Sample text for The tapestry / Gilbert Morris & Lynn Morris.
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Simone d'Or stared at the paper in front of her, and then suddenly, without warning, reached out and crumpled it up. Throwing it across the room, she said loudly, "I can't stand this any longer, Damita!"
Damita Madariaga, who sat across the room from Simone, stared at her roommate, taking in the long blonde hair, the dark blue eyes, and the full lower lip. Damita had always admired Simone's beauty, although she herself was recognized for being one of the most attractive girls at the Ursuline Convent. Damita took the book that she was reading and threw it across the room with all her force. The pages fluttered, and the book struck a picture on the wall and knocked it to the floor. It fell with a crash, and the glass shattered.
"Good!" Damita said viciously. "I'd like to tear the whole building down!" She got up abruptly, went over to the window and stared outside. "I'm sick of this room!" she exclaimed. "It's like being in a prison."
Actually the room was much nicer than most of the others in the convent. Both Simone and Damita came from wealthy families who had spared no expense in fixing up the bare room. The floor was carpeted with an expensive Persian rug. Silk hangings decorated the walls, and the furniture was mostly of polished rosewood gleaming from the sunlight that streamed through the large window. The two half beds, each of which occupied one side of the room, were comfortable and covered with well-chosen and attractive coverlets.
"I'd like to take Sister Agnes and dump her in a well," Simone muttered darkly. Rising from her desk, she threw herself down on the bed, put her hands behind her head, and stared up at the ceiling. "She's too mean to be a nun."
"She's worse than the rest of them. If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't be confined to quarters. I think it's a shame, and I'm going to tell my papa to take me out of this place."
"He won't do it."
Damita started to argue, then shrugged. "No, he probably won't, but I'm going to get even with her somehow or other."
Simone closed her eyes and was quiet for a time. The two girls were perfect roommates, for both were spoiled beauties. The Ursuline Convent was not designed for such proud young women, and the two had been a problem for the sisters who were responsible for their training for their entire stay.
As Damita stared out the window, her mind worked quickly. She had known little discipline at her home--she was the spoiled pet of the family, and although the discipline was somewhat stricter at the convent, neither Damita nor Simone had allowed it to interfere greatly with their lifestyles. Damita watched as one of the servants washed clothes beside a well. A young man had come to flirt with her, and Damita felt a twinge of envy. "Marie can have men flirt with her, but we can't."
Simone got up from the bed in a smooth, easy motion and walked over to stare out the window. "She'd better watch out. If Sister Agnes catches her with Juan, she'll be sorry."
The two girls watched as the young man reached out and smoothed the golden-brown cheek of the servant girl. The laughter of the two floated up to them, and Damita exclaimed suddenly, "Let's do something wicked, Simone!"
"Do something? Like what?"
"I've got to get out of this room, or it's going to drive me crazy!"
Sister Agnes had confined them to their room for a week until they brought their work up to standard. She was a stern taskmaker with no respect for the power the girls' families had. She had even required them to take their meals there, and both young ladies were furious. They were the same age, seventeen, and the confinement had been the worst punishment they had known in their lives.
"I mean it," Damita said, her lips growing tight. "Let's just get out of here for a while."
"And go where?"
"We can go see that play in town. It's Shakespeare."
"Oh, Romeo and Juliet. I'd love to see that!" Simone exclaimed, but a doubtful look crossed her face. "I don't see how we could do it."
"Sister Agnes is gone for the day. She went over to one of the villages to take some food to a needy family. We can go to the matinee. I saw it in the paper."
Simone was caught by the daring idea. "All right," she said, "let's do it. But if we get caught--"
"So what if we get caught? What can they do to us--beat us with a whip?" Damita laughed and shook her head, her glossy black hair catching the spring sunshine. "All we have to do is sneak out when nobody's looking and sneak back. It'll be almost dark when we get back. It'll be easy."
"We can't go through the gate. They'd see us."
"You know where they're repairing the wall over on the south side? It's not quite finished yet, and the men aren't working on it. We could slip through that gap that's still there. Come on, get ready!"
"Do you have enough money for us to get in?"
"Yes. I've got plenty. Hurry up, now!"
"Let's go see if Chantel wants to go with us, and maybe Leonie."
"I doubt if they will, but we'll give them a chance."
The two girls left their room and moved cautiously down the hall. They knocked on a door, and then without waiting, Simone opened it, and the two girls slipped inside.
Leonie Dousett was sitting at the desk, writing industriously. She was a petite young woman with a good figure. Her waist was the smallest of any of the girls, the envy of the rest of them. She had a heart-shaped face, auburn hair that had recently darkened to a lustrous deep brown, and well-shaped gray eyes. Her complexion was olive, very smooth. She had a widow's peak and a dimple in her right cheek when she smiled.
"What are you two doing here?" Leonie asked.
"She went down the hall to the washroom." Leonie was very plainly dressed compared to the other two. She was one of the girls that the sisters at the convent took in as an act of charity. Leonie was an orphan and had made her way, when she grew old enough, by working for the sisters and sewing for some of the students. "If Sister Agnes catches you out of your room, you'll be sorry."
"I'm not afraid of her," Damita said defiantly. "She didn't have any business confining us to our room anyway."
Even as Damita spoke the door opened, and Chantel Fontaine came in. She was a tall young woman with striking green eyes. "What are you two doing out of your room?"
"Never mind that," Simone said. Her eyes were glowing with excitement. "Damita and I are going to sneak out and go see Romeo and Juliet in town."
"Yes," Damita said, "there's a matinee that starts at three o'clock, I think. We'll get back about dark."
"You can't do that," Leonie said. "You'll be in trouble if you get caught."
"We won't get caught." Damita shrugged her shoulders. "We're going to go sneak through that place in the wall they're repairing. Come on. You can go with us."
Leonie shook her head. "No. I'm not going."
"I--I don't think I'd better," Chantel said. She came from a good family but one not as wealthy and influential as Simone's and Damita's families. She was a much milder girl and more amiable in every way.
"I told you they wouldn't go," Simone said.
"Well, we're going."
Leonie and Chantel tried to dissuade their friends, but both knew it was useless.
"Come on. I've got to get out of this place!" Damita said. She grinned roguishly and winked at Leonie. "You're going to miss a good time."
Leonie didn't answer, but as soon as the two girls left, she turned to Chantel and said with a worried expression. "I wish they wouldn't do that. They could get in serious trouble."
"That's never bothered those two," Chantel remarked. "I just hope Sister Agnes doesn't catch them. I think she'd really take a cane to them this time, no matter how important their families are."
Simone and Damita made their way down the hall. Both of them, of course, knew every nook and cranny of the convent, and they silently threaded through several corridors usually vacant. Finally they stepped outside, and Damita looked cautiously in both directions. "There's nobody in the courtyard, and the workmen are gone. Come on."
Simone followed Damita as they ran lightly across the grass and reached the wall. The wall, an ancient one, had been crumbling, and now only one small gap remained unfinished. Avoiding the pile of stones and the mortar boards and other tools of the trade, the two slipped quickly through the gap. As soon as they were outside, Damita laughed. "Now, let's go to town!"
The play was not the first Shakespearean play that the two girls had seen; both were lovers of drama. Damita had paid for the best seats in the house, and although Simone was worried that someone, somehow, from the convent might see them, Damita had shrugged. "Who from a convent would want to go to see actors? They think all actors are demons straight out of the pit."
"They'll think we are, too, just for going." Simone managed to smile.
When the play concluded and the actors came out for their curtain call, the two girls applauded until their hands ached. "I'm going to be an actress," Damita said firmly. "They get to travel everywhere."
"I don't think that would be a very good life. Besides, your parents would never let you do it."
"I suppose not. They never want me to have any fun, and yours are about the same."
The two left the theater and set their minds on a meal before returning to the convent. "If they're going to starve us at that old convent, we've got a right to eat out. Come on," Damita ordered.
The two girls found a cafe and filled up on shrimp, fish, and gumbo. They both laughed a great deal, feeling rather proud of their exploit.
Finally, however, the meal was finished and Simone sighed. "Come on. We'd better get back."
"I wish I didn't have to go to that place. It's like going to Devil's Island."
"Oh, it's not that bad!"
"It is too!"
"How do you know? You've never been to Devil's Island."
"I've read about it, though."
"Well, they don't throw us in dungeons and whip us with whips."
The two girls argued all the way back to the convent. The sun had already dipped below the horizon, and darkness was beginning to fall as they approached the gap in the wall. Damita whispered, "You'd better be quiet now. Sister Agnes may be back by this time."
The two girls tiptoed through the wall and no sooner were they inside than they were startled by a shadowy figure that appeared to their right. Damita, for all her boastfulness, gave a little cry, for she knew that to be caught by Sister Agnes was not far removed from being sent to Devil's Island.
"Damita--Simone--is that you?"
A gust of relief passed through Damita. "Leonie," she said when the young girl stepped forward. "What are you doing out here?"
Leonie moved closer and put her finger to her lips in a sign. "You can't go back the way you left," she whispered. "Sister Agnes is back, and she's patrolling all the halls."
"Does she know we're gone?" Simone said.
"I don't think so. Not yet. But you know how she is."
"How are we going to get in? We can't go to the front door," Damita said.
Ordinarily Leonie Dousett was not one to give orders. But now she saw that both girls were frightened. "Come around to the back," she directed.
"Those doors are always locked."
"I know, Simone, but the windows aren't. There's a window up over the shed."
"We can't get to that window."
"Yes, we can. There's a ladder, and we can climb in and get on the shed. From there we can reach the window. I checked on the ladder, but we'd better hurry."
It was typical that neither girl thought of thanking Leonie for the risk she was taking. They took it for granted as they took everything else for granted in their lives. The three girls followed the shadows until they had rounded the building, and at the back Damita made out the shed that protruded from the outer wall of the convent building.
"Climb up on that ladder," Leonie said. "You go on in. I'll climb up the ladder last. No one will know how you got in."
The two girls scrambled up. Leonie was about to mount the ladder herself when suddenly a light shone directly in her face.
"Who is that? Girl, stop right where you are!"
Leonie had no chance to run. The light had blinded her, but she recognized Sister Agnes's harsh voice.
Sister Agnes appeared, holding the lantern up to Leonie's eyes. "Leonie, what are you doing out here, and who's that with you?"
Leonie could not think of a single thing to say. She remained quiet, and suddenly Sister Agnes's hand took her arm. "Speak to me. I know that there was someone out here with you. Who was it?"
Leonie did not want to lie, so she couldn't say she was alone. At the same time she knew with a sinking heart that she could expect nothing good to come of this.
"I'm surprised at you, Leonie! I wouldn't put it past some of the other girls. You've been sneaking out to town, a group of you, haven't you?"
"I haven't been to town."
Sister Agnes stared at her. "Well, you can explain all this to the mother superior. Come along."
Leonie was a meek, quiet young woman who had never been in trouble in all her years at the convent. As she trudged heavily behind Sister Agnes, her heart was beating rapidly, and she had a sudden impulse to turn and run away--but there was nowhere to go. She had no home where she could take refuge. She began to pray as she entered the building. "Lord, don't let them throw me out of here."
"That was Sister Agnes's voice," Simone whispered. She peered out the window, but it was too dark to see.
Chantel, who had met the two girls to help them through the window, asked, "What about Leonie?"
"I think Sister Agnes got her."
"She'll tell on us," Damita said, and fear showed in her eyes.
"No, she won't," Chantel said. She knew Leonie better than the other two girls. "She'd let them pull her fingernails out before she'd tell on anyone."
"I hope you're right," Damita said. "If she tells the mother superior about us, we'll probably be expelled. My family will have a fit."
"Mine too," Simone said.
"You don't have to worry. Leonie won't tell. She's not that kind."
The mother superior of the Ursuline Convent had rarely known such uncertainty. She was a small woman of fifty with hazel eyes and hair that was turning silver. Although one of the most petite of the nuns, her determination was by far the most firm. She had gone to the convent as a novice and stayed in the service until she was in authority over all the other nuns.
"I'm surprised at you, Leonie. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Nothing, Reverend Mother."
"Do you admit that you were caught and that there were others with you?" She waited for Leonie to reply, but the girl did nothing but stand before her. The mother superior could see that Leonie's hands were trembling and that fear was in her face. She had formed a great affection for this young woman who had never given her a moment's trouble. She said quietly, "I have every confidence in you, Leonie. I know you wouldn't do anything that was wrong. Others might, but you won't--still, I can't let this pass."
"I know, Reverend Mother." Leonie's voice was barely audible.
She shook her head. "This is your last year here. It would be a shame if you lost your place before you graduated."
The implied threat frightened Leonie, but still she could say nothing.
"I believe you are protecting someone," the mother superior said. "You might think that's a noble thing, but I'm not certain it is. Those who were with you aren't helping you in the least, and I don't think they will. They'll let you take the blame and the punishment while they get off scot-free."
"I--I'm sorry, Reverend Mother. I hate to disappoint you."
"If that's all you have to say, I will have to punish you. All your privileges will be suspended, and you'll spend one month on rough cleaning detail." The mother superior saw relief come into the young girl's eyes, and she added, "And no evening meal."
"Yes, Reverend Mother."
"You may go now."
Leonie left at once, and as soon as she was out of the room Sister Agnes bustled in. "Did she tell you who the others were?"
"No, she didn't. You didn't think she would, did you?"
"If she had any sense, she would."
The mother superior smiled. "She's got more than sense. She's got character."
"Character!" Sister Agnes snorted. "What good does it do her to protect those others?"
"I took away all her privileges, including the late meal, and put her on rough cleaning for a month."
"And those who snuck out with her get away with it. Is that the way it has to be?"
"I can't think of anything else to do."
The two women stood regarding each other, and finally the mother superior said, "I've always had a soft spot for Leonie."
"Well, so have I, for that matter. She's had a hard life. I was an orphan myself."
"I know you were. Actually, we don't know that she was an orphan."
"I understand you were the one who found her, Reverend Mother."
"Yes. Most of the time, when people leave infants we meet the parents, but I found Leonie in a basket outside the door early one morning."
"You were never able to find out who her parents were or anything about her background?"
"We tried," the older woman answered, "but we had no success." She shrugged her shoulders and said, "She's a good girl."
"Yes, she is," Sister Agnes said. Then her features hardened. "But it does her no good, her friendship with those rich, spoiled girls. I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't the ones who were into this thing with her."
"I have no doubt that you're right, but you'll never get it out of Leonie."
As soon as Leonie stepped inside her room, she was greeted by all three of her best friends.
"What'd they do to you, Leonie?" Chantel demanded.
"Nothing very bad."
"I'll bet it was," Simone said. "What did she say?"
"Did she try to get you to tell her who was with you?"
"Yes, she did."
"But you didn't," Chantel said.
"No. I couldn't do that."
Damita expelled a breath of relief. "Well, what punishment did you get?"
"Nothing too bad."
"Come on and tell me," Chantel said. "I know it wasn't pleasant."
"Reverend Mother was very kind. I do without supper and have rough cleaning detail for a month."
Damita went and put her arms around Leonie. "Don't you worry about it. We'll make it right with you. You'll have a better supper in your room than you'd have in the hall. You'll see."
"Are you mad at us, Leonie?" Simone asked, studying the girl's face.
"Why, of course not. You'd do it for me."
Chantel shook her head but said nothing. "You'd better get back to your rooms now. I think probably Sister Agnes and Reverend Mother know pretty well who was in on this."
The two girls left, and for a while Chantel tried to pry more secrets of the interview out of Leonie, but the girl said little. Finally the two girls studied their lessons and went to bed. Their huge black cat with golden eyes, Louis, who was an expert mouser, was curled up on Leonie's bed. She had found him when he was just a tiny ball of black fur, and after much wheedling, she had obtained permission to keep him. That night Leonie was glad for his fellowship. Louis's purr was like a tiny motor that often made her sleepy. She went to sleep finally thinking of all that had happened and praying that God would take care of her.
For the first week Damita did well getting food to Leonie at night. She bought the best that money could buy, and it had become a game sneaking it into Leonie. But eventually she tired of the extra chore or forgot. Chantel did not, however, and she saw to it that her roommate got at least the same food that the rest of the students received.
As for Leonie, it was not a terrible burden for her to lose privileges, for she had no visitors. She put it out of her mind and had already begun to look forward to the day when she would finish her studies and leave the convent. The other girls all had families to go to, but she herself had no one, and every night she asked God to provide a place for her.
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Women -- Louisiana -- Fiction.
New Orleans (La.) -- Fiction.
Creoles -- Fiction.