Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 58

IT all happened so quickly in the end. There was barely time before the tide turned for Ben to pack his few belongings and join the crew on the Stella Maris. They all gathered in the hallway to say goodbye.

“Oh, Ben, we wanted to give you a better send-off than this,” Joan said as she embraced him.

Madeline gave him a small package.

“A sea sickness remedy for you,” she said “Just in case. It is my own invention.”

“Here is my recipe for polenta,” Jan said, her brown eyes brimming with tears. “So that you will never forget. Also some scones from Sister Clare for the journey.”

“I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to you all,” Ben said. “I apologise for all the trouble – you know what I mean.”

“Of course, Ben, we understand. You will soon be back in France to continue your work and your life. You will never be able to pretend that nothing has happened. You’ll remember every moment. Learn to build your life around that.” Joan clasped his hand tightly before letting it go.

“Don’t you dare jolly forget us.” Imelda dabbed at her eyes with the back of her hand.

“I promise I never will,” Ben replied.

He turned to take a last look.

“Will Emma come back?” he asked simply.

“That is for Mother Catherine to decide,” Joan answered.

“I thought it might be,” Ben replied. “I’ve left some drafts of my music in the piano stool. I thought you – or someone – might like to have them.” He raised his hand in farewell and disappeared into the night.

Two days later Joan heard the crunch of tyres on the gravel drive. She put down her pen as she heard the front doorbell ring and the sound of Clare’s footsteps along the corridor. The footsteps returned and there was a knock on her study door.

“Come in!” she called.

The door opened.

“Hello, Mother – I’m back.” It was Emma.

Joan embraced her.

“Oh, my dear, welcome – how good it is to see you again. Did you travel alone?”

“Yes, we don’t have to travel in pairs nowadays.” Emma sounded different, somehow, independent and mature.

“How was your stay?” Joan asked.

“It was lovely to see Sister Flora again, but she’s very frail.” She smiled. “Henry, however, is still hale and hearty. Mother Catherine sent me back as soon as she knew that Ben had returned to France. She told me, you see, about how Ben had been feeling about – me.”

Joan was astounded. She had believed that this episode would remain a secret and that on Emma’s return things would be the same as ever.

“Were you shocked?” she asked quietly.

“Strangely, I wasn’t,” Emma replied. “I think I had seen it in his eyes. I was relieved when I was sent to France.”

My dear little Emma, Joan thought. How you have grown up.

“I had long talks with Mother Catherine.” Emma smiled. “About my vocation. Mother suggested that I should be stretched further now that I’ve had experience with our work here.” She reached out and clasped Joan’s hand. “They’re sending me to an orphanage in India – Mumbai. They need me there. I’m just here long enough to say goodbye.”

Alone in the sitting-room, Joan went to the piano and opened the lid of the music stool. There were some sheets of paper with titles and hand-written music.

She went through them one by one. They were copies of pieces that Ben had written for his course. One of the sheets was titled 4E. That was the one they’d all liked so much. Then she saw in brackets by the title (FOR EMMA).

That’s what 4E had meant.

She folded the sheets of paper and, going upstairs, she placed them on Emma’s bed.

Emma promised to write to them and they promised to raise funds for the orphanage. The taxi came for her and they waved from the front steps until it went out of sight. Then everything was quiet as if nothing at all had happened.

Sister Jan put her hand gently on Joan’s arm.

“Times change, Sister, and we must change with them. Memories will return to sustain us, will they not? None is lost, not ever.”

Joan smiled at her.

“Gianna, how glad I am that you came to improve our kitchen. You have enriched all our lives.”

Joan went upstairs to Emma’s empty room. Emma had left all the sheets of music on the bedside table.

“I have something surplus to my requirements.” Bill Murray stood at the open kitchen door.

“Come in, Mr Murray.” Clare pulled out a chair for him to sit at the table.

“I’ll stand, if you don’t mind,” he said, his eyes twinkling, and he placed a lidded basket on the kitchen table. “I just thought you could be doing with one of these.”

A curious Sister Clare came forward.

“What is it you’ve got there?” she said. “Will I put it in the freezer?”

“I don’t think that would be wise.” Mr Murray grinned and carefully opened the lid.

A small ginger face peered out at them with large amber eyes.

“Oh! It’s a kitten!” Clare exclaimed. “It’s just the image of my old Bubbles.”

“It’s a boy,” Bill said proudly.

Clare lifted him out of the basket carefully and held him in her arms.

“May we keep him, Mother?” she pleaded.

“Of course.” Joan smiled.

“Yet another male in the convent.” Jan laughed. “What shall we call this little ginger nut? I doubt if his father ever had a name.”

“Why!” Clare said. “It will have to be Henry – won’t it?”


The End.

Alison Cook