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Christmas Tree 1923Holidays and Christmas 1916-1926

The First Homecoming
- Part 1

One wiry tuft of hair was all that was visible; the rest of Beatrice was buried under the coarse white sheet. She had curled tightly into a ball, pulling the fluffy grey blankets as high over her head as she dared without causing a fit of sneezing. The sicky lump once more stuck at the back of her throat. But she was used to it now. It had first appeared when she was sent away to boarding school. Now it was always popping up, particularly when the Mother Superior read her sins out to her, and lately when one of the nuns tied her hand
behind her back so she could write properly.

‘You must not write with this hand’, she was scolded. ‘God forbids it. You have got to use your right hand or the devil will possess you.’

Beatrice couldn’t understand what the problem was. Her left hand worked better than her right. It was scary and sometimes she made her lip sore as she tried to hold back the tears. She knew she had no choice other than to do as she was ordered.

Tonight something else was happening, something exciting. Beatrice could feel it but could not touch it. She knew it was the end of term because it had been her turn to tear off the last shred of paper on the calendar. All the girls in the dormitory were talking long after lights out, and for the first time no-one told them to be quiet. She lay perfectly still. If it hadn’t been for the protruding hair, no one would have guessed her bed was occupied. She tried to picture the three brothers she had left behind when she was first sent away.

Her Dada’s face appeared as she closed her eyes and although she could just remember what her Mumma looked like, it was her voice that rang in Beatrice’s head. Her tummy churned. She thought she might be sick. Please don’t send me to the sanatorium, she thought. Not tonight. Tomorrow the convent would empty of girls. Almost all of the two hundred boarders would be going home for Christmas.

Beatrice had now been settled into convent life for nine whole months. She knew she was going home for three months holiday and tried unsuccessfully to imagine how long that would be. She was still only six years old.

Quiet girls. No more talking. Time to sleep. After mass tomorrow morning, you will have fifteen minutes to pack your suitcases, then off to the station for your journey home. Don’t forget everything you have been taught and remember to pray every day.

This announcement brought immediate silence on the dormitory but still Beatrice could not sleep. She tossed and turned, listening to every little sound; then nothing.

A loud clanging and buzz of voices awoke her and in what seemed like no time at all, she had attended mass, packed her case and was ready for her long train journey home. This time there would be no companion; she would travel with the other girls and the guard would tell her when to get off.

The Mother Superior stood at the main door, saying goodbye to each girl individually as they passed through.

‘Well Beatrice, this is your first visit home since you joined us. Do you think you would like to be a nun when you grow up?’

Beatrice defiantly looked her in the eye. ‘No, I want to be a mummy,’ and before the Mother superior could reply, Beatrice turned and almost ran to the awaiting dandi. Just before she climbed in, she mischievously bent down and scooped up a large handful of snow that lay all around her, wrapped it tightly in a hanky and put it to the bottom of her schoolbag.

No-one will believe it. They have never seen snow before, she thought. I’ll surprise them.

The train puffed and spluttered as it slowly struggled to complete its long journey. Beatrice did not notice. Between sleeping, she gazed out at the dazzling sun or the huge bright moon encircled by millions of twinkling stars. Her only thoughts were of home. Eventually the train moved to lower ground and the temperature rose dramatically. Soon Beatrice recognised the buildings that the slowing train trundled past. Then with a loud hoot, the engine shuddered to a halt.

The narrow platform was bustling. The smoke and engine fumes made Beatrice’s eyes smart. She squinted; she could not see. She unconsciously ran her sleeve across her eyelids. Then she saw them. Cont....

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The Story of Beatrice Mary Mason. Written by F. J. Louis | Copyright © 2009