Part 9 out of 9
than six or seven o'clock. These nuns lived on a little coarse food, and
spent the day in prayer. She thought of their aching knees in the long
vigils of their adorations. She understood that the inward happiness
their life gives them compensates them for all their privations. She
understood that they are the only ones who are happy, yet the knowledge
did not help her; she felt that she would never be happy in their
happiness, and a great sorrow came over her. Mass was over, and again
the beautiful procession, with bowed heads and meekly folded veils,
glided out of the church. Only the watchers remained.
Last night she had sat watching the stars shining on the convent garden.
There were, as Owen said, twenty millions of suns in the Milky Way;
beyond the Milky Way there were other constellations of which we know
nothing, nebulae which time has not yet resolved into stars, or stars so
distant that time has not yet brought their light hither. But why seek
mystery beyond this poor planet? It furnishes enough, surely. That we
should see the stars, that we should know the stars, that we should
place God above the stars--are not these common facts as wonderful as
the stars themselves? That those twenty or five-and-twenty women should
give up all the seduction of life for the sake of an idea, accepting
Owen's theory that it is but an idea, even so the wonder of it is not
less; even from Owen's point of view is not this convent as wonderful as
On coming out of church, she was told that in half-an-hour her breakfast
would be ready in the parlour, and to loosen the mental tension--she had
thought and felt a great deal in the last hour--she asked the lay sister
who were the nuns who sang in the choir. The lay sister answered her
perfunctorily. Evelyn could see that she was not open at that moment to
conversation. She guessed that the sister had work to attend to, and was
not surprised that she did not come back to take the things away.
Although only just begun, the day had already begun to seem long. She
proposed to herself some pious reading; and wondered how she was going
to get through the day. She would have liked to go into the garden; but
she did not know the rules of the convent, and feared to transgress
them. However, she was free to go to her room. The books she had brought
with her would help her to get through the morning.
Berlioz's _Memoirs I_ The faded voices she had heard that morning
singing dreary hymns were more wonderful than his orchestral dreams. Nor
did she find the spiritual stimulus she needed in Pater's _Imaginary
Portraits_. Some moody souls reflecting with no undue haste, without
undue desire to arrive at any definite opinion concerning certain
artistic problems, did not appeal to her. She put the book aside,
fearing that she was in no humour for reading that morning; and with
little hope of being interested, she took up another book. The size of
the volume and the disproportion of the type seemed to drag her to it,
and the title was a sort of prophetic echo of the interest she was to
find in the book. Her thoughts clouded in a sense of delight as she
read; she followed as a child follows a butterfly, until the fluttering
colour disappears in the sky. And before she was aware of any idea, the
harmony of the gentle prose captivated her, and she sat down, holding in
her heart the certitude that she was going to be enchanted. The book
procured for her the delicious sensualism of reading things at once new
and old. It seemed to her that she was reading things that she had known
always, but which she had somehow neglected to think out for herself.
The book seemed like her inner self suddenly made clear. All that the
author said on the value of Silence was so true. She raised her eyes
from the page to think. She seemed to understand something, but she
could not tell what it was. The object of every soul is to unite itself
to another soul, to be absorbed in another, to find life and happiness
in another; the desire of unison is the deepest instinct in man. But how
little, the author asked, do words help us to understand? We talk and
talk, and nothing is really said; the conversation falls, we walk side
by side, our eyes fixed on the quiet skies, and lo! our souls come
together and are united in their immortal destiny. She again raised her
eyes from the page--now she understood, and she thought a long while.
The chapter entitled "The Profound Life" interested her equally. The
nuns realised it, but those who live in the world live on the surface of
things. To live a life of silence and devotion, illumined not from
without but from within, the eternal light that never fails or withers,
and to live unconscious of the great stream of things, our back turned
to that great stream flowing mysteriously, solemnly, like a river! The
chapter entitled "Warnings" had for her a strangely personal meaning.
How true it is that we know everything, only we have not acquired the
art of saying it. Had she not always known that her destiny was not with
Owen, that he was but a passing, not the abiding event of her life? She
looked through the convent room, and the abiding event of her life now
seemed to murmur in her ear, seemed to pass like a shadow before her
eyes. At the moment when she thought she was about to hear and see, a
knock came at her door, and the revelation of her destiny passed, with a
little ironical smile, out of her eyes and ears.
Her visitor was a strange little nun whom she had not seen before. Over
her slim figure the white serge habit fell in such graceful, mediaeval
lines as Evelyn had seen in German cathedrals; and her face was delicate
and childlike beneath the white forehead band. She came forward with a
diffident little smile.
"Reverend Mother sent me to you; she is watching now, or she would have
come herself, but she thought you might like me to take you round the
garden. She will join us there when she comes out of church. But
Reverend Mother said you must do just as you liked."
The little nun corresponded to her mood even as the book had done; she
seemed an apparition, a ghost risen from its pages. Her face was a thin
oval, and the purity of the outline was accentuated by the white
kerchief which surrounded it. The nose was slightly aquiline, the chin
a little pointed, the lips well cut, but thin and colourless--lips that
Evelyn thought had never been kissed, and that never would be kissed.
The thought seemed disgraceful, and Evelyn noticed hastily the dark
almond eyes that saved the face from insipidity; the black eyebrows were
firmly and delicately drawn, her complexion, without being pale, was
extraordinarily transparent, and the thin hands and long, narrow
fingers, half hidden beneath the long sleeves, were in the same idea of
"I was longing to go out, but I had not the courage. I feared it might
be against the rule for me to go into the garden alone. But tell me
first who you are."
"Oh, I'm Sister Veronica. I'm only a novice as yet."
Evelyn noticed that, unlike the other nuns she had seen, Sister Veronica
wore neither the silver heart on her breast, suspended by a red cord,
nor the long straight scapular which gave such dignity to the religious
habit. Her habit was held in at the waist by a leather girdle; it looked
as though it might slip any moment over the slight, boyish hips, and by
her side hung a rosary of large black beads.
Sister Veronica warned Evelyn that she must be careful how she went down
the staircase, as it was very slippery. Evelyn said she would be
careful; she added that the sisters kept the stairs in beautiful order,
and wondered what her next remark would be. She was nervous in the
presence of these convent women, lest by some unfortunate remark she
should betray herself. And when they reached the garden it was Sister
Veronica who was the most self-possessed--she was already confessing to
Evelyn that they had all felt very nervous knowing that a "real" singer
was listening to them.
"Oh, do you sing?" Evelyn asked eagerly.
"Well, I have to try," Sister Veronica answered, with a little laugh.
"Mother Prioress thought perhaps I might learn, so she put me in the
choir, but Sister Mary John says I shall never be the least use."
"Is Sister Mary John the sister who teaches you?"
"Yes; it is she who played the organ at Mass. She loves music. She is
simply longing to hear you sing, Miss Innes. Do you think you will sing
at Benediction this afternoon for us? It would be lovely."
"I don't know, really. You see I haven't been asked yet."
"Oh, Reverend Mother is sure to ask you--at least I hope she will. We
all want to hear you so much."
They were sitting in the shadow of a great elm; all around was a
wonderful silence, and to turn the conversation from herself, Evelyn
asked Sister Veronica if she didn't care for their beautiful garden.
"Oh, yes, indeed I do. I'm glad you like it.... When I was a child my
greatest treat was to be allowed to play in the nuns' garden."
"Then you knew the convent long before you came to be a nun yourself?"
"Oh, yes, I've known it all my life."
"So it was not strange when you came here first?"
"No, it was like coming home."
Evelyn repeated the nun's words to herself, "Like coming home." And she
seemed to see far into their meaning. Here was an illustration of what
she had read in the book--she and Veronica seemed to understand each
other in the silence. But it became necessary to speak, and in answer to
a question, Sister Veronica told Evelyn that there were four novices and
two postulants in the novitiate, and that the name of the novice
mistress was Mother Mary Hilda. The novitiate was in the upper storey of
the new wing, above the convent refectory.
"And here is Reverend Mother," and Sister Veronica suddenly got up.
Evelyn got up too, and they waited till the elderly nun slowly crossed
the lawn. Evelyn noticed, even when the Reverend Mother was seated, that
Veronica remained standing.
"You can go now, Veronica."
Veronica smiled a little good-bye to Evelyn, and left them immediately.
"Veronica told you, Miss Innes, I was taking my watch?"
"Yes, Reverend Mother."
"I hope she has not been wearying you with the details of our life?"
"On the contrary, I have been very much interested.... Your life here is
so beautiful that I long to know more about it. At present my knowledge
is confined to the fact that the second storey in the new wing is the
novitiate, and that there are four novices and two postulants." The
Reverend Mother smiled, and after a pause Evelyn added--
"But Sister Veronica is very young."
"She is older than she looks, she is nearly twenty. Ever since she was
quite a child she wished to be a nun. Even then her mind was quite made
"She told me that when she was a child her great pleasure was to be
allowed to walk in the convent garden."
"Yes. You don't know, perhaps, that she is my niece. My poor brother's
child. She was left an orphan at a very early age. Her's is a sad story.
But God has been good: she never doubted her vocation, she passed from
an innocent childhood to a life dedicated to God. So she has been spared
the trouble that is the lot of those who live in the world."
An accent of past but unforgotten sorrow had crept into her voice; and
once more Evelyn was convinced that she had not, like Veronica, passed
from innocent childhood into the blameless dream of convent life. She
had known the world and had renounced it. In the silence that had fallen
Evelyn wondered what her story might be, and whether she would ever hear
it. But she knew that in the convent no allusion is made to the past,
that there the past is really the past.
"I hope that you will sing for us at Benediction. All the sisters are
longing to hear you. It will be such a pleasure to them."
"I shall be very glad ... only I have brought nothing with me. But I
daresay I shall find something among the music you have here."
"Sister Mary John will find you something; she is our organist."
"And an excellent musician. I noticed her playing."
"She has always been anxious to improve the choir, but unfortunately
none of the sisters except her has any voice to speak of.... You might
sing Gounod's 'Ave Maria' at Benediction; you know it, of course, what a
beautiful piece of music it is. But I see that you don't admire it."
"Well," Evelyn said, smiling, "it is contrary to all the principles I've
been brought up in."
"We might walk a little; we are at the end of the summer, and the air is
a little cold. You do not mind walking very slowly? I'm forbidden to
walk fast on account of my heart."
They crossed the sloping lawn, and walking slowly up St. Peter's walk,
amid sad flutterings of leaves from the branches of the elms, Evelyn
told the Reverend Mother the story of the musical reformation which her
father had achieved. She asked Evelyn if it would be possible to give
Palestrina at the convent and they reached the end of the walk. It was
flushed with September, and in the glittering stillness the name of
Palestrina was exquisite to speak. They passed the tall cross standing
at the top of the rocks, and the Reverend Mother said, speaking out of
long reflection--"Have I never heard any of the music you sing? Wagner I
have never heard, but the Italian operas, 'Lucia' and 'Trovatore,' or
Mozart? Have you never sung Mozart?"
"Very little. I am what is called a dramatic soprano. The only Italian
opera I've sung is 'Norma.' Do you know it?"
"I've sung Leonore--not in 'Trovatore,' in 'Fidelio.'"
"But surely you admire 'Trovatore'--the 'Miserere,' for instance. Is not
"It is no doubt very effective, but it is considered very common now."
Evelyn hummed snatches of the opera; then the waltz from "Traviata."
"I've sung Margaret."
And as she hummed the Jewel Song she watched the Reverend Mother's
face, and was certain that the nun had heard the music on the stage. But
at that moment the angelus bell rang. Evelyn had forgotten the
responses, and as she walked towards the convent she asked the Reverend
Mother to repeat them once again, so that she might have them by heart.
She excused herself, saying how difficult was the observance of
religious forms for those who live in the world.
After dinner she wrote two letters. One was to her father, the other was
to Monsignor, and having directed the letters she imagined the postal
arrangement to be somewhat irregular. After Benediction she would ask
Veronica what time the letters left the convent. And looking across the
abyss which separated them, she saw her passionate self-centred past and
Veronica's little transit from the schoolroom to the convent. It seemed
strange to her that she never had what might be called a girl friend.
But she had arrived at a time when a woman friend was a necessity, and
it now suddenly occurred to her that there would be something
wonderfully sweet and satisfying in the uncritical love of a woman
younger than herself. She felt that the love of this innocent creature
who knew nothing, who never would know anything, and who therefore would
suspect nothing, would help her to forget her past as Monsignor wished.
She felt a sympathy awaken in her for her own sex which she had never
known before, and this yearning was confounded in a desire to be among
those who knew nothing of her past. Now she was glad that she had
refrained from taking the Reverend Mother into her confidence, and she
wondered how much Monsignor had told her the day they had walked in the
garden; it relieved her to remember that he knew very little except what
she had told him in confession.
Someone knocked. She answered, "Come in." It was Mother Philippa and
"I hope we're not interrupting.... But you're reading, I see."
"No, I was thinking;" and glad of the interruption, she let the book
fall on her knees. "Pray come in, Mother Philippa," and Evelyn rose to
The nuns entered very shyly. Evelyn handed them chairs, and as she did
so she remarked the tall, angular nun who followed Mother Philippa, and
whose face expressed so much energy.
"Good afternoon, Miss Innes. I hope you slept well last night, and did
not find your bed too uncomfortable?"
"Thank you, Mother Philippa. I liked my bed. I slept very well." Evelyn
drew two chairs forward, and Mother Philippa introduced Evelyn to Sister
Mary John. And while she explained that she had heard from the Reverend
Mother that Miss Innes had promised to sing at Benediction, Sister Mary
John sat watching Evelyn, her large brown eyes wide open. Her eagerness
was even a little comical, and Evelyn smiled through her growing liking
for this nun. She was unlike any other nun she had seen. Nuns were
usually formal and placid, but Sister Mary John was so irreparably
herself that while the others presented feeble imitations of the
Reverend Mother's manner, her walk and speech, Sister Mary John
continued to slouch along, to cross her legs, to swing her arms, to lean
forward and interrupt when she was interested in the conversation; when
she was not, she did not attempt to hide her indifference. Evelyn
thought that she must be about eight-and-twenty or thirty. The eyes were
brown and exultant, and the eyebrows seemed very straight and black in
the sallow complexion. All the features were large, but a little of the
radiant smile that had lit up all her features when she came forward to
greet Evelyn still lingered on her face. Now and then she seemed to grow
impatient, and then she forgot her impatience and the smile floated back
again. At last her opportunity came, and she seized it eagerly.
"I'm quite ashamed, Miss Innes, we sang so badly this morning; our
little choir can do better than that."
"I was interested; the organ was very well played."
"Did you think so? I have not sufficient time for practice, but I love
music, and am longing to hear you sing. But the Reverend Mother says
that you have brought no music with you."
"I hear," said Mother Philippa, "that you do not care for Gounod's 'Ave
"If the Reverend Mother wishes me to sing it, I shall be delighted to do
so, if Sister Mary John has the music."
Sister Mary John shook her head authoritatively, and said that she quite
understood that Miss Innes did not approve of the liberty of writing any
melody over Bach's beautiful prelude. Besides, it required a violin. The
conversation then turned on the music at St. Joseph's. Sister Mary John
listened, breaking suddenly in with some question regarding Palestrina.
She had never heard any of his music; would Miss Innes lend her some?
Was there nothing of his that they could sing in the convent?
"I do not know anything of his written for two voices. You might play
the other parts on the organ, but I'm afraid it would sound not a little
"But have you heard the Benedictine nuns sing the plain chant; they
pause in the middle of the verse--that is the tradition, is it not?"
Meanwhile Mother Philippa sat forgotten. Evelyn noticed her isolation
before Sister Mary John, and addressed an observation to her. But Mother
Philippa said she knew nothing about music, and that they were to go on
talking as if she weren't there. But a mere listener is a dead weight in
a conversation; and whenever Evelyn's eyes went that way, she could see
that Mother Philippa was thinking of something else; and when she
looked towards Sister Mary John she could see that she was longing to be
alone with her. A delightful hour of conversation awaited them if they
could only find some excuse to get away together, and Evelyn looked at
Sister Mary John, saying with her eyes that the suggestion must come
"If I were to take Miss Innes to the organ loft and show her what music
we have--don't you think so, Mother Philippa?'
"Yes, I think that would be the best thing to do.... I'm sure the
Reverend Mother would see no objection to your taking Miss Innes to the
Mother Philippa did not see the look of relief and delight that passed
in Sister Mary John's eyes, and it was Evelyn who had a scruple about
getting rid of Mother Philippa.
"I was so disappointed not to have seen you the day you came here; and
what made it so hard was that it was first arranged that it was the
Reverend Mother and I who were to meet you. I had looked forward to
seeing you. I love music, and it is seven years since I've spoken to
anyone who could tell the difference between a third and a fourth.
There's no one here who cares about music."
It seemed to Evelyn that the problem of life must have presented itself
to Sister Mary John very much as it presents itself to a woman who is
suddenly called to join her husband in India. The woman hates leaving
London, her friends, and all the habits of life in which she has grown
up; but she does not hesitate to give up these things to follow the man
she loves out to India.
"I don't know why it was settled that Mother Philippa was to meet you
instead of me; it seemed so useless, meeting you meant so little to her
and so much to me; I'm always inclined to argue, but that day the
Reverend Mother's heart was very bad; she had had a fainting fit in the
early morning; we all got up to pray for her."
"Yet she was quite cheerful; I never should have guessed."
"Mother Philippa and Mother Mary Hilda tried to dissuade her. But she
would see you."
"Then it is with her heart disease that the Reverend Mother rules the
convent," Evelyn thought, as she followed Sister Mary John up the spiral
staircase to the organ loft. She looked over the curtained railing into
the church. The watcher knelt there, her head bowed, her habit still as
sculpture, and Evelyn heard Sister Mary John pulling out her music. She
could not find what she wanted, and she sat with her legs apart,
throwing from side to side piles of old torn music.
"Never can one find a piece of music when one wants it: I don't know if
you have noticed that nothing is so difficult to find as a piece of
music. Day after day it is under your hands, it would seem as if there
was not another piece in the organ loft, but the moment you want it, it
has disappeared. I don't know how it is."
"What are you looking for? Perhaps I can help you."
"Well, I was thinking that you might like"--Sister Mary John looked up
at Evelyn--"I suppose you can sing B flat, or even C?"
"Yes, I can sing C;" and Evelyn thought of the last page of the "Dusk of
the Gods." "But what are you looking for?"
Sister Mary John did not answer. She threw the music from side to side,
every minute growing more impatient. "It is most strange," she said at
last, looking up at Evelyn. Evelyn smiled. With all her brusque,
self-willed ways, Sister Mary John was clearly a lady born and an
"I'm afraid I shall not be able to find you anything that you'd care to
"Oh, yes, I shall," Evelyn replied encouragingly.
"It is all such poor stuff. We've no singers here. Do you know, I've
never heard a great singer, and I've often wished to. The only thing I
regret is not having heard a little music before I came here. But I've
heard of Wagner; you sing Wagner, don't you, Miss Innes?"
"Yes, I sing little else. 'Fidelio'--"
"Ah, I know some of the music. Do you sing--"
Sister Mary John hummed a few bars.
"Yes, I sing that."
"Well, I shall hear you sing to-day. I've been wishing to go to St.
Joseph's to hear Palestrina. You were brought up on music. You can sing
at sight--in the key that it is written in?"
"Yes, I think so."
"But all prima-donnas can do that?"
"No; on the contrary, I think I'm the only one. Singers on the operatic
stage learn their parts at the piano."
She could see that to Sister Mary John music was the temptation of her
life, and she imagined that her confession must be a little musical
record. She had lost her temper with Sister So-and-So because she could
not, etc. But time was getting on. If she was to sing that afternoon,
she must find something, and seeing that Sister Mary John lingered over
some sheets of music, as if she thought that it presented some
possibility, Evelyn asked her what it was. It was a Mass by Mozart for
four voices, which Sister Mary John had arranged for a single voice.
"The choir and I sing the melody in unison, and I play the entire Mass
on the organ."
Evelyn smiled, and seeing that the smile distressed the nun, she was
"To you, of course, it would sound absurd, it does to me too, but it was
a little change, it was the only thing I could think of. We have some
pieces written for two voices, but I can hardly get them sung. I have
to teach the sisters the parts separately. Till they know them by heart,
I can't trust them. It is impossible sometimes not to lose one's temper.
If we had a few good voices, people would come to hear them, the convent
would be spoken about, and some charitable people would come forward and
pay off our mortgages. I've lain awake at night thinking of it; the
Reverend Mother agrees with me. But in the way of voices we've been as
unlucky as we could well be. I've been here eight years--there was one,
but she died six years ago of consumption. It is heartbreaking. I play
the organ, I beat the time, and, as I said to them the other day, 'There
are five of you, and I'm the only one that sings.'"
Sister Mary John asked Evelyn if she composed. Evelyn told her that she
did not compose, and remembering Owen's compositions, she hoped that
Sister Mary John had not an "O Salutaris" in manuscript.
"Let me look through the music; we are talking of other things instead
"So we are.... Let us look." At the bottom of a heap, Sister Mary John
found Cherubini's "Ave Maria."
"Could you sing this? It is a beautiful piece of music."
Evelyn read it over.
"Yes," she said, "I can sing it, but it wants careful playing; the end
is a sort of little duet between the voice and the organ. If you don't
follow me exactly, the effect will be like this," and she showed what it
would be on the mute keyboard.
"You haven't confidence in my playing."
"Every confidence, Sister Mary John, but remember I don't know the
piece, and it is not easy. I think we had better try it over together."
"I should like to very much, but you will not sing with all your voice?"
"No, we'll just run through it...."
The nun followed in a sort of ecstasy, and when they came to what Evelyn
had called the duet, she played the beautiful antiphonal music looking
up at the singer. The second time Evelyn was surer of herself, and she
let her voice flow out a little in suave vocalisation, so that she might
judge of the effect.
"I told you that I had never heard anyone sing before. If you were one
Evelyn laughed, and then, catching sight of the nun's eyes fixed very
intently upon her, she spoke of the beauty of the "Ave Maria," and was
surprised that she did not know anything of Cherubini's.
"Gracious, how the time has gone! That is the first bell for vespers."
She hurried away, forgetting all about Evelyn, leaving her to find her
way back to her room as best she could. But Evelyn found Sister Mary
John waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. She had come back for
her, she had just remembered her, and Sister Mary John apologised for
her absence of mind, and seemed distressed at her apparent rudeness.
They walked a little way together, and the nun explained that it was not
her fault; her absence of mind was an inheritance from her father.
Everything she had she had inherited from him--"my love of music and my
absence of mind."
She was intensely herself, quaint, eccentric, but she was, Evelyn
reflected, perhaps more distinctly from the English upper classes than
any of the nuns she had seen yet. She had not the sweetness of manner of
the Reverend Mother, her manners were the oddest; but withal she had
that refinement which Evelyn had first noticed in Owen, and afterwards
in his friends, that style which is inheritance, which tradition alone
can give. She had spoken of her father, and Evelyn could easily imagine
Sister Mary John's father--a lord of old lineage dwelling in an
eighteenth century house in the middle of a flat park in the Midlands.
She could see a piece of artificial lake obtained by the damming of a
small stream; one end full of thick reeds, in which the chatter of wild
ducks was unceasing. But her family, her past, her name--all was lost in
the convent, in the veil. The question was, had she renounced the world,
or had she refused the world? Evelyn could not even conjecture. Sister
Mary John was outside not only of her experience, but also of her
present perception of things. Evelyn wondered why one of such marked
individuality, of such intense personal will, had chosen a life the very
_raison d'etre_ of which was the merging of the individual will in the
will of the community? Why should one, the essential delight of whose
life was music, choose a life in which music hardly appeared? Was her
piety so great that it absorbed every other inclination? Sister Mary
John did not strike her as being especially religious. What instinct
behind those brown eyes had led her to this sacrifice? Apparently at
pains to conceal nothing, Sister Mary John concealed the essential.
Evelyn could even imagine her as being attractive to men--that radiant
smile, the beautiful teeth, and the tall, supple figure, united to that
distinct personality, would not have failed to attract. God did not get
her because men did not want her, of that Evelyn was quite sure.
There were on that afternoon assembled in the little white chapel of the
Passionist Sisters about a dozen elderly ladies, about nine or ten stout
ladies dressed in black, who might be widows, and perhaps three or four
spare women who wore a little more colour in their hats; these might be
spinsters, of ages varying between forty and fifty-five. Amid these
Evelyn was surprised and glad to perceive three or four young men; they
did not look, she thought, particularly pious, and perceiving that they
wore knickerbockers, she judged them to be cyclists who had ridden up
from Richmond Park. They had come in probably to rest, having left
their machines at the inn. Even though she was converted, she did not
wish to sing only to women, and it amused her to perceive that something
of the original Eve still existed in her. But if any one of these young
men should happen to have any knowledge of music, he could hardly fail
to notice that it was not a nun who was singing. He would ride away
astonished, mystified; he would seek the explanation of the mystery, and
would bring his friend to hear the wonderful voice at the Passionist
Convent. By the time he came again she would be gone, and his friend
would say that he had had too much to drink that afternoon at the inn.
They would not be long in finding an explanation; but should there
happen to be a journalist there, he would put a paragraph in the papers,
and all sorts of people would come to the convent and go away
She looked round the church, calculating its resonance, and thought with
how much of her voice she should sing so as to produce an effect
without, however, startling the little congregation. The sermon seemed
to her very long; she was unable to fix her attention, and though all
Father Daly said was very edifying, her thoughts wandered, and wonderful
legends and tales about a voice heard for one week at the Wimbledon
Convent thronged her brain, and she invented quite a comic little
episode, in which some dozen or so of London managers met at
Benediction. She thought that their excuses one to the other would be
She was wearing the black lace scarf instead of a hat; it went well with
the grey alpaca, and under it was her fair hair; and when she got up to
go to the organ loft after the sermon, she felt that the old ladies and
the bicyclists were already wondering who she was. Her involuntary
levity annoyed her, and she forced a certain seriousness upon herself as
she climbed the steep spiral staircase.
"So you have found your way ... this is our choir," and she introduced
Evelyn to the five sisters, hurrying through their names in a low
whisper. "We don't sing the 'O Salutaris,' as there has been exposition.
We'll sing this hymn instead, and immediately after you'll sing the 'Ave
Maria'; it will take the place of the Litany."
Then the six pale voices began to wail out the hymn, wobbling and
fluctuating, the only steady voice being Sister Mary John's. Though
mortally afraid of the Latin syllables, Evelyn seconded Sister Mary
John's efforts, and the others, taking courage, sang better than usual.
Sister Mary John turned delighted from the organ, and, her eyes bright
with anticipation, said, "Now."
She played the introduction, Evelyn opened her music. The moment was one
of intense excitement among the five nuns. They had gathered together in
a group. The great singer who had saved their convent (had it not been
for her they would have been thrown back upon the world) was going to
sing. Evelyn knew what was passing in their minds, and was a little
nervous. She wished they would not look at her so, and she turned away
from them. Sister Mary John played the chord, and the voice began.
Owen often said that if Evelyn had two more notes in her voice she would
have ranked with the finest. She sang from the low A, and she could take
the high C. From B to B every note was clear and full, one as the other;
he delighted especially in the middle of her voice; for one whole
octave, and more than an octave, her voice was pure and sonorous and as
romantic as the finest 'cello. And the romance of her voice transpired
in the beautiful Beethoven-like phrase of Cherubini's "Ave Maria." It
was as if he had had her voice singing in his ear while he was writing,
when he placed the little grace notes on the last syllable of Maria. The
phrase rose, still remaining well within the medium of her voice, and
the same interval happened again as the voice swelled up on the word
"plena." In the beautiful classical melody her voice was like a 'cello
heard in the twilight. In the music itself there is neither belief nor
prayer, but a severe dignity of line, the romance of columns and
peristyle in the exaltation of a calm evening. Very gradually she poured
her voice into the song, and her lips seemed to achieve sculpture. The
lines of a Greek vase seemed to rise before the eye, and the voice
swelled on from note to note with the noble movement of the bas-relief
decoration of the vase. The harmonious interludes which Sister Mary John
played aided the excitement, and the nuns, who knelt in two grey lines,
were afraid to look up. In a remote consciousness they feared it was not
right to feel so keenly; the harmonious depth of the voice entered their
very blood, summoning visions of angel faces. But it was an old man with
a white beard that Veronica saw, a hermit in the wilderness; she was
bringing him vestments, and when the vision vanished Evelyn was singing
the opening phrase, now a little altered on the words Santa Maria.
There came the little duet between the voice and the organ, in which any
want of precision on the part of Sister Mary John would spoil the effect
of the song; but the nun's right hand answered Evelyn in perfect
concord. And then began the runs introduced in the Amen in order to
exhibit the skill of the singer. The voice was no longer a 'cello, deep
and resonant, but a lonely flute or silver bugle announcing some joyous
reverie in a landscape at the close of day. The song closed on the
keynote, and Sister Mary John turned from the instrument and looked at
the singer. She could not speak, she seemed overpowered by the music,
and like one more dreaming than waking, and sitting half turned round on
her seat, she looked at Evelyn.
"You sing beautifully," she said. "I never heard singing before."
And she sat like one stupefied, still hearing Evelyn's singing in her
brain, until one of the sisters advanced close and said, "Sister, we
must sing the 'Tantum ergo.'"
"Of course we must. I believe if you hadn't reminded me I should have
forgotten it. Gracious! I don't know what it will sound like after
singing like that. But you'll lead them?"
Evelyn hummed the plain chant under her breath, afraid lest she should
extinguish the pale voices, and surprised how expressive the antique
chant was when sung by these etiolated, sexless voices. She had never
known how much of her life of passion and desire had entered into her
voice, and she was shocked at its impurity. Her singing sounded like
silken raiment among sackcloth, and she lowered her voice, feeling it to
be indecorous and out of place in the antique hymn. Her voice, she felt,
must have revealed her past life to the nuns, her voice must have
shocked them a little; her voice must have brought the world before them
too vividly. For all her life was in her voice, she would never be able
to sing this hymn with the same sexless grace as they did. Her voice
would be always Evelyn Innes--Owen Asher's mistress.
The priest turned the Host toward them, and she saw the two long rows of
grey-habited nuns leaning their veiled heads, and knew that this was the
moment they lived for, the essential moment when the body which the
Redeemer gave in expiation of the sins of the world is revealed.
Evelyn's soul hushed in awe, and all that she had renounced seemed very
little in this moment of mystery and exaltation.
"What am I to say, Miss Innes? I shall think of this day when I am an
old woman. But you'll sing again before you leave?"
"Yes, sister, whenever you like."
"When I like? That would be all day. But I did follow you in the duet, I
was so anxious. I hope I did not spoil it?"
"I was never better accompanied. You made no mistake."
As they passed by her the other nuns thanked her under their breath. She
could see that they looked upon her as a providence sent by God to save
them from being cast back upon the world they dreaded, the world from
which they had fled. But all this extraordinary drama, this intensity of
feeling, remained inarticulate. They could only say, "Thank you, Miss
Innes; it was very good of you to come to sing for us." It was their
very dumbness that made them seem so wonderful. It was the dumbness of
these women--they could only speak in prayer--it was that that overcame
her. But the Reverend Mother was different. Evelyn listened to her,
thinking of nothing but her, and when the Reverend Mother left her,
Evelyn moved away, still under the spell of the authoritative sweetness
which her presence and manner exhaled. But the Reverend Mother was only
a part of a scheme of life founded on principles the very opposite to
those on which she had attempted to construct her life. Even in singing
the "Ave Maria," she had not been able to subdue her vanity. Her
pleasure in singing it had in a measure sprung out of the somewhat mean
desire to proclaim her superiority over those who had attained the
highest plane by renouncing all personal pride. They had proclaimed
their superiority in their obeisance. It was in giving, not in
receiving, praise that we rise above ourselves. This was the lesson that
every moment of her convent life impressed upon her. Her thoughts went
back to the Reverend Mother, and Evelyn thought of her as of some woman
who had come to some terrible crisis in her worldly life--some crisis
violent as the crisis that had come in her own life. The Reverend Mother
must have perceived, just as she had done, as all must do sooner or
later, that life out of the shelter of religion becomes a sort of
nightmare, an intolerable torture. Then she wondered if the Reverend
Mother were a widow--that appeared to her likely. One who had suffered
some great disaster--that too seemed to her likely. She had been an
ambitious woman. Was she not so still? Is a passion ever obliterated? Is
it not rather transformed? If she had been personally ambitious, she was
now ambitious only for her convent: her passion had taken another
direction. And applying the same reasoning to herself, she seemed to see
a future for herself in which her love passions would become transformed
and find their complete expressions in the love of God.
The Reverend Mother again addressed her, and Evelyn considered what age
she might be. Between sixty and seventy in point of years, but she
seemed so full of intelligence, wisdom and sweetness that she did not
suggest age; one did not think of her as an old woman. Her slight figure
still retained its grace, and though a small woman, she suggested a tall
one; and the moment she spoke there was the voice which drew you like
silk and entangled you as in a soft winding web. Evelyn smiled a little
as she listened, for she was thinking how the Reverend Mother as a young
woman must have swayed men. Presumably at one time it had pleased her to
sway men's passion, or at least it pleased Evelyn's imagination to think
it had. Not that she thought the Reverend Mother had ever been anything
but a good woman, but she had been a woman of the world, and Evelyn
attributed no sin to that. Even the world is not wholly bad; the
Reverend Mother and Monsignor owed their personal magnetism to the
world. Without the world they would have been like Father Daly and
Mother Philippa--holy simplicities. She looked at the quiet nun, and her
simple good nature touched her. Evelyn went toward her. Sister Mary John
broke into the conversation so often that the Reverend Mother had once
to check her.
"Sister Mary John, we hope that Miss Innes will sing to-morrow and every
day while she is with us. But she must do as she likes, and these
musical questions are not what we are talking about now."
But Sister Mary John was hardly at all abashed at this reproof. She was
clearly the only one who stood in no awe of the Reverend Mother.
They were sitting on the terrace, and a mauve sunset faded in the grey
sky. There was a strange wistfulness in the autumn air and in the dim
garden where the gentle nuns were taking their recreation. There was a
subtle harmony in the grey habits and floating veils; they blended and
mingled with the blue mist that was rising among the trees. And a pale
light fell across the faded lawns, and Evelyn looked into the light, and
felt the pang that the passing of things brings into the heart. This
spectacle of life seemed to her strangely pathetic, and it seemed to
mean something which eluded her, and which she would have given a great
deal to have been able to express. Music alone could express the
yearning that haunted her heart, the plaint of the Rhine Maidens was the
nearest to what she felt, and she began to sing their song. Sister Mary
John asked her eagerly what she was singing. She would have told her,
but the Reverend Mother grew impatient with Sister Mary John.
"You must be introduced to Mother Mary Hilda, our novice mistress, then
you will know all the mothers except our dear Mother Christina, who is
quite an invalid now, and rarely leaves her cell."
On St. Peter's path a little group of nuns were walking up and down,
pressing round a central figure. They were faint grey shadows, and their
meaning would not be distinguished in the violet dusk. It was like a
half-effaced picture in which the figures are nearly lost in the
background; their voices, however, sounded clear, and their laughter was
mysterious and far distant, yet distinct in the heart. Evelyn again
began to hum the plaint of the Rhine Maidens. But the voices of the
novices were more joyous, for they, Evelyn thought, have renounced both
love and gold. The Reverend Mother clapped her hands to attract
attention, and one of the novices, it was Sister Veronica, ran to them.
"Ask Mother Mary Hilda to come and speak to me, Veronica."
"Yes, Reverend Mother;" and Veronica ran with the message without once
looking at Evelyn. Mother Mary Hilda crossed the lawn toward them, and
Evelyn noticed her gliding, youthful walk. She was younger than the
prioress or even the sub-prioress. And she had that attractive
youthfulness of manner which often survives in the cloister after middle
"Here is Miss Innes," said the prioress; "I know you wished to make her
Evelyn noticed the bright eyes and the small, clearly cut nose and the
pointed chin, but her liveliest sensation was of Mother Hilda's hand; so
small was it and soft that it seemed like a little crushed bird in
Evelyn's hand, and Evelyn did not think that hers was a large hand.
"I am sure, Miss Innes, you feel that you have been thanked sufficiently
for all you have done for us, but you'll forgive us if we feel that we
cannot thank you often enough. Your singing at Benediction to-day was a
great pleasure to us all. Whose 'Ave Maria' was it, Miss Innes?"
Evelyn told them, and thinking it would interest the nuns, she admitted
that her father would not allow it to be sacred music. This led the
conversation on to the question of Palestrina, and how the old music had
rescued the Jesuits from their pecuniary embarrassments. A casual
mention of Wagner showed her that the Reverend Mother was interested,
and she said that she might sing them Elizabeth's prayer. Evelyn spoke
of the Chorale in the first act of the "Meistersinger," and this led her
into quite a little account of the music she sang on the stage. It
pleased her to notice the different effect of her account of her art on
the four nuns. The conversation, she could see, carried the prioress
back into the past, but she put aside these memories of long ago and
affected a polite interest in the stage. Mother Philippa listened as she
might to a story, too far removed from her for her to be more than
vaguely interested; Sister Mary John listened in the hopes that Evelyn
would illustrate her experience with some few bars of the music--with
her it was the music and nothing else; Mother Mary Hilda listened very
prettily, and Evelyn noticed that it was she who asked the most
questions. Mother Mary Hilda was the most fearless, and showed the least
dread in the conversation. Yet for no single moment did Evelyn think
that she was the worldliest of the four nuns. Evelyn thought that
probably she was the least. Her trivial utterances were the necessity of
the unimportant moment, and she seemed to bring to them the
enlightenment of her own vivid faith. The holiness that shone out of her
eyes inspired the calm, tender smile, and was in her whole manner. "She
speaks," Evelyn thought, "of worldly things without affectation, but how
clear it is that they lie outside, far outside, of her real life."
Evelyn was saying that it was a long while since she had sung any sacred
music, and, referring to the difference of the rule in France and in
England, she mentioned that in Paris the opera singers frequently sang
in the churches.
"It must be hard on Catholics with beautiful voices like yours that they
may not be allowed to sing in church choirs, for there can be nothing
so delightful as to bring a great gift to God's service."
It was the prioress who broke off the conversation, to Evelyn's regret.
"Mother Hilda, I am afraid we are forgetting your young charges."
"Yes, indeed, I must run back to my children. Good-bye, Miss Innes, I am
so glad that you have come to us;" and the warm, soft clasp of the
little hand was to Evelyn a further assurance of friendly welcome.
She was ashamed not to be able to follow the Office in chapel, so at the
Reverend Mother's suggestion she consented to employ part of her long
convent leisure in taking lessons in Latin. Mother Mary Hilda was to be
The library was a long, rather narrow room, once the drawing-room of the
Georgian mansion. Only a carved Adams' chimney-piece, now painted over
in imitation of oak remained of its former adornment; the tall windows
were eighteenth century, and with that air they looked upon the terrace.
The walls had been lined by the nuns with plain wooden shelves, and upon
them were what seemed to be a thousand books, every one in a grey linen
wrapper, with the title neatly written on a white label pasted on the
back. Evelyn's first thought was of the time it must have taken to cover
them, but she remembered that in a convent time is of no consequence. If
a thing can be done better in three hours than in one, there is no
reason why three hours should not be spent upon it. She had noticed,
too, that the sisters regarded the library with a little air of demure
pride. Mother Mary Hilda had told her that the large tin boxes were
filled with the convent archives. There were piles of unbound
magazines--the _Month_ and the _Dublin Review_. There was a ponderous
writing-table, with many pigeon-holes; Evelyn concluded it to be the
gift of a wealthy convert, and she turned the immense globe which showed
the stars and planets, and wondered how the nuns had become possessed of
such a thing, and how they could have imagined that it could ever be of
any use to them. She grew fond of this room, and divided her time
between it and the garden. It had none of the primness of the convent
parlour, which gave her a little shiver every time she entered it. In
the further window there stood a deep-seated, venerable arm-chair,
covered in worn green leather, the one comfortable chair, Evelyn often
thought, in the convent. And in this chair she spent many hours, either
learning to construe the Office with Mother Mary Hilda, or reading by
herself. The investigation of the shelves was an occupation, and the
time went quickly, taking down book after book, and she seemed to
penetrate further into the spirit of the convent through the medium of
the convent books.
The light literature of the convent were improving little tales of
conversion, and edifying stories of Catholic girls who decline to enter
into mixed marriages, and she thought of the novices reading this
artless literature on Sunday afternoons. There were endless volumes of
meditations, mostly translations from the French, full of Gallicisms and
parenthetical phrases, and Evelyn often began a paragraph a second time;
but in spite of her efforts to control her thoughts they wandered, and
her eyes, lost in reverie, were fixed on the sunny garden.
She returned the volumes to the shelves, and remembering Mother Mary
Hilda's recommendation, she took down a volume of Faber's works. She
found his effusive, sentimental style unendurable; and had turned to go
to her room for one of the books she had brought with her when her eyes
lighted upon Father Dalgairn's _Frequent Communion_. The father's
account of the various customs of the Church regarding the
administration of the Sacrament--the early rigorism of the African
fathers, and the later rigorism of the Jansenists at once interested
her, and, lifting her eyes from the book, she remembered that the
Sacrament had always been the central light around which the spiritual
belief of the church had revolved. Her instinctive religion had always
been the Sacrament. When Huxley and Darwin and Spencer had undermined
the foundations of her faith, and the entire fabric of revelation was
showering about her, her belief in the Divine Presence had remained,
burning like a lamp, inviolate among the debris of a temple. She had
never been able to resist the Sacrament. She had put her belief in the
mystery of transubstantiation to the test, and when the sanctus bell
rang, her head had solemnly bowed; softer than rose leaves or
snowflakes, belief had rained down upon her choked heart. She had never
been able to reason about the Divine Presence--she felt it. She had
believed whether she willed it or not. Owen's arguments had made no
difference. Her desire of the Sacrament had more than once altered the
course of her life, and that she should have unconsciously wandered back
to the Passionist Convent, a convent vowed to Perpetual Adoration,
seemed to her to be full of significance.
Father Dalgairn's book had made clear to her that wherever she went and
whatever she did she would always believe in the Divine Presence. His
book had discovered to her the instinctive nature of her belief in the
Sacrament, but it had not widened her spiritual perceptions, still less
her artistic: the delicious terror and irresistible curiosity which she
experienced on opening St. Teresa's _Book of Her Life_ she had never
experienced before. It was like re-birth, being born to a new
experience, to a purer sensation of life. It was like throwing open the
door of a small, confined garden, and looking upon the wide land of the
world. It was like breathing the wide air of eternity after that of a
close-scented room. She knew that she was not capable of such pure
ecstasy, yet it seemed to her very human to think and feel like this;
and the saint's holy rapture seemed as natural--she thought for a
moment--even more natural, even more truly human than the rapture which
she had found in sinful love.
Before she had read a dozen pages, she seemed to know her like her own
soul, though yet unaware whether the saint lived in this century or a
dozen centuries ago. For all she said about the material facts of her
life St. Teresa might be alive to-day and in England. She lived in
aspiration, out of time and place; and like one who, standing upon a
hill top, sees a bird soaring, a wild bird with the light of the heavens
upon its wings, Evelyn seemed to see this soul waving its wings in its
flight towards God. The soul sang love, love, love, and heaven was
overflowed with cries for its Divine Master, for its adorable Master,
for its Bridegroom-elect.
The extraordinary vehemence and passion, the daring realism of St.
Teresa reminded Evelyn of Vittoria. She found the same unrestrained
passionate realism in both; she thought of Belasquez's early pictures,
and then of Ribera. Then of Ulick, who had told her that the great
artist dared everything. St. Teresa had dared everything. She had dared
even to discriminate between the love of God the Father and God the Son.
It was God the Father that inspired in her the highest ecstasy, the most
complete abandonment of self. In these supreme moments the human form of
Jesus Christ was a hindrance, as in a lower level of spiritual
exaltation it was a help.
"The moment my prayer began to pass from the natural to the
supernatural, I strove to obliterate from my soul every physical
obstacle. To lift my soul up, to contemplate, I dared not; aware of my
imperfection it seemed over bold. Nevertheless I knew the presence of
God to be about me, and I tried to gather myself in him. And nothing
could then induce me to return to the sacred humanity of the Saviour."
But how touching is the saint's repentance for this infidelity to the
"O Lord of my soul, of all my goods, Jesus crucified, I shall never
remember without pain that I once thought this thing. I shall think of
it as a great treason, and I stand convicted before the Good Master; and
though it proceeded from my ignorance, I shall never expiate it with
Just as every variation of habit, of fashion is noticeable to those who
live outside themselves, so the changes and complexities in the life of
the soul are perceived by them who live within themselves. The saint
relates how for many months she refrained from prayer, and as we know
that prayer was the source of all her joy, a joy touching ecstasy, often
above the earth and resplendent with vision, we can imagine the anguish
that these abstinences must have caused her.
"To destroy confidence in God the Demon spread a snare, his most
insidious snare. He persuaded me that owing to my imperfections I could
not, without being wanting in humility, present myself in prayer to God.
This caused me such anguish that for a year and a half I refrained. For
at least a year, for the six months following I am not sure of my
memory. Unfortunate one, what did I do! By my own act I plunged myself
in hell without demons being about to drag me there."
This scruple is followed by others. The saint suspects the entire
holiness of her joy in prayer, and she asks if these transports, these
ravishments, these moments in which she lies exhausted in the arms of
the Beloved Bridegroom, were contrived by the Demon or if they were
granted to her by God. Her anxiety is great, and men learned in holy
doctrine are consulted. They incline to the belief that her visions
proceed from God, and encourage her to persevere. Then she cries to her
Divine Master, to the Lord of her soul, to her adorable Master, to the
"Cannot we say of a soul to whom God extends this solicitude and these
delicacies of love that the soul has made for our Lord a bed of roses
and lilies, and that it is impossible that this adorable Master will not
come, though he may delay, and take his delight with her."
This saint, in whom religion was genius, was one of Ulick's most
unqualified admirations. He never spoke of her that his voice did not
acquire an accent of conviction, or without alluding to the line of an
old English poet, who had addressed her:
'Oh, thou undaunted daughter of desires.'
She recalled with a smile his contempt of the Austins and the Eliots,
those most materialistic writers, he would say, whose interest in
humanity and whose knowledge of it is limited to social habits and
customs. But St. Teresa he placed among the highest writers, among the
great visionaries. "Her desire sings," he said, "like the sea and the
winds, and it breaks like fire about God's feet." He had said that the
soul that flashed from her pages was more intense than any soul in
Shakespeare or Balzac. "They had created many, she but one incomparable
soul--her own, and in surging drift of vehement aspiration, and in
recession of temporal things we hear the singing of the stars, the
beating of the eternal pulse."
On Friday she had finished the autobiography, and before going into the
garden she took down another of the saint's works, _The Way of
Perfection_, intending to look through it in some sunny corner.
She had slipped easily into the early hours of the convent. After
breakfast she had the morning to herself, and she divided it between the
library and the garden. The leaves were beginning to fall, and in the
thinning branches there seemed to be an appearance of spring. From St.
Peter's walk she strolled into the orchard, and then into the piece of
uncultivated ground at the end of it. Some of the original furze bushes
remained, and among these a streamlet trickled through the long grasses,
and following it she found that it led her to the fish pond in the
shrubbery, at the back of St. Peter's walk. There was there a pleasant,
shady place, where she could sit and read. She stood for a moment
watching the fish. They were so tame that they would take the bread from
the novices' hands. She had brought some bread, but she had to throw it
to them. She divided it amongst them, not forgetting to favour the
little ones, and she thought it strange that they could distinguish her
from the novices. That much they knew of the upper air. The fish watched
her out of their beady eyes, stirring in their dim atmosphere with a
strange, finny motion.
At that hour of the day the sun was warm enough to sit out; the little
shiver in the air was not unpleasant; and sitting on the garden bench,
she opened her book in a little tremor of excitement. Her thoughts
fluttered, and she strove to imagine what book the saint could have
written to justify so beautiful a title. Her expectations were realised.
The character of the book is clearly defined in the first pages: she
perceived it to be a complete manual of convent life, a perfect
compendium of a nun's soul. On its pages lay that shadowy, evanescent
and hardly apprehensible thing--the soul of a nun, only the soul, not a
word regarding her daily life: any mother-abbess could have written such
a materialistic book: St. Teresa, with the instinct of her genius,
addressed herself to the task which none but she could fulfil--the
evolution of a nun's soul. And as Evelyn read she marked the passages
that specially caught her attention.
"Do not imagine, my daughters, that it is useless to pray, as you
are constantly praying, for the defenders of the Church: Have a
care lest you should share the opinion of certain folk to whom it
seems hard that they should not pray much oftener for themselves.
Believe me that no prayer is better or more profitable than that of
which I am speaking. Perhaps you fear that it will not go to
diminish the pains which you will suffer in purgatory: I answer
that such prayer is too holy and too pleasing to God to be useless.
Even if the time of your expiation should be a little longer--well,
let it be so."
"Oh, to be good like that," she thought. And her soul raised its eyes
in a little shy emulation.... A few pages further on she read--
"That all may take heed. For neglect of this counsel a nun may find
herself in an entanglement from which she may not find strength to
free herself. And then, great God! What feebleness, what puerile
complaisances this particular friendship may not be the source. It
is impossible to say what number, none but an eye-witness may
believe. They are but trifles, and I see no reason for specifying
them here. I merely add: in whosoever it is found it is an evil, in
a superior it is a plague spot....
"An excellent remedy is to be together only at those times enjoined
by the rule, on other occasions to refrain from speech, as is now
our custom, and to live separately each in her cell as the rule
ordains. And, although it be a praiseworthy custom to unite for
work in a community room, I desire that the nuns of the convent of
St. Joseph shall be freed from this custom, for it is much easier
to keep silence if each works in her cell. Moreover, it is of the
first importance to accustom oneself to solitude, in order to
advance oneself in prayer; and as prayer should be the mortar of
this monastery, we should cherish all that which increases the
spirit in us."
Glancing down the pages, her eyes were arrested by a passage of even
more subtle, more penetrating wisdom.
"Would you know a certain sign, my daughters, by which you may
judge of your progress in virtue? Let each one look within herself
and discover if she believes herself to be the unworthiest of you
all, and if for the benefit of the others she makes it visible by
her actions that she really thinks that this is so, that is the
certain sign of spiritual advancement, and not delight in prayer,
nor ravishment, nor visions, and such like favours which God grants
to souls when he is so pleased. We shall only know the value of
such favours in the next world. It is not so with
humility--humility is a money which is always current, it is safely
invested capital, a perpetual income; but extraordinary favours are
money which is lent for a time and may at any moment be called in.
I repeat, our true treasure is profound humility, great
mortification, and an obedience which, seeing God in the superior,
submits to his every order."
The saint's delicate yet virile perception, and her power of expressing
the shadowy and evanescent, filled Evelyn with admiration; and the saint
appeared to her in the light of a great novelist; she wondered if Balzac
had ever read these pages.
"The best remedy, in my opinion, that a nun can employ to conquer
the imperfect affection which she still bears her parents, is to
abstain from seeing them until by patient prayer she has obtained
from God the freedom of her soul; when she is so disposed that
their visit is a cross, let her see them by all means. For then she
will bring good to their souls, and do no harm to her own."
This seemed not a little grim. But how touching is the personal
confession which appears on the following page.
"My parents loved me extremely, according to what they said, and I
loved them in a way that did not allow them to forget me.
Nevertheless I have seen from what has happened to me, and what has
happened to other nuns, how little we may count upon their
affection for us."
The unselfishness of such conduct seemed open to doubt. But
unselfishness is a word that none may speak without calling into
question the entire conduct of his or her life. Evelyn remembered that
she had left her father for the sake of her voice, and that she had
refused to marry Owen because marriage, especially marriage with Owen,
did not seem compatible with her soul's safety. Looked at from a certain
side, her life did seem self-centred, but allowance, she thought, must
be made for the difficulties--the entanglements in which the first false
step had involved her. But in any case she must not question the
efficacy of prayer, that was a dogma of the Church. The mission of the
contemplative orders is to pray for those who do not pray for
themselves, and if we believe in the efficacy of prayer, we need not
scruple to leave our parents to live in a monastery where, by our
prayers, we held them to eternal salvation. We leave them for a little
while, but only that we may live with them for ever.
"Believe me, my dear sisters, if you serve him well you will not
find better parents than those the Divine Master sends you. I know
that it is even so."
"What beauty there is in her sternness," Evelyn thought.
"I repeat that those whose trend is toward worldly things and who
do not make progress in virtue, shall leave this monastery; should
she persist in remaining a nun let her enter another convent; for
if she doesn't she will see what will happen to her. Nor must she
complain about me; nor accuse me of not having make known to her
the practical life of the monastery I founded. If there is an
earthly paradise it is in this house, but only for souls who desire
nothing but to please God, who have no thought for themselves; for
these the life here is infinitely agreeable."
This passage is one of the very few in which appears the wise, practical
woman, the founder of an order and of many monasteries, who lived side by
side in the same body, the constant associate of the lyrical saint.
Evelyn tried to picture her to herself, and two pictures alternated in
her thoughts. She saw deep, eager, passionate eyes, and a frail,
exhausted body borne along easily by the soul, and doing the work of the
unconquerable soul. In the second picture, there were the same consuming
eyes, the same wasted body, but the expression was quite different. The
saint's manner was the liveliest, happiest manner, and Evelyn thought of
the privilege of such companionship, and she envied those who had walked
with her, hearing her speak.
The little pond at her feet was full of fair reflections of the sky and
trees, and the idea of convent life lay on the pages of the book even as
fair. In itself it was disparate and vague, but on the pages of the book
it floated clear and distinct. She asked if any of the Wimbledon nuns
lived a life of that intense inward rapture which St. Teresa deemed
essential if a sister were to be allowed to remain in the convent of St.
Joseph at Avila, and the coincidence of the names gave her pause. This
convent's patron saint was St. Joseph, and she sought for some
resemblance between the Reverend Mother and St. Teresa. She wondered if
she, Evelyn, were a nun, towards which of the nuns would her personal
sympathies incline: would she love better Sister Veronica or Sister Mary
John? It might be Mother Mary Hilda. It would be one of the three. There
was not one among the others likely to interest her in the least. She
tried to imagine this friendship: it assumed a vague shape and then
dissolved in the distance. But would the Reverend Mother tolerate this
friendship, or would it be promptly cut down to the root according to
the advice of St. Teresa?
Her thoughts pursued their way, now and then splashing as they leaped
out of the soul's dimness. Only the splashing of the fish broke the
stillness of the garden, and startled at a sudden gurgling sound, she
rose, in time to see a shadowy shape sinking with a motion of fins amid
the weeds. That she should be living in a convent, that she should have
repented of her sins, that the fish should leap and fall back with
strange, gurgling sound, filled her with wonderment. The vague autumn
blue expressed some vague yearning, some indistinct aspiration; the air
was like crystal, the leaves were falling.... We have perceptions of the
outer forms of things, but that is all we know of them. The only thing
we are sure of is what is in ourselves. We know the difference between
right and wrong. She stood for a long time at the edge of the fish pond,
gazing into the vague depths. Then she walked, exalted, overcome by the
mystery of things. She seemed to walk upon air, the world was a-thrill
with spiritual significances, all was symbol and exaltation. Her past
life shrank to a tiny speck, and she knew that she had been happy only
since she had been in the convent. Ah, that little chapel, haunted by
prayers! it breathed prayer, in that chapel contemplation was never far
off. She had prayed there as she had never prayed before, and she
wondered if she should attribute the difference in her prayers to the
chapel or to herself. She had always felt, in a dumb, instinctive way,
that to her at least everything depended on her chastity.... She had
been chaste now a long while. The explanation seemed to have come to
her. Yes, it is by denial of the sexual instinct that we become
As she passed through the orchard she caught sight of the strange little
person whom she had seen in chapel with a pile of prayer books beside
her, and who always wore something startlingly blue, whether skirt,
handkerchief or cloak. She had met her in the garden before, but she had
hurried away, her eyes fixed on the ground. Mother Philippa had spoken
of a Miss Dingle, a simple-minded person who had been sent by her family
to the convent to be looked after by the nuns, and Evelyn concluded that
it must be she. But at that moment other thoughts engaged her attention;
and she lingered in the orchard, returning slowly by St. Peter's walk.
As she passed the Georgian temple or summer-house, she was taken by a
desire to examine it, and there she found Miss Dingle. She was seated on
the floor, engaged, so Evelyn thought, in a surreptitious game of
Patience. That was only how she could account for Miss Dingle's
consternation and fear at seeing her. But what she had taken for cards
were pious pictures. Evelyn stood in the doorway, and for the first time
had an opportunity of seeing what Miss Dingle was really like. It was
difficult to say whether her face was ugly or pretty; the features were
not amiss--it was the expression, vague and dim like that of an animal,
that puzzled Evelyn.
"Please let me help you to pick up your pictures." Miss Dingle did not
answer, and Evelyn feared for a moment that she had offended her. "Won't
you let me help you to pick up your pictures?"
"Yes," she said, "you may help me to pick them up, but you must be very
"But why must I be quick? Are you in such a very great hurry?"
Miss Dingle seemed uncertain of her own thoughts, and to reassure her,
Evelyn asked her if she would not like to walk with her in the orchard.
"Oh," she said, looking at Evelyn shyly--it was a sort of child-like
curiosity, "I dare not go into the orchard to-day.... I brought these
pictures to keep him from me. I know that he is about."
"Who is about?"
"I'm afraid he might hurt me."
"But who would hurt you?"
"Well," she said cautiously, "perhaps he'd be afraid to come near me
to-day," and she glanced at her frock. "But I'm sure he's about. Did
you see any one as you came through the furze bushes?"
"No," Evelyn answered; and trying to conceal her astonishment, she said,
"I'm sure there's no one there."
"Ah, he knows it would be useless." She glanced again at her frock. "You
see my blue skirt, that has perhaps frightened him away."
"But who has gone away?"
"Oh, the devil is always about."
"But you don't think he would hurt you?"
Miss Dingle looked suspiciously at Evelyn, and some dim thought whether
Evelyn was the devil in disguise must have crossed her mind. But
whatever the thought was, it was but a flitting thought; it passed in a
moment, and Miss Dingle said--"But the devil is always trying to hurt
us. That is what he comes for."
"So that is why you surrounded yourself with pious pictures--to keep him
Miss Dingle nodded.
"What a nice dress you have on. I suppose you like blue. I always notice
you wear it."
"I wear blue, as much blue as I can, for blue is the colour of the
Virgin Mary, and he dare not attack me while I have it on. But I wear
sometimes only a handkerchief, sometimes only a skirt, but now that he
is about so frequently, I have to dress entirely in blue."
Evelyn asked her if she had lived in the convent long, and Miss Dingle
told her she had lived there for the last three or four years, but she
would give no precise answer when Evelyn asked if she hoped to become a
nun, or whether she liked her home or the convent the better.
"Now," she said, "I must really go and say some prayers in the church."
Evelyn offered to accompany her, but she said she was well armed, and
showed Evelyn several rosaries, which in case of need she would wave in
Sister Mary John was digging in the kitchen garden, and Evelyn told her
how she had come upon Miss Dingle in the summer-house surrounded by
pious pictures. Leaning on her spade, Sister Mary John looked across the
beds thinking, and Evelyn wondered of what. She said at last that Miss
Dingle thought too much of the devil.
"We should not waste thoughts on him, all our thoughts should be for
God; there is much more pleasure and profit in such thoughts."
"But it does seem a little absurd to imagine that the devil is hiding
behind gooseberry bushes."
"The devil is everywhere, temptation is always near."
Evelyn saw that the nun did not care for discussion on the subject of
the devil's objectivity, and in the pause in the conversation she
noticed Sister Mary John's enormous boots. They looked like a man's
boots, and she had a full view of them, for Sister Mary John wore her
skirt very short, so that she might be able to dig with greater ease.
"One of the disadvantages of convent life are the few facilities it
affords for exercise and for music," she added, with her beautiful
smile. "I must have exercise, I can't live without it.... It is
extraordinary how differently people are constituted. There is Mother
Mary Hilda, she had never been for what I should call a good sharp walk
in her life, and she does not know what an ache or a pain is."
The nun pointed with admiration to the bed which she had dug up that
morning, and complained of the laziness of the gardener: he had not done
this nor that, but he was such a good man--since he became a Catholic.
"He and I used to talk about things while we were at work: he said that
he had never had it properly explained to him that there should only be
one true religion.
"Since he became a Catholic, has he not done as much work as he used to
"No, I'm afraid he has not," Sister Mary John answered. "Indeed, we have
been thinking of sending him away, but it would be difficult for him to
get another Catholic situation, and his faith would be endangered if he
lived among Protestants."
At this moment they were interrupted by a loud caw, and looking round,
Evelyn saw the convent jackdaw. The bird had hopped within a few yards,
cawing all the while, evidently desirous of attracting their attention.
With grey head a-slanted, the bird watched them out of sly eyes. "Pay no
attention to him; you'll see what he'll do," said Sister Mary John, and
while Evelyn waited, a little afraid of the bird who seemingly had
selected her for some purpose of his own, she listened to the story of
his domestication. He had been hatched out in the hen-house, and had
tamed himself; he had declined to go wild, preferring a sage convent
life to the irregularity of the world. The bird hopped about, feigning
an interest in the worms, but getting gradually nearer the two women. At
last, with a triumphant caw caw, he flew on to Sister Mary John's
shoulder, eyeing Evelyn all the while, clearly bent on making her
"He'll come on your shoulder presently," said Sister Mary John, and
after some plausive coquetting the bird fluttered on to Evelyn's
shoulder, and Sister Mary John said--
"You wait; you'll see what he will do."
Evelyn remained quite still, feeling the bird's bill caressing her neck.
When she looked round she noticed a wicked expression gathering in his
"Pretend," said Sister Mary John, "not to see him."
Evelyn did as she was bidden, and, satisfied that he was no longer
observed, the bird plunged his beak into Evelyn's hair, pulled at it as
hard as he could, and then flew away, cawing with delight.
"That is one of his favourite tricks. We are so fond of him, and so
afraid that one day a cat will take him. But there is Mother Mary Hilda
coming to fetch you for your lesson."
Evelyn bade Sister Mary John good-bye, and went forward to meet her
The morning seemed full of adventure. There were Miss Dingle, her pious
pictures, and the devil behind the gooseberry bushes. There was the
picturesque figure of Sister Mary John, digging, making ready for the
winter cabbages. There was the jackdaw, his story and his humours, and
there was her discovery of the genius of St. Teresa. All these things
had happened that morning, and Evelyn walked a little elated, her heart
full of spiritual enthusiasm. The project was already astir in her for
the acquisition of an edition in the original Spanish, and she looked
forward to a study of that language as a pleasant and suitable
occupation when she returned to London. She questioned Mother Mary Hilda
regarding the merits of the English translation; the French, she said,
she could read no longer. She described the worthy father's prose as
asthmatic; she laughed at his long, wheezy sentences, but Sister Mary
Hilda seemed inclined to set store on the Jesuit's pious intentions. The
spirit was more essential than the form, and it was with this argument
on their lips they sat down to the Latin lesson. The nun had opened the
book, and Evelyn was about to read the first sentence, when, raising her
eyes and voice, she said--
"Oh! Mother Mary Hilda, you've forgotten ... this is my last lesson, I
am going away to-morrow."
"Even so it need not be the last lesson; you will come and see us during
the winter, if you are in London. I don't remember that you said that
you are going abroad to sing."
"Mother Mary Hilda, I'm thinking of leaving the stage."
The nun turned the leaves of the breviary, and it seemed to Evelyn that
she dreaded the intrusion on her thoughts of a side of life the very
existence of which she had almost succeeded in forgetting; and, feeling
a little humbled, Evelyn applied herself to the lesson. And it was just
as Mary Hilda's hand closed the books that the door opened and the
Reverend Mother entered, bringing, it seemed, a new idea and a new
conception of life into the room. Mother Mary Hilda gathered up her
books, and having answered the Reverend Mother's questions in her own
blithe voice, each word illuminated by the happy smile which Evelyn
thought so beautiful, withdrew like an apparition.
The Reverend Mother took the place that Mother Mary Hilda had left, and
by her very manner of sitting down, showed that she had come on some
"Miss Innes, I have come to ask you not to leave to-morrow. If you are
not already tired of our life, it would give us great pleasure if you
would stay with us till Monday."
"It is very good of you to ask me to stay, I have been very happy;
indeed, I dread returning; it is difficult to return to the life of the
world after having seen what your life is here."
"We should only be too happy if you will prolong your stay. You are free
to remain as long as you please."
"Thank you, Reverend Mother, it is very good of you, but I cannot live
here in idleness, walking about the garden. What should I do if it were
"It looks like rain to-day. We have had a long term of fine weather."
The nun's old white hand lay on the table, a little crippled, but still
a nervous, determined hand, and the pale, sparkling eyes looked so deep
into the enigma of Evelyn's soul that she lost her presence of mind; her
breath came more quickly, and she hastily remembered that this retreat
now drawing to a close had solved nothing, that the real solution of her
life was as far off as ever.
"Then I may take it that you will stay with us till Monday. I will not
weary you with our repeated thanks for what you have done for us. You
know that we are very grateful, and shall never forget you in our
prayers, but you will not mind my thanking you again for the pleasure
your singing has given us. You have sung every day. You really have been
"I beg of you not to mention it, Reverend Mother; to sing for you and
all the dear sisters was a great pleasure to me. I never enjoyed singing
in a theatre so much."
"I am glad you have enjoyed your stay, Miss Innes. Your room will always
be ready. I hope you will often come to see us."
"It will be a great advantage for me to come and stay with you from time
to time." Neither spoke for a time, then Evelyn said, "Reverend Mother,
is it not strange that I should have come back to this convent, my old
convent? I never forgot it. I often wondered if I should come here
again. When I was here before, it was just as now; it was in a great
crisis of my life. It was just before I left home, just before I went to
Paris to learn singing. I don't know if Monsignor has told you that I
have decided to leave the stage."
"Monsignor has entrusted you to me, and I should like to count you as
one of my children. All the nuns tell me their little troubles. Though I
have guessed there must be some great trouble in your life, I should
like you to feel that you can tell me everything, if to do so can be the
least help to you."
Evelyn's eyes brightened, and, trembling with emotion, she leaned across
the table; the Reverend Mother took her hand, and the touch of that old
benign hand was a delight, and she felt that she must confide her story.
"I have been several times on the point of speaking to you on the
subject of my past, for if I am to come here again I feel that you
should know something about me. But how to tell it. I had thought of
asking Father Daly to tell you. To-day is your day for confession, but
last week I confessed to Monsignor, and do not like to submit myself to
another director. Do you understand?"
"Father Daly is an excellent, worthy man, the convent is under the
greatest obligations to him, but I could not recommend him as a very
enlightened director of souls. That is why the nuns tell me all their
troubles. I should like you to feel that you can tell me everything."
"Reverend Mother, if you did not pass from the schoolroom to the convent
like Veronica, you will have heard, you must know, that the life of an
opera singer is generally a sinful life. I was very young at the time,
only one-and-twenty. I knew that I had a beautiful voice, and that my
father could not teach me to sing. But it was not for self-interest that
I left him; I was genuinely in love with Sir Owen Asher. He was very
good to me; he wanted to marry me; from the world's point of view I was
very successful, but I was never happy. I felt that I was living a
sinful life, and we cannot go on doing what we feel to be wrong and
still be happy. Night after night I could not sleep. My conscience kept
me awake. I strove against the inevitable, for it is very difficult to
change one's life from end to end, but there was no help for it."
Her story, as she told it, seemed to her very wonderful, more wonderful
than she had thought it was, and she would have liked to have told the
Reverend Mother all the torment and anguish of mind she had gone
through. But she felt that she was on very thin ice, and trembled
inwardly lest she was shocking the nun.
It was exciting to tell that it was her visit to the convent that had
brought about her repentance; how that very night her eyes had opened at
dawn, and she had seen clearly the wickedness of her life, and she could
not refrain from saying that it was Owen Asher's last letter, in which
he said that at all hazards he would save her from losing herself in
religion, that had sent her to Monsignor for advice. She noticed her
omission of all mention of Ulick, and it seemed to her strange that she
could still be interested in her sins, and at the same time genuinely
determined to reform her life. The nun sat looking at her, thinking what
answer she should make, and Evelyn wondered what that answer would be.
"We shall pray for you.... You will not fall into sin again; it is our
prayers that enable men to overcome their passions. Were it not for our
prayers, God would have long ago destroyed the world. Think of the times
of persecution and sacrilege, when prayer only survived in the
Evelyn could not but acquiesce: a world without prayer would be an
intolerable world, as unendurable to man as to God. But if the Reverend
Mother's explanation were a true one! If these poor forsakers of the
world were in truth the saviours of the world, without whose aid the
world would have perished long since!
When she had gone, Evelyn sat thinking, her head leaned on her hand, her
eyes fixed on the distant garden, seeing life from afar, strange and
distant, like reflections in still waters. She could see distant figures
in St. Peter's walk, tending the crosses and the statues of the Virgin
placed in nooks, or hanging on the branches. Some four or five nuns were
playing at ball on the terrace, and in the plaintive autumn afternoon,
there was something extraordinarily touching in their simple amusement;
and she had, perforce, to feel how much wiser was their childishness
than the vanity of the world.
Ulick had said that their adventure was the same, only their ways were
different. He had said that he sought God in art, while she sought him
in dogma. But if she accepted dogma, it was only as a cripple accepts a
crutch, Catholicism was essential to her, without it she could not walk;
but while conforming to dogma, it seemed possible to transcend its
narrowness, and to attach to every petty belief a spiritual
significance. It is right that we should acquiesce in these beliefs, for
they are the symbols by which the faith was kept alive and handed down.
God leads us by different ways, and though we may prefer to worship God
in the open air, we should not despise him who builds a house for
worship. The Real Being is all that we are sure of, for He is in our
hearts, the rest is as little shadows. Ulick had quoted an Eastern
mystic--'He that sees himself sees God, and in him there is neither I
And, reflecting on the significance of these words, she turned with
pensive fingers the leaves of _The Way of Perfection_.
But she was going back to London on Monday! In London she would meet
Owen and all her former life. She knew in a way how she was going to
escape him. But her former life was everywhere. She got up and walked
about the room, then she stood at the window, her hands held behind her
back. She was sorely tried, and felt so weak in spirit that she was
tempted, or fancied that she was tempted, to go away with Owen in the
_Medusa_. Or she might tell him that she would marry him, and so end the
whole matter. But she knew that she would do neither of these things.
She knew that she would sacrifice Owen and her career as an opera singer
so that she might lead a chaste life. Yet a life of prayer and chastity
was not natural to her; her natural preferences were for lovers and
worldly pleasures, but she was sacrificing all that she liked for all
that she disliked. She wondered, quite unable to account for her choice
to herself. Her life seemed very mad, but, mad or sane, she was going to
sacrifice Owen and her career. She might sing at concerts, but she did
not think such singing would mean much to her and she thought of the
splendid successful life that lay before her if she remained on the
stage. Again she wondered at her choice, seeking in herself the reason
that impelled her to do what she was doing. She could not say that she
liked living with her father in Dulwich, nor did she look forward to
giving singing lessons, and yet that was what she was going to do. She
strove to distinguish her soul; it seemed flying before her like a bird,
making straight for some goal which she could not distinguish. She could
distinguish its wings in the blue air, and then she lost sight of them;
then she caught sight of them again, and they were then no more than a
tremulous sparkle in the air. Suddenly the vision vanished, and she
found herself face to face with herself--her prosaic self which she had
known always, and would know until she ceased to know everything. She
was here in the Wimbledon Convent, and Owen was in London waiting for
her. She knew she never would live with him again. But how would she
finally separate herself from him? How would it all come about? She
could imagine herself yielding, but if she did, it would not last a
week. Her life would be unendurable, and she would have to send him
away. For it is not true that Tannhaeuser goes back to Venus. He who
repents, he who had once felt the ache and remorse of sin, may fall into
sin again, but he quickly extricates himself; his sinning is of no long
duration! It was the casual sin that she dreaded; at the bottom of her
heart she knew that she would never live a life of sin again. But she
trembled at the thought of losing the perfect peace and happiness which
now reigned in her heart, even for a few hours. Her face contracted in
an expression of terror at the thought of finding herself again involved
in the anguish, revolt and despair which she had endured in Park Lane.
She recalled the moments when she saw herself vile and loathsome, when
she had turned from the image of her soul which had been shown to her.
Then, to rid herself of the remembrance, she thought of the joy she had
experienced that morning at hearing in the creed that God's kingdom
shall never pass away. Her soul had kindled like a flame, and she had
praised God, crying to herself, "Thy kingdom shall last for ever and
ever." It had seemed to her that her soul had acquired kingship over all
her faculties, over all her senses, for the time being it had ruled her
utterly; and so delicious was its subjection that she had not dared to
move lest she should lose this sweet peace. Her lips had murmured an Our
Father, but so slowly that the Sanctus bell had rung before she had
finished it. Nothing troubled her, nothing seemed capable of troubling
her, and the torrent of delight which had flowed into and gently
overflowed her soul had intoxicated and absorbed her until it had seemed
to her that there was nothing further for her to desire.
She remembered that when Mass was over she had risen from her knees
elated, feeling that she had prayed even as the nuns prayed, and she had
retired to her room, striving to restrain her looks and thoughts so that
she might prolong this union with God.
To remember this experience gave her courage. For she could not doubt
that the intention of so special a favour was to convince her that she
would not be lacking in courage when the time came to deny herself to
Owen Asher. At the same time she was troubled, and she feared that she
was not quite sincere with herself. She would easily resist him now; but
in six months' time, in a year? Besides, she would meet other men; her
thoughts even now went out towards one. Ah! wretched weakness,
abominable sin! She was filled with contempt for herself, and yet at the
bottom of her heart, like hope at the bottom of Pandora's box, there was
tolerance. Her sins interested her; she would not be herself without
them, and this being so, how could she hope to conquer herself?
Saturday and Sunday were monotonous and anxious days. She had begun to
wonder what was in the newspapers, and she had written to say that her
carriage was to come to fetch her on Monday at three o'clock.
There had not been a gleam of light since early morning, only a gentle
diffused twilight, and the foliage in the garden was almost human in its
listlessness; a flat grey sky hung about the trees like a shroud. Mother
Philippa and Mother Mary Hilda were walking with her about the
grass-grown drive. They were waiting for the Reverend Mother, who had
gone to fetch a medal for Evelyn. She heard her chestnuts champing their
bits ready to take her back to London, and she could not listen to
Mother Philippa's conversation, for she had been suddenly taken with a
desire to say one last prayer in the chapel. She must say one more
prayer in the presence of the Sacrament. So, excusing herself, she ran
back, and, kneeling down, she buried her face in her hands. At once all
her thoughts hushed within her; it was like bees entering a hive to make
honey. Prayer came to her without difficulty, without even asking, and
she enjoyed almost five minutes' breathless adoration.
The three nuns kissed her, and as the Reverend Mother hung the medal
round her neck, she told her that prayers would be constantly offered up
for her preservation. The chestnuts plunged at starting.... If she were
killed now it would not matter. But the horses soon settled down into
their long swinging trot of ten miles an hour, and all the way to London
she reflected. The Reverend Mother had said that the prayers of nuns and
monks were the wall and bastion tower which saved a sinful world from
the wrath of God, and she thought of the fume of prayer ascending night
and day from this convent as from a censer. Men had always prayed, since
the beginning of things men had prayed, and as Ulick had said, wisdom
was not invented yesterday. He agreed with the naturalistic philosophers
that force is indestructible, only objecting that the naturalistic
philosophers did not go far enough, the theory of the indestructibility
of force being equally applicable to the spiritual world. The world
exists not in itself, but in man's thought.... Often an intense
evocation has brought the absent one before the seer's eyes, and that
there are sympathies which transcend and overrule the laws of time and
space hardly admits of doubt. Life is but a continual hypnotism; and the
thoughts of others reach us from every side, determining in some measure
our actions. It was therefore certain that she would be influenced by
the prayers that would be offered up for her by the convent. She
imagined these prayers intervening between her and sin, coming to her
aid in some moment of perilous temptation, and perhaps in the end
determining the course of her life.
_Printed and Made in Great Britain by
The Crypt House Press Limited
Gloucester and London_