Authors: Rebecca Winters
Jeffrey listened attentively. Elinore’s opinion usually carried weight with him, but this time he remained unconvinced and shook his head. “It’s more than mere insecurity with him. He loves Sister Catherine. His feelings for her far outweigh the usual show of affection a child might display for a nurse or a teacher. He hasn’t been himself since I picked him up and brought him back home.
“Physically he seemed fine, and we got along splendidly, but he kept telling me Sister Catherine was going to come, that we had to arrange it. He was almost frantic about it. Then he caught the grippe, and now it has gone way beyond that. This new withdrawal is allowing the infection to spread. He’s not fighting any longer.” His voice trembled with emotion.
Philip stared into the fire, deciding to discuss an idea that had been forming in his mind for the last few days. Seeing his brother so distraught prompted him to bring it to light.
“Jeff, there could be a solution to this. At least I think there could be.” Elinore looked at her husband with curiosity as Jeffrey’s head lifted. “Think back to what Michael was like after Connie died. He retreated within himself as he’s doing now. Elinore couldn’t draw him out, yet he’d known her since he was born.” She bit her lip, but remained silent.
“Michael couldn’t accept the reality that Connie was gone until you put him in the convent school to keep him safe from the bombings. By some miracle he became attached to Sister Catherine. Did you notice how Michael had stopped brooding about Connie after you brought him back from the convent last month? He only spoke of the nun.”
Jeffrey nodded, pondering his brother’s every word. Oh yes, he’d noticed the change in Michael. He’d wondered right away how this sister had managed to have such a far reaching effect on his son in so short a period of time. He’d even had to admit to a streak of jealousy that a stranger had been able to succeed where he had not.
For the life of him, he couldn’t understand Michael’s preoccupation with her. He never stopped chattering about how kind she was, how much fun. Why couldn’t she be his new mummy? The last question had shaken him.
“It’s just a hunch,” Philip continued, “but maybe Michael has transferred his feelings for Connie to this nun, so that in his eyes she has become the mother he lost. Do you follow me?”
Jeffrey had been concentrating on Philip’s words and suddenly a look of excitement washed over his face. He grabbed his arm. “My feelings exactly, and Sister Catherine is still very much alive! Phil-- that’s it! Why have I waited so long?” He gave him a brotherly hug.
The look on both their faces was more than Elinore could tolerate because sheer jealousy raged through her.
“I’m going to call the Mother Superior right now and persuade her to let Sister Catherine come to the hospital as soon as possible to visit Michael, to stay with him if necessary. She brought him back to life once before. Let’s pray she has the power to do it again!”
Philip smiled encouragingly at his impetuous brother and nodded. When Jeffrey had an idea, he ran with it. That was part of his genius.
“Jeffrey?” Elinore cried. He was practically out the door before she could stop him. “Hold on a minute. You didn’t get a chance to meet this Sister Catherine when you went for Michael a month ago, did you?”
“No. I’ve never met anyone but the Mother Superior. Why?”
Elinore got up from the chair and in an agitated state walked over to him. “Because if she’s a professed nun rather than a postulant, it’s very likely there are rules about her going outside the convent, no matter how pressing the circumstances.”
She’d voiced Philip’s mind with an almost triumphant ring. He glared at his wife. She was very shrewd, but definitely lacking in tact. For this reason Philip had been hesitant in broaching the subject in the first place. It was true that nuns had strict rules about such matters.
Jeffrey’s face wore a determined expression,. “The Holy Mother is a very remarkable woman, Elinore, a friend of the family. She took Michael in when the convent was already filled to capacity. I can’t believe she would deny this favor under the circumstances,” he spoke with optimism.
“I think you’re jumping to conclusions. A nun’s life runs by a different logic. Be reasonable, Jeffrey, and give me a little more time to work with Michael. I want to take care of him and nurse him back to health. I’ve made so many plans for us. I know Connie would have wanted it this way.”
“Elinore,” Philip’s voice cajoled. “Michael cares for you, but right now he needs someone he’s really close to. At this point he requires something that none of us is capable of giving him. Think a minute. If Jeffrey can’t provide the impetus now, then you can see...”
Her fists clenched behind the folds of her dress. “Of course. I just don’t like to see you get your hopes up, Jeffrey, and then have them dashed to pieces because your need may be beyond the Mother Superior’s power to fulfill.”
He was already out in the hall. “She’s got to,” he fired back. “It’s a matter of life and death.”
Elinore went to the sideboard and poured herself a drink. She sipped it and walked back and forth, studying her husband through veiled eyes. “Philip? You’re wrong to have raised Jeffrey’s hopes that way. A man of law like you knows very well the convent life owes its allegiance to a government above temporal law.”
She was sounding very smug. Philip put the poker to rest. His wife could be sorely trying at times. There was a selfish, ruthless streak in her. She was relentless in pursuing her own way. But right now he wasn’t in the mood to indulge her jealousy or put up with her sarcastic attitude. He knew how much she suffered over her inability to relate like a mother to Michael, but for once she must consider someone besides herself.
“Elinore, you’re intelligent enough to realize that Michael’s life is at stake. For his sake let’s pray Jeffrey can succeed with the Holy Mother.”
Philip wasn’t usually as direct and cutting. She finished her drink and said no more. Always where Jeffrey was concerned, Philip was there to protect. It felt like everything was going wrong. But she wasn’t about to let some nanny of a nun usurp Elinore’s rightful place with Michael. The boy was her one sure link to Jeffrey.
“Damn the war anyway!” Jeffrey strode into the room. “The lines are down somewhere and I can’t get through to the convent in Castle Combe. I’m going to drive there tonight!”
Elinore almost dropped her glass. “You can’t go off to the convent in the middle of the night, and certainly not in your condition. You’d fall asleep at the wheel and be killed. What would become of Michael if he lost you, too? Philip? Talk some sense to him!”
But her husband wasn’t listening to her. “I’ll go with you, Jeff. We can be there at dawn if we take turns driving.”
“Right, Phil. I won’t forget this.”
“Have you both gone mad?” she cried.
Philip turned. “What choice do we have? You know how much the boy wants to see Sister Catherine again.”
She shook her head. “I can’t believe either one of you. You desperately need a good night’s sleep. It would be proper if you were to speak to the Holy Mother before tearing off into the countryside in the dead of night, arriving on her doorstep unexpectedly!”
Jeffrey pulled on his overcoat. “We can’t wait. I’m going to take you up on your offer to stay with Michael tonight. There’s a cot in his room. You can sleep there if you’d like. Tell Hugh we’ve gone to the convent to bring back Sister Catherine. He’ll understand. If all goes well, we should be at the hospital before noon.”
She fought to control the hysteria in her voice. “Very well, but you have absolutely no idea what you’re up against. And even if she could come, what makes you think she’ll be able to perform this miracle you’re alluding to?”
Jeffrey’s eyes turned to flint. “She’ll come, dammit! And he’ll get well!”
Elinore had gone too far, incurring his wrath. She’d never known him to be angry with her and it hurt. He opened the front door. “I’ve given Jens the exchange. He’ll keep trying to get through to the convent to forewarn the Holy Mother. If there’s any change in Michael, you can reach us there, if the lines are repaired in time,” he added and slipped out into the night.
Philip put a firm hand on her arm. “Why are you doing this?” he demanded, but she wouldn’t look at him and yanked her arm from his grasp. He followed Jeffrey out the door, at a loss for explanations.
She remained frozen near the piano until the sound of the car died away, then she unwillingly followed through with the plans to have Jens drive her to the hospital.
Philip drove for the first few hours while Jeffrey slept in the back of the car. Elinore’s behavior was a complete mystery to him. Why in heaven’s name wouldn’t she want their plan to succeed?
The stars were finally fading when Jeffrey awoke with a start. He insisted on driving the rest of the way, eager to channel his energy into something physical. They spoke briefly about the latest Nazi offensives and got into a discussion of aerodynamics having to do with one of their new fighter planes. But presently Philip fell asleep and Jeffrey was alone with his thoughts.
He maneuvered his car through the turns and twists with the same speed and accuracy with which he flew a plane, slowing down here and there to check road signs. They’d just passed through Chippenham, so Castle Combe couldn’t be more than five kilometers away now.
Was Elinore right about the Holy Mother? Was this too much to ask of her? But the image of his sick child struggling for breath, calling for Sister Catherine in the night, haunted him endlessly and drove him closer to the holy sanctuary.
The world had turned upside down and nothing was the same for anybody since bombs had been ruthlessly dropped on London fifty-seven nights in succession, killing the rich and the poor, the important, the unimportant, mother, father, friend, child, wife, without mercy or discrimination.
Suddenly the sun appeared above the horizon and he was brought back to thoughts of Michael. His son had to recover! What irony that his fate lay once more in the hands of the Holy Mother and an unseen nun.
The Mother Superior of the Benedictine convent of Our Lord of the Lamb had started out her day in the usual way with morning prayers and a quick stroll about the grounds. Dew blanketed the white petals of the dogwood trees. The atmosphere was conducive to meditation and it was with reluctance that she had to step quickly inside her office to answer the phone which sounded like a distress signal at the early hour of five-thirty.
She lifted the receiver and was out of breath as she strained to hear the other voice, but the connection was poor. The call was coming from Norwood, the ancestral country home of the reknown Norwood family. Immediately a worried expression broke out on her face. It appeared she would be expecting visitors shortly and she hung up the receiver with apprehension.
This sudden visit had to do with young Michael. She sensed it could only bring more suffering and torment to Sister Catherine, the nun who’d literally saved the boy’s life when he’d been brought here.
The younger sister loved little Michael Norwood. The Holy Mother had seen the signs from the very beginning and had ferreted out the truth. It was a good love, a healing love for the terror stricken child, and love could never be wrong. But it did mean that Catherine had formed an attachment that went beyond the Christ-like compassion a nun was to feel for others, and entered into the bounds of earthly love, as a mother would feel for her own son.
The Holy Mother understood the reason for this special attachment. Michael had undergone a shock to his system which had caused such severe emotional damage, the doctors feared he would be affected for the rest of his life. She could never remember a time when a sister had experienced this particular problem. But then the circumstances in this case were highly unusual. There was a war on, and Michael was one of its casualties.
He’d watched his mother’s body blown to bits before his very eyes, the result of an explosion that had shattered the dining room of the Mayfair mansion, the city home of the Norwoods. She’d died in the rash of bombings that had demolished the kitchen at Number 10 Downing Street and had crumbled the House of Commons.
The head nun remembered the incident with horror, not only because of that monster Hitler, but because the Norwood family was a noble institution and had been patrons of Our Lord of the Lamb for generations. The death of Constance Norwood had been given extended publicity in Lord Wyngate’s paper, causing a furor among friends and relatives of the highly esteemed family.
She was the wife of one of England’s young heroes, Jeffrey Norwood, an aviator and engineer who’d been awarded the coveted Distinguished Flying Cross for valor over and over again beyond the call of duty during those bloody days of September.
All England would remember his name for his daring air-sea rescues in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. German submarines had been patrolling the waters and had torpedoed merchant and military ships carrying officers, men and children to America. It was Jeffrey Norwood and a crew of incredibly brave men who’d rescued hundreds of drowning victims in the high seas and roaring winds.
His name was synonymous with the flying boats which he helped to improve in design, and both were associated with bravery. Therefore when the news revealed that he’d been widowed and his little son left without a mother, Londoners particularly mourned the loss and were shocked to their very roots.