“Luna in the morn-ing, shin-ing, bright — aw, Wulf, what’s the matter?”
“No sing, Mama!”
“No sing? Ye don’t like the Luna song?”
Hovering in the doorway, one eye on the other little ones, Sister Margery smiled — and frowned. None of the other children in the orphanage got this kind of one-on-one attention, got to learn the songs and the rhymes a non-orphaned child would learn. How was it that Brother Tuck had ever thought that it would be a good idea to separate a child who was not in danger of death or injury from his mother? How could he possibly think that the orphanage could give a child a better start than parents who loved him could?
“O’course Mama can hold ye,” Erin answered, grabbing the little boy and plunking him onto her lap with one fluid motion. “Ye want ter sing now?”
Wulf said nothing. He simply burrowed his head against his mother’s breast, though he’d been weaned off his mother’s milk for a year now. “Mama hold,” he repeated.
“Can Mama hold ye an’ sing at the same time?” Erin laughed, cuddling him.
Wulf seemed to consider that, before he nodded.
“Luna in the morn-ing, shin-ing, bright-ly,” Erin sang. “Luna in the morn-ing –”
“Wain at night!” Wulf replied.
“That’s right! Luna in the morning, rain at night!” Erin clapped, and Wulf chortled.
Sister Margery frowned again — not a frown of anger or sadness, simply puzzlement. She had heard the village woman sing that song to their children ever since she had come here, but she had no idea what the rhyme was supposed to mean. Was it simply nonsense? “Erin?”
Erin looked up at her with a frightened, almost guilty look. “Sister? Surely it can’t be time fer me ter go yet –”
“No go, Mama! No go!” Wulf cried out, clinging to her.
“Oh, no, Erin! I just wanted to ask –”
“SISTER!” That was Sister Angelique’s voice from below, where she was watching Tara while she practiced her music. “Sister, there’s a monk coming up the steps!”
“What?” Sister Margery demanded. “Which one?”
“I can’t tell, he’s wearing his hood up!”
Sister Margery had only time to send on panicked, stricken look at Erin — before the other woman picked up Wulf and fled from the nursery with him. Sister Margery’s heart leapt into her throat —
And Erin ducked with the little one into the large bathrooms. “Ye won’t tell him I’m here?” Erin whispered, sticking her head outside the door for a moment.
“Not for the world!”
They had no time for more words before a brisk rat-a-tat-tat sounded from the door.
Sister Margery had just enough time to smooth her skirt and say a quick prayer to the Blessed Brandi before she heard the door open. “Brother Tuck!” Sister Angelique called — probably louder than was strictly necessary, perhaps as a warning to Erin. “How lovely to see you! Won’t you come in?”
Brother Tuck?!? Sister Margery gulped and started down the stairs even as Brother Tuck’s low rumble answered Sister Angelique. Best to head off possible trouble at the pass.
“Won’t you wait here a moment?” Sister Angelique’s singing lessons were clearly paying off, though in ways Sister Margery had never expected — that girl could make her voice carry throughout the whole house without making it sound as if she was raising it. A useful talent to have, all things considered, even though Sister Margery’s conscience gave off a twinge. To need to make your voice carry without necessarily raising it spoke of subterfuge, and what good nun ever had cause to use subterfuge. “I’ll just run upstairs and get — oh, here’s Sister Margery!”
“Sister,” Brother Tuck said, opening his arms out.
“Brother Tuck,” Sister Margery replied, stepping into his embrace. It was only fair, she told herself. She and Brother Tuck had been close, once upon a time, when they were but younglings in the service of the Church, and kept at a conspicuous distance by their peers thereby.
Over Brother Tuck’s shoulder, she tilted her head in the direction of the stairs. Sister Angelique nodded and darted up them before Brother Tuck pulled away.
“And what brings you here this fine — if somewhat chilly — day?” asked Sister Margery.
“I simply wished to speak to you regarding the tithes,” he replied. “We’ve had a bit of a banner year, and I wished to ascertain from you just what your needs were for the coming year.”
“Oh!” Well, that was a far cry from what she — and Erin, too, cowering in the bathroom — were fearing. If only she could make her voice carry as Sister Angelique did! Then she could —
The implications of what Brother Tuck had said began to sink in.
“Brother — with all due respect, and with prayerful gratitude for your generosity … all of our operating expenses are handled by the nunnery.”
“I know, I know — but I’m trying to streamline things.” He smiled a smile that would be better suited, or so Sister Margery thought, to a suave guildsman or a savvy courtier than a man of Wright. “If we can centralize the tithing, the money, then perhaps it will be easier to budget, to track expenses, to make the best use of all the money the Lord Wright deems to send our way.”
Well, put like that …
But a voice inside of Sister Margery, a voice that sounded like her mother, urged her to go slowly, to be cautious. She herself could see no problem with unifying their budgets, but it seemed like the sort of thing that would set Mother Julian off on principle.
Surely, though, it could do no harm to talk to him about it? If worst came to worst, she could gather information to pass along to her mother. “Won’t you join me in my office, Brother Tuck?” she asked.
“Gladly.” And so Sister Margery led the way through the parlor, into her office. How odd it was to know that only six months ago, Erin had passed through this very different room, on a very different mission!
“And who is this charming young lady?” Brother Tuck asked, recalling Sister Margery’s thoughts to the matter at hand — or at least the room she was passing through.
“Oh, that’s — oh!” Sister Margery called, seeing Tara. “Oh, dear.”
“That — oh, my. Hold on just a moment, I’ll Sister Angelique down. She’s only sixteen months old, you understand –”
“Sister Angelique?” Brother Tuck chuckled.
“Oh, goodness, no! I mean this little one. Tara,” she added for Brother Tuck’s benefit.
He crouched down next to the little one, who was watching him with big brown eyes. “A pretty name for a pretty little …” He looked into the child’s face and frowned. “Sister, whose child is she?”
“She’s an orphan.”
“I know that — but who was her mother?”
“Hmm …” Sister Margery picked Tara up, glancing into her face. Maybe she could see some traces of the mother there. Of course the orphanage kept records of the children’s mothers (and fathers, if known), but she didn’t want to have to go through them if she didn’t have to. “I think it’s the dark-skinned, er, lady of the night … T something, like little Miss Tara here …”
“What’s the last name?”
“Abbot,” answered Sister Margery. “Tara Abbot. It’s a –” She looked up and gasped at expression on Brother Tuck’s face. “Brother! What is it?”
“Abbot? Tell me that was the mother’s surname as well!”
“No, no, that’s not it –”
“So you let a whore give her child the last name of Abbot?”
“Brother! Please, your language!” Sister Margery covered one of Tara’s ears with her hand and pressed the other side of her head to her shoulder.
“St. Robert’s bones,” Brother Tuck cursed, “what were you thinking?”
“Thinking? I wasn’t thinking anything!”
“Obviously, if you let the woman get away with that!”
“Get away with what?”
Tara heard Brother Tuck’s voice rising and responded with a wail of her own.
“Brother Tuck, for heaven’s sake, calm down! You’re frightening the child!”
Sister Margery turned away from him to better comfort Tara, bouncing her and speaking nonsense on the wails had quieted into sniffles and the sniffles into silence. Then she put the child down and turned back to Brother Tuck.
He was not looking at her; he was looking at the back of Tara’s head. His expression, when he finally looked at Sister Margery, was impossible for her to read. “Are you ready to discuss this in an adult manner?” Sister Margery asked, putting her hands upon her hips. “Without scaring the child?”
He was at least quieter when he replied, though no one over the age of two — and possibly a majority of the people below it — could mistake the emotion that made his voice tremble and his fists clench. “Sister Margery, I know that you are a good woman yourself, and you prefer not to assume evil in other Sims if you can possibly help it — but do not pretend to me that you are so innocent that you have no idea what this child’s mother was attempting to do!”
“Let’s assume that I am that innocent,” Sister Margery hissed.
“She’s casting infamy onto Father Hugh’s good name!”
That Sister Margery was not expecting to hear. “Father Hugh?”
“The child’s last name is Abbot, is it not? Tell me, how do these — these women give surnames to their children?”
Every single woman was different, but Sister Margery knew that most of them chose a surname for their children that had something to do with the father, or the probable father. Erin, of course, was the exception, but all of the other children that came under Sister Margery’s care had surnames that matched up to their fathers. Rhoslyn’s father’s first name was John; the surname of Nyasha’s father began with F. Jade’s father’s first name was Michael; Tor’s father’s surname began with G, and so on.
“Perhaps the father of the child –”
“The father of the child! Sister, do you mean to tell me that there is any way these women know the identity of their children’s fathers?”
“They often have a good idea — I’ve spoken to some of them, they can trace a resemblance–”
“Hogwash! Certainly, they say so, but they cannot possibly know which of their dozens of clients — on a single night, even! — could have possibly sired any of their children!”
“Then why do you worry about Tara’s surname?”
“Because it doesn’t matter that the mother can’t know — people will hear that name and think she knows! I cannot believe you allowed a whore to trample upon the integrity of our church — of Father Hugh — in that way!”
“Now, Brother, surely anyone who knows Father Hugh –” Sister Margery began.
“And how many Sims truly know Father Hugh?”
“Why, the man’s integrity practically shines from his face!”
“Sister, please. Anyone can counterfeit the appearance of integrity. If anything, appearing so — so upright, so moral will make it more likely that people will believe that Father Hugh is secretly a deeper sinner than other Sim!”
“That’s nonsense, Brother Tuck. We both know that Father Hugh — that poor man has neither the time nor the energy to go visiting ladies of the night!”
“Aye, we know, we know. But everyone else? Everyone who hears that child’s name and knows who her mother is — or at least knows that her mother is no honest woman, married to a man who happened to have the last name of Abbot?”
Sister Margery glanced around Brother Tuck, to where Tara was playing again with her bunny. “Brother … I can’t see how anyone would look at this child and think she was Father Hugh’s daughter. She looks no more like him than she does like me — and goodness knows I’m not that child’s father!”
“So? They don’t have to see the child, and be sensible about tracing resemblances, to spread foul gossip and lies and rumors!”
“And who is this ‘they,’ Brother Tuck?”
“The peasants! The commoners! The — the partisans of those sinful women!”
“The ladies of the night have partisans?”
“Oh, for Wright’s sake — I’ve been preaching against them for years now, and you haven’t experienced any slowdown in children coming to you, have you? Obviously they have — have people loyal to them! As customers, if nothing else!”
“Perhaps that’s because those other people understand these women better than you can!” Sister Margery snapped before she could think better of it.
Brother Tuck stared at her, and Sister Margery realized what she had just said. Oh, St. Brandi! Help me!
Before the other man could speak, she swallowed. “Listen — I — perhaps I ought to have caught the child’s name when she first was brought in to us, and changed it. Aye, aye, I should have done that. But now the girl’s name is the girl’s name, and I won’t be changing it.”
Brother Tuck opened his mother to protest, and Sister Margery held up her hand. “Brother, please, let me finish speaking. I won’t be changing the child’s name because it was conferred upon her at baptism — and because I don’t see anything very wrong about what her mother did in so calling her that. Let me finish!”
She took another deep breath. “Brother Tuck, I know you can only see the lies and rumors that will result from this, and I do not know how Father Hugh will react to those lies.” Somehow, I doubt he will notice unless it is brought to his attention in an unmistakable way. “And I know that your — your ultimate goal is to help these women, to deliver them from the clutches of sin and into the healing holiness of the true Church. But Brother Tuck, I question your methods.”
“I question your methods,” Sister Margery repeated. “Though you preach against these women every Sunday, you do nothing to correct the circumstances that led to them — to them taking this path of life. Brother Tuck, even though I understand you resort to hyperbole in order to get these women’s customers to change their ways, these are not evil women. They are not irredeemable. They are mostly, I firmly believe, frightened and left utterly alone in the world. They have no husbands, no families to help them along. They have no skills that would help them get a more respectable job. They have three choices: steal their bread, sell their bodies to earn their bread, or go without their bread altogether. Tell me, Brother, don’t you think that the second choice is — is the least harmful, all things considered?”
“Harmful? Harm has nothing to do with it! You can’t possibly understand what I’m trying to do if you think –”
Brother Tuck must have hit just the right decibel, for Tara began to wail again.
Sister Margery’s first instinct was to go to the little one and comfort her, but she could not. She could not because she was too busy watching Brother Tuck.
For he turned around, breathing hard and heavy, watching little Tara. When he stopped shouting, she slowly stopped crying. And she stared back up at him.
Slowly, he got down on one knee, picked the baby up, and balanced her on his hip. “There, there,” he said, his voice thick with — what? “There, there. No need to be so upset.” He narrowed his eyes and glanced at Sister Margery. “Sister, I think you had best take this child upstairs, and I shall wait in your office.”
“I think that would be best.” Sister Margery took Tara from him, and sprinted up the stairs like a girl of Sister Angelique’s age.
She managed to make it into the nursery, be certain Tara was truly calm, and appraise Sister Angelique of the situation in record time. Then she ducked into the bathroom. “Erin?” she whispered.
“Is he gone?” Erin whispered back.
“No — and he’s likely to be here for a while. When you put Wulf down for his N-A-P, do you want to G-O?”
“No Mama go!” Wulf called, clinging to his mother’s neck.
“Look at ‘im! He knows what that means already! What a smart little boy!” Erin couldn’t help but crow, cuddling her boy closer to her. “Today’s me day off. I can — if ye don’t think it’s likely that he would come up ter the nursery, d’ye think I can jest stay here until he goes ter B-E-D?”
Looking at mother and child, Sister Margery came to her decision. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “He shan’t come up to the nursery. I promise.”
I have no idea how I’ll keep that promise — I have no idea how I’ll keep so many promises — but somehow or other, with the Lord Wright’s good help, I will do what is right by all of them.