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Episode 24: Hope for Steel, Nun too Soon

“An intruder!?” Steel Bolt growled into the phone.  “On the grounds of stately Bolt Manor?  Bring him to me immediately.”

“Uhm, yeah alright.”

Steel Bolt was so busy speculating as to which of his competitors actually sent a spy to his house that he didn’t notice Manuel’s hesitation.

He got up from his desk and paced the room, rehearsing the tone and invective he was going to use with the interloper.  He may think he’ll be able to hold his tongue, but he doesn’t realize who he’s dealing with.  I can be very persuasive when I need to be.

Steel was imagining slapping the brute with the back of his hand, causing blood to pour from his nose, when the door to his study opened and Manuel led in, not a fearsome beast of a man, but a tiny waif of a woman.

She was dressed in a brown cassock mottled with mud and grass stains.  Her black hair was wildly dishevelled, and actually had twigs stuck in it.  Her walnut-brown eyes were watery, her delicate cheeks ruddy, and her full, red lips chapped, all suggesting extended exposure to the elements.  At first glance Steel thought the girl might be fifteen years old, but on closer examination he guessed she was in her mid-twenties.

She looked so fragile and in need of care that Steel instantly felt a desire to protect her.

He stood staring at her for so long that the silence became awkward.  Finally it was broken by an amused Manuel: “Ahem, she breached the security wall on the southwest corner of the estate, Mr. Bolt.  Our motion sensors caught her.”

“I see.”  Steel tried to say it sternly but it came out full of compassion.  He cleared his throat and tried again: “Well, young lady, I want you to tell me who you are, why you’re here, and who sent you.  Don’t bother lying.”

“I’m sorry to cause you trouble, sir,” the woman said in a timid whisper.  “It’s just that I was horribly lost.”

Steel’s sternness deserted him again: “Where did you come from?”

“A convent about 30 miles north of here.  I left there last night.”

“I know the one; up by Euphonious Bay.  Why did you leave?”

“I was supposed to take my final vows today,” she answered softly, “but I realized last night I couldn’t go through with it.”

“And you’ve been wandering around ever since?” 

“Yes.”

“You poor dear.  You have nowhere to go?”  Steel wondered if he was the only one who heard a tinge of hope in his voice when he said that.

“No.”

“No family?”

“The sisters have been my family since I was ten years old.  My parents were killed doing missionary work in Africa fifteen years ago.”

“I see.  Well, I suppose there’s only one thing to do.”

“No,” the almost-nun cried plaintively, “don’t send me back there.  I love the sisters and I love God, but I realize I don’t have what it takes to be a nun.  Please don’t send me back there.”

“I was going to say, the only thing to do is have Manuel draw you a bath, have our chef prepare you something to eat, and have you spend the night in one of our guest rooms.”

“You’ll let me stay here?” the waif asked.

“Of course.”

“Oh thank you,” she said.  “You are too kind.”

“Manuel, see to all the things I just mentioned.  Put the young lady in the Blue Room.  It’s near mine,” he explained to her.

“Thank you again,” she said shyly.

As Manuel was leading her away, Steel asked, “By the way, miss, what’s your name?”

“My name is Charity Hope.”

Not for long, Steel Bolt thought, not for long.

Continue reading: Episode 25: The Supple Side of Steel