Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 23

SISTER Benedict didn’t come down for supper. Joan was worried. The sight of the marks in the sand had disturbed their guest
maybe more than Joan realised. The nun had eaten no food since lunchtime and then only a little.

“Emma, would you mind very much taking a mug of hot chocolate up to Sister Benedict? I think our guest should have something before we all have to go to bed.”

“Of course, Mother, it’ll be no trouble at all,” Emma said brightly.

Leaving Emma to her hot chocolate duties, Joan led her sisters to the sitting-room, and as they settled themselves down she prepared herself for what she had to tell them. It should be easy, she told herself, but it might be more of a shock than a surprise.

Sitting in a chair by the table, she waited for Sister Emma to return. The nuns busied themselves with reading, sewing and some conversation about this and that. Just before bedtime and prayers in the chapel they would watch the news on television. That always gave them plenty to pray for.

There was peace in the room which was shattered by a piercing scream from upstairs.

“Is that Emma?” Imelda started to her feet. “I think it’s coming from the guest room.”

Joan got up and opened the door of the sitting-room. She saw Sister Emma running down the stairs in a way that was not seemly for a nun. Joan stood back as Emma ran into the room, gasping for breath and as white as a sheet.

“Emma! Whatever is the matter?” Joan took her arms and tried to calm her. “What has happened?”

“Oh, Mother – oh, Mother!” Emma gasped. “I went to Sister Benedict’s room to give her the chocolate. I knocked but there was no answer. I thought she must be asleep so I went in to put the chocolate by her bed in case she woke later and –
and . . . ”

“Be calm, Emma, and tell me,” Joan said softly.

Emma recovered her breath a little.

“She had soap all over her face.”

“Yes, Emma? She was washing?”

“No, Mother. She was stripped to the waist! Like my dad used to do.” Emma, wide eyed, gazed around the room. “Sister Benedict was shaving!”

Joan realised now that she had no choice – she had to tell her nuns the truth, regardless of not having received permission to do so from her Superior at the Mother House in France. Joan settled a shaken Emma into a chair and raised her hand for silence. The nuns ceased chattering about the revelation that their sister had blurted out and gathered round. Joan wished that Madeline was with them, but she had clattered off on her bicycle earlier to sit with Mrs Marshall for the night.

“Sisters, I have something to tell you,” she said.

“I should think you jolly have – if you’ll excuse my saying so,” Imelda observed quietly.

The room was hushed.

“Yes, Sisters – our guest is a man.” Joan sighed. “I was not supposed to tell you until I received permission from the Mother House, but I need to tell you now. In fact, I had almost decided to do so before this happened, regardless of orders from France.”

The nuns listened intently.

“We have been entrusted with the care of this young man for a very important reason, involving the French police and, indeed, our own. It transpires that he was witness to a crime and has been pursued by the criminals. The police on both sides of the Channel have been working very hard to bring these villains to justice, and as our guest was the only witness, he is in grave danger. A safe house had to be found, far away and out of the reach and knowledge of the criminals.

“The police approached Mother Catherine with a view to hiding him in France, but even this was too dangerous. So Mother Catherine suggested that he be sent here, as our convent is so isolated.” Joan gave a wan smile. “I had no choice but to agree. After all, that’s what we’re all about, isn’t it? And this young man was badly hurt and needed our care. He had only recovered slightly when he arrived here.”


Alison Cook