THE GREY VEIL
Magda felt a sudden stab of fear. The sound of the latch clicking into its place brought home to her the irrevocability of the step she had taken. That tall, self-locking door stood henceforth betwixt her and the dear, familiar world she had known—the world of laughter and luxury and success. But beyond, on the far horizon, there was Michael—her “Saint Michel.” If these months of discipline brought her nearer him, then she would never grudge them.
The serene eyes of the Sister who received her—Sister
Bernardine—helped to steady her quivering pulses.
There was something in Sister Bernardine that was altogether lacking in Catherine Vallincourt—a delightfully human understanding and charity for all human weakness, whether of the soul or body.
It was she who reassured Magda when a sudden appalling and unforeseen idea presented itself to her.
“My hair!” she exclaimed breathlessly, her hand going swiftly to the heavy, smoke-black tresses. “Will they cut off my hair?”
As Sister Bernardine comfortingly explained that only those who joined the community as sisters had their heads shaven, a strange expression flickered for an instant in her eyes, a fleeting reminiscence of that day, five-and-twenty years ago, when the shears had cropped their ruthless way through the glory of hair which had once been hers.
And afterwards, as time went on and Magda, wearing the grey veil and grey serge dress of a voluntary penitent, found herself absorbed into the daily life of the community, it was often only the recollection of Sister Bernardine’s serene, kind eyes which helped her to hold out. Somehow, somewhere out of this drastic, self-denying life Sister Bernardine had drawn peace and tranquillity of soul, and Magda clung to this thought when the hard rules of the sisterhood, the distastefulness of the tasks appointed her, and the frequent fasts ordained, chafed and fretted her until sometimes her whole soul seemed to rise up in rebellion against the very discipline she had craved.
Most of her tasks were performed under the lynx eyes of Sister Agnetia, an elderly and sour-visaged sister to whom Magda had taken an instinctive dislike from the outset. The Mother Superior she could tolerate. She was severe and uncompromising. But she was at least honest. There was no doubting the bedrock genuineness of her disciplinary ardour, harsh and merciless though it might appear. But with Sister Agnetia, Magda was always sensible of the personal venom of a little mind vested with authority beyond its deserts, and she resented her dictation accordingly. And equally accordingly, it seemed to fall always to her lot to work under Sister Agnetia’s supervision.