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CONVENT OF NUNS.
with the Nuns by putting their heads into it, and speaking through a board, while their donkeys stand and nod in the chamber. Children run in and out of it at pleasure, pursuing their games; dogs wander in without fear of molestation; and weary people, on a hot day, occasionally sit down to rest on the stone bench. narrow, steep, and awkward flight of stairs leads from the covered court to corresponding rooms above it, which communicate with each floor of the convent by means of similar wooden drums.
Into the uppermost of these rooms we went with our party. A message had been previously sent to the chief Nun, by the lady whom we accompanied, to say, that if it was convenient we wished to pay her a visit; and a polite assent having been returned, the room was prepared for our reception. An Indian mat was spread; and round it were half a dozen chairs for the party. The Nun sat behind a double grating, like an empty lion's cage. We had already passed two of these cages in the room beneath; reminding one more of a visit to a wild beast's show than of a complimentary call on tender recluses.
Somehow or other, every one has such a high
THE IDEAL NUN.
idea of a Nun,-as of some young being breathing the spotless ether of a maiden life, until she has reached a state of purity, too high for this working-day world, as so pensive and devout, demurely sober and steadfast, and as holding such unceasing commerce with the skies,—that venturing into her presence seems like walking on ground whereon none, under the degree of a saint, should venture to tread. Peeping on her in her seclusion is curiosity scarcely less unpardonable than that of the man who "peeped and botanized upon his mother's grave." Years, we think, make no impression on her, she never fades like a leaf, or is thought of as three score years and ten;-when she enters the convent gates the wheels of time stand still; and when she quits them (not by scaling-ladders, but by legitimate means, as by the confiscation of her convent and its revenues to assist a needy reformed government,) we pity her as
"Unveiling timidly her cheek,
Suffused with blushes of celestial hue,
While through the convent gates to open view
Softly she glides, another home to seek.
An apparition more divinely bright!
Not more attractive to the dazzled sight,
Poured forth, while summer suns at distance shine,
With such preconceptions, is it surprising that an actual acquaintance should beget disappointment? and, accordingly, when there appeared, on the other side of the cage, a fat, sallow, good-humoured, jolly, double-chinned lady, with no more poetry about her than could have been found in Winifred Jenkins; although there was nothing less than might have been expected from our knowledge of the sisterhood at St. Michael's; all those expectations which were grounded on the ideal only, at once vanished. She was very talkative, abundantly complimentary, full of curiosity, easy, graceful, and selfpossessed.
After the usual ceremonious preliminaries, the party sat round in a circle, and she speedily began her part in the conversation.
Amongst other things, she inquired after a frail sister, who had escaped with a captain in the navy, the son of a former member for Dorsetshire, who, she understood, was now a
very rich lady;-a phrase which she repeated in a tone of voice which seemed to say, that she herself would not have felt any disinclination at being a very rich lady too. She inquired after some of the sisterhood in St. Michael's, gossiped about other Nuns, laughed, flattered, and handed through the drum a dish of comfits for the party. She was afterwards joined by another sister, who took part in the small-talk. In answer to a doubting question, they very eagerly assured us that they had a great deal to do in the convent, and that their time was fully employed. This was made more plausible by the account they gave of the remaining five, who, from the unflattering description given behind their backs, appeared to be superannuated Nuns past service, -whatever that service may be. The burden of their duties, therefore, fell on the two cheerful ladies who sat before us.
The singular head-dress of these women, which was the only peculiarity about them, was a white muslin cap, which, although fantastic enough, was not altogether unbecoming their elderly handsome faces. Their lower garments consisted of a white robe, thrown over an ordinary snuff
coloured stuff gown, and the head-dress was a tight cap of clear muslin, fitting as close to the skull as a helmet, and reaching nearly to the point of the chin, so as to shut out all hair (whether black or grey); and having on its sides two flappers or wings of stiff muslin, about the size of a woman's hand, which sloped downwards from the crown of the head by way of roof, and gave to their heads an appearance something between that of a formal Quakeress and a Norman peasant. In addition to the white robes, and falling over their necks and shoulders to the knees, they wore the somewhat conspicuous decoration of a broad blue ribbon of stiff silk, attached to which was a shining silver plate,—like the badge on a charity-boy,—whereon the image of their patron saint, with its stiff metallic rays of glory, had been prominently embossed.
On parting with the Nuns, the whole party amused themselves by shaking hands through the bars. This was a difficult process, the cage being purposely proportioned so as to prevent any kind of undue familiarity between visitors and the sisterhood; but, by straining and stretching, flat