(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

When the Prioress, the Mistress of Novices, the Vicaress and the other nuns begged her, Sister Joanna of the Cross consented to read the poem she had composed in celebration of the birthday of the Prioress. The Vicaress was sure that praise for the poem would lead to pride, a sin, but Sister Joanna of the Cross disclaimed all but a small part of the birthday present. She had composed the lines, it was true, but Sister Maria Jesus had copied the verses, Sister Sagrario painted the border, Sister Marcella tied the ribbons, and the Mistress of Novices made the gift possible by giving them the parchment and the ribbon.

The mayor’s wife sent the Prioress a canary in a cage. The bird so delighted the novices that they begged permission to talk among themselves until time for prayers. The doctor interrupted them on his daily round. He looked at a felon Sister Sagrario had on her finger, and turned to prescribe for Sister Maria Jesus, who was melancholy. He asked her age and, when she said eighteen, he asked to see her face. It was a pretty one and he commented that the Lord had not bad taste. But, for a prescription? One of two things for a girl of that age: the Prioress could write the child’s mother to take her home and provide a good husband, or Sister Maria Jesus would have to take cold baths every morning and say five Pater Nosters with each.

While the doctor and the Prioress went to see a bedridden sister, the novices stayed to guard the front grille. As they were talking, a bell rang by the grille, and a basket was placed on the revolving box by which gifts were brought into the cloister. The novices could not resist looking in the basket. Sister Marcella’s cry when she saw a baby lying there brought all the other nuns back to determine the trouble. The Prioress read a letter, which had come in the basket, asking that the nuns bring up the baby because her mother could not keep her properly. The Vicaress was horrified that the sisters would even consider keeping the little girl. The doctor, remarking that legally the nuns had no right to maternity, proposed that he adopt the baby and leave her to be brought up in the convent. There were still other problems to be faced—the matters of feeding and clothing and tending the child—but Sister Joanna of the Cross had an answer for each. The gardener’s wife, who had a baby of her own at the time, could help on all counts. The Prioress, thinking that the baby was the best of all birthday presents, appointed Sister Joanna of the Cross the child’s guardian.

In the eighteen years that passed, the nuns spent all their pent-up love on the girl Teresa. She was a gay child, loving the gardens of the cloister and the adoring sisters; but it was easy to see that she would not spend her life as a hermit, though she was utterly devout. In time she met a man, Antonio, whom she promised to marry.

The nuns made for her an elaborate trousseau,...

(The entire section is 1200 words.)