Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 49

THE larger animals were outside the church – two Shetland ponies and a well-behaved pig wearing a red harness and managed by one of Bill Murray’s sons. Bill himself had old Jack on a leading rein and at the moment the donkey was behaving impeccably. Every so often Bill would take a “treat” out of the pocket of his jacket and pop it into Jack’s mouth.

“Why is he being so jolly good?” Imelda whispered as they walked past.

“Aniseed balls,” Bill explained, also in a whisper. “Loves ’em, he does.”

Two beautifully groomed horses were there as representatives of the local riding school. They stood politely, tossing their heads occasionally.

Bill’s prize Hereford bull had been excused as he was a bit too large for the churchyard. Bill whispered to Joan that Father George was coming up to Abbey Farm afterwards to give him a special blessing – the cows, too, he hoped.

The Sisters made their way to their pew and smiled to see the smaller animals. Mrs Murray was sitting just behind the nuns with her tabby cat curled up on her lap fast asleep.

As they settled down Imelda turned to smile at Mrs Murray

“You’re feeding that puss too well,” she said. “She’s put on some weight.”

Mrs Murray grinned.

“She’s not fat, she’s . . .

Sister Madeline glanced over the back of the pew.

“If I’m not mistaken,” she said, “I believe you’re soon to hear the patter of tiny paws?”

“Yes, you’re absolutely right,” Mrs Murray replied.

“A special blessing for her, then!” Imelda said.

“Oh, the wee darling,” Clare said. “We’ll say a prayer for her.”

“I’m glad we don’t have to knit jolly bootees!” Imelda grinned.

Father George blessed them all and said that it was heartwarming to see so many humans, six dogs, four cats, two horses, two Shetland ponies, a well-behaved pig, one donkey, a guinea pig, a hamster or two and not forgetting the church mice.

As he concluded his blessing a loud braying was heard from outside. Joan assumed that Mr Murray’s pocketful of aniseed balls had run out.

“Roll up – roll up!” Imelda chanted, shaking a few coins of encouragement in an enamel bowl from the kitchen. “Sister Benedict will play any request.”

Most of the attention was on Sister Jan and her book signing. It was clear that she would be a sell-out. People were congratulating her and shaking her by the hand, but rather than seeming to bask in all the glory she was modest. Joan breathed a sigh of relief.

A curious group stood below the stage and gazed up at Sister Benedict.

“Can she play Abba?” a large gentleman whispered to Imelda.

“Of course she can.” Imelda held out her hand for the 50 pence coin.

“I’d like ‘Mamma Mia’, then,” he said.

Ben played it perfectly, much to the delight of the group, which became larger. Another coin was offered for “Yellow Submarine” and they all sang along. Ben was kept very busy – “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for a three-year-old, “Over The Rainbow” for an elderly lady.

Joan was impressed.

“We’d like a tune.” Two men were looking up at Ben, who lowered his eyes modestly.

Joan felt uneasy. One of the men had a camera, the other a notebook and pencil.

“Well, now, something to write about in the local press, something a bit special. I’ll take a photo or two.” The man held out a pound coin. “I reckon it’d be worth double.” He grinned.

Ben waited, his hands poised above the keys.

“Name it,” Imelda said jokingly.

“Chopin,” the man challenged. “‘The Minute Waltz’.”

Joan’s heart missed a beat. This was dangerous because Ben would play it perfectly, too perfectly for a nun.

She caught Ben’s eye. The shake of her head was almost imperceptible but she knew he understood.

“Go on, Sister,” the man said. “Or is it more than you can handle?”

Ben began to play – so badly that the crowd began to laugh as if it were a comedy turn. The men took photographs and they promised not to report that Sister Benedict’s challenge that she could play any request was not quite true.

Joan breathed a sigh of relief but still she felt nervous. Had they been too bold, to believe that it would be safe for Ben to take part in this event? The two men left quite soon without taking pictures of Jan’s book signing, which really had been newsworthy, for she’d sold every single book.

Alison Cook