HALL OF HIGHER LEARNING

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1906

For the second time in her life, Clara wandered out into the world under the watchful eye of Sister Maria. That meant waiting on a train platform for what she presumed would be the first of many connections. Little did she know that their first trip together would seem like a stroll through Versailles' palatial gardens in comparison.

For one, the distance they needed to cover was far greater, and that came with a dizzying rate of train transfers. At least their journey over the open waters had been a new experience for Clara. She enjoyed being unsure of herself while the ship heaved and hawed with the waves. If her travelling partner had any inkling at all for amusement, Clara might have been granted a reprieve from her studies to enjoy the experience.

Instead they spent the bulk of the trip below decks, engrossed in prayers and studies. Clara even missed seeing the iconic red shores of this land, although one would never know based on Sister Maria's reaction.

Once they made landfall, Sister Maria flagged down the first available hansom. The ride was pleasant enough and marked her first taste of a larger settlement. There were people and horses moving about every which way. While chaotic, it was an enjoyable experience because Sister Maria could do nothing to hurry up this leg of the journey.

Whereas her hometown had a few buildings along the main stretch of road, this city had neighbourhoods and streets filled with an assortment of structures. It was something to behold especially after two years of being cooped up in that school.

For the first time, Sister Maria seemed to be enjoying the trip. Had this been her hometown? More likely, she was looking forward to being released from her charge.

"Here we are," the cabby announced upon arrival.

This was the site of a massive construction and visible on the foreground were the beginnings of church spires. This structure of wood, masonry and stone would stand tall above its neighbours; a point of pride for any city. So why were they here?

Clara and Sister Maria stepped off silently and without hesitation the nun pushed past the protective fence. Despite the initial show of force, Sister Maria seemed slower and more deliberate in her movements. Clearly she was not relishing this stroll through a busy worksite, and the odd stares they got certainly did not help.

They walked through the chaos as workers were busy raising the structure. They continued on until they reached a cemetery surrounded by a stone wall. At a point separating the two sites, Clara saw a simple wooden door.

Sister Maria paused, stood aside and said, "I am afraid this is where we part ways, child."

Clara looked at the facial features of her escort and, as usual, there was not an ounce of emotion to be found. That is until a naughty little thought passed through her mind. It would be a shame to miss this opportunity to speak with impunity.

"I was the one who rearranged all of the furniture in your room," Clara said with a smirk.

Sister Maria's scowl remained firmly in place for a moment but soon broke out into a deep laugh.

"Was it now?" Sister Maria asked in a light-hearted tone. "The sisters and I spent a great deal of time trying to work out how someone managed to get all my things up onto the ceiling."

"You are not angry, Sister?" Clara asked, disappointed at this particular reaction.

"Of course not Clara," Sister Maria said in a serious tone. "Sister Agnes nearly wet herself laughing and anything that knocks her down a peg is worth its weight in gold," she added with a smile.

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