When Sara

      Quinn rounded the bend of the narrow road she saw the convent at the top

      off the hill, the mist blurring its harsh grey outline. The big iron gate

      gave a reluctant creak as she pushed it open. She stood in the gateway for

      a few seconds to gain her composure, all the while her lips moved in silent

      prayer. "Dear Lord, please let the child be born safely," she

      whispered. Walking to the door she pulled the bell rope and waited. A young

      pale faced nun peered out at her from the dark interior.


          "Can I help you?" she asked.


          "I’m Sara Quinn. I’ve come to see my daughter Maura."


          "Come in and I’ll see if Mother will see you,"

      she said nervously.


          "There is no need for me to see the Mother Superior.

      Just take me to see my daughter. Has the baby been born?" Sara asked

      anxiously.


          "You will have to see Mother. You can wait for her

      in here," she replied, opening a door along the corridor.   

      Inside the sparsely furnished room Sara paced the floor nervously. Walking

      over to the small window overlooking the front gates, she watched a group

      of brown clad children walk past the gates with heads bent. A few paces

      behind them a young, somber looking nun stared straight ahead, Sara shuddered

      as she watched. "The orphans, poor wee souls," she said aloud.

      Just then the door opened behind her. Turning around, she was greeted by

      an elderly nun.


          "I am Mother General. Sister tells me that you are

      the Quinn girl’s mother."


          "Is she all right. Has the baby been born yet?"


          "Yes, the child is born and your daughter is fine.

      A girl was born this morning. Sit down Mrs. Quinn, we need to talk,"

      she said showing her a chair in front of a big desk.


          "Please," Sara asked anxiously, "can I

      see them?"


          "You may see your daughter presently. But, before

      you go up I need to talk to you," she said. Again she pointed to the

      chair. Sitting down reluctantly, Sara met the cold gaze of the elderly individual

      seated opposite.


          "Before you see your daughter, I have a few things

      that I must tell you. As you are no doubt aware, your husband was adamant

      that the child should be brought up by the Sisters in the orphanage. So,

      I don’t want her to become attached to the infant. It will only make it

      harder when the time comes for parting."


          Cold eyes stared back at Sara as she spoke. Again she

      felt a shudder run down her spine, at the mention of the orphanage. The

      picture of the sad downcast, brown clad little bunch of humanity that she

      had just seen came back before her eyes.


          "I’m trying to change my husband’s mind about the

      orphanage. I want her to bring the child up herself. With our help of course,"

      she added.


          "Children brought up in the orphanage are fed, clothed

      and well instructed in their faith. And many of them enter the convent in

      adult life. I feel in many ways that they have a better start than they

      would otherwise have growing up...under these circumstances. Anyhow, I very

      much doubt if your husband will change his mind."


          "Well, we will see. Can I see them now?"


          "You can see your daughter. But not the child. Your

      husband made the arrangements, and he was most insistent that you should

      not see the child."


          Sara felt again the deep anger towards her husband, an

      anger that was all consuming. Smiling across at the nun to hide her feelings,

      she said, "he was angry then. But, he is coming to terms with it better

      now. He just needs a little more time," she said gently as she looked

      into the eyes of the woman opposite, hoping that her lies were convincing.


          "Be that as it may. But until such times as I am

      given further instruction from him, I must obey his order." Once more

      their eyes met. The nun smiled a thin smile before she spoke again. "I

      will get one of the Sisters to take you to your daughter. Just wait here,"

      she said from the doorway.


          Alone again Sara tried to control the deep anger inside

      her. "Damn you anyway John Quinn. Why are you punishing us?" she

      mouthed to the silent room. When Maura told her that Seamus, her cousin

      and neighbour had repeatedly molested her, she thought that her anger had

      reached its peak. Then when she tried to tell her husband John and he refused

      to believe her that anger spilled over to breaking point. The memory of

      his hateful words still rang in her ear. "Don’t lie to me. Seamus is

      my own flesh and blood, he never laid a hand on her. She will never put

      a foot inside this door again. She has brought disgrace on me and all belonging

      to me," he had shouted repeatedly at her. But now she must control

      her anger as she waited to see her daughter, somehow she must try to bring

      comfort to her only child, whose whole world had been torn apart at the

      tender age of sixteen. How could she tell her that her father refused to

      allow her name to be mentioned as though she had never existed, and that

      she had to lie about coming here today? She knew that she couldn’t tell

      her this; she had suffered enough already.From her position on the bed Maura

      Quinn watched the young nun as she bathed her new- born infant. She had

      spent hours alone in an agonizingly painful labour, and now she felt drained

      of all emotion. The baby’s cry seemed to come from a great distance while

      she watched, as if she were somehow an observer looking on from a distant

      place. Then suddenly the child was placed in her arms. She stared down at

      the tiny perfect creature, then she saw her bottom lip tremble, and in that

      instant a rush of unexpected love flooded through her. "I will call

      you Mary Kate," she said gently.    "She’s hungry,"

      the nun said stiffly as she put her to her breast. "You can feed her

      yourself for the first few days. It will give her a better chance of survival.

      But after that you leave her in our care," she added. "We don’t

      want you getting attached to her, under the circumstances." She cleared

      her throat nervously and walked from the room.


          Alone Maura gazed at her new born daughter with a mixture

      of wonder, love and pity. She was mystified as to how a perfect little being

      like this could have come out of such a hateful union of fear and blackmail.

      "I have nothing to offer you, nothing," she whispered. The door

      suddenly burst open.


          "You have a visitor downstairs. I will take the

      child," the nun said breathlessly.


          "Please don’t take her away."


          "It’s orders, she is not allowed to stay. I will

      take her back at feeding time." From the doorway she looked back at

      Maura with a small tolerant smile.


          "You are so young, please, do as I say and forget

      about this wee one. To get attached will only cause you more grief. Just

      pray that the good Lord will help you to forget."


          Five minutes later the familiar face of her mother came

      into focus as she bent over her. The familiar comfort of her mother’s arms

      filled Maura with that special feeling of security that had so often soothed

      her worst fears in childhood.


          "The baby is so tiny and helpless, and so lovely."

      Her muffled voice sounded in Sara’s ears.


          "I want to go home with you, and take wee Mary Kate

      with me. The nuns keep telling me not to get attached to her. They say she

      will be taken to the orphanage." Her voice shook with sobs, and Sara

      felt a sharp pain rush through her. "Will he let me come home yet?"

      she asked. Freeing herself from her mother’s embrace she looked into her

      eyes. "Will he?" she asked again.


          "Not yet love. But I’m still working on it."


          "He still doesn’t believe me then," she said

      with a quiver in her voice. Sara shook her head slowly.   

      "I haven’t given up. He's a stubborn man, your father. But he’ll come

      round." Sara’s words sounded hollow in her own ears, for in her heart

      she knew that she could never persuade him to allow his daughter to come

      home with her child. She hoped the encouraging smile she gave her, hid her

      true feeling of sorrow and despair. All too soon it was time to say their

      farewells. "I will be back soon, very soon," Sara said gently.


          "Please beg him to let us come home." Her voice

      broke. "He must believe it wasn’t my fault."


          "I will try. Don’t worry, leave it to me. I will

      think of something," Sara said with a smile of encouragement.


          Outside, the mist was beginning to clear. Sara stood

      looking back at the convent, but the weak sunlight failed to add warmth

      to its grey walls. A fitful wind smelling of rain made the tall trees shiver

      and whisper quietly, like cold old men. Sara shivered, then walked with

      heavy steps down the bray towards the station.Three days after her mother’s

      visit Maura was moved to a small room at the other side of the convent.

      The nuns had stopped bringing the baby to her to be fed. As she stared at

      the crucifix on the opposite wall, she felt sure that she could faintly

      hear Mary Kate’s cry. The sudden loud voice of Sister Mary coming from the

      other side of the door made her jump.


          "Mother wants to see you now," she said poking

      her head around the door. "Come, I’ll take you down to her. Maura stood

      up unsteadily.


          "What does she want me for?"


          "Well I’m not.. er.. allowed to say," she said,

      sounding nervous.


          As she followed Sister Mary down the stairs she wondered

      what lay behind the sudden summons to see The Mother General. More than

      anything else she wanted to go home with her baby. Try as she might, she

      could not remember how long it had been since her father left her here.

      The nuns had for the most part treated her with cold indifference; it was

      almost as if they were afraid to show her any affection. When they reached

      the bottom of the stairs they both stood at the Mother's door. A thin smile

      formed on the nun’s lips as she knocked.


          "Come in."


          "I’ve brought Maura Quinn, Mother. Will you be needing

      me again?" she asked.


          "Yes, Sister, I’ll call you when its time"

      she added, nodding at her. "Sit down here, I have something important

      to tell you, about your future." She pointed to the chair in front

      of the big desk. Maura walked over and sat down apprehensively. Across the

      desk the elderly nun looked at her for a few moments, then clearing her

      throat she broke the silence. "Your father came here a few days ago

      to discuss your future" she began. "A decision was made, which

      I am now going to tell you about." Maura waited without taking her

      eyes from her face. "I have a boat ticket that your father bought for

      you. A single ticket to New York. The passenger ship leaves on this afternoon’s

      tide, so you see there is no time to lose in getting your belongings together,"

      she looked Maura straight in the face, showing no emotion.


          "But my baby! I can’t go without her, and I must

      see my mother first. Why did you wait until now to tell me this?" her

      voice shook with emotion as she struggled to keep back her tears.


          "We decided it was best to wait until now to tell

      you, as I rightly guessed your hysterical reaction. You are very lucky that

      the good Lord has seen fit to give you a new beginning my girl, and as for

      the baby, you know that it is out of the question to even, think about taking

      the baby with you." She began pacing up and down behind the desk as

      she spoke. "Thank God the baby will be looked after, and you can began

      a new life, and maybe, in time the good Lord will forgive you...for all

      this." She stopped pacing and accusingly waved her finger in Maura’s

      direction.Seated between two of the middle aged Sisters, Maura was driven

      to the quayside where the steamer was docked. With one Sister at each side

      of her, she was escorted towards the gang- plank. Then one of the Sisters

      went on ahead with the ticket in her hand. When they started to climb on

      board, she heard a familiar voice. Her heart leapt for joy, and within seconds

      she was in her mother’s arms, laughing and crying all at the one time.


          "The receipt for your ticket fell out of his pocket.

      Only for that, I wouldn’t have known where you had gone." The nun became

      flustered and agitated, as she clung on to Maura’s arm.


          "Come on, it’s time you were on board. We have to

      see you to your cabin as we were instructed," she called above the

      noise.


          "It’s all right. I will look after your baby until

      you get home again. Please love. Don’t cry. Write to me as soon as you arrive.

      Send the letters to Ballyneely care of Molly," her mother whispered

      in her ear, in her familiar soothing voice.


          "I don’t want to leave my baby. I don’t want to

      go" she sobbed. Then she was tugged away from her mother’s arms with

      the assistance of the second nun who had suddenly reappeared. When they

      reached the top of the gangplank, she looked down at the busy dock for her

      mother, but she had lost sight of her.


          "Come on child, we have to find your cabin yet,"

      one of the nuns said crossly. When on board the gentler of the two nuns,

      asked one of the Stewards for directions to the cabin, and Maura was led

      stumbling along narrow corridors, and down staircase, after staircase to

      the bowel of the ship. They reached the cabin at last, and one of the nuns

      opened the door. The interior was small and poky, two bunk beds and a wash

      basin summed up the furnishings. A battered trunk sat on the floor.


          "It looks like your cabin companion has already

      been here. Sister and I will leave you now, we will wait at the bottom of

      the gang-plank until you sail". The gentler of the nuns turned back

      and kissed her on the cheek.


          "God bless you child," she said before closing

      the cabin door.


          Left alone Maura sat stiffly on the edge of the bunk,

      her thoughts running wildly around in her head. Suddenly she ran for the

      door, in panic she scurried along corridors and up flights of stairs. ‘Please

      God let her still be there’ she panted as she at last reached the deck.

      A huddled mass of passengers pressed against the rails of the middle deck,

      it was impossible for her to see beyond the backs of their heads. In desperation

      she ran towards the stairway leading to the upper deck. As she began climbing

      the stairs a steward blocked her way.


          "Sorry Miss, first class passengers only,"

      he said.


          Back on the middle deck, she pushed her way to the front.

      She looked down desperately trying to catch a glimpse of her mother. The

      ship was already moving away from the quay, making it harder to distinguish

      one face from another. On the quayside she could see handkerchiefs fluttering

      like moths in the yellow evening light. Tears blinded her eyes, as she made

      her way back down to the cabin. When she opened the door, a young dark haired

      girl sat on the top bunk, her eyes red and swollen from crying.


          "Hello, I’m Hannah Mc Laughlin. We will be seeing

      a lot of one another for the next three weeks or so. I hope you don’t snore,"

      she said with a grin. "I know your name already, I saw it on the label

      of your trunk. Your Maura Quinn," she added.


          "Hello Hannah, I’m glad to meet you," Maura

      said in a low strained voice. Taking a long look at her cabin companion,

      Hannah noted the brown eyes that seemed too large for her pale face, and

      the brown frock that hung over her skinny frame. ‘My mother would never

      have allowed me to go to America if I looked as pale and skinny as she does.

      But, she could be pretty, even beautiful if she wasn’t so pale and delicate,’

      she thought to herself. Then she asked.


          "I’m going back out on the deck. Do you want to

      come?"


          "No, but thanks, I’ll just lie down for a wee while,

      I have a headache," Maura answered.


          "See you later then. I want to see the last sight

      of the land. My brothers and sisters said they would watch the ship, from

      Clonmore hill".


      When the door closed, she lay alone and bewildered, the throb of the engine

      reminding her that she was moving unwillingly further away from all that

      she knew and loved.Maura lay on her bunk staring at the small porthole in

      the stuffy cabin. The ship lurched and tossed on the restless sea.


      Hannah’s head hung down over the top bunk clutching her rosary beads tightly

      and praying loudly above the noise of the storm. She had not anticipated

      the fury of an Atlantic storm, when she decided to emigrate, to America.

      "There is a good demand for dressmakers in New York," Aunt Mary

      had assured her in her letter. As the ship heaved and tossed, she thought

      she would not survive to see either New York or Aunt Mary. In her terror,

      she was sure that the ship would sink.Maura lying in the bunk below felt

      no such panic. Her only prayers were for Mary Kate. She longed to hug her

      once more, and to feel her tiny hand clasp her finger. These were precious

      memories of the stolen moments she had spent with her in the convent nursery.

      "I didn’t expect to love you Mary Kate," she whispered to herself,

      making no attempt to wipe away her tears.


      "Thank God we are still alive, the storm is over," Hannah’s shouts

      woke Maura from a heavy doze. Her head hung over the top bunk, her rosary

      beads dangling a few inches from Maura’s face. "I must get my clothes

      on quick, and go and see if there is any damage." She jumped down from

      her bunk in one leap.Maura smiled to herself at her new found friend’s energy

      and optimistic approach to life. Meeting Hannah had made life worth living

      again for Maura. She shuddered at the memory of her second night on board

      when she almost ended it all. Looking into the dark waters, it seemed the

      only answer to her pain. She had stood gazing into the dark water for what

      seemed like an eternity, her mind had become calm, almost a hypnotic state,

      when Hannah voice came from behind her.


          "What are you doing? God it’s freezing out here,

      you will catch your death." When she made no reply, and she caught

      sight of one foot on the middle rail, the horror of what Maura was contemplating

      dawned on Hannah. She grabbed her by the shoulders, then forced her back

      until her two feet were firmly on the deck. She struggled but Hannah’s physical

      strength overcame her resistance.


          "For God sake Maura! Tell me I’ve got it wrong,

      you weren’t thinking of ...." Hannah’s voice trailed off.


          "What if I was? Just leave me alone and mind your

      own business. Why did you stop me?" She broke into hysterical sobs,

      while Hannah continued to hold her in a tight grip.


          "Sure, it broke my heart leaving my home and my

      family too, but I had to go. I will be able to help them at home, when I

      get a job and can send some money, and so will you. It will be alright,

      you’ll see, and into the bargain, there is your immortal soul to think about,"

      Hannah’s voice went on relentlessly, rocking Maura back and fourth, still

      holding her in a vice like grip. Hannah’s voice, firm and kind slowly penetrated

      Maura’s troubled mind, gradually her sobbing ceased. Hannah loosened her

      tight grip "Do you want to tell me about it? Come on down to the cabin

      and we’ll talk, that’s if you want to tell me." Not waiting for a reply

      she slowly guided Maura down the steps to the cabin. Hannah wondered again

      why fate had decided that she should have been chosen to share a cabin with

      this strange unhappy girl. She remembered seeing her for the first time

      the day they sailed. At first she noticed the grim faced nun holding the

      arm of the pale faced girl as they began climbing on board. Then she saw

      an older woman run towards them, they threw their arms around one another.

      The nun looked angry and tried to prise them apart, looking around her wildly

      as if, she was trying to summons help. Hannah had viewed this scene from

      the deck only now understanding its significance as Maura’s sad tale unraveled

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