Brother Cadfael 13: The Rose Rent
is satisfied of her vocation. Will you speak with her about this? I think you already know something of her."
"I do." Judith's voice was soft, and yet there was a shade of quiet amusement in the tone. "Her own motives, I think, when she entered Godric's Ford, were scarcely what you are demanding."
That was something he could not well deny. Sister Magdalen had formerly been, for many years, the constant mistress of a certain nobleman, and on his death had looked about her with single-minded resolution for another field in which to employ her undoubted talents. No question but the choice of the cloister had been coolly and practically made. What redeemed it was the vigour and loyalty she had devoted to it since the day of her entry, and would maintain, without question, until the day of her death.
"In no way that I know of," admitted Cadfael, "is Sister Magdalen anything but unique. You are right, she entered the cell seeking not a vocation, but a career, and a career she is making, and a notable one, too. Mother Mariana is old and bedridden now; the weight of the cell falls all on Magdalen, and I know no shoulders better fitted to carry it. And I do not think she would say to you, as I said, that there is but one good reason for taking the veil, true longing for the life of the spirit. The more reason you could and should listen to her advice and weigh it carefully, before you take so grave a step. And bear in mind, you are young, she had said goodbye to her prime."
"And I have buried mine," said Judith very firmly, and as one stating truth, without self-pity.
"Well, if it comes to second-bests," said Cadfael, "they can be found outside the cloister as well as within. Managing the business your fathers built up, providing employment for so many people, is itself a sufficient justification for a life, for want of better."
"It does not put me to any great test," she said indifferently. "Ah, well, I said only that I had been thinking of quitting the world. Nothing is done, as yet. And whether or no, I shall be glad to talk with Sister Magdalen, for I do value her wit, and know better than to discard unconsidered whatever she may say. Let me know when she comes, and I will send and bid her to my house, or go to her wherever she is lodged."
She rose to take the jar of ointment from him. Standing, she was the breadth of two fingers taller than he, but thin and slender-boned. The coils of her hair would have seemed over-heavy if she had not carried her head so nobly.
"Your roses are budding well," she said, as he went out with her along the gravel path from the workshop. "However late they come, they always bloom equally in the end."
It could have been a metaphor for the quality of a life, he thought, as they had been discussing it. But he did not say so. Better leave her to the shrewd and penetrating wisdom of Sister Magdalen. "And yours?" he said. "There'll be a choice of blooms when Saint Winifred's feast comes round. You should have the best and freshest for your fee."
The most fleeting of smiles crossed her face, and left her sombre again, her eyes on the path. "Yes," she said, and nothing more, though it seemed there should have been more. Was it possible that she had noted and been troubled by the same trouble that haunted Eluric? Three times he had carried the rose rent to her, a matter of... how long... in her presence? Two minutes annually? Three, perhaps? But no man's shadow clouded Judith Perle's eyes, no living man's. She might, none the less, have become somehow aware, thought Cadfael, not of a young man's physical entrance into her house and presence, but of the nearness of pain.
"I'm going there now," she said, stirring out of her preoccupation. "I've lost the buckle of a good girdle, I should like to have a new one made, to match the rosettes that decorate the leather, and the end-tag. Enamel inlay on the bronze. It was a present Edred once made to me. Niall Bronzesmith will be able to copy the design. He's a fine craftsman. I'm glad the abbey has such a good tenant for the house."
"A decent, quiet man," agreed Cadfael, "and keeps the garden well tended. You'll find your rose-bush in very good heart."
To that she made no reply, only thanked him simply for his services as they entered the great court together, and there separated, she to continue along the Foregate to the large house beyond the abbey forge, where she had spent the few years of her married life, he to the lavatorium to wash his
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