Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 19

IS Sister Benedict in her room?” Emma, who had just been practising on the harmonium, came into the kitchen where Joan, Clare and Jan were preparing the evening meal. “She usually sits and listens to me playing.”

“Sister Benedict went down to the beach just after lunch,” Joan replied. “I believe the intention was to be alone.”

“Oh, I see.” Emma nodded. “It’s nice down there if you need a bit of quiet time. But we usually go in twos, don’t we?”

“I don’t think Sister Benedict is being quiet,” Joan said, smiling. “Our guest is swimming.”

“Not on her own, surely?” Clare was shocked. “She should have had one of us with her. What if . . . ?”

“She was adamant,” Joan replied. “Solitude was the need.”

“I can understand that.” Sister Jan sliced tomatoes for a salad. “Sometimes you think more clearly when there are no others around.”

“Should I just stroll down there to see if she’s all right?” Emma asked. “I won’t let her see me. I can keep out of sight.”

“No, Emma,” Joan said quickly. “I need you to help us here in the kitchen.”

In her heart Joan wondered how Sister Benedict had fared down on the beach. Her decision to let the nun go alone was unprecedented and must have confused the other sisters. They wouldn’t ask questions – they trusted her decisions in all things implicitly. Hopefully Sister Benedict would return calm and refreshed and would be at supper as usual.

“What’s that noise?” Clare looked out of the kitchen window which was at the side of the house, enabling them to see the drive and ever-open gates of the convent. “I can’t see what it is, but it’s making a terrible racket up the drive.”

Jan went to stand beside Clare and looked out.

“It sounds like a motorbike, but not quite,” Clare said.

Sister Jan grinned.

“It is a motor scooter – I’d recognise that two-stroke engine anywhere. A Vespa, no doubt. In Italy they’re all over the place. It is a quick way to get around town. Vespa means wasp, and that’s how the engine sounds.”

“So it does!” Clare agreed.

A small black motor scooter putted up outside in the drive. The rider, dressed all in black with helmet to match, brought the bike neatly to a standstill and turning off the engine, dismounted and removed the helmet.

“Why! It’s young Father George!” Clare exclaimed. “And he’s riding on a Vestment. A priest on a motorbike, I’ve never seen the like! Shall I be letting him in, Mother?”

“Of course you may let him in, Clare,” Joan said amid the laughter.

Father George followed Clare into the kitchen, his motorcycle helmet tucked under one arm.

“You heard the bike, then?” He grinned as they welcomed him.

“A very nostalgic sound for me,” Jan said.

“Oh, you’re from Naples, aren’t you?” he replied. “There are a lot of them over there.”

“Would you like a nice cup of tea or coffee?” Clare asked.

“Coffee would be very welcome,” Father George replied.

“I shall make coffee,” Jan said as Clare reached for the supermarket’s own brand. “I make real coffee, not jar!”

“If it’s not too much trouble, real coffee would be a rare treat.” Unaware of the tension between the two sisters, Father George put his helmet down on the dresser.

“No trouble at all.” Jan took a packet of ground coffee from the cupboard and reached for a large enamel jug that was hanging on the dresser.

Soon the coffee was brewing and a delicious aroma filled the room.

“There will be grouts in the bottom of the mug,” Clare said to no-one in particular.

“I shall use the tea strainer,” Jan said calmly.

“I can’t stay for long.” Father George sipped his drink. “I’ve just been up the road to see old Mrs Marshall. She had a fall earlier in the week and she’s all alone.”

“Yes,” Joan said. “Madeline is staying with her tonight.”

“I just wanted to thank you for inviting me to Father Anderson’s farewell supper and to ask if I can contribute anything – wine, perhaps?” he asked.

“You’re very kind, Father, but everything is organised.” Joan smiled “Just arrive in time – that alone will please our cooks.”

“You’re not planning to bring Father Anderson on that machine, are you?” Clare asked.

“No, Sister, we’ll come in the car.” He laughed.

“I’ve made something for Father Anderson,” Emma said shyly. “I’ve composed a little piece of music for him. It’s called just – ‘Farewell, Father’. It isn’t sad or dismal – it has lots of merry places in it. I thought I might play it on the piano in the sitting-room after the special supper.” She glanced at Joan. “Is that all right, Mother?”

“Oh, Emma, what a lovely thought. That will be the highlight of the evening,” Joan said warmly.

Alison Cook