SISTER FINANCE

GABRIELLE ROY December 15 1962

SISTER FINANCE

GABRIELLE ROY December 15 1962

SISTER FINANCE

A celebrated French-Canadian novelist tells of a nun’s small sin and odd redemption

GABRIELLE ROY

STRUCK DOWN AT an early age by polio, my cousin was left with quite a pronounced limp which, nonetheless, did not prevent her from getting about a great deal all her life. Despite her infirmity, she was accepted into the community of an order of French nuns, the Sisters of the Holy Wounds, who ran three or four modest little convent schools on the Canadian prairies.

My cousin had been taught by them. She had learned to love them, and they had learned to appreciate the gifts and disposition of the young girl. Apart from a feeling of vocation, she seems to have been strongly attracted by the truly original habit of the Sisters: all white, with a scapular falling to their feet and bearing on the chest in fresh red the stigmata of the Passion.

My cousin had some talent for music and watercolor painting. Yet in so small a convent of seven or eight nuns, set in the remote countryside, how could her rich gifts be put to their best possible use? Her sisters in religion would no doubt have liked to see her spend all the time reproducing in watercolors the endless and unchanging plain that encompassed their lives like an image of eternity; or, alternatively, playing Handel and Bach on the harmonium. But how could it be? In her little convent, my cousin quite literally had a finger in every pie, because on occasion she even helped the sister-cook.

Naturally, she conducted the girls' choir in the church on Sundays. She also gave piano lessons to daughters of two or three well-to-do farmers in the neighborhood who, mind you, had no piano in their homes — a lack which would not deter anybody on our prairies in those days from firmly taking up the piano. At holiday periods she was left at liberty to catch the prairie sunsets in watercolors, and as time went by these were ample to adorn all four walls of the convent's gleaming and silent little parlor.

She also became something of a supply teacher, replacing for a day here or a week there one of the teaching sisters who might be sick or off duty. Still, all this was not enough to keep my cousin busy. The community then apparently discovered in her some rather mysterious talent for getting things done, and she was appointed sister of finance.

Now what was there to finance in that small and very poor cloister on the fringes of the vast and dusty plain? I never found out. At all events, from the time of her appointment my cousin was dispatched to Winnipeg once a year, usually in the summer, to shop for the most urgent needs of the community.

As her institution had no affiliate in the city — the other communities, in fact, looked upon these Sisters of France somewhat as foreigners— my cousin, arriving in town, would simply come and ask us to put her up.

It was never a burdensome visit. One fine day we would see her trudging along carrying a black suitcase, a lame and dusty little nun, already worn out with traveling but chattering aw'ay and full of spirits; in fact, so happy at the prospect of freedom for a few' days that she would pour out a thousand stories at once, unable to bring any of them to conclusion.

We never put ourselves to any trouble on her account. She insisted on making her own bed and after meals would help my mother dry the dishes. She would claim this task as if it were a pleasure, saying that it took her

back to the days when she lived at her home and had to help her own poor mother. Maman, however odd she might think this desire to dry dishes, would see from her niece's expression that she meant what she said, and let her have her way.

Our cousin certainly had a strange and not very speedy method of drying dishes. Holding a cup and dishcloth she would advance to the middle of the kitchen, launch forth into a long tale, and then, suddenly revealing an intense curiosity about what had happened to us since her last visit, begin to ply us eagerly with questions. Having sat down the better to listen, she would suddenly realize that my mother was away ahead of her with the dishwashing, so she would hurriedly put down her clean cup among the dirty ones and pick up another. All of which would prompt Mother to remark that our cousin must be an extraordinary sister of finance.

She had apparently remained just as we had known her before she entered the convent: a nice country girl without any pretense whatever. a farmer's daughter at heart, with such a keen interest in family ties and family affairs that we never felt ourselves so completely a clan as when our cousin came to stay. Previously, we had called her Emilia. Now we had to say "Sister Jeanne”; that was practically the only change.

We sometimes forgot even that and still called her Emilia. She never took offense — on the contrary, she seemed to regard it as a mark of tender familiarity.

"That's right, call me Emilia. It’s a change from ‘Sister here’ and ‘Sister there.' ”

Did she say that to dispel our embarrassment? No one can tell. She was so transparent and limpid that she showed no sign of inner complexities or conflicts. I never understood until later how much

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she—like every one of us, in point of fact—must have had to fight to preserve her kindly humanity against routine, against formulas, against codes and rules.

As far as I was concerned, all I saw at the time was that except in the matter of food—and even there, while staying with us, my cousin was allowed to eat meat—the Sisters of the Holy Wounds were accommodating and not rigidly strict.

There was just one thing. Whenever Sister Jeanne set out on the morning after her arrival to make the rounds of the stores she had to be accompanied, according to the rules of the community, by at least one person “of her own sex,” as they put it. To tell the truth, this seemed to us a little inconsistent. Since she had traveled by train without a female companion, why should she have to have one in the stores?

“I know that may appear strange,” she would say in some embarrassment, “but that’s the way it is. I can't alter our Holy Rule.”

Naturally enough, my mother wasn't always free to follow her around all day long from one store to another. On the day in question no one in the house “of her own sex” was free — no one but myself.

“Would the little one do?” asked Mother.

Sister Jeanne swept me with her blue eyes, in which there was always a hint of feeling.

“Why, yes,” she said, “of course she would. However, I’m afraid the poor child will get bored following me around the stores.”

No, I didn’t think it would bore me, I assured them.

“Well,” said my cousin gaily, “off we go!”

She armed herself with a very large and very black cloth bag. That added to the great many things she carried about. At her waist and in her pockets, as she moved along with her bouncing gait, they too bounced and tossed and jingled. All day we were to be enveloped in that little tune; sometimes amusing, often discordant and, in the long run, frankly annoying.

It was a fine, late-June day. No sooner were we out of the house than Emilia asked me if I thought I could walk as far as Eaton’s, a good two miles from home. In this way, she confided, we could save the cost of two streetcar tickets at the very start, and have that much more money for a little treat in the middle of the day. I saw that it wasn't for nothing that she had been appointed Sister Finance by the thrifty French Sisters.

We set off on foot. Sister Jeanne began to exclaim aloud in admiration and exaggerated amazement at almost everything that came our way. I finally realized that what drew such outbursts from her was quite simply those things we city folk have before our eyes all the time: streets, public buildings, a little park: indeed, the bridge over the Red River that we were just crossing. Through seeing her discover so much beauty in these quite ordinary things. I myself began to pay more attention to them, and that's the way my eyes were opened a little more to

the sights I had always seen around me. It is true — the sweep of a bridge across a river is an exciting thing to look at, especially if the water makes a broad curve at the same point. It is also true that the Cathedral of St. Boniface, with its twin belfries, which we had just left behind, made a splendid picture on the hank of the Red River.

Shortly before we entered Winnipeg— just at the end of the bridge — my cousin did something I was forbidden to do: she pointed. There stood the silhouette of the city with its chimneys, its tall buildings and its smoky signature in the pale blue sky.

“Say what you will, a big city is a beautiful thing!” she cried. “Just look. You’d think it was a fleet of ships ready to set sail!”

Where could she have got such a notion? Nevertheless, since then the skyline of a distant city, motionless beneath the clouds with its cargo of human destinies, has looked to me like a convoy of vessels about to put to sea, and I am still surprised sometimes that it doesn’t move, that it doesn't begin to glide along the horizon.

Her enthusiasm won me over. My cousin, then, wasn’t so much of a country girl as people liked to say. Anyway, would she have been able to paint so many pretty watercolors if she had been as simple-minded as they sometimes appeared to think? And would she have been made a sister of finance into the bargain? It must have taken an odd collection of qualities, I thought, to succeed in so many varied and diversified tasks.

We arrived at crowded Portage Avenue. The lively traffic, the din of streetcars and autos, the throngs on the sidewalks, perhaps the curiosity we attracted — she with her big black shopping bag and her jingling medallions and rosary, and I who, on this brilliant day, was helping by carrying her hideous black umbrella — all this suddenly robbed her of much of her poise and brought her crowding closer to me. At the same time, she laughed a little at herself for feeling so awk-

ward and out of her element and, which was worse, letting it hurt her self-esteem.

“Why,” she pointed out, “should we let such trivial things bother us? Our destiny is not of this earth. Here, we are only passing through ...”

All this she said to bring home to me that we should not feel gauche at being caught up in the ten o’clock morning bustle of Portage Avenue.

Thereupon she showered me with compliments on being so bright, and, young as I was, being able to find my own way to the stores. However. 1 didn't feel all that much at ease as 1 walked along beside my cousin who, hv her slight limp, by her wide-eyed look — by her whole manner, in fact

— was making us more and more the object of attention.

Ar EATON’S WE began with stockings. Have you ever bought stockings for nuns? No? . . . Well, don’t regret it. Nothing is more tedious. Sister Jeanne didn't bother about fineness or color. What she needed was something black, tough, hard wearing, and

— of course — cheap. The most distressing thing of all, though, was that having found the ones she wanted (and perfectly hateful and hideous they were), she ordered them by the dozen.

It was equally disappointing when we got around to shoes. From a little written list she read off the sizes of all “our Sisters,” as well as the defects of their feet: this one, a right foot a bit longer than the left; this one. a small corn; yet another, weak arches. (However, it was also important to buy pretty well the same for all of them.)

When we had bought four pairs of shoes, many pairs of stockings, thirty lengths of yellow cotton material as stiff as sandpaper, and some rather finer cotton for an unspecified purpose (it was for God alone that w'e bought some lovely lace and lawn), we went to look over the gloves.

By this time 1 was beginning to feel very tired and was becoming badtempered.

“Poor little kitten.” Sister Jeanne said, “it won’t be much longer now. You've been a great help to me, you know.”

Yet I turned my head away because her kind words came at a moment when 1 was just thinking of all the pleasant things 1 could have been doing had 1 stayed at home. I saw myself sitting at the foot of our biggest tree, a genuine eastern maple, reading about the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.

“It won't be too long, you'll sec.”

Still we went on to something that developed into undiluted torture for me — those bargaining sessions that Sister Jeanne entered into with the sales clerk to obtain a small discount.

Good and timid as she undoubtedly was, she nonetheless staged a little game which, as we moved from counter to counter, she repeated in so precise a manner that I realized it must have been carefully thought out and rehearsed.

“I come," she would begin, “from a poor community of teaching nuns. It is customary for us to be granted a small rebate. Other stores allow me

one . . .”

At that point the embarrassed clerk would say that he would have to re-

fer the matter to the manager. Presently, the manager would show' up. My cousin, her voice now fading a little, would start again . . . “poor community . . . teaching nuns . . .”

As this little scene was about to be re-enacted for the fifth or sixth time, 1 suddenly did a terrible thing. The manager was coming towards us, a burly red-faced man. He had an air of surprise and looked not at all pleased at being disturbed on account of a nun from the country.

Perhaps his annoyance existed only in my imagination, but 1 escaped as fast as I could to the neighboring counter. There 1 pretended to be interested in a display of paper flowers. To be truthful, 1 wasn’t anxious to look as though 1 was w ith my cousin.

At that distance 1 could observe her with a degree of detachment. Beyond all doubt she cut a weird little figure with her clothes that had shrunk through too many washings, her coif askew, her clumsy black shoes sticking

out from under her robe, her face flecked with sweat and her expression that was at once pleading, piteous, and slightly obsequious. Oddly enough, it was at that moment that 1 felt my heart return to her. Having repeated her little piece she raised her eyes, caught sight of me. and smiled. The expression of her face changed. It became frank and tender, like that of someone coming out of the shade into daylight.

Did she know that 1 had moved

away on purpose? If so she didn't let on. She hobbled up to confide in me, as if today 1 had become her whole family and all her salvation in this world.

“It’s good to have you with me. little cousin.”

She was weary herself, and her face looked drawm. But she joyfully grasped my arm and said: “I’ve just made a very good bargain with those gloves. You wouldn't believe it. That manager didn't look very friendly, did he? Yet that big, unshakable Englishman — a real Anglo-Saxon, if ever there was one — gave me the best discount of the day. Of course, it’s true I pointed out to him that the gloves were a little faded. That’s understandable. They've been in stock for several years. We’re really the only people who buy them. He agreed, and he let me have — guess!”

“I don’t know.”

“Fifty percent off!”

“If all shoppers are like you.” I said thoughtfully, “I wonder the stores don’t lose money. Perhaps you’re the reason why they have to charge people like us more . . .”

“Oh, don’t say such things,” she cried, her face clouding a little. “It couldn’t be, could it?”

Then, recovering her optimism, she gave my arm a playful little pinch.

“Now' that I’ve done the community’s business so well, I’m going to take you upstairs to give you your treat.”

A TREAT ON Eaton’s third floor! What was there at this little snack counter to delight us so, all of our family? Maman had often taken me there for a break when we were about halfway through our round of the store. I went with aunts, with uncles, and later on. all by myself. Yet, each time the enchantment was the same.

Maman would say that it was the mocha-java served piping hot for a mere five cents. Five cents more and you had two of those sugar and cinnamon buns; quite delicious, it’s true, but I wonder. . . . Could it have been the pleasure of sitting down to cat a bit of food she had not tired herself out preparing? Could so little make her so happy? As I remember, no matter how harassed my mother had been, the moment she seated herself at that counter her features took on a softness, a sort of release, even, I think, a look of belief that life might still hold for her some of the promise she had held close to her heart as a young woman.

Well, so it was for Sister Jeanne too on that day. The moment she had hoisted herself onto the high stool, with a great jingling of her rosary, she took on an eager expression of expectancy. However, catching sight of her reflection in the great mirror, she seemed terribly surprised, even dismayed, at seeing what she looked like in the eyes of the world. Thereafter, she kept her gaze away from that mirror; but she soon recovered her cheerfulness as she began sipping her tea.

“That’s very good tea,” she remarked to me. “And what’s more, it tastes like tea . . . well,” she concluded, as she perceived the astonishment on my face, “that’s not as queer a remark as you might think: few people either know how or bother

io make good tea . . . Eaton's arc hard to beat for tea . . .”

"And for prices,” I said.

"And for prices,” she agreed with a quick smile, as from one accomplice to another.

Seated beside Emilia, 1 was attacking with great relish a sundae special of the day, a mound of fruits, icecream, chopped nuts, with rivulets of maple syrup running down its slopes and capped with a top of oozy marshmallow.

She kept watching me at every mouthful. "Now. isn't this a good treat?” she asked. "Wasn't it worth saving for?"

My spirits were rising. "Yes,” 1 agreed. "You should have had one too. instead of just tea and those little muffins.”

"But a Sister might look funny eating such a great big sweet." she pointed out.

"Why?" 1 asked.

"Why," she repeated, and apparently didn't know' either. So we chattered away pleasantly. At that moment we were quite a pair of triends.

“You're such a good little cousine,” she congratulated me.

I gave her a quick look, and returned the compliment.

"You're odd,” 1 said, "but you're also a fine cousine.”

OUR SNACK OVER, Sister Jeanne took me off to the ladies’ rest room to w ash my face and put a comb through my hair. Then Sister Jeanne felt she had time to look about and satisfy her curiosity, 1 imagine. Or was she vaguely looking for something? I followed her, once again halfheartedly, and very weary.

In the millinery (how had that happened?) I saw' what looked like a forest of hats. Sister Jeanne pointed to a pagoda-like construction topped with a sort of garden and laughed goodheartedly.

"You may have thought I was ridiculous shopping for those dreary stockings, but thank heavens,” she said, “I don't have to shop for a hat any more.”

I shot her a quick glance. 1 thought 1 saw her point. For the first time

in my life her lot appeared to me somewhat enviable.

She then perceived that my face was pinched with weariness and perhaps a sort of dejection. She grabbed my arm.

"Ah. my poor little cousin, this has been trying for you. But it won't be long. now. I've really very little left to buy; just some thread and fasteners . . .”

Yet instead of moving toward the notions we wandered around a bit more, even went up a floor or two. and then found ourselves, abruptly, in the toy department.

MY EYES WIDENED in a sudden flare of interest. All the things here were so tempting! Was it because they didn't meet needs — dreadful needs? Constant needs? Because, as my mother would say, you could do very well without them?

I watched a small electric train running along its tiny rails, through trail tunnels and past dear little stations. Its subdued music, the noise it made as it traveled, penetrated my fatigue and pulled a smile out of me.

Sister Jeanne studied me with concern. frightened all at once. I believe, at what she had done by bringing me here. Even Maman, as often as possible, avoided putting me through the torment of the sight of too many toys.

"Come along,” my cousin begged, and I tore myself away from the little train and followed her obediently. A little farther on, with no other aim than curiosity, I went to look at a game of parcheesi displayed on a counter.

"Oh, parcheesi,” exclaimed my cousin. "1 had one when I was a little girl. I enjoyed playing it with my brothers and sisters.”

“Is it fun?"

"Oh yes, great fun! Haven't you got a parcheesi set?”

“No. Maman told me I might get one for my birthday, but she made me some dresses for my doll instead. ’

"Ah,;’ my cousin said sadly, “you haven’t a parcheesi set.”

She began to explain to me how it was played. You took the dice and shook them inside your hand; then, with a little jerk, you tossed them down in front of you. According to the number that came up, you moved one of the pieces along the ladders on the board. However, there were obstacles . . .

My eyes began to shine.

"1 think I could play it.” I said.

“Yes, my poor chick,” said Sister Jeanne, laying the palm of her hand on my head with a curious gesture, as if to bless me and, at the same time, soothe out of my head desires that were hard to satisfy.

The salesgirl was coming towards us. We started to retreat. Then Sister Jeanne changed her mind: "There’s no harm in asking the price.”

"No,” I said, trying to stop her. “Come away. It costs a lot. Come away, Emilia.”

And, indeed, it did cost a lot. It was forty-nine cents. We began to move away again. And I heard Sister Jeanne talking to herself about me under her breath, as if I weren’t there. It was very embarrassing.

"The poor little one,” she was saying, "she trails around the store all

day with an old nun: and she won't even get a little set of parcheesi as a reward!”

Then Sister Jeanne addressed me directly: "Would you like to know what is the hardest thing about a life of religion?"

Not much interested any more. 1 asked politely: "What?"

She smiled wearily. She had never been healthy. In addition to her deformity she suffered from all kinds of small defects. What this journey and

these exhausting shopping expeditions must have cost her in the way of effort, I obviously did not comprehend until later. Nevertheless, I perhaps guessed part of it at that moment.

"The hardest thing about a life of religion," she said, "is never to be able to give freely anymore."

We looked at each other for a moment. and her face hardened into an expression of revolt; her breath shortened, those soft, kind eyes became sharp pinpoints.

“I'm going to buy you that set of parcheesi,” she said.

That shook me badly. I think 1 saw even before she did the great disobedience she was about to commit.

“What about your vow of poverty?”

At this cost, I didn't care much for the parcheesi.

“Besides,” I cried out, “the money isn't yours, is it?”

“Well, didn’t 1 save my community at least five dollars today by my bargaining?” she protested.

Back we went to the counter, where Sister Jeanne asked the salesgirl to make a very special package with colored paper and even a bit of ribbon. I had to appear as pleased as could be with that gift.

WE HAD HARDLY moved away, me with the game under my arm and Sister Jeanne loaded with parcels, when she appeared to regret what she had done. She began to talk to herself again. Or rather she addressed herself in an imaginary conversation to her Mother Superior. Right there, in the middle of the store, she was trying to get Mother Superior to see eye to eye with her. “You see, don’t you, that 1 just had to reward that little mite of a girl?”

I don't know what Mother answered, but Sister Jeanne hung her head, and loud enough for the people around us to hear, she confessed: “It’s true, I broke our Holy Rule.” Which didn’t make me feel much better.

“I never wanted that parcheesi to begin with," 1 cried. “Let’s take it back.”

"After having it giftwrapped, with all that trouble!”

I realized that true enough, we would be exposed to the irritation of the salesgirl.

“All the same,” I said, “Eaton’s don't mind taking things back. They're good, that way . . . not the kind of store that makes you feel cheap when you return something.”

"No,” she said, “it's out of the question. Besides. I want you to keep and enjoy that little game . . .”

Then she rummaged deep in her pocket, brought out a pencil and a little notebook covered with black cloth, and right there in the aisle she began to write, dictating to herself: “a parcheesi set for my young cousin, forty-nine cents.”

“There,” she told me. “Now, I'm at least protected from a lie that would be the worst lapse of all.” From that moment she indeed seemed a little less troubled. We set off once more.

"It's not the first time that sort of temptation has come over me," she confided. "I was bound to succumb one day or another.’’

“I didn't want you to,” I said.

“I know, sweet little one,” she said. “And don't go worrying your head over that. It's not your fault. It’s a matter strictly between Our Mother and me. Or rather, between God and me. But as to God, fear not, he’s already seen why I’ve acted the way I did. As for Our Mother, she’ll soon see too.”

I swallowed hard. “Well, then, let's ask Maman to pay you back fortynine cents. She was bound to give me the game some time or other, anyhow.”

“That would be the last straw!” she said. “Make your poor mother pay for the first little present I've ever given you. No, it’s up to me to get out of the situation I’ve put myself into.”

I was thoroughly discouraged by then. I saw no solution.

“Ah, but there must be one," she said. "There’s always one, you know. And all that matters after all is for me to keep my sisters’ confidence as a house manager.”

She came a little closer to me.

“It's quite curious, but 1 seem to be the most gifted of our community in matters of money and business. Our sisters greatly rely on me. And I shouldn’t like to stop doing them that kind of service. It s a thankless sort of job in a way, yet it's very useful. So if 1 can only keep sisters’ confidence, all will be well.”

"But how can you keep their confi-

dence?” I queried, quite beyond myself w ith worry and pessimism.

"Oh, something good is bound to happen out of all this." she claimed. "You'll see

By then we reached the entrance of the store. It was still broad daylight. Out in the brilliant sun. our preoccupations seemed quite out of place, and all of them quite silly . On the portico Sister Jeanne paused a while, I suppose out of fright at encountering the metropolis again.

As we stood there a large private car pulled up at the main entrance. A liveried chauffeur leapt out, bowed slightly and opened the door for a beautiful young lady. She stepped out wearing (on that w'arm day) a silky soft fur at her throat. She had all the poise, the naturalness and charm of manner which comes. I suppose, from never having had in her life the silly little worries we had in plenty, Emilia and me. At all events, she appeared to us all wrapped up in the great tenderness people such as we quite often bestow freely on people such as she. We gave her a big warm smile simultaneously. Perhaps she brought home to us the idea that the miracle of case and grace is after all quite possible.

She walked quickly toward the store entrance and then, seeing us smile upon her with such fervor, flashed us a sudden smile in return.

Did we appear to her as some living tableau? Or had she never seen before a habit so intriguing as my cousin's? In bright daylight all those red stigmata must have been something to behold. Whatever she thought, she seemed to be charmed.

"What a beautiful Protestant lady,” whispered Sister Jeanne in my ear.

How\ I wondered, could one’s religion be so quickly visible to Sister Jeanne? I had no time, however, to question her on that. The fine lady walked by us, obviously wanting to speak to us. yet not daring to in spite of all her poise.

Then in an instant she changed her mind. She turned on those fine thin spiked heels and peered at us.

"Dear Sister,” she said, "are you in trouble? Please forgive me, if 1 interfere with what does not concern me. But I fancied that you might need some help ..."

"Ah. dear!” sighed my cousin, "where will 1 begin!"

Yet right there, in front of the store, amidst people coming in. people going out. people lingering to catch a word or two. the whole story came out.

"I see. 1 see." said the lady, who didn't see at all. for throughout the tale she had a hard time not to laugh. "So now your accounts don't balance?" At that she opened wide her hand-

bag. a handbag almost as capacious as a small suitcase, yet made very delicately of finest fawn leather which matched her shoes.

"What is y our deficit?"

"Forty -nine cents!” said Emilia.

"Forty-nine cents!"

The lady 's ey es w idened. She could no longer hold back her merriment. It came out in a ripple, easy and very sweet: very much like the rich people's way of life — in fact, the sort of amused laughter 1 had not often heard

among my own worrying kind. She took a bill from her bag at random. Without even a glance she held it out to Sister Jeanne.

It was a five-dollar bill.

"Oh, that's too much, much too much." cried my cousin. "We don't solicit, you know. At least, not in the streets . . ."

Already though, that generous soul, with a toss of her head, was walking away, still laughing. After she had vanished in the store we could still

ihear her merry laughter, tinkling like a little hell.

Then we looked at each other, completely dumbfounded.

“Now', I'm left with too much money,” said Sister Jeanne. “How much too much?” she asked of me. “You work it out. You've got an agile mind.”

So here I was with that wretched budget to balance again!

“Has it really got to balance again?”

“Ah, yes,” she said. “With money

matters we can’t afford to be lax. We have so little, you see, we have to attend to it very closely.”

So I did some more calculations. I announced: “Now, you’re stuck with four dollars and fifty-one cents too much . . .”

Apparently there was no way of discouraging her any more. She chuckled: “A surplus like that is almost more difficult to explain than a shortage, but it’s more amusing, far more amusing.”

1 didn't see it. I was sorely tempted at this point to abandon her to her crisscross way of working herself into and out of trouble.

“Do you have to balance?”

“Oh, definitely I have to balance,” she said.

We had started walking, each of us loaded with packages of all sizes that protruded from us in all directions. We were continually in people's way. After a while I couldn’t resist trying to help her again. As a child I was

very conscientious. So 1 came out w ith a brilliant suggestion.

“We could spend it all in no time.”

She gave me a dubious look.

"We could, at that,” she said absent-mindedly, and 1 saw' that this wasn't her line of thought at all.

"With all that extra money — almost enough now for us to buy a statue of St. Anthony of Padua, to whom the Sisters of the Wounds arc indebted — wouldn’t it be a sensible idea if we started to save w'ith that aim in view . . .?”

So w'e had to walk back home with our assorted parcels stacked in whatever w'ay they would balance. Now and then we leaned against a wall or a shop window to rest a bit. Our eyes wandered to the sky. It was very blue that day. Truly a prairie sky. On the immediate horizon, just above the buildings w'crc billboards, signs of wealth, of power and domination. Beyond, there w;as nothing. Strange that “nothing” should sometimes be so restful and appealing.

Once, after w'e had gazed for a long time at that pure empty sweep of sky. Sister Jeanne placed her pa!m on my head, and said feelingly: “God v.'ill reward you. He will keep it in His book of accounts that you’ve helped me bear the burden of today.”

Were we never to be done with balancing?

“Hardly ever in this life,” she said. "For good and bad are so thoroughly mixed up together.”

"But was today really a burden?” I asked.

"Ah, never mind, think thoughts of your age, little one . . . Now, shall we walk some more?”

So we walked some more, rested some more, then walked on. When, almost near home at last. Sister Jeanne, who was all worn out. pale and without much breath left in her, ventured to say very gently, I thought: "Next year, when the time comes for me to do business in the world, do you feel that you could again lend me your assistance?”

Put in that way, a request is hard to refuse, isn't it? Besides, next year was kind of far away. 1 accepted. What is even stranger, I became quite keen about the idea, after a little while . . . imagining rich adventures I might have again with my impecunious cousin. ★