I have just about got over my initial shock as to how I should react; for once in my life I was rendered speechless and I yearn for my quick wit to return...
I arrived at the Coast, truffles in tow, prepared for a quiet, reminiscent few days with the nun, yet it seems she had other plans. We spent the first few hours talking solely about the Convent and the wretched priest, but our conversation slowly became a little more stilted and my dear nun seemed quite overcome with emotion. I was flummoxed and totally unprepared for her to confide in me, though I'm glad she did. She was very flustered and after not too long told me to follow her upstairs...
A baby lay in a crib alongside her bed, a beautiful blue-eyed boy, who was overjoyed with the amount of attention he was getting. At first in my innocence I didn't quite understand, but the nun patiently explained that the reason she had joined the Convent was so it wouldn't seem as if the child was hers. She'd had to leave him with her Mother for his first few months in the hope that everyone would assume it was hers and come back as an overjoyed sister.
I couldn't believe it. A nun, a paragon of virtue, had given birth to a child and was going to conceal her true identity from her son. At first I didn't know how to breach the question of fatherhood, but the nun in her wisdom answered my unasked curiosity with clarity. She had fallen in love with a sailor about a year ago and hoped to marry him. However, he set sail after putting empty promises in her heart and had yet to return. The Church had saved her rather than condemning her and her Mother had taken charge of her daughter's frail state by sending her to the Convent and keeping the child.
Hearing the nun's plight made me wonder how my family would react to an illegitimate child, but as her eyes shone with tenacity and love for her child, I felt she gave me strength to cope with the information and trust in my own family.
So for the next few days I became one half of a wet-nurse, learning how to feed and burp a baby, fixing my sleeping pattern so that the nun could get some time to sleep and even being proud enough to walk the little bairn in a perambulator across the Promenade.
It took a while to adjust, but I was touched that the nun had wanted to confide in me, she needed a friend as well as her Mother to help her through this ordeal. The only other person who knew was the Doctor. I met him by accident while walking the baby along the sea front. He had ambled on up to me and the baby and taken him right out of his perambulator before I could even shout for help. But when I saw the glee on the child's face it seemed the most natural thing in the world.
The Doctor soon introduced himself, giving me wink in the process and calling me by my name rather than 'Your Grace'. It hadn't occurred to me that the nun would keep my title a secret, but it completely made sense.
I have to admit that I was sad to leave the nun and her small family behind. She is returning to a Convent in the North in a few weeks, and I know that leaving her child behind will tear a hole in her heart, so I have promised to visit her again. The Doctor sent some flowers to her home on my last day with a note for me saying 'These reminded me of you, hopefully they'll cheer up your dear friend, the nun too.' I was touched and mildly impressed with his choice of camellias and gardenias, though I do hope he picked them because of their beauty and not their connotations!
As always it was lovely to return to the Shire and Armiger more than made up for his previous disappointment by meeting me as I returned to hear all about my journey to the Coast. Of course there were a few things I had to leave out, but he did tease me a little about the Doctor.
It was my brother's coming-of-age birthday as soon as I returned, and there was much mischief between him and his rather too boisterous friends, but it was great fun even though he is still feeling a little worse for wear. I on the other hand behaved impeccably and danced the night away without a care in the world.
Mother is still keeping this suitor behind closed doors, which is most infuriating, but I have been kept distracted by my lovely Lords and Ladies of the Shire. It is of no wonder that Mother is tired of my antics for all we do is exude impropriety and laugh joyously at each other's actions. But I am intrigued nonetheless and feel that maybe I should try be on my best behaviour for a little while... But I'm not making any promises!