've kept it all this time. But I don't believe I ever wrote back."
"No, I don't think you did," I said, "because if you had I would remember the letter, I think. Why, here is the flower!" and I drew out a shriveled brown lump that had once been a pansy.
"So are all the pleasures of this world," I murmured.
"Here is a letter I got when I was at Auntie Irene's house when I was ten years old," said Beth, placing another envelope in my lap. "She lives in the city."
I opened it and read this letter:
July 15, 1894
"My Dear Beth,
"I hope you are enjoying yourself at Auntie Irene's house. I hope you are behaving yourself. Please remember not to grab across the table when you want something at a meal. Ask for it politely. Are you remembering to say your prayers? How are Uncle Daniel, Auntie Irene, Cousin Robert, and Cousin Mary doing? What is the Mass like at the fine church you're going to?
"Everyone in the family wants to write you a few lines, so I will end here. My herbs are doing very nicely and your rosebush just got a big, beautiful rose on it. I hope you can see it. Remember to greet Auntie Irene and Uncle Daniel for me.
"I miss my big girl. Remember that I am your always loving
"We are all doing fine. Bessie threw a shoe and I had to take her in to be shod. Regards from Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler. The hay is almost ready to be cut. John and I are going to start the day after tomorrow if the weather holds. Mr. Alder and Jack will come to help us.
"Give my regards to Daniel and Irene.
"Dear Beth, I am fine. How are you. Clucky sat on some eggs. And they hached. There are litle yellew chiks running around. I hope you com bak soon. Say hullo to Auntie Irene and Uncle Daniel. But not Mary and Robirt. Mary dusint talk to me. Robirt maks fun of me. I don't lik thim. That is the thruth. I got to rid Bessy wen Farther took hir to be shod. It was fun. Billy teesed me but I didn't mind it. he said say hullo to you. So hullo. Your loving brither John."
"Dear beth I am fin. I am makin a litle kwilt. I wil shw it to yu wen yu cum bak. it is prity. I mis yu. Love Eliza."
"Der Beth I am fin how are you clucky has chiks lov Peter."
"How funny!" I laughed. "It's so much like each of them."
There was a holy card that had a picture of a chalice surrounded by angels. On the back was written in very beautiful hand: "To Elizabeth Rose Lathrop on the Occasion of her First Holy Communion. Father William Ford. May 19, 1896" Another holy card had a picture of the Holy Ghost descending upon Our Lady and the Twelve Disciples. The back read: "COME HOLY GHOST FILL THE HEARTS OF THY FAITHFUL AND ENKINDLE IN THEM THE FIRE OF THY LOVE." Below this was written in a school-girlish hand, "Elizabeth Rose Margaret Lathrop." There were about half a dozen other holy cards that were identical to that one, except for the fact that they had different names on the back.
There was a Miraculous Medal and a St. Benedict medal at the very bottom of the box and that was all.
"Thank you for showing it all to me," I said as Beth put it back where it belonged in a little crevice behind a loose rock."
"You're very welcome," said Beth. "Well, I guess we ought to be getting back."
We ascended from the little nest with care and walked homeward across the moor.
About two days later I decided to take a walk by myself. Beth was very busy making cheese and I could tell I was more in the way than anything. Mrs. Lathrop had invited Mrs. Wheeler, the blacksmith's wife, over to meet Mum and spend the day sewing or knitting. Eliza sat with them, looking like the very model of decorum. Mrs. Lathrop's seventeen-year-old son Billy had driven her over and was now outside roughhousing with John and Peter. I could not help noticing that Beth was acting a bit giggly and giddy that day, and would start fussing with her hair and working even more industriously whenever she saw Billy. I sighed, for it was obvious that she was sweet on him.
Alice, Henry, and Ann were out in the barn with their father, watching him do the thousand and one chores that made up his day. I did not feel like being a model child sewing in the house, a dirty farm child playing in the barn, or a giggly young lady sympathizing with another giggly young lady who was sweet on a boy. Naturally I could not roughhouse with the boys. I felt very restless indeed.
I entered the sitting area and waited for a lull in the conversation.
"Oh, Nettie, this is Meg, Norah's daughter," said Mrs. Lathrop. I smiled nicely and curtsied. "A pleasure to meet you," I murmured.
"A pleasure to meet you, too," said Mrs. Wheeler, graciously bowing her head. "A fine girl."
I turned to my mother. "Excuse me, Mum. May I go for a walk?" I asked.
Mum looked at Mrs. Lathrop, who nodded her head. "Just don't go too far and you should be fine. Stay in sight of the beck. She'll be all right, Norah. Don't worry."
"All right, you may go," said Mum, kissing me on the cheek. "Be back in time for lunch."
"Thank you, Mum. I will!" and I was out of the door in a flash.
The sky above was bright, bright blue. It was a quiet, languid sort of day. The air was perfumed with herbs and roses and heather and barn and good clean earth. I sighed with contentment and began walking to the beck.
I walked along it until I found the shallow spot John had shown me and waded across. The water was refreshingly cold. I lay down amongst the heather on the other side and stretched out. It felt so wonderful! I lay and gazed at the blue sky, and then shut my eyes.
Suddenly I heard a funny little voice singing,
"The sky is bright, the sun is bright,
The wind is at my back. Old Margie goes about
And wanders with her pack. Rosemary, thyme.
Balm, healing balm. All I gather together
This warm summer's day. Oh, who will see me,
Old Marge with her pack? No, no one, she knows,
For they do feel they don't lack
Bright sun, bright sky, the wind at their back.
Herbs to be gathered and a pack on the back."
The singer came into sight and I sat up, staring with astonishment.
A little, little old lady, with a wrinkled, nut-brown face, no taller than Eliza, with a red scarf tied over her curls that were white as snow. She wore a blue print dress covered with a big brown apron and did indeed carry a pack on her back.
If I was surprised to see her, she was no less. "Well," she said finally. "My song was wrong. Some do like the wind at their back. Why, I do declare! I do declare to goodness!"
I stood up and discovered I was about fifteen centimeters taller than she was. "Hullo, ma'am," I said. "I am Meg Davis."
"And I am Old Margie," she replied, quickly recovering her composure. She extended a brown hand that was strong and warm. We shook hands and were instantly fast friends.
"You gather herbs?" I said.
"You can be sure of it!" she said, her face starting to glow. "Old Margie knows every herb there is and what to do with it! Would you like to see?"
I nodded eagerly and sat down as she tossed her pack on the ground and seated herself beside it. What a wonderful hour I spent, sitting beside that little old lady who seemed as old as the hills and a part of the moor itself! It was like a fairytale, but it was true. She explained each herb so clearly, yet in a way that was almost poetry, I could have listened forever.
"Well, Margie, I'm afraid I must go eat lunch," I said.
"Oh, yes, certainly! But come visit me again. I do love to see people, especially ones who love the herbs, too!"
"I will if Mum will let me," I said.
"Yes, certainly, only if she will let you," said Margie. "And if she does I will teach you all there is to know about these herbs, child!"
"Thank you, ma'am!" I said. "I would be so happy if you would! Goodbye! I will try to come back tomorrow!"
"Goodbye, my girl!" she said, as I turned and ran across the moor.
As we sat around the fire that evening, I told about my meeting with the strange little lady.
"Aye, that'll be Margie," said Mr. Lathrop, talking for one of the very few times I heard him on our visit. "She's lived out on the moor for as long as anyone can remember. No one knows how old she is, or where she came from. She just lives out there in a bit o' a house, with her herbs. You never see much of her, but if there's a sick person you always know to send for Margie. Nice person. A bit odd, p'raps, but a good-hearted lady."
"Do you think it would be all right and, mmm, safe for Meg to visit her?" asked Mum, with just the slightest note of anxiety in her voice.
"Nothin' safer," Mr. Lathrop assured her.
"Of course, my dear! Margie is a dear old soul, and Meg will learn nothing but good from her!" exclaimed Mrs. Lathrop heartily. "Don't have a fear."
"All right, Meggie, you may visit her," said Mum. "Just be careful, machree?"
"Oh, I will be, Mum!" I said, smiling at her reassuringly. "I'll learn so much from her and it'll be such a help, you'll see!"
That night when we were in bed I asked Beth, "Beth, may I ask you a question?"
"Of course, Meg."
"Are you sweet on Billy Wheeler?" I looked closely at Beth's pale face in the moonlight and I saw her blush and a dimple dent one cheek.
"Well, to be perfectly honest, you could say I am," she murmured. "But Meg! Today he asked Father for permission to court me! Just think! He's serious!"
I sighed. "It seems odd to imagine you married, Bethy."
"I know, it seems odd to me, too. But it probably won't be for a while yet. But that would be glorious!"
"You know, Beth, I'm never getting married."
"No, I'm not. I'm going to be a nun."
Beth squeezed my hand. "Oh, Meg, how perfectly splendid! You'll make a wonderful nun. You're so good."
"Am I, Beth?"
"Yes, you are, dear Meggie."
"I'm not good enough and I never will be. No one will. Goodnight, Beth."
I looked forward to my visits with dear old Margie so much. About two days after I met her she invited me to her house.
"It's a little bit of a thing, but it's home for Margie," she said, leading me across the moor.
We went on for some distance through the heather. I marveled at how Margie never lost her way, or even stumbled on a hummocky bit of ground. Suddenly we came upon a rise.
"Down here," and Margie went down a narrow path to the foot of the rise. I gingerly followed. When I reached the foot I gave a gasp of pleasure and surprise.
Dug in the side of the hill was a little house. There was a little door that had once been red, but was now faded and gray. A little window was cut in the wall and covered with oil paper. All in front of the house grew big golden sunflowers, taller than myself and flowers; beautiful, beautiful flowers, red, pink, blue, purple, golden.
"Do you like Margie's little house?" asked the old lady, smiling at me. "But come inside!"
I stepped in the little door, ducking my head slightly. The house was tiny, pretty, and neat. Red checked curtains fluttered at the window. There was a fireplace with a stovepipe for a chimney that extended through the roof of the house. A little wooden rocking chair stood before the fire. Next to it was a small table with some sewing and knitting on it. From rafters on the ceiling hung herbs, bunches and bunches of herbs. Even in my short apprenticeship under Margie I could recognize many of them, but there were many I had never before seen.
"Oh, Margie, it's darling!" I exclaimed, clasping my hands.
Margie smiled her sweet grin at me. "Come sit down," she said, and pulled a little wooden chair from behind the stovepipe chimney.
I sat down, and a lovely two hours passed. I ate muffins, drank tea, and listened to Margie telling me all about the useful properties of each herb she had hanging from the ceiling.
Finally I stood up. "Well, Margie, I really must be going. Thank you for the lovely time."
"All right, my dear," said Margie, patting my hand. "I'm glad you enjoy yourself with old Margie. Come back soon!"
I promised I would and then slipped out into the world, shining gold with the setting sun. It was getting chilly and I hurried towards home.
I was at the bank of the beck when I heard a cry that made my heart stand still with fright.
"Help! Oh, help!"
It was Alice's voice.
I uttered a little scream and raced to the place I heard the call coming from. Sure enough, there, floating out in the middle of the beck was Alice.
"Alice!" I called weakly, then coughed and tried again. "Alice!" I called louder. I saw her head turn my direction and then heard her faint cry of "Meg!"
"Alice, Alice, darling, I'm coming!" I called, quickly stripping off my shoes and stockings. "Don't be afraid!" I tried to ignore the fact that I could swim no better than a knee-baby and always sunk like a stone. Into the ice-cold water I plunged.
My teeth started chattering almost immediately and I thought I would just like to scramble out of that ice-cold nothingness as fast as I could. But the thought of little Alice, my poor, dear, sweet, little Alice, out there in this water spurred me on.
By some miracle I was able to get to the middle of the beck, even though I couldn't swim a stroke. "Alice!" I called. "Alice!"
"Meg, help me!" wailed Alice. Then I clutched her hand and held her tight as she clung to me.
"But now what do I do?" I thought as I desperately tried to stay afloat. "My God, help me! Well, if I can't get her out she won't have to die alone. My poor, sweet Alice!"
I struggled to stay afloat and keep Alice's head above water, but my strength was slowly giving out. Have you ever almost drowned? It's a horrible feeling. I felt as though there were arms under the water pulling me down, down, down, into that empty nothingness that could kill. I kept going under and I would look up and see the green water extending far, far above my head. Then my head popped back out. Alice clung to me, screaming and choking, which frightened me worse than anything. Finally I felt as though it was over and I gave one last scream.
Then I heard a shout from the bank.
I struggled to keep my head out of the water and looked at the shore.
"John! John! Help me!"
"I'm coming! Just hang on!" He was in the water in a flash. I reached out and grabbed his hand and held on tightly to it, clutching Alice with the other. "Perhaps I shan't die now!" I thought with a surge of hope.
I don't know quite how he did it, but before I knew it John had Alice and me to the shore and was pushing us up onto the bank. I lay on the ground beside Alice, coughing and choking. John stood over us. He picked up Alice and grabbed my shoulder.
"What on earth happened?" he asked.
"I…was…coming home…from…Margie's," I gasped. "I heard…Alice…scream…and I…jumped…in. I can't…swim."
"Well, you have some pluck," said John. "It's a mighty good thing I was coming past just now. I was coming home for dinner from the field and I heard you scream."
"I'm glad you did," I said. "Otherwise, we'd be at the bottom of the beck now." I stood up shakily and smoothed Alice's hair back. Her face was streaming with water and tears. I kissed it.
"Are you all right?" I whispered. For answer, Alice just put her arms around my neck and hugged me. That's when I started crying. John patted my shoulder and said, "It's okay, Meggie. You're fine now. But how did you end up in the water, Alice?"
"I…was looking…for…Meg," said Alice, her voice shaking a little. "I… remembered…that there's…a shallow place…where you can wade… across. But I guess…I missed it." She smiled a little.
John shook his head and said, "We'd better be getting home." We set off to the house.
I won't go into detail about the reaction of the people at the house when they heard of our close shave. You know how people will act when you've almost died.
It was the next day that I started getting homesick. I missed Father Wiseman and the Windhams and Sister Evangelista. I wanted to be back home.
"My heart is in Yorkshire but my soul is in London," I had said to Beth the night before. "Or else it's the other way around."
"You'll always belong to Yorkshire," said Beth, "but you've put down roots in London, too. It's fine. I know you miss your other home. I understand."
I just squeezed her hand in reply and thought how I would miss her and these long, confidential talks with another girl when I had left.
The days passed. I visited Margie, helped Mrs. Lathrop and Beth in the house and Mr. Lathrop and John in the fields, roamed with Eliza and Peter, told stories to Alice, went with Beth to her cave, and played with Henry and Ann. They were golden days, but I missed Jimmy and his mother.
Then came the day we were to leave. The night before, Mrs. Lathrop filled the hamper with food. The whole family drove us to the station early the next morning.
There were hugs all around. I got little gifts from each of the children. Beth gave me a very clever little basket made of straw with a little bit of her hair in it. From John I got a little drawing of the moors.
"Why, I didn't know you could draw!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "It's beautiful! It looks just like it!"
"Oh, I can a little," said John, embarrassed.
Eliza gave me a patchwork bag with a piece of cross-stitch on the front. Peter was learning to whittle and he gave me a rather chunky bird. From Alice I received a piece of paper on which was carefully printed "I Love You", surrounded by a pretty border. Henry and Ann couldn't make me anything, but they each gave me a hug and a kiss.
Then there were the last goodbyes - a last hug and kiss for Beth and a promise to write, a hug, kiss, and a spin for Alice. Then we boarded the train. I rushed to the window and opened it, as I had done two weeks before.
"Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye!"
The train slowly pulled out of the station and I watched them almost out of sight, but not quite, for I remembered the old Irish superstition.
"Jimmy! Mrs. Windham! Mr. Windham!" I shouted, leaping off the platform.
"Meg!" exclaimed Mrs. Windham, giving me a big hug and then turning to hug Mum. Mr. Windham rubbed my hair and mussed it up, and Jimmy pounded me vigorously on the back. It was so good to be home!
On the way home, Jimmy heard all about my cousins, Margie, and my drowning experience, and had seen all my gifts. He examined the basket, whistled at the drawing, laughed at the patchwork, smiled at the bird, and looked as touched as a thirteen-year-old boy can at the piece of paper.
"It's so good to be home!" I sighed as I sat down on the bed that night for Mum to braid my hair. "I had a wonderful time, but there's no place like home!"
"That's for sure, allaniv," said Mum. "That's for sure."
The summer passed. Fall came and with it school. Then came Advent, and the first snow brought Christmas.
Lovely Christmas! Mum and I went with the Windhams to the Wilkins' manor to cut a Christmas tree. We had a merry time with John Wilkins, his sister Mary, and his brother Robert. We found just the perfect tree after much consultation. The grownups acted as lively as we did! Then we went inside for cocoa and cookies that Mrs. Wilkins, a plump, bustling little lady, served us. Jimmy and I rode on the trees on the way home, and I almost fell asleep.
Then came spring. One day I was sitting out under the tree when the postman came. I ran inside to see if I had received a letter. On the table I saw an envelope addressed to me in Beth's familiar hand. I seized it and ran outside. Seating myself under the tree again, I opened it.
"Yorkshire, England April 17, 1901
"My Dearest Meg,
"I am so excited my hand is shaking, but I shall try to write steadily. This is my news, my dearest Meg - I am engaged! Yes, I truly am!
"Who, when, where, how, you will ask! Billy Wheeler (who else!), on April 12, at their house, how - oh, I can't even begin to tell you! You would not know unless you were in love. Perhaps you shan't know, as you aren't planning to marry. But, oh Meggie! it is bliss! Just think! I shall be Mrs. William Wheeler! Elizabeth Wheeler sounds rather fine, does it not?
"We are to be married on June 30th of this year. I would like you to be my witness, dearest Meg. You will be fourteen by then and old enough.
"Oh, dearest! I am so happy! So utterly happy! Billy loves me, and, oh, he is all I could ask for and more!
"I can't wait to see you, my dear Meg. Please write me a line and congratulate your Beth in her bliss!
"Your loving cousin,
"Oh, Beth!" I sighed. "Oh, Beth! Happy I am, yes. But sad, too. I shall never again see the Beth I knew. Bethy, Bethy!" and I lay my face down on the letter and shed a few tears.
"Now, now," I said, sitting up and shaking myself, "you mustn't begrudge Beth this happiness just because there is one in front of you in her heart now. But, oh, it is hard!" and I gave a great sigh.
At this moment Jimmy swung over the fence. He seemed excited about something. Jimmy had changed a lot in the past winter. He was much taller and older looking. I was sometimes almost afraid of him at times; he seemed so different.
"What 'o, Meg!" he called. "Guess what! I'm goin' to a boardin' school!"
This was too much! First Beth and now Jimmy! I couldn't help it. I burst into tears.
"Why, Meg, what's wrong?" asked Jimmy with a concerned look.
"Read that!" I said, flinging him the letter. Jimmy read it and said, "Oh Meg, I'm sorry. That's rough."
"First her and now you!" I sobbed. "Everyone's leaving me! How can I get on all alone?"
Jimmy sat down next to me and put his arm behind my shoulders, whacking my back distractedly. I buried my face in my apron and had a good howl. Finally I stopped and looked at him.
"Shucks, Meg, I'd quit school if it would 'elp," he said glumly. I grasped his hand.
"Don't do that on account of me!" I exclaimed. "You need an education if you're going to be a priest! I'd never stand between you and your vocation. I'm just a silly girl, but I'll try to be strong."
"Thanks Meg," said Jimmy, giving my hand a wring that made me wince. "Now do buck up. You'll probably 'ave a jolly time at the wedding, and you'll see me in the summer 'olidays. Don't worry, Meg. God is always there."
"You're right, Jimmy," I said. "I just need to offer Him this suffering. It'll bring me to Him more and more."
"That's it, Meg," he said. "He's always there."
I showed Mum the letter that evening.
"Beth married! Good heavens!" was Mum's reaction. "Well, I suppose we shall go and you'll be her witness. The child!"
The child, yes. She was so young.
A few weeks later I decided to visit Mother Marguerite. Father Wiseman arranged a meeting for me and sent me with his blessing.
I wore my hair pulled back that day, along with my good hat and dress. Mum let me go all alone, as the convent was only a few blocks away.
I approached the big building and looked up at it. Would this be my dwelling someday? I wondered. I swallowed hard and pulled the doorbell. A young Sister answered.
"Hullo," she said, smiling pleasantly. "How may I help you?"
I smiled back. "Hullo. I came to talk to Mother Marguerite. I have an appointment."
The Sister smiled even more warmly. "Follow me," she said.
I followed her down the hall, looking all about me and imagining myself living here - really living here.
The Sister opened a door. "Here she is, Mother," she said, showing me in. Then she left and shut the door. I was alone in the room.
"Hullo," said Mother Marguerite, in her French accent. "Please sit down." I sat down in the chair across from her.
"So, Father Wiseman tells me you desire to become a Sister of Charity?" she said.
"Yes, I do, Mother!" I exclaimed. "More than anything else."
"How old are you?" she asked next.
"I'm thirteen, and I will be fourteen in June," I said.
Mother Marguerite nodded. "We accept girls as postulants when they're sixteen," she said. I gave a silent little gasp of joy. Only two years to wait!
"Why do you wish to be a Sister of Charity?" she inquired.
I gazed at my hands. "Well, I want to help poor and sick people," I said. "I want to belong totally to God and show my love to Him by helping His poor people. That is why I want to be a Sister of Charity, Mother."
"Good!" said Mother Marguerite. "Your vocation sounds genuine, my daughter."
We had a very long talk. It was wonderful talking to Mother. She was so full of love for God that it made me appreciate my vocation even more. She asked me to ask Mum to come to talk to her.
"I think you have a vocation," she said. "It is very beautiful to see. On your way out, ask Sister Therese, the one who showed you in, to show you to the chapel. Stay and pray a little while."
"Thank you, Mother," I said. "I will."
I stayed in the little chapel a long time and prayed. How many graces God in His goodness granted to me as I knelt there! I was to be His Bride. I was to make myself as close to being worthy of having Him for my Spouse as I possibly could. I was to love Him, love Him, with every bit of myself, until I was worthy of being with Him forever. Then He would call me home to Him and I would see Him face to face, Him Whom I had loved so much upon earth. Somehow I felt that my death would not be easy, but I hoped I would have to suffer as I died. I wanted to offer every last bit of myself to Him, to suffer for Him until the very moment of my death. Oh my God! How I love Him! How I want to be with Him as soon as I can! Do not leave me on this earth very long, my God. Give me the grace to be good, to be perfect, as soon as I can. To love You so that I can go to be with You in Heaven and love You perfectly forever! My God, I love You.
The tears were coming down my face. I understood that God was taking everyone from me so that I would learn to turn to Him and to depend only upon Him. How good He is! He was teaching me detachment from this world and all things in it. He is so good.
I told Mum that Mother Marguerite also said she thought I have a vocation and that she wanted to talk to her. Then I wrote a letter to Jimmy, who had left for the school the week before, and told him all about my meeting.
The week before Beth's wedding we returned to Yorkshire. It was only a year later but it all seemed so different from the year before!
Alice was just as dear, and Ann could walk now. Eliza was a busy, capable little housewife, ready to take her big sister's place, and had lost most of her prim and proper air. Henry was talking a lot, a solemn conversationalist, and Peter was every bit as lively. John was becoming quite an artist and showed me many very good drawings he had made.
That evening Beth and I walked down to the beck to visit the cave for the last time and collect the treasures.
"That's where Alice and I almost drowned," I said, pointing.
"Don't remind me!" said Beth, giving me a squeeze. We scrambled into the little cave, which seemed smaller than ever.
"Have I grown since last summer, Beth?" I asked.
Beth looked at me. "Yes, you have," she declared. "You're taller and you look more mature. And your face has such a different look to it. Almost as though you were in love. You aren't, are you?"
"I am, in a way," I said with a smile. "You could say I'm in love with God. I talked to Mother Marguerite last month and she said I could join the convent in two years. Oh Beth! I can't wait!"
Beth just hugged me with the sweet, serious smile I saw on her face so much now. "I'm so glad, Meg," she said. "And Meg," she added, looking into my eyes, "Billy or no Billy, you are my dearest friend and you can always count on me."
"Thank you, Beth," I said softly.
And then came the wedding. That morning Beth and I helped each other dress. Beth wore a long, beautiful, white dress. She and her mother had made it that spring. It was sweet and simple and became her so well. Her beautiful golden hair was down and it reached to her hips. On her head she wore a wreath of roses over a long, flowing white veil. Her face looked so happy that, when she was all dressed, I gave a choking little gasp and said, "How beautiful you are, Beth!"
"I must be," she said, "for Billy."
I wore a long, blue dress that touched the ground. My hair had been tied in rags the night before to curl it, and now Beth brushed my hair out and tied it back with a blue ribbon.
"I can't believe it was less then a year ago I was here last," I said. "How everything has changed!"
"But Meg, you're still the same Meg. And I'm still truly the same Beth, even if I am getting married. I'll always be here, Meggie," and she hugged me close.
The wedding ceremony was beautiful. Beth looked so happy that I began to cry. I couldn't see what she saw in Billy, to be sure, but that is just as well, after all. However, the wedding confirmed my belief that I didn't want to be married. I didn't want to give myself completely to another mortal man like that. I belonged to God forever.
The next day I went to visit Margie. How happy she was to see her girl who was getting so big! She seemed just a little smaller and frailer, but was still the same dear old Margie. We spent a wonderful day together.
Around the middle of the week after the wedding we returned to London. By that time Jimmy was back, still the same old Jimmy. We had many wonderful talks in the garden that summer. He had some very splendid news indeed! John Wilkins was joining the Jesuit seminary in September!
Then September really did roll around again, sending Jimmy on the train back to school, me to the convent school, and John Wilkins to the seminary.
In October I received a letter from Beth informing me that she was expecting a baby the following June! You can well imagine my excitement and utter joy for her! I prayed every day that the pregnancy would be easy, the birth painless, and the baby healthy.
One gray day in November I went to visit Mrs. Windham. She opened the door, wrapped in her red shawl.
"Come in, come in, Meg!" she said. "I'm so happy to see you! It's been so lonesome around here since Jimmy's gone. How long can you stay?"
"Until dinner time," I said, letting her take my wraps. "I thought I haven't been seeing you enough lately and that I should come over."
"Well, I'm always happy to have you!" said my godmother, beaming. "Would you like some tea?"
"Oh, yes, please!" I said, and followed her to the parlour. I sat down in an easy chair in front of the fire and Mrs. Windham gave me a shawl.
"So, what's been happening with you, Meg?" she asked, settling down opposite me after serving the tea. "How are Beth and Billy doing?"
"Oh, they're doing very well. Beth is having a bit of sickness in the mornings, but not much. It's to be expected, after all. The rest of them are doing well, too. John is going to a school for art. Isn't that wonderful? He's so good at drawing, I'm very proud of him! Eliza is being such a help to her mother. She has such a knack for housekeeping it's quite amazing, especially in a girl of eleven. My Alice is just as dear and sweet as ever. She'll receive her First Holy Communion next spring. Just think! Peter's still a little steam engine and John tells me he's inventing things in the barn. Whirligigs and things. At least it's not chemicals because if it were I'd be afraid he'd blow the whole family up! Henry is a solemn little chap and enjoys serious discussions, even though he's such a bit of a thing, only four! And Baby Ann is still the baby. She's learning to walk and talk and holds everyone in thrall. And Mr. and Mrs. Lathrop are doing very nicely as well."
"I'm glad to hear that they're all doing so fine. They're dear people, from the sounds of it."
"Yes, they are. I'm so glad we got to know them better. I wish you could meet them! Well, perhaps you shall. Mum plans on inviting them here for Christmas and having you all over, too."
"Well, I certainly shall look forward to that!" A moment of silence, then, "How big you're getting, Meg."
"Yes, you are. You look more like fifteen or sixteen, rather than fourteen. Are you still planning to become a nun?"
I smiled. "Yes, I certainly am. I'm probably going to join the Sisters of Charity a year from September."
"Really. Have you ever thought of marrying Jimmy?"
"Marrying my son Jimmy!"
I lay my head back on the chair and tried to regain my composure. "Why, no, the thought never even occurred to me. Jimmy is going to be a priest!"
"Yes, I suppose so. But haven't you ever considered marriage?"
"Well, briefly. I suppose every girl has. But not seriously! Heavens no! May I ask you why you're asking?"
"Oh, I don't know. It just sort of occurred to me. I guess I've always thought that would be how it would work out. So when you told me you were thinking of becoming a nun it kind of, well, upset my little plans. But, Meggie, don't worry. That's just me. I enjoy my little plans too much. If you truly think that God is calling you to be a Sister, do it, by all means! I'll always encourage you. Just so you get to Heaven!"
"It's all right," I said, a trifle weakly. Marry Jimmy! Good heavens, no!
We spent a very nice afternoon seated in front of the fire and chatting. Finally I glanced out the window and noticed it was getting dark.
"Well, I suppose I should be going," I said, rising.
"All right, Meg. It was lovely to have you! Come over again soon. You're a joy to talk to."
I promised I would and then hurried home through the gathering dusk.
"There's a letter for you, machree," called Mum as I came in the house. I glanced at the envelope on the table.
"Why, it's from Beth!" I said, hastily opening it. I scanned the contents and then gave a little cry and buried my head in my hands.
"Oh, no!" I sobbed. "No!"
"What happened?" said Mum. "Beth didn't…didn't…loose…"
"No, thank God!" I said, uncovering my tear-stained face. "But old Margie's dead."
"Oh, Meg!" was all Mum said as she put her arms around me. "I know how you loved her."
"But, Mum," I said, "is she in Heaven? She never went to church!"
"I couldn't say, allaniv asthore," said Mum, picking up my letter and reading it. Then she smiled.
"Meggie, did you see this?" she said, pointing to a tiny postscript in the lower corner. I read it.
"I forgot to tell you [it said] Margie received Last Rites before she died. You know how she never went to church. She had been brought up a Catholic and asked for a priest at the last moment. I thought that might give you some comfort, dearest. BETH."
"Oh, thank God!" I said brokenly. "Thank God! Dear old Margie! Now I just need to have some Masses said for her."
"We will, machree," said Mum, giving me a hug. "Don't worry."
We were very busy the next few weeks with cleaning and preparing for Christmas. Such baking and scrubbing and cleaning that went on!
Then Christmas arrived and with it Mr. and Mrs. Lathrop, Eliza, Peter, Henry, and Ann from the farm, Beth and Billy from their little homestead, and John from his school. Jimmy had arrived the week before. He looked so different! So much older and taller and more serious. I was almost afraid of him. He just didn't seem like our Jimmy anymore. How I missed the freckle-faced little lad who had been the dear friend and confidante of my growing-up years. Even though we were both only fourteen, I felt that we had both aged exceedingly since we were twelve and sometimes I sighed for the old days. Why did we have to grow up so fast?
Now Jimmy was standing in a corner solemnly conversing with John about school. They had hit it off very well, as I had expected. Jimmy seemed to be almost afraid of me, too, and that hurt. I sighed.
"Meg, take this tea pot and offer some to everyone," said Mum, who was contentedly bustling about the kitchen. She leaned closer to me and whispered, "I do declare, I never knew how much I enjoy a party!"
I smiled and took the teapot. Mrs. Windham and Mrs. Lathrop were busily talking. They greatly enjoyed each other's company, just as I had anticipated. They took tea. I approached the boys in their corner. I giggled, for a thought had just struck me.
I came up to them and bowed. "Would you young gentlemen like some tea?" I demanded in a pompous tone. "It is the very best quality, straight from China."
The boys took the hint and made their best bows, accepting tea very politely. "Ye still like your joke, don't ye, Meg!" said Jimmy, pulling my hair. Thank heavens he hadn't lost his Cockney accent! "Would you believe this young lady used to ask me if I would like a drink of water and lead me to the pump. Then she would proceed to shove me into the trough and pump water on me!"
"I can believe it!" laughed John. "I'm sure you heard about her drowning?"
"Yes, I heard about it," said Jimmy, his face getting rather grave, as it always did when he thought of that experience. He whacked me on the back and quickly grew jolly again.
"Let's get those kids into a game of something," he said. "Could we go out?"
"I'll ask Mum," I said and ran off to fetch her. I smiled happily. Perhaps the old Jimmy was not gone entirely!
"Certainly!" said Mum. "Just bundle up and take good care of the little ones."
"Oh, we will, Mum," I said. "Don't worry!" I fetched the children and helped them bundle up, with the clumsy assistance of Jimmy and John and the capable assistance of Eliza. Ann was sleeping, so she didn't come out.
We all ran outside. There was a new layer of snow on the ground. I picked some up.
"Perfect!" I exclaimed, and threw it at Jimmy, hitting him smack in the face.
"Why you little…" he exclaimed, and soon had one returning to me. John quickly came to his aid and Peter, of course, wanted to help the big boys.
"Help me, girls!" I exclaimed as I was pelted with snowballs from the three boys. Alice ran over to me and hurled clumps of snow at the boys, most of which missed them. Eliza surprised us all by being a very good shot.
"By George, we need you on the cricket team at school!" said Jimmy to her.
We stayed out for a good hour, and then came trooping in with rosy cheeks and joyful spirits. Mum brought out the cocoa and popcorn, and we spent a lovely evening by the fire.
As I sat beside Beth, leaning on her, I looked at all the faces around me as I had done a year and a half ago. How long ago it seemed!
There were Mum, Mrs. Windham, and Mrs. Lathrop talking together. Mum's face was a little less tired and sad than it used to be. Her dark brown hair was showing a few hairs of gray. Mrs. Lathrop was as cheerful and sweet as ever. Her golden hair was a little grayer than before, and she had a few more lines on her face. Ann was on her lap, gaily eating popcorn. Mrs. Windham looked as young and pretty as ever. Her curly golden hair puffed out without the least sign of gray. They were all chattering gaily. Dear mothers, I thought.
Near them sat Mr. Windham and Mr. Lathrop. Mr. Windham's face was looking a little older and more tired, but his carefully combed dark brown hair and mustache showed no gray. Mr. Lathrop's beard was becoming a regular pepper-and-salt, and he was as quiet as ever. He was listening to Mr. Windham talk about plants, and adding in a few words here and there. Father Wiseman listened to them and gazed into the fire. I saw him watching the faces, and I got the feeling that he was doing the same thing I was.
Beside me was Beth. Her sweet face already was taking on the softened look of motherhood and she looked so womanly, my dear Beth! Only eighteen! On her other side sat Billy, a tall, thin, dark-haired young man, handsome in his own way. He was holding Beth's hand, and sometimes they would look at each other in a way that made me nervous, curious, happy, and sad all at once. They were in love.
On my other side was Eliza. She was knitting and listening to all the conversation she could hear from her seat and commenting on it softly. She looked older, as she was now twelve. Her red-gold hair fell in big loops down her back. Eliza was really becoming very pretty. Alice sat at my feet and gave me bits of popcorn. She was now almost eight and not nearly as quiet and shy any more. She was laughing with the boys right now, her big blue eyes dancing. I could tell she was having a wonderful time. My little Alice!
The boys lay on the hearth. Peter was on his stomach, whacking his heels together. He was a sturdy little boy of ten with a very brainy head on his shoulders. He was just as full of lively spirits as he had ever been. Jimmy sat in front of the fire. He looked a little pensive now and then as he gazed into it. I wondered what he was thinking of. He was becoming very handsome, I thought, and looking so much older. It made me sorry in some ways, though. I missed the little Jimmy. John's hair was just as fiery as ever and his face just as freckly and cheerful. He would be seventeen very soon, but looked very similar to the lad of fifteen I had known. Henry roamed about, and solemnly talked to people. Now he had struck up a conversation with Father Wiseman, who was really doing an admirable job at keeping a straight face.
How happy I was! Here were all the people I loved best all around me. Margie was surely watching us from Heaven. How hard it would be to leave them all! I looked into the fire and sighed a little, and was afraid I would cry. Courage! I reminded myself. I felt so happy and full of love for all these people that I felt as though my heart would burst and that I could be good very easily. Do you know that feeling? It's lovely, but it makes you want to cry. What a lovely Christmas that was! I think it might have been the best I've ever had.
The rest of the winter passed somewhat uneventfully, except that Father Lewis, whose health had never been very good, caught a bad case of pneumonia. He was in bed for almost a month, and very pale and shaky when he got up. The first Sunday I saw him again he was sitting in the choir stall. I was almost frightened at how thin and pale, almost transparent, he looked. He was frequently shaken by huge fits of coughing. After Mass I asked him, "Father, how are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm fine, Meg. Thank you for asking," he replied, but then almost fell over with a fit of coughing. I held out my hand to steady him.
"Thank you," he gasped.
"Father, you are not all right!" I said. "Here's Father Wiseman. Father, Father Lewis is not well."
"I'll help him back to the rectory," said Father Wiseman, looking at the young priest with a very sober face. It was then that I wondered.
Was there something wrong with our Father Lewis that I did not know?
Soon came Lent. I started attending Friday afternoon Holy Hour. God granted me so many graces those afternoons as I knelt in the dim, smoky church. I can't even begin to tell you about them. There are no words in the human language to describe most of them. I can't even understand much of them, and I only will when I reach Heaven. How good our God is to deign to share with us so many secret, hidden things of Himself and of Heaven.
Then came Holy Week. That is my favourite time of the year. It's so holy, so grace-filled, so wonderful. I always feel closer to Heaven at that time of year than at any other time. I stayed very late after Mass on Holy Thursday to pray in front of the Altar of Repose. I always like doing that, to keep Our Lord company on that awful night when everyone abandoned Him. I always want to cry when I think of that. How sorry I always feel for Our Lord.
Then came the Easter Vigil Mass. How wonderful that was! Before Holy Communion I felt such a huge longing for Our Lord that it hurt, it hurt so bad. I felt as though I couldn't wait to receive Him. Then I did, and, oh! I did not notice anything at all after I had. I could really feel a pulling on soul, and my body as well. I felt as if I were being pulled to Heaven and as though I were not really kneeling there in the church of St. Mary's in London. I was in Heaven.
I finished up school for the year. Next year would be my last year at the convent school. Then I would join the Sisters. How I looked forward to that! Only a year! How could I wait, but how could it be so soon?
In June I went to stay with Beth when she had the baby. This was the first time I had been to her little home. It was in the heart of Yorkshire, not far from her original home. I arrived late in the afternoon. Beth came to the door to greet me, still as beautiful as ever, but looking so tired. I kissed her cheek and said, "Beth, you look so fine! Just a little tired, but you're right. You're still my Beth." I gave her a hug. "Where's Billy?"
"He's out in the fields. Come, let me show you your room." I picked up my bag and followed Beth to a little room at the back of the house. It was very small but very sweet.
"Oh, Beth, it's lovely!" I exclaimed, admiring the little vase of roses on the windowsill and looking around the pretty room. So well could I see the marks of its gentle owner.
Beth sat down on the bed and smoothed the pretty quilt. "Mum made this," she said. "She would come, but Father is sick and she didn't really want to leave him. She said, 'I'll trust my Bethy to Meg. She'll take good care of her.'"
"Oh yes, I will, Beth. You can count on me," I said.
"I know I can," she said, laying her head on my shoulder.
That night the baby came. Or I should say the babies. Beth had twins! That was an exhausting experience and I felt as though I had aged a hundred years.
I left the room shortly after the babies had been born. I knew the young parents would want to be alone. I sat at the kitchen table, rather exhausted. I could see what a beautiful thing motherhood was, and how a mother must love her children after suffering such pain for them, but I was rather thankful I would never have to experience it first-hand. Then I heard Beth calling me. I hurried back to the bedroom.
"Meg," said Beth. "Meg!"
I ran to her and kissed her pale face on the pillow, looking so tired and beautiful and happy. "Beth!"
"Meg, we've decided what to name the babies," she said. "They're both girls, so the golden-haired one is Elizabeth and the brown-haired one is Margaret."
"Oh, Beth, thank you!" I said. "Thank you so much."
"Do you want to hold your namesake?" asked Billy, and he placed little Margaret in my arms. She was so tiny, so soft, so perfect! I couldn't get over her little fingernails and toenails.
I was godmother to Margaret, and Eliza was godmother to Elizabeth. Mr. Lathrop recovered in time to come to the baptism. Then I went home to the little white house in London.
The evening I returned home I sat talking to Mum in the sitting room.
"Childbirth seems to be quite an experience," I sighed.
"Yes, it is," said Mum. "And to think I went through it five times!" She looked at me questioningly.
"I know, Mum," I said softly. "I know. I'm so sorry."
"It still hurts," said Mum. "It always will. But the pain is easing just a little. I know I'll see them again in Heaven."
I nodded my head and we were silent for a while. Then I decided to ask the question.
"Mum," I said, "may I ask you something?"
"Of course, allaniv asthore."
"Why do you never speak about your family?"
Mum looked at me, looked at me long and hard. "You're getting older," she said. "I'll tell you.
"I grew up in a castle in Ireland."
"Yes, a castle. My family was ancient royalty. The troubles were going on then, as they still are, and my family, quite naturally, hated the English. I only had one brother, an older one, whom I loved and almost worshipped. His name was Joseph. How I loved him!
"One day, when I was sixteen years old, Joseph and I were taking a walk by the sea. I still remember the exact weather. It was one of those days where the sun beats down hot upon your back, but there is a stiff cold breeze that stirs your hair and lifts your spirits. That's when I first saw your father.
"He was working on a ship that had come from England. I suppose you thought your father had always been a Yorkshire farmer? Well, he hadn't. He was a sailor when I first knew him. He saw me and kept on staring at me. I pretended to ignore him, but I really liked him very much.
"After that day, I kept on running into this young English sailor. In time, I got to know him some how. I liked him very much, and we fell in love. However, no one knew, not even Joseph. I was afraid to tell anyone, because I knew they would be angry.
"Finally I told Father. He was very angry, as you may imagine. He forbade me from seeing this young man. But then I showed him my hand. It had a wedding ring! Yes, we had been married one night by the old priest at the church in a little town a few kilometers away. I know we should not have done it, but we were young and in love.
"When Father saw that ring, I thought he would kill me. But he just disowned me and commanded me to leave Ireland with my husband on the next ship and never return. So I did. Even Joseph was angry with me. I hope they have forgiven me by now. I've forgiven them."
Mum gazed into the fire as I listened.
"So that's my story," she finished.
There is so much you do not know about those nearest to you.
The next Sunday I did not see Father Lewis at Mass. After Mass I asked Father Wiseman where he was. Father Wiseman sighed and looked very tired.
"You remember when Father Lewis had pneumonia this past winter?"
"Well, the doctors discovered a bit of consumption in his lung. They said it was nothing to worry about, because it was hardly there. But he did not seem to gain any strength after his sickness; in fact, he seemed to get worse every day. Finally we called the doctor and he said he has consumption rather bad. They only gave him six more months to live."
"Oh, Father, it's not as bad as that?"
"I'm afraid it is. Please pray for our poor Father Lewis, that he may have the strength to bear this. He's in a lot of pain. He's hardly more than a boy." Here Father Wiseman's voice cracked slightly and his eyes looked suspiciously watery. He bent towards me.
"Pray for me, too."
In September I started school for the last time. It seemed so queer, as I entered the familiar old convent, that this would be the last time I would be starting school here. I felt the familiar thrill of eagerness and anticipation and thought how this would be the last time I would feel it in this place. But I was sure to feel it at other times in my life. This I was sure of.
Towards the end of that month I visited Father Lewis. This was the first time I had seen him since June. When I saw his thin, pale, emaciated face on the pillow, it almost brought tears to my eyes. You could hear his hoarse breathing on the other side of the room and he frequently began to cough.
"Hullo, Father," I said.
"Hullo, Meg," he said, and smiled at me, giving my hand a shake. "How are you?"
"Oh, I'm all right, thank you," I said. "And yourself?"
"I shan't complain!" he said cheerfully. "Because if I did, you would be here all day! So I'll keep it all to myself."
We talked for a while, but it wasn't long before he became tired out. I promised that I would visit him again soon and left. Poor Father Lewis! But how cheerfully he was bearing it! It was quite a marvel. "He is a saint," I thought to myself as I hurried home.
That Christmas we went to Billy and Beth's house. The Lathrops were all there, every one of them, and, much to our surprise, the Windhams! Beth had invited them as a surprise. That was a lovely surprise! Jimmy, however, seemed different. I couldn't tell quite how, but he seemed different. And it wasn't a pleasant sort of different, either. He didn't seem like our Jimmy - just older and worldlier. I couldn't help but wonder what was to become of his vocation.
It was a lovely Christmas. Lizzie and Peggy, the twins, were fine big babies of seven months. They smiled sweetly at everyone and I could scarcely tear myself from their side!
We returned to London and I spent my last winter at home studying, praying, and trying to prepare myself for becoming a Bride of Christ. I also visited Father Lewis frequently. Even though he never complained, I could tell he was in a lot of pain.
Then came the end of June and I graduated from the convent school. On closing day I was in my last play, a condensed dramatization of Cardinal Wiseman's "Fabiola". I was given the part of Pancratius's mother. Then that chapter of my life closed and I was in the 'in-between' part - in between a schoolgirl and a nun.
For two weeks in July I visited Beth and Billy. I had a very fine time. Beth and I had so many wonderful talks in the orchard those days. It was very beautiful, I thought, how close Beth and I were to each other, despite the difference in age and vocation.
But one day Beth pointed out to me how our vocations really did have a strong similarity.
"You know, Meg," she said, holding a sleeping Lizzie one day as we sat under the trees, "you will be a mother too, in a way."
"How's that?" I asked, looking up from Peggy, who I was playing with.
"Well, you'll be the Bride of Christ. He's the Father of the whole world, so, if you're his spouse, you are, in a way, mother to the whole world."
"Why, I suppose you're right," I said. I had never thought of it that way.
"Yes, you are," continued Beth. "I, myself, am content with just having my own little family, but I think it is very beautiful that you will be a mother to everyone. God must know you have a great capacity for love. And after all, God created women to be mothers. All women have that mothering instinct in them, and they have a way of showing it in every vocation. For married women, we have our own children and families. For single women in the world, I'm sure they find people who need their love. And for sisters, you are mother to all and can show your love by serving all. I don't know if I'm right, but it makes sense to me."
"I can understand that," I said, absently braiding some pieces of grass. "Perhaps you're right. Thank you, Beth."
I came back to London in late July, with one month left at home. Jimmy had been acting very queerly ever since he came back from school for the summer holidays. He seemed to be standing next to me all the time, stared at me a good deal, acted sentimental at times (very strange behaviour for frank Jimmy), and got very nervous and flushed whenever I spoke to him. Surely it couldn't be that he was sweet on me? Why, I was leaving for the convent next month and he knew it as well as I did! And after all, wasn't he going to be a priest?
I visited Father Lewis twice a week all that summer. He seemed to be getting weaker and weaker, and to be wasting away before our eyes. One day he seemed weaker than usual and our visit was rather brief. Finally, he was coughing so much that I told him I would go so he could rest.
"All right," he gasped. Then he clutched my hand. "Just tell Jimmy…I'm offering my sufferings…for his vocation."
"I will, Father," I said, looking sorrowfully at his thin, white face.
"Meg," he said suddenly, "I'm going to die very soon. I know it."
"Why, Father, how do you know?" I exclaimed. "You can't know! Father, you mustn't die. We can't get along without you! And you must be there when I'm received into the Sisters of Charity next month. Don't die yet." I tried to speak cheerfully, but the words broke. I knew he was right.
"Yes, Meg, I do know," he said gently. He paused as another fit of coughing shook him and he showed me his bloody handkerchief. "You see," he said, smiling gently. "But I will be there when you are received into the religious life, never fear. You just may not be able too see me. Courage! I'll be of more use in Heaven then I am here. I am not good for much here except to suffer." He began to cough again. I bowed my head so that he would not see my tears.
Next morning, I learned that Father Lewis had died during the night. I was sad, very sad, but it wasn't as bad as I had expected. I felt that I had had the privilege of knowing one of God's saints and that he was in Heaven already. How could I be sad, then, knowing he was with our King?
One afternoon towards the middle of August I was sitting under a tree in the garden. I noticed Jimmy walking down the alley, but I didn't wave or even look at him. Being around Jimmy was making me very uncomfortable.
But, much to my distress, he jumped over the fence and began walking towards me with a very businesslike pace.
"Good evening, Miss Meg," he said. "Fine weather, isn't it?"
"Miss Meg." "Good evening." This did not sound like Jimmy and it did not sound good.
He leaned against the tree and we talked in a very general, casual manner about trivial things. Finally, I stood up.
"Well, I'd best be going in," I said. "I think I have to start dinner."
I turned to go, but Jimmy caught my hand. "Wait, Meg, there's something I want to say." It's come, I thought, but all I said was, "Well, then, say it!"
Jimmy seemed to be suddenly afflicted with stuttering and his face went very red. "Well, I love ye," he finally said.
"Well, we all ought to love our neighbor, but that's no reason to look as though we were getting a fever, now, is it?" I knew perfectly well what he meant but I was going to show him immediately that I wanted nothing to do with it.
"Oh, Meg, ye know what I mean!" said Jimmy, looking at me. I tried to free my hand but he held it tight. "I'm in love with ye!"
"Well, I'm not in love with you!" I exclaimed, trying not to become too wrathful. "And I never shall be!"
"Oh, Meg, why do you 'ave to go to that old convent?" he asked. "Yer young and pretty. Why not marry me?"
"Why not marry you?" I repeated. "Why, for one thing, I'm not in love with you. For another thing, I never have planned to marry. And for another thing, I belong to God forever! He is the One Who has won my heart, and He, and only He, shall have it!"
Jimmy had a strange look on his face. "But Meg, I love ye!" he said finally. "Couldn't ye try to love me?"
"No, I can't!" I cried. "I don't want to! And besides, Jimmy, you belong to God as well. You will be a priest."
"Oh, at one time I said I would," he said, seemingly brushing this off as some nonsense of his youth. "But I've changed my mind."
"But Jimmy, you can't!" I said, almost shouting and trying not to cry. "You can't! Father Lewis offered his sufferings and his very life so that you would remain true to your vocation. He's a saint in Heaven now, and his prayer could not go unanswered! No, Jimmy! I'm going to the convent and I'm leaving you to a greater happiness! You will thank me some day!"
I looked into his eyes, and in them read a confused, almost frightened look. He still looked at me as though he was in love with me, but there was now a confused look in there as well. It cut me to the heart to remember the old Jimmy and to contrast him with this young man standing before me, who I felt I barely knew.
"Oh, Jimmy!" I whispered and then wrenched my hand free from his and fled.
It took me a while to decide, but I finally told Mum and Father Wiseman about this experience. They sympathized with me and added how sorry they were that this had to happen. However, through it all, I never lost hope that Jimmy's vocation would be preserved. I just remembered Father Lewis. Others weren't as hopeful, but I trusted that the holy priest's prayer would be answered.
The week before I left, Mum brought me to her bedroom and opened the closet door. She pulled out the trunk.
"Now it is yours," she said. "I put all of my things in another trunk, and now this belongs to you."
"Oh, Mum, thank you!" I said, and gave her cheek a kiss. "I will treasure it always."
I visited Mrs. Windham one evening. Jimmy just so happened to be out.
"Poor boy," said his mother. "But you did the right thing, Meg. I don't think either of you were ever meant for the married life."
"I'm so glad you think so," I said, laying my head on her shoulder. Then I told her about Father Lewis.
"Well, that confirms it," was all she said, but she looked touched.
The night before I was to leave I took one last walk in the garden, touching everything softly, so I would imprint the memory of it all in my head. Then I sat down below my tree and closed my eyes. When I opened them Jimmy was standing before me, hands jammed in pockets, a sheepish grin on his face, and the beautiful look of peace in his eyes.
"Jimmy?" I said.
He offered his hand to help me rise and then kept holding it. "Yes, Meg," he said and smiled at me and seemed so like the old Jimmy I could scarcely keep from crying.
"I'm so glad," I said fervently. "What changed your mind?"
"You and Father Lewis," he said. "I could see that ye weren't going to change yer mind or abandon yer vocation. At first it only maddened me, but then I realized it was because it was the Will of God. Then I remembered Father Lewis, and I thought, well, I won't let him down. So I'm going to try to join St. Vincent's order as soon as I can."
"Oh, Jimmy, I'm so glad!" was all I could say, but I gave him such a smile I'm sure he could tell how truly joyful I was. We had such a wonderful talk out in the old garden that evening. About God and Heaven and our vocations. It was wonderful and I was so happy his vocation had not been lost.
The next morning I rose early. The hack was to come for me at 8:00 a.m. The convent was only a few blocks away, but Mum wanted me to take a hack because of my trunk. I attended Father Wiseman's 6:30 Mass and then he and the Windhams came to our house for breakfast.
I cannot describe my feelings on that day. They were such a mixture of joy and sorrow. I wondered how the human heart can hold such exquisite pain and such beautiful joy at the same time. Even though the convent was only a few blocks away, I was truly leaving them all. I was starting a whole new life.
Then the last goodbyes were said. First I hugged Mum goodbye. She looked sad, but was bravely bearing it. I hugged her a long time, and kissed each of her cheeks. She looked into my eyes long and hard and then kissed each of my cheeks. "Goodbye, allaniv asthore," she whispered, and then bit her lip. Her eyes were not tearful, but they were full of pain. That was hard, so very hard. My God, accept that sacrifice. It was one of the hardest I've ever had to make.
Then I hugged Father Wiseman. He put a hand on each of my shoulders and looked into my eyes. I looked straight back and smiled at him. "Go with God and remember you are made for God," he said.
"I shall," I said firmly.
Then I hugged Jimmy, the first and last time I had ever done that. He pounded my back hard and then looked at me, squeezing my hands so tight it made me wince. He swallowed hard and then said, "Well, g'bye, Meg."
"Good bye, Jimmy," I said. "I can never thank you enough for being such a good friend and doing so much for me."
"Oh, shucks, Meg, I didn't do a thing," he said, blinking hard. I whacked his back and gave him a smile, but there was a lump in my throat too.
Then I hugged Mr. Windham. "G'bye, little missy," he said. "We'll miss 'aving ye 'round." He blinked his eyes a bit.
I hugged Mrs. Windham last of all. "How we'll miss you, Meg," she said. "But I'm glad you're going. Truly I am." She smiled at me through her tears.
"I'll miss you, too, my dearest Godmother," I said, kissing her cheek.
"There's the 'ack!" called Jimmy, and his voice cracked in the slightest bit.
I hastily gathered up my bag and the old trunk as the hack drove up. "Mornin', Miss," said the driver in the thickest of thick Cockney accents. He got out to put my trunk under the seat and then started to help me in.
"I'll do that, sir," said Jimmy, as he took my arm and situated me in the hack. "G'bye, Meg," he whispered, and then shut the door. I opened the window and put my head out.
"Goodbye!" I called. "Goodbye!" The hack started to move.
"Goodbye!" called the people standing in front of the little white house. They were so dear to me! What a sacrifice this was! But for my God, my only Love, nothing was too great. So I smiled through my tears and felt the wings of peace slowly steal round my heart.
I looked back. Jimmy was sitting on the gate. Mum was standing in front of it, looking so small that it almost frightened me. Mr. Windham had his arm round his wife. Father Wiseman stood a little to the side, and his face looked very joyful, but sad nonetheless. As I waved to them, they all raised their hands. Then Jimmy gave me one of his big smiles and stuck out his tongue at me. I smiled.
One day, a young priest sat in the office of the rectory of St. Mary's Church in London, England, reading his mail. He had dark brown hair and merry blue eyes and a strong Cockney accent. One of his letters was postmarked China.
"Oh, good, a letter from Sister Therese!" he exclaimed. "But that's not her handwriting."
The priest hastily opened the letter. It was covered with a large, neat hand.
Convent of St. Louise de Marillac
Qamdo, China May 20th, 1920
"Dear Father Windham, (he read)
"I regret to inform you of the death of Sister Marie-Therese-Antoinette, our beloved Sister in Christ. On May 18th, a number of our Sisters were visiting a poor family's house, caring for the inhabitants who were ill with a fever. Sister Therese was one of their number, as she was very well versed in the knowledge of medicinal herbs. When returning they were attacked by a party of natives who were very hostile against our mission. All of the Sisters were killed with gunshots through the head.
"Sister Therese had written a letter, requesting that on the occasion of her death several people be notified, one of which was you. She also requested you to say a novena of Masses for the repose of her soul.
"I must tell you how beautiful Sister Therese looked when we found her. Her hands were tied behind her back and there was the ugly gunshot wound on the back of her head, but her face was, surprisingly enough, not at all disfigured. Her face wore such a look of beauty and peace that it made you think of Heaven. I feel sure our Sister is now there with her Beloved for eternity.
"Requiscat in pace! May she rest in peace!
"In the Name of Jesus our Lord,
Father Windham replaced the letter in its envelope. His face was sorrowful, yes, but it wore a look of peace and joy.
"She is with her Beloved for eternity," he whispered. "How happy she must be! 'Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.' 'Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.' How happy you must be, Meg! But remember your friend Jimmy who's still in exile, and pray for him, that he'll be in that perpetual Light soon as well, with the King of his soul."
"And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity." Corinthians 13:13
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