Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 54

THE next two days were incident free and Joan felt that the convent was as peaceful as a convent should be.

One mid-morning Ben came home early from Abbey Farm. Coming across the garden, he dashed into the kitchen, red faced and breathless.

“Two girls and a boy,” he said proudly as he removed his boots on the kitchen door mat. “Mother cat and babies are doing fine. It all went without a hitch. The Murrays are thrilled and here are a dozen eggs, surplus to their requirements.”

“That’s wonderful news,” Joan said. “We shall take that walk down to the beach after lunch by way of celebration.”

“I must stay here and work,” Ben said.

“How lovely it is down here,” Joan said. “We should make the effort to do this more often.”

She settled herself down on the grass at the edge of the shore. Old Jack munched his treats contentedly and a curlew flew past making his bubbling call out over the bay.

“I’m for a paddle,” Imelda declared.

“I’ve brought a couple of towels,” Clare said.

All six nuns removed their sandals and went down to the water’s edge.

“A little decorum, Sisters, please!” Joan called after them. “Don’t hitch your skirts too high. Remember the yacht is still there.”

She shaded her eyes against the sun and looked at the Stella Maris riding the swell of the summer sea. There was no sign of anyone aboard.

Imelda grinned.

“At least they’ve seen that we don’t always go around in pairs like kippers,” she said.

The day was so pleasant that Joan was loath to tell her sisters that it was time to return to the convent.

“We’d better dry off,” Imelda said at last. “I’ve got another old push-me mower to service. I promised it for Saturday.”

The sisters laughed and chatted all the way back to the convent.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” Sister Clare said. “I expect we could all do with a cuppa after all that paddling.”

They made their way across the kitchen garden to the back door. Clare tried the handle.

“It’s locked,” she said.

“It can’t be,” Joan said. “Ben is here – we didn’t have to lock it.”

“I know we didn’t.” Clare tried the handle again. “But it’s locked now.”

“The poor boy must have felt insecure with all of us gone,” Madeline said.

“We’ll go round to the front,” Joan decided. She glanced through the kitchen window as they went past, but the room was empty. She turned the handle of the big front door. It was bolted.

“Ring the jolly bell,” Imelda said. “That should rouse him.”

Joan pulled at the old bell rope. They could all hear the noise it made. After a while the bolt on the inside was drawn and the door opened. A tall man dressed in black stood there, the collar around his neck signifing the priesthood. Joan didn’t recognise him although he seemed vaguely familiar.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I’m so sorry, we’ve all been down on the beach. I apologise for not being here to welcome you. We had no idea you were going to visit us. Is Father George with you?”

“No.” The priest smiled and opened the door wide. “Come in, Sisters,” he said. “We have made ourselves comfortable in your sitting-room.”

“You are not alone?” Joan was puzzled.

“No, there are two of us.” he replied and stood aside as Joan and her sisters made their way to their recreation room.

“Shall we make tea?” Clare asked.

“Go into the sitting-room, I think that would be the best.” The priest held open the door for them and they all filed in.

Another priest stood by the fireplace, his hands behind his back. Ben was sitting on a chair by the table. It was only when Joan saw Ben’s frightened expression that she realised his hands were tied.

“Ben – oh, what’s happened?” Joan hurried forward. “Did the Fathers find you like this? Here, I’ll untie you. Were you attacked? Is that why the doors were locked?”

“Just stand back, ladies, and find a place to sit quietly, then you won’t get hurt.” The priest by the fireplace put one finger into his white collar and pulled it off. The other did the same.

Suddenly recognition dawned on Joan. These were the two men who were posing as reporters at the church fête.

Alison Cook