The Mother Superior had a long upper lip, which she was in the habit of drawing still further down; it gave her an air of great diplomatic caution, almost of casuistry. Her face was pale and narrow; she had eyes that desired to be very penetrating, and a flat little stooping figure within her voluminous draperies. She carried about with her all the virtues of a monastic order, patience was written upon her, and repression, discipline, and the love of administration, written and underlined, so that the Anglican Sister whom no Pope blessed was more priestly in her personal effect than any Jesuit. It was difficult to remember that she had begun as a woman; she was now a somewhat anaemic formula making for righteousness. Sister Ann Frances, who in her turn suggested the fat capons of an age of friars more indulgent to the flesh, and whose speech was of the crispest in this world where there was so much to do, thought poorly of the executive ability of the Mother Superior, and resented the imposition, as it were, of the long upper lip. Out of this arose the only irritations that vexed the energetic flow of duty at the Baker Institution, slight official raspings which the Mother Superior immediately laid before Heaven at great length. She did it with publicity, too, kneeling on the chunam floor of the chapel for an hour at a time obviously explaining matters. The bureaucracy of the country was reflected in the Baker Institution; it seemed to Sister Ann Frances that her superior officer took undue advantage of her privilege of direct communication with the Supreme Authority, giving any colour she liked to the incident. And when the Mother Superior’s lumbago came on in direct consequence of the cold chunam, the annoyance of Sister Ann Frances was naturally not lessened.
There were twenty or thirty of them, with their little white caps tied close under their chins, their long veils and their girdled black robes. They were the most self-sacrificing women in Asia, the most devout, the most useful. Government gave hospitals and doctors into their hands; they took the whole charge of certain schools. They differed in complexion, some of the newly arrived being delightfully fresh and pink under their starched bandeaux; but they were all official, they all walked discreetly and directly about their business, with a jangle of keys in the folds of their robes, immensely organised, immensely under orders. Hilda, when she had time, had the keenest satisfaction in contemplating them. She took the edge off the fact that she was not quite one, in aim and method, with these dear women as they supposed her to be, with the reflection that after all it might be worth while to work out a solution of life in those terms, standing aside from the world—the world was troublesome—and keeping an unfaltering eye upon the pity of things, an unfaltering hand at its assuagement. It was