The Vow of entire, unquestioning, and absolute Obedience renders the
Superiors tyrants and their subjects slaves. A novice, or nun, must give
up her will, conscience, judgment, reason, and her intellect, and must
be merely a tool in her Superior’s hands.[8] She may not speak to her
Superior without first prostrating her whole body to the ground, kissing
the hem of her “sacred habit,” and then, leave to speak being given, she
may address her Superior, kneeling on both knees, with the eyes fixed on
the ground. She must listen to her voice as the voice of God; for has
not God addressed each nun with some such words as, “The Lord hath in
His wisdom set thy Superior, and her alone, over thee, and He will only
accept thy obedience through thy Superior”?

Of course we soon learnt to look upon our Superiors as possessing
infallibility. In the words of the Lady Prioress of Llanthony convent:

What the Pope is to Roman Catholics, that a Superior is to a
nun. _I_ cannot err, in regard to you; though I may do wrong or
make mistakes in regard to matters belonging to myself, yet I
cannot err as regards you, for our Lord would not permit this.
Therefore, no matter what I do or say to you, it must be right,
so far as it concerns you; it is God’s will for you, and the
very slightest rebellion against my wish or orders, even in
thought, is rebellion against God.

In “The Rule of our Most Holy Father St. Benedict” (Burns & Oates), on
page 53, these words occur: “The third degree of humility is that a man,
for the love of God, submit himself to his Superior in all obedience,
imitating the Lord, of whom the apostle saith, ‘He was made obedient unto
death.’ … And in order to show that we ought to be under a Superior, the
word of God says, ‘Thou hast placed men over our heads.’”

That this is a most extraordinary and utterly unwarranted application (?)
of Scripture, I need scarcely point out to my intelligent readers.

Of course the Father Superior is as infallible as the Mother Superior;
and yet I have heard the Llanthony Mother frequently criticise the
reverend Father’s doings when his actions did not exactly fall in with
her ideas, or if they at all clashed with her will. This Mother, too,
often accused me to the reverend Father of things I had never done.
I recall to mind an occasion when I was smarting under one of these
unfounded accusations, and how, in an agony of mind, I exclaimed, “It is
not true, and she knows it is not true.” The Father Superior commanded me
to be still, and listen to God speaking to me. Practically we were taught
that the Lord only reveals His will to us through our Superiors. A nun
must obey the convent bell as if it were the voice of an angel. If she
should be writing when the bell sounds, she must instantly lay down her
pen, without even waiting to finish the formation of a letter; and as an
example of how pleasing such instant obedience is to God, we were told
that a certain saint was called three times whilst reciting the office
of the Blessed Virgin; she obeyed promptly, and on returning and taking
up her book, she found the letters written in gold;[9] and thus, even
in this life, was her perfect obedience rewarded. When the bell rings,
or a Superior calls, everything must be left at once, even though the
nun knows full well she will be penanced for leaving things about, and
yet she dares not stay to put them away without a breach of this Vow of

Once I was in the “Lady Chapel,” decorating the shrine, and the bell
rang before I had cleared the faded flowers away. By _rule_ I dared not
leave them, and by _rule_ I dared not clear them away, and of the two
evils I chose to clear away the faded flowers. Soon the Lady Prioress of
Llanthony came down, looked at me, and then slammed the doors, which shut
me out of the nun’s choir. I was afterwards reproved by the Superior, who
said to me:

“Sister Agnes, if you go on in this way very much longer, you
will find yourself at last where you are now, outside the doors
of heaven, with the gate shut.”

The truth is, a nun’s obedience must be blind in its character; there
must be no waiting to consider consequences, for by her vow she has
renounced all claim to herself, and should the Superior command her to
do what she believes to be even wrong and sinful, it is her duty to
simply obey without a question, since the responsibility rests rather
upon the Superior who gave the command than upon the nun who obeys it.
In obeying a Superior, a nun is more sure of doing God’s will than if
an angel came down from heaven to give a command, seeing that Satan can
transform himself into an angel of light; but there can be no possibility
of mistaking the Superior’s voice! (so we were taught).

Obedience to God being the only sure road to heaven, such obedience,[10]
for a nun at least, can only be rendered pleasing and acceptable to God
through the channel of her Superior; so, without strict obedience to the
Superior, there can be no hope of heaven. Thus a nun must act as one who
is not responsible to God for her actions! I pity the Superiors, who have
not only upon them the weight of their own sins, but also that of all the
nuns under their care! They have yet to learn that salvation is not the
reward of man’s obedience, but the free gift of God, by faith, without

I had been in the convent now for some eight years, striving after
perfection; but a wearisome task it was, ever striving to observe all the
minutiæ of convent rules, ever confessing every little deviation from
the three vows aforementioned. I had been taught that baptism had made
me a child of God; that original sin had, by virtue of that rite, been
taken away; but that, subsequently, if I wished to retain God’s favour, I
must confess every sin of omission and commission, in thought, word and
deed; and that should I conceal wilfully any matter, however trivial,
my eternal salvation would be endangered by any such concealment. It is
perhaps difficult for those who have never been under such a hard yoke to
imagine the mental torture such a system creates. I was often filled with
fear lest I had not remembered _everything_, and it is no easy matter to
look back through a whole life and lay everything bare before God, in the
presence of a man, whom we are told to forget entirely, and think we are
but repeating everything to God, who knows all beforehand, but who wills
that we should come to Him in this way; and whatever shame is felt in
thus opening our hearts and all its windings, must be accepted willingly
as a small suffering for our sins. Sometimes a matter seems so silly or
trivial that one thinks it not necessary to confess it. But the very fact
of not wishing to confess it proves it to be wrong, and therefore it must
be confessed. For years I went thus to confession, conscientiously and
scrupulously declaring the whole of my inner and outer life. Thus did I
strive to find the peace I so longed for, and I must say I did enjoy a
certain satisfaction of mind until I inadvertently broke some convent
rule. A sin of anger would be mortal; and had I died without confession
of this sin to a priest and obtaining absolution, there would have been
very little, if any, hope of my soul’s salvation. I would often confess,
and weep tears of real pain and bitter sorrow at my ingratitude to God,
after His wonderful condescension in calling me into the “Religious
Life,” while so many who possibly would have grown far holier than myself
were left in the world, never even having the opportunity of gaining so
bright a crown, or of being so near to Jesus hereafter. I would resolve
and pray that I might never do anything wrong against rule (the rule is
the nun’s guide to perfection, it being the only way that God intends her
to reach perfection) or anything else; and to attain this perfect state,
I would often spend my recreation and sleep time in making novenas to the
blessed Virgin, reciting the Rosary and Litany of the blessed Virgin, or
in invoking the saints; but they never seemed to answer me, and even when
I redoubled my efforts, I sought their help in vain.

It was very difficult for me not to break rule sometimes, and often it
would be impossible to perform obedience, as we had sometimes half a
dozen obediences to fulfil at the same time, or we had some order given,
and when it was accomplished, we would be severely reproved for taking
upon us to dare to do such or such things; and should we try and explain
our conduct, by that very explanation at least half a dozen rules were
broken straightway, namely, silence broken, self-justification, answering
the Superior, unwillingness to take unjust rebuke with great gratitude,
etc., for all of which we had hard penances imposed. The result was that
at times I was in a state of continual penance, and consequently in
prolonged disgrace, whilst some sisters who were not so conscientious in
confessing faults, and doing penances prescribed by rule, were deemed
far holier and much higher up the ladder than myself. At last I thought
myself so bad that I literally _despaired_ of ever reaching perfection,
or of going to heaven at all. But my Father Confessor did not think me
so bad, and, in fact, he flattered me, and declared that he thought very
highly of me; but this only tended to alarm me, as I thought I must be
deceiving myself and him too, and I told him this, but he assured me that
I must not think so, and that he felt sure I could not have such a bad
opinion of myself. However, for months and months I was afraid to go to
sleep lest I should awake in hell; and I was equally afraid to get up
lest some accident should come upon me, and then I should be cast into
perdition. So I was always asking to go to confession at every little
fault or breach of rule.

At last the climax came, when one day the following passage from the
writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori was read aloud: “A soul may yet be
damned for sins which have already been confessed.” How to keep silence I
knew not, for I felt how terribly I had been deceived in being told that
sin confessed is sin forgiven. The next day I asked leave to go to my
Father Confessor, and when I was in his presence he asked me:

“Sister Agnes, have you come to confession?”

I replied, “No, I have not, for I don’t believe in confession, or in
anything, or anybody, or even in myself, and I scarcely believe there is
a God at all.”

“Dear sister, what is the matter with you? I have never seen you like
this before. I always thought you very good.”

Then I quoted the words of Liguori which had so upset me, and added:

“You told me that everything I confessed was forgiven, and I believed
you; but now I find it is not true.”

He made at once the best explanation he could of Liguori’s meaning,
reconciling the words with his own apparently contradictory statement:
both were right then. Be that as it may, I think that from that day I
lost faith in the value and efficacy of confession, though I was obliged
still to go to it.

It was just at this phase of my experience that I began to think about
certain teaching that I had heard vague and indistinct rumours of;
namely, that salvation was wholly the work _finished_ for sinners by the
Saviour’s atoning blood. I had fancied that there was no truth in this,
and had imagined it was some new doctrine introduced by Methodists.
Finding myself in such a dilemma, I began to think a good deal about this
doctrine, and at last I heartily wished it was true. But I had been so
long taught that sacraments were the only sure way to heaven, that I had
much to do, and after doing my utmost, I must look to Christ’s work, so
to speak, to supply my deficiencies, and that only when I appeared in the
presence of God after this mortal life could the great question of my
salvation be settled. I had so long been living under the influence of
such teaching that it may be easily seen I was not very ready to accept
any other form of doctrine. Yet I could not get the new idea out of my
head. I somehow felt convinced of the truth of it, but I was as yet too
fast bound in the old chains, and in this state of hovering between two
opinions I remained for some time, until at length one night I made up
my mind I would not sleep till I had settled the question between my own
soul and God. The result of this decision was that I determined to lay
down at the feet of Jesus all my sins, sorrows, and failings, and even
my best intentions, and just to trust in His _finished_ work. I thought
I had actually done this, and soon fell asleep; but on awaking I felt
greatly disappointed, and, kneeling down before the crucifix in my cell,
I confessed to Christ how bitterly I had been disappointed in finding
that in trusting in His finished work, I had not been able to find
anything beyond a very momentary peace. It was whilst thus kneeling I
felt—as truly I thought as it is represented in “Pilgrim’s Progress”—the
whole burden of everything roll off, and a new life seemed then to thrill
through me.

I had now been, as I have already said, a nun for about eight years, but
my new experience did not force me out of the old routine of convent
life. I quite well remember that Father Ignatius sometimes taught a
doctrine very closely allied to that which I seemed lately so attracted
by, but he muddled it up with a lot of teaching that seemed to contradict
it. He certainly taught that all the sacramental superstructure,
saint-worship, confession, etc., were only acceptable to God after we had
received Christ, and thus it was that I was somehow led to believe that
my new experience was right, but yet that my old life need not be set
aside. I remember I was rather strengthened to continue with new vigour
my self-imposed religiousness. Thus I continued, and it was only after an
experience of some seventeen years that I saw that convent life—and any
other life but that of the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave
His life for me—was nothing else but a delusion.

Ten years were passed by me at Feltham. Father Ignatius did not have very
much to do with us there. The Mother, I think, used to let him know that
she did not consider it a man’s place to govern a number of women so
entirely as he wished to do. Besides, he sometimes gave orders which she
thought very indiscreet, from which great scandal might arise; and, being
somewhat older than Father Ignatius, she took the liberty of representing
to him, rather strongly, her views about his orders and doings. At times
he would suddenly give orders from the so-called “altar,” where of
course no one could well remonstrate, and which would put the household
arrangements out for the whole day, though he seemed to be in a great
state of consternation when matters did not go forward smoothly in
consequence of his orders. Sometimes, before breakfast, he would order
that no one, not even the reverend Mother, should speak for a whole day,
thus causing the utmost confusion, especially amongst the servants in the
kitchen, who were included in the eccentric command. And yet if his own
dinner was not properly cooked and served in time, he would show great
displeasure. Another time I recollect how he ordered a young and delicate
sister, who was very ill and consumptive, to walk bare-footed in the snow
up and down the garden. On another occasion he ordered her to carry a
number of stones till she had made a great heap, and then, when she had
done this, he ordered her to carry them all back again! I remember also
that once he ordered a young monk, who had come to Feltham with him, to
put on a high hat, and then to hop up and down the centre path in the
convent garden, so that all the nuns might see him. He did this to test
the young monk’s humility and obedience, and to see if he was willing
to become a fool for Christ’s sake. The nuns did see this extraordinary
sight, and exclaimed:

“Dear Mother, do look at Brother ⸺. Is he not a perfect fool?”

Nothing was too idiotic to impose in the name of holy obedience. I have
seen, for instance, a brother, instead of kneeling to receive Holy
Communion, standing afar off, holding up a black kettle, and at grace, in
the refectory, with the muddy street door mat on his head. I have seen a
sister with a handkerchief tied over her eyes, as if she was just ready
for a game of blind man’s buff. Remember, these follies were ordered to
be done as penances, and penances were said to be special gifts of love
from the Lord Jesus Christ! What profanity!

I am sure the reverend Mother had the greatest trial in Father Ignatius’
freaks, or whatever they may be called; and she soon began to get sick of
them, and would dread the ten days he would sometimes spend at Feltham;
for she never knew what he was going to do or order next. Once he
intended to bring a young monk, ill from his monastery, to be nursed by a
young novice nun, and she was to devote the whole of her time to looking
after him. This might have been well enough if we had been sisters of
charity; but we were enclosed nuns, and were not allowed to see the face
of a man, except, of course, our Superior. The Mother would not hear of
such a thing, or allow the sick monk to come to the house, as she was
sure it would prove an occasion of scandal. She thus set up her will and
judgment to oppose Father Ignatius, and she did this on more than one
occasion. But at last Father Ignatius boldly asserted that he was quite
determined to have nothing but _unconditional obedience_. The Mother, and
the majority of nuns in the Feltham convent, refused to accept such an
unconditional obedience, and the result was that a split took place. The
Mother would not sign a paper of unconditional and personal obedience,
and so Father Ignatius said to those who refused: “You no longer belong
to the order of the Monk Ignatius of Llanthony in the nineteenth
century.” However, he took with him three nuns who were ready to render
the obedience he required. I was one of the three. Another of the number
was the nun who took novice vows when I did. She had, however, meanwhile
broken her vows, and had gone into the world for some six years, and
had been a wife and mother. Her husband and child having died, she had
returned to Feltham a few months before this split had taken place.

It is astonishing to contemplate how absolutely Father Ignatius required
us to yield our wills to his will. Whatsoever he demanded was, he said,
distinctly God’s will for us, and whatsoever we did for him was God’s
will. To use his own oft-repeated words:

“It must be so sweet for you to wait upon your Superior, because in so
doing you are really waiting upon God; in fact, in waiting upon your
Superior, like Martha of old, you are waiting upon the Lord Himself.”

I can assure my readers that we poor deluded nuns believed in all this;
and, so far as obedience would permit, we literally vied with each other
in waiting upon our Superior and preparing for him the very best we
could, for we felt that nothing could be too well prepared in waiting,
as we thought, upon the Lord. There was no greater penance to us than
to be debarred from waiting upon his will. If any one was in disgrace
for breaking rule, he would neither speak nor even look at her, nor even
allow her to kiss the hem of his sacred dress!

After we had left Feltham a few weeks, Father Ignatius, and the widowed
nun who had accompanied him, wrote several letters, in which the rebel
nuns of Feltham were exhorted to return to their Father, by submitting
to unconditional obedience. He allowed them, I think, three weeks to
consider the matter; and if, at the close of that time, they remained
obstinate, he would, he declared, excommunicate them, and then the awful
curse of broken vows would rest upon them. The threatened curse was at
length pronounced. The altar was draped in black, and an excommunication
service was read through. I was greatly terrified at this most strange
yet solemn act. I remember well the words that were uttered at this

Unless they repent of this their sin, may they be blotted out
of the book of life. Amen, Amen.

Here the bell tolled. I was well nigh petrified with fear, and thought
to myself, “Can all the Feltham nuns really be under this awful curse?”
At the first opportunity I asked Father Ignatius if the bell was really
tolled for the Feltham Mother and nuns? He said, “Certainly it was.” I
exclaimed, “How awful!” He replied, “True, my child, but it had to be
done.” I remember how he often prophesied that the community at Feltham
would only flourish like a green bay-tree for a time, and that ere long
it would pass out of existence; and I must honestly confess that he did
his very utmost to bring it to nought, by efforts to draw away friends
and support from it. It has ever been a peculiarity of Father Ignatius
to curse and excommunicate people; but those who are thus cursed only
flourish all the more.

I will now pass on to say a few words about my life at the Slapton
convent, in Devonshire, where we took up our abode after leaving Feltham.

We commenced life in our new home, which was part of an old chantry
house, with glad, bold, and brave hearts, determined to keep the rules
which were imposed upon us. Our motto was “In omnibus glorificetur Deus.”
We were under stricter rule than we had ever been before, but we were
glad of this, as we believed we were brought nearer to Jesus the stricter
the rule we kept.

I cannot say much for the peace and happiness that fell to me here after
two years had passed away. During that period I was housekeeper—Mother
Wereburgh sacristan, and Mother Cecilia scribe. I was greatly praised
and flattered; but there was one fault found with me, and this was my
unwillingness to obey implicitly the two sisters who were put above me
as my Superiors. The fact is that both these nuns were jealous of me,
on account of the good opinion Father Ignatius had of me. Besides, I am
certain that Mother Cecilia had no right to be made Novice-mistress, nor
had Mother Wereburgh right to be made Lady Prioress. The former had not
been properly professed, and the latter was what is termed a “desecrated
virgin,” and it was unlawful, according to the constitutions of St.
Benedict, for either of them to hold office. It was not right of Father
Ignatius to place these women over me in the place of God, and to command
me to see God in them. Although I tried hard, I could not submit to them,
and thus my life became by no means a smooth or happy one.

I may mention here that, whilst residing at Slapton, a poor old woman was
somehow induced to sell her little home in Herefordshire, that she might
come to our convent; but alas! she “found everything,” as she told me,
“so different from what I expected. My life is a misery to me. I shall
never believe in anything again.” I must say she seemed at times somewhat
peculiar; but when a person of fifty years of age begins life over again,
and is expected to be as obedient as she was required to be when quite a
little child, is it to be wondered at that such a return to an artificial
childhood causes bewilderment? It was nothing else than devotion to
Father Ignatius that caused her to give up her home.

It was the rule in choir to _hold_ books; when sitting, to have the
palm of each hand resting on each knee; and when kneeling, to do so
perfectly upright, with hands crossed on each breast. Now this old woman
had not taken any vow of obedience, and she either forgot to keep her
hands in a proper position, or did not choose to do so; consequently the
reverend Father, during the service, would cross the choir to her seat,
and put her hands in the proper position. Five minutes afterwards she
would have them clasped or folded, whereon the Father had to come to her
again repeatedly. At last the poor old thing would cry and become quite
hysterical. Mother Wereburgh told her she had better go home, but she
had none to go to, for she had parted from her own home, believing that
she was coming to one. Once she ran away and scandalized the nuns to the
villagers. When she came back, the Mother sent for the village policeman,
as she made out that the poor old woman was violent; and with the help of
the policeman, she was conveyed away in the carrier’s cart, and she gave
the constable the money to pay her fare to her own home again.

The unkindness of the two sisters was quite sufficient to make the
old woman strange and angry. I remember how she denounced these nuns,
assuring them that the Lord would take vengeance on them, and it was
such a speech that caused the Mother Superior to draw the policeman’s
attention to the alleged fact that she was mad. The simple-minded man
said he could “see it.” Now this policeman was made favourably disposed
to the nuns, when we first went to Slapton, by the present of a leg of
mutton going to his family for a Sunday dinner, and other gifts of a
similar kind. The old woman was really no more mad than I am at present,
but she was often made frantic with anger by the conduct of the Mother.
After her return home she wrote for some clothes she had left behind at
the convent, and asked the Mother to return everything that belonged to
her, upon which the Mother assured Father Ignatius that she had taken
all her belongings with her. Soon after this I happened to be at the
linen-press with the Mother, and there I saw some of the old woman’s
clothes, and exclaimed, “See, here are the things she asked for!” The
Mother replied, “Oh, they are only old rags.” They were not. “But,” said
I, “are they not what she wrote for?” Three times afterwards she wrote
for them, for she was badly off, having sold all her little earthly
possessions to enter the “holy, happy cloister.” Father Ignatius again
asked the Mother to send the things off; yet in my presence she said:
“I assure you, dear Father, there is nothing here of hers, and to make
certain of this, I looked all through the linen cupboard the other day,
and could not find a single garment belonging to her.” I dared not open
my lips, or even say a word to help this poor old woman to regain her
clothes. They were of no value to the Mother; but once having denied
that they were there, she would not acknowledge she had made a mistake,
and would stick to it.

I remember too how, whilst at Slapton, an ignorant girl came to be
what is called a lay-sister. She knew nothing of any kind of religion
whatever, yet in a few months she made her first communion, and took
novice vows for one year. I am sure she had no more idea than a new-born
babe of what she had undertaken, or what was expected of her; and the
hundred and one rules we had to conform to in each day were frightfully
bewildering. This poor creature consequently was frequently breaking
rule, and was therefore plunged in penance, disgrace and misery, and
really for no fault of hers. After about two months she was sent back
to the world, as she was always in trouble, especially as she was very
fond of talking to the gardener, and could not see the sin of an enclosed
novice talking to a man, or why she should cover her face with her veil
when she wanted to see him, or any one else. As she could not make head
or tail of the “glorious holy life,” and was thoroughly miserable in it,
she was dispensed from her vows, and sent away in a kind spirit, which
was from a _prudent_ motive.

I will mention the case of another young lady who came to our convent as
a postulant. When she had been there a few days, she felt she had done
wrong in leaving her only brother, as she had so much influence over him
for good, and they were orphans. With the Mother’s permission, she went
back. The reverend Father was absent at the time. On his return, he sent
off a letter to her, telling her that the curse of God would be upon
her—that she had no faith in God. She should leave her brother in His
hands, and he actually told her that she was a spiritual adulteress.

It is important that my readers should thoroughly grasp this fearful
moral compulsion, which is exercised on impressible and easily influenced
minds. And yet the world is told that postulants, and novices, and
professed nuns, are quite free to go back if they choose. The letter of
Ignatius brought this young lady back, and she was duly put to penance
for leaving. She had to cover her face with a black mask, during the
divine office, which is recited seven times a day and once at night. She
had to sit upon the ground during the time allowed to sitting in those
offices, and she was ordered to sit on the floor to eat her food. After
meekly going through all her penances for the space of six weeks, she
took novice vows, when her beautiful long hair was cut off quite short,
in token of her renunciation of the world. She was a sweet girl of about
nineteen at the time, and I know full well that she was as thoroughly
miserable as she could be. When she had been a novice some time, the Lady
Prioress announced to her publicly:

“Sister Ermenild, you have been a novice now over two years. Reverend
Father and I both think it time you made your profession; so please to
get ready to take the black veil.”

Although this profession was made after we had removed to Wales, I may as
well give a short account of it in this chapter.

A solemn service was performed, in which the nun was “married to Jesus
Christ, Son of the most high God.” A ring was placed on her finger as a
token and pledge thereof, after which she was laid out on a mattress,
over which was placed a black pall, ornamented with a white cross. The
Burial Service from the Book of Common Prayer was then read over her,
earth being solemnly dropped upon her. The _De Profundis_ was sung for
the repose of her soul, after which the altar was then divested of its
black funeral hangings (which had been put on for this part of the
service), and soon afterwards Sister Ermenild appeared in her bridal
attire. She was a new creature now, raised, so to speak, to a new life.
She was then led to the altar, bearing in her hands a massive lighted
taper, and wearing a virgin’s crown, during which proceeding a hymn was

Dead with me, then death is over,
Dead and gone are death’s dark fears.

After which came “_the cursing_,” a ceremony which is always used in the
Roman Catholic Church in the consecration of a virgin, and is to the
effect that—

“Should any one attempt to draw aside this present virgin, let him be
cursed in his rising up and sitting down, in his standing or walking, in
sleeping or waking, in eating or drinking, etc., etc., and may his flesh
rot from his bones, and may he be blotted out of the book of life. Amen,
amen, so be it.”

After all this cursing was finished, the now reverend Dame Mary E. was
enthroned on a seat covered with rich crimson plush, which was placed
upon the altar steps, that from thence she might give all who went up to
her the blessing. Father Ignatius led the way, followed by monks, boys,
nuns, girls, and as many seculars as felt inclined to go. The service was
then finished.[11]

In less than a month after, being in great trouble and disgrace with her
Superior (for what it would be a puzzle to find out), Sister E. said to

“Oh! how I wish I had never taken the black veil!”

“But,” said I, “you wanted to?”

She said, “No, I never asked to. You yourself heard what the reverend
Mother said to me; and previous to that, she had not uttered a word on
the subject.”

“But,” said I, “you know what the reverend Father said before every one,
how eloquently he told them that the virgin about to be professed was not
yet bound, and even at that last minute she was perfectly free to return
to the world if she chose; but that only after she had taken this awful
step she could not go back?”

To which she replied: “Yes, he did, I know, say so in public, but you do
not know what he said to me in private.”

Oh, how easily the world is deceived by such high-sounding phrases!
“The doors are open—all are free to leave as soon as they like, etc.”
When people speak of inspecting convents, they should remember that to
do so thoroughly, something beyond what is visible to the eye must be
investigated, even the interior of each nun’s heart, and the terrible
moral force that has been brought to bear upon it. And remember, too,
that if a sister’s own mother or sister came to see her, she could not
discover the deep distress that so often lies upon her daughter’s heart.
No nun would _dare_ to tell it, even to her mother, though her heart
might be breaking with misery. She would have to appear before her mother
with the look of one who is perfectly happy, and even smiling, otherwise
she would be instrumental in bringing disgrace and scandal upon the
convent, and this, at all cost, must be avoided. I have had to appear
thus, looking happy and free before my own mother, when a few minutes
before I had been crying, wishing and praying that I might die.

After this digression, I will return to give an account of a novice at
Slapton, who took vows on the same day as Sister E. just mentioned. They
promised to let her take the black veil soon, provided only that she
showed herself a submissive child (this child was over thirty), who had
no wish or opinion but that of her superiors. But unfortunately for
her, she had a very natural habit of forming an opinion for herself, and
admitted that she thought it no harm to do so, as long as she kept that
opinion to herself. But there was great harm in this (so the Superior
said), inasmuch as a novice should be in all things of one mind with her
Superiors, in thought, word, and deed. This novice brought with her a
valuable gold watch, which she was content to give up for the time being,
and, according to novice rules, she had given up her box and keys. The
Mother had looked into Sister F.’s box, and there saw some things she
wanted for use in the convent, and she told Sister F. so. The novice,
however, was not willing that they should be used, as she had not taken
life vows; in this way she first drew upon herself the Mother Superior’s
displeasure and censure. Shortly after this she was asked to give up her
money to help in building a new cloister at Llanthony. She said she was
willing to give up a part but not the whole, and would very much like to
put a stone in the building. Thus by exercising her own opinion she was
again brought into disgrace, and was told she could keep her money, and
would not be allowed the privilege of putting a stone to the building.
She must give up all her money or none. From that time she was treated
with the greatest severity, and looked upon as the offscouring of all
things. To make a long story short, she was soon packed off from Slapton
as having no vocation to the “religious life.” How strange it was that
her Superiors were unable to detect this until they discovered that she
was unwilling to give up her money to build a holy cloister! Before this
they had a very good opinion of her.