Today, I followed the guest prompt from Stuart Horwitz to “Write A Story Set In A Time Period You Connect With.” Much like the way that, despite reading mysteries for pretty much all my life, I have only now started to write some, I have only recently begun to think about writing about my ancestors early years in what is now Canada (they immigrated in the early 1600s), despite hearing about them for as long as I can remember.
So, the following very short piece is about Marie-Anne-Véronique Cuillerier, one of the daughters of my first Cuillerier ancestor in Canada. The historical details in the story are (largely) correct.
Soeur Véronique came to with a start. She opened her eyes a crack to see Soeur Catherine leaning over her.
“Sister!” the young nun called and Véronique managed a weak nod. Mon Dieu, she was tired. But the pain was gone now and for that she was grateful. She knew, from having been in the position of Catherine, that the end was not was far off. At seventy-one years old, she had made her peace with that.
Catherine smiled and leaned over to place a cool cloth on Véronique’s forehead.
“Are you hungry? I can bring you some broth.”
“Yes,” Véronique said, her voice sounded harsh to her own ears. She was not, in fact, hungry, but she thought it would make Catherine feel better to bring her food.
The young woman straightened up and left.
It was not actually Catherine’s place to care for her, she was doing it around her position as secretary, the job that Véronique had filled for over twenty years. Catherine had succeeded her four years ago, although Véronique had not stopped the record-keeping that had become second-nature to her over that time. It was now recorded in private journals and there was less of the exciting detail that had marked her earlier years — the attack on the city of Quebec by Sir William Phips, the terrifying earthquake in 1732. the horrible fire of 1734 — but she still felt such meaning in it. The thought that perhaps it would be some gift for those who would come after her. Not that she was, in herself, special. She did not think so highly of herself! What she did, she did for the glory of God. If her contribution was to record His great acts, then she was pleased that she was able to do so.
Véronique had joined the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph in Montreal when she was just fourteen years old. Her father had brought her to them, her mother at home, heavy with her latest pregnancy. (That child, her parents’ last, had not survived and she never saw the little boy.) Three years later, she made her profession. She might have been young when she joined them, but she had never regretted it.
Her parents were, of course, gone now and so many of her sisters and brothers, but over the years, that connection had stretched and weakened, as it was only a worldly one. But it was here, within the religious order, that she had found her true family. She had been so very lucky.
Her cell was small and cold, with only a small, slight window through which she could see the bright January sky, the clouds heavy with unshed snow. She recalled the happiness of her early years, of playing in the snow with Joseph, Marie, Marguerite, and Lambert, who were those closest to her in age. Only the two girls were still alive now. Marguerite wrote to her sometimes, a thing that Mother Superior frowned upon, but now, at Véronique’s age, allowed with little comment.
“I have brought soup,” Catherine said as she came through the door. The tray indeed carried a bowl of soup, along with a small plate of bread and, Véronique thought, cheese and a mug.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Would you like me to sit with you?”
Véronique would have preferred to be alone, to spend these last hours, days, weeks in reflection on her life and preparing for the life to come with her Saviour after her time came. But looking at the young woman, seeing her past come to life in this way, she smiled instead. “That would be lovely, Catherine. Please, sit here,” and she patted the edge of her cot. “Tell me how your work is going, Soeur Secretary.”