"Louise? Louise McCloud?" Sister Cathryn called from her teacher's desk. Louise gave a startled gasp. She had lost interest in grammar long ago.
"That must be a good daydream, but let's get back to our lesson," smiled the kindly young nun. She harbored a secret sympathy for Louise. Let's face it, she thought, grammar just isn't an exciting subject. Other subjects she could make come move alive-History, Literature, Geography, even Mathematics. When it came to grammar, though, she was a bored as her students.
Much to Sister Cathryn's relief school was soon over. "Class dismissed," she said. "Louise, do you mind staying after for a minute?"
Suddenly, Louise's legs felt like lead and a knot formed in the pit of her stomach. She had always been a good student, both in academics and deportment. She had never been asked to stay after school before and wondered what the punishment was for daydreaming in class. Fortunately Sister Cathryn noticed the fear on her pupil's face and was quick to assure her she was not in trouble.
"I have a confession to make, Louise. I don't find grammar very exciting either. But this is the third time this week I've noticed you daydreaming in class."
"I'm sorry Sister Cathryn," she apologized, on the verge of tears. "It's just that-just that-" Louise groped for the right words to explain how she felt inside. The trouble was, she didn't know how she felt. She had been restless for a while, but wasn't sure what would satisfy her.
"It's just that your thirteen, dear," the nun smiled, a look of remembrance on her face. "Believe it or not, I was once that age too. Everything is changing and you are neither woman nor child right now."
Louise breathed a sigh of relief that she was not going crazy, "Oh, you do know how I feel! I thought I was going crazy."
"No, child, just growing up. Now you run along and we can have a talk later."
That night, after Rosary and prayers, Sister Cathryn lay on her bed unable to sleep. She wanted to do something special for Louise. She'd had a hard time herself at that age, and knew what it was to long for a change and want something exciting to happen.
"Lord, please show me the way to help that child," she whispered into the night.
A few mornings later Louise went to the stables to do her chores. She always enjoyed tending to the horses, as well as the chickens, cows and goats. Still, she loved the horses best. They represented freedom and adventure. Some days Louise wanted to climb onto a horse, ride West, and never look back. It was only her siblings, Jeremiah and Theresa, that kept her from doing just that.
Just as she was cleaning the stalls Sister Cathryn arrived with a wide smile on her face. She was waving a piece of paper in the air excitedly. Louise almost giggled to see a nun looking so undignified. But then, Cathryn Marie Andrews was no ordinary nun.
"How would you like to go to a theatrical with me, Louise?" she asked.
"A play, child. A Shakespearean play."
"I've never been to a play before," Louise said, near breathless with excitement. "Sure I'll go."
"Splendid" the Sister almost sang. "You see, my brother Edward is touring with a Shakespearean acting company. They are going to do a performance right here in St. Louis next week!" He is going to play a wizard. I think seeing a play might be just what you need to get you out of your doldrums."
For the first time in weeks Louise felt that she had something to look forward to besides chores and school. Although she could hardly think about anything else besides seeing a real play she tried to concentrate extra hard during class. She didn't want to take any chance of falling out of her teacher's good graces.
Anticipation soon turned into anxiety. While examining her best dress, Louise realized it was really to worn to wear to a theatre. She knew she would not get another until the next missionary barrel came, and that might not be for weeks or months. Louise sighed, unsure whether to tell Sister Cathryn of her dilemma, or to just go in her tattered dress.
One afternoon a couple days later Sister Cathryn found Louise alone in her room. This was an unusual occurrence since the room was occupied by five girls. The other children were playing outside so Louise was using her time alone to record her thoughts in a journal.
"Hello, Louise," greeted Sister Cathryn quietly. She didn't want to frighten the girl whose head was bent over a notebook. She sat at the foot of the bed, "Louise, I broke a rule today."
The girl looked up, her eyes big with wonder. She didn't know nuns were capable of breaking rules. "What did you do?"
"The missionary barrels arrived today. As you know, we usually go through the clothes and give them out in a certain order of who needs what most. But I noticed that you've grown some lately and your church dress isn't fitting you as well, so-I picked this out just for you." The nun reached under the bed and pulled out a pink gingham dress with a white sash at the middle. It looked as if it had never been worn.
The shy young girl threw her arms around her teacher's neck with vigor and thankfulness, "Oh thank you! It's so beautiful."
"You're welcome, child. Now, why don't you run along and play outside with the others?" she suggested. "It's a lovely day and a little sunshine on your face would do you some good."
"Alright, Sister," Louise obliged. She didn't really feel like playing outdoors but if Sister Cathryn has asked her to fly to the moon just then, she would have given it a try.
"Oh, Louise, about the dress..."
"Don't worry, Sister Cathryn, my lips are sealed."
When Saturday came Louise could barely contain her excitement. She spent an hour reviewing the best way to do her hair and her brother and sister had to call her name at least twice before she would respond. Her sister Theresa and three other girls with whom they roomed watched with interest as Louise dressed and prepared for the play.
"Where did you get that dress, Louise?" asked Clarice Ann in an unfriendly tone. Clarice Ann had been blessed with beautiful features but not a beautiful personality. SHe was Louise's junior by only a year, but thought her self "too mature" and "too good" for the other girls, except, of course, when she was left out of their games. Then she would whine until they let her play. It was rumored that her parents had been quite wealthy before they died from diphtheria.
"Where do we get ALL our clothes, Clarice Ann?" she snapped back. Louise was trying to pin up her hair in adult fashion and the last thing she needed was Clarice Ann poking in her business.
"What is Sister Cathryn going to say when she sees your hair like that?" continued the pest. "You know she won't approve."
Theresa piped up in defense of her sister, "I think Louise looks boo-ti-ful, so there!" The two other girls, Sarah and Florence, sided with Theresa making Clarice Ann more annoyed. Fortunately Sister Cathryn walked in before the argument escalated.
"Sister, look at her hair!" shouted Clarice Ann, pointing an accusing finger at Louise.
The nun knew the child well. Privately she agreed that little girls should wear their hair down or in braids until they were fifteen, but didn't want to give Clarice Ann the satisfaction of knowing that fact.
"This is a special night for Louise and she may wear her hair up this once," she said firmly to spoiled girl. Louise could not help but give Clarice Ann a triumphant smile.
It was not a long ride into town but the butterflies in Louise's stomach seemed to multiply with each passing mile. She and Sister Cathryn were to have supper with her brother Edward at the hotel before the play and Louise wondered if she would be able to eat anything.
As soon as they entered the dining room a robust, friendly looking man called out, "Praise be, it's my sister, the Sister!" and all the patrons laughed. Sister Cathryn wasn't embarrassed at all by his joke-it was just his way of showing affection. Louise wasn't sure what to think and giggled nervously.
"It is so good to see you again, Edward," gushed the nun, giving her brother a hug. "This is my student, Louise McCloud. She has never been to the theatre before."
"I will try not to disappoint you then, Miss Louise. Now, let us eat!"
A woman in an apron handed Louise a menu once they were seated at the table. She enjoyed getting to actually choose what she wanted for supper. The food, while plenty, was always the same at the orphanage, with roast beef on Sundays until fish on Fridays. Once in a while Louise considered converting to Catholicism but the prospect of having fish every Friday night was enough for her to remain a Methodist. Finally she settled on chicken stew and corn bread.
"And how did you get to come along for this special occasion, Miss Louise?" asked Edward, who had taken a liking to the girl.
"Sister Cathryn thought it might be good for me," she replied, smiling at the "miss" added to her name.
"Louise here is almost a lady and should be getting more culture," Sister Cathryn added. "Plus, she's a very deserving student. She's in the top of her class."
"Edward had to leave the hotel before his two dinner guests for the theatre, so Louise and Sister Cathryn enjoyed a leisurely dessert of peach cobbler. Then it was just a short walk to the playhouse.
Although it would have been considered shabby by Eastern standards Louise thought the St. Louis Theatre was the most beautiful and luxurious building she had ever seen. The seats were covered with red velvet and gold brocade curtains hung from the stage.
Just before the curtain went up, Sister Cathryn whispered, "Remember, Edward plays the wizzard Prospero. He'll have on a pointy hat, a fake beard, and glasses." Louise nodded silently, as the curtain was beginning to rise.
The play was called "The Tempest" and quite honestly Louise wasn't sure what to think. She loved the costumes and how the words just seemed to flow from the mouths of the actors, but she didn't really understand all the words. The dialogue left her a little confused but she was content just to sit and watch and be doing something different.
Louise was so excited to see Edward appear on stage that she almost clapped her hands, but she held herself in check just in time. She was glad Sister Cathryn had warned her how different he would look because she surely wouldn't have guessed it was him behind the beard and glasses. All in all, Louise was a little disappointed when the show came to an end.
Sister Cathryn took Louise's hand after all the actors had taken their last bow, "Come, Edward wanted to say goodbye. We're supposed to meet him around back." The two managed to get though the mass of people on their out of the building.
"Well, what did you think?" he asked, still in his wizard costume.
"You were wonderful, sir. I didn't understand everything, but what I did understand, I liked!" Louise said candidly.
"I have something for you, Miss Louise. This being your first play, I think you should have a souvenir from it. I humbly give you this little prop, my glasses. May you see the world though rose colored lenses when you wear them."
Louise tried them on, "But the lenses are clear."
"It's an expression, dear. He means try to see the world positively-when you have them on, and when you don't." the Sister explained.
"Thank you so much, Mr. Actor-I mean, Mr. Andrews," Louise blushed. "I'll treasure them always. Wherever I go, I'll take them with."
And the rest, as they say, is history.