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“I will come with you another day,” I said, as we were going back.
“To-morrow, then.—Ah, no! to-morrow will be our ironing day.”
Ironing day! Well, I shall sit by and see you iron."
“ You want to learn ironing too ? Very well, do so.”
“I do not want to learn; I only want to talk to you, and you can talk while you are ironing." I assure
you it was quite a pretty sight to see the sisters ironing all their three months' store of white stiffened linen caps,—not a very easy work; and all the white hoods and dark uniform dresses engaged in the operation looked very well; and many very blooming good country faces appearing occasionally covered with smiles beneath them; one was a beautiful but more delicate one.
The Sister Superior bad her iron, too; but a very ruddy good humoured sister came to her with a small strip of paper on which she read some words, and said to the bearer, “ Take her to the surgery;" then turning to me she added, “A girl to be bled. I suppose you would not like to learn to bleed, too ?”
“You will bleed her, oh dear!”
“Yes, but one does not cut an artery, one cuts a vein.”
“But they are close together."
“ That one must know, or one might take the one for the other. Will you come and see ?”
I went, almost trembling. “Well, my girl, the doctor says you must be bled.” “Yes, my sister.” “Sit down. Have you got a bandage ?” “Yes, my sister.” “Give me your arm.—The other."
The arm is tied up; the ruddy sister attendant hands the lancet; the vein is opened; the proper quantity of blood taken ; the vein bound up; the patient clapped on the shoulder; desired to come to see the operator if she is better, and to send for her if she is worse; the friend who brings her goes away with her, and the Sister Superior goes back to her ironing, and desires the blooming assistant to get me a glass of orange flower water, as I am ready to faint from the sight of blood, and the dread that in the operation of bleeding being performed by a woman an artery should be cut instead of a vein.
Certainly if one were not properly taught that might happen," she said, “I thought so myself before I learnt how to do it; and I assure you the first time I did it I was a little uneasy."
To change the subject I began to talk of the multitude of white caps on the tables.
“You wear them wherever you go—in foreign countries too.”
“Yes, except in England.” “And why not there ?"
“O!-Well, they say the children would laugh at us in the streets."!
“They do not laugh at the German women, nor the Turks, nor Indians, nor any people who wear their own costumes; and then the dress I have seen worn by Sisters of Mercy there is so ugly.” "Ah!
need not tell me that. We had to dress one of ours like that to go to England, and I said to her when she put on the black bonnet—Now my dear, you are just dressed up to frighten the English crows."
Now you will say this is all mere gossip, and in truth it is nothing more; but there is some meaning in it for all that. I want you to see something of the reality of a real human creature which our English fancies have generally either exalted too high or sunk too low. It is her distinctive character of purity and goodness that separates her in any degree from other people. We know not very much of real nuns, convents, or sisters, in England; so that I am sure in my story-reading days, when I used to read of some fascinating nun escaping from her cell, I never imagined there was any difference between the cell of a nun in a convent, and the cell of a convict in prison. The other day I was led by circumstances into a convent of the strictest rule; so strict that no male relative beyond the relationship of father or brother must speak to a nun even through the iron bars of the grille, without the screen being down between them. On this occasion a very elegant nun,
of fascinating manners, conducted me to two or three cells of the religious; they were neat, plain, but sufficiently comfortable little rooms; the beds, instead of presenting me with bare straw pallets, being neatly closed round with white curtains. The recollection of my early ideas flashed só vividly on my mind, that with a smile I told them to the nun. “Ah !” she said, “ that is so like a young person.'
“But," I replied, looking round, “I almost believe that English people think it more religious not to have curtains."
“And we," she rejoined, “think it more decent to have them."
That last notion of mine may be wrong, but certainly I have heard from relations who remembered the commencement of the religious revival in England, -I mean the Evangelical movement that took place soon after the peace, that religious persons then thought it wrong to eat with a silver fork or spoon, to have any but sad coloured papers on their walls, or wear any but sad coloured dresses. Certainly the children of that age did not take after their parents; for in later years even the wives and daughters of the Evangelical Clergy seemed to set a fashion of their own in gay attire, and fashionable furniture. England seems, above all others, the land of reaction.
In contrast to one or the other extreme, I have been exceedingly struck with the gracefulness of the sleeping rooms in some of the sisters' houses. The charm consists in simplicity and appropriateness, The white draperied beds looking so pure and girllike; the walls in general present a total absence of even religious pictures or ornaments. I never recollect seeing a cross or a crucifix at a bed; I do not
say that such
but I never once saw them. The air of cheerfulness too; the usually lively yet not gaudy papers on the walls; the polished floors, in some little rooms overlaid with a neat carpet, not always seen in French apartments,-all is so unlike what I have myself heard in England, that I write it to you simply because one likes to repeat what is pleasant to oneself. And why should it be otherwise ? It is very hard to be cheerful in a house that is purposely made to ok dull; and cheerfulness is the attribute of the Sister of Charity.