“But, Mother, I never said I was going to join the Order. I only came here in the hope—”
“And I accepted you as a postulant in the hope that you would persevere. All this seems very selfish, Evelyn. It looks as if we were only thinking! of your money; but you know it isn’t so.”
“Indeed, I do, Mother. I know it isn’t so.”
“When are you going to leave us?”
“Well, nothing is decided. Every day I expect to hear from my father, and if he wishes—”
“But if he doesn’t require you? By remaining with us you may find you have a vocation. Other women have persevered and discovered in the end—” The Prioress’s face changed expression, and Evelyn began to think that perhaps the Prioress had discovered a vocation in herself, after long waiting, and though she had become Prioress discovered too late that perhaps she had been mistaken. “You have no intention of joining the Order?”
“You mean to become a novice and then to become a nun and live here with you?”
“You need say no more.”
“But you don’t think I have deceived you, Mother?”
“No, I don’t blame anybody, only a hope has gone. Besides, I at least, Evelyn, shall be very sorry to part with you, sorry for many reasons which I may not tell you... in the convent we don’t talk of our past life.” And Evelyn wondered what the Prioress alluded to. “Has she a past like mine? What is her story?”
The canaries began singing, and they sang so loudly the women could hardly hear themselves speak. Evelyn got up and waved her handkerchief at the birds, silencing them.
* * * * *
Late that night a telegram came telling Evelyn that her father was dangerously ill, and she was to start at once for Rome.
The wind had gathered the snow into the bushes and all the corners of the common, and the whole earth seemed but a little brown patch, with a dead grey sky sweeping by. For many weeks the sky had been grey, and heavy clouds had passed slowly, like a funeral, above the low horizon. The wind had torn the convent garden until nothing but a few twigs remained; even the laurels seemed about to lose their leaves. The nuns had retreated with blown skirts; Sister Mary John had had to relinquish her digging, and her jackdaw had sought shelter in the hen-house.
One night, when the nuns assembled for evening prayer, the north wind seemed to lift the roof as with hands; the windows were shaken; the nuns divined the wrath of God in the wind, and Miss Dingle, who had learned through pious incantation that the Evil One would attempt a descent into the convent, ran to warn the porteress of the danger. At that moment the wind was so loud that the portress listened, perforce, to the imaginings of Miss Dingle’s weak brain, thinking, in spite of herself, that some communication had been vouchsafed to her. “Who knows,” her thoughts said, “who can say? The ways of Providence are inscrutable.” And she looked at the little daft woman as if she were a messenger.