* * * * *
There were pressing matters too to be arranged; and, weightiest of all, those relating to Margaret’s future. She would now be the only woman besides the servants, in the house; and it was growing less and less likely that she would be ever able to take up the Religious Life again in England. There seemed little reason for her remaining in the country, unless indeed she threw aside the Religious habit altogether, and went to live at Great Keynes as Mary preferred. Beatrice made an offer to receive her in London for a while, but in this case again she would have to wear secular dress.
The evening before Beatrice left, the two sat and talked for a couple of hours. Margaret was miserable; she cried a little, clung to Beatrice, and then was ashamed of herself.
“My dear child,” said the other. “It is in your hands. You can do as you please.”
“But I cannot,” sobbed the nun. “I cannot; I do not know. Let me come with you, Beatrice.”
Beatrice then settled down and talked to her. She told her of her duty to her father for the present; she must remember that he was lonely now. In any case she must not think of leaving home for another six months. In the meantime she had to consider two points. First, did she consider herself in conscience bound to Religion? What did the priest tell her? If she did so consider herself, then there was no question; she must go to Bruges and join the others. Secondly, if not, did she think herself justified in leaving her father in the summer? If so, she might either go to Great Keynes, or come up for at least a long visit to Charing.
“And what do you think?” asked the girl piteously.
“Do you wish me to tell you!” said Beatrice.
“Then I think you should go to Bruges in July or August.”
Margaret stared at her; the tears were very near her eyes again.
“My darling; I should love to have you in London,” went on the other caressing her. “Of course I should. But I cannot see that King Henry his notions make any difference to your vows. They surely stand. Is it not so, my dear?”
And so after a little more talk Margaret consented. Her mind had told her that all along; it was her heart only that protested against this final separation from her friend.
Chris too agreed when she spoke to him a day or two later when Beatrice had gone back. He said he had been considering his own case too; and that unless something very marked intervened he proposed to follow Dom Anthony abroad. They could travel together, he said. Finally, when the matter was laid before their father he also consented.
“I shall do very well,” he said. “Mary spoke to me of it; and Nicholas has asked me to make my home at Great Keynes; so if you go, my son, with Meg in the summer, I shall finish matters here, lease out the estate, and Mr. Carleton and I shall betake ourselves there. Unless”—he said—“unless Ralph should come to another mind.”