Belvedere Place, Dublin, 11am The Religious

In Belvedere Place, Agnes had been up since five and had half a day's work done by eleven. Now she was taking a few minutes to consider her day. Mass and breakfast for the eighty widows who inhabited St Monica's Home were long over, and now the women were engaged in the household tasks which kept the place sparkling and smelling of beeswax. Agnes liked her work with the widows, who seemed to have been selected for their meek natures; it was totally unlike the Home for Penitent Magdalens, where Agnes had previously worked. She had hated it there; hated the coarse language and knowing smiles of the girls; many of them, she had thought uncharitably, not a bit penitent, and a large proportion of them returning to life on the streets within weeks of their supposed rehabilitation.

What she would really like, though, was to work in one of the orphanages of her Order, the Sisters of Charity. It had been the sight of the poor barefoot children of Dublin, half-starved and brutalised by poverty, that had set her on the road to the religious life so many years before. She glanced out the window to where Sal Mc Bride was walking by, her arms filled with blankets. On her way to the pawnshop, thought Agnes; this week the bedclothes are going as well as the Sunday clothes and shoes. The Sunday finery went down every week on Monday, to be redeemed on Saturday for mass the following day. Should she call out to her and offer her some food? But everyone knew the reason that the Mc Bride family was in such a state was the fact that both the parents took drink. Agnes had more than once seen Sal staggering out of a pub in broad daylight, brazen as you like, when no respectable woman would be seen inside one. Better let her go; by the way she was walking she looked like she had more than a drop taken already.

But, thought Agnes, those little children back in the stinking tenement in Rutland Street; barefoot, ragged, lice-infested, always hungry and often cold; what could she and her sisters do for the thousands of them, the poor children who thronged the streets of Dublin?

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