she wondered how the nuns had known, and if they had once been as she was now. She thought of her mother, who by now would be sitting alone with a tray in the living room at home, picking at her inevitable lamb chop and watching the same rain. Rain seldom fell so long so early; if it kept up there could be floods before Christmas. Once when she was a child a levee had broken on Christmas Eve, and the churches were filled with tired women in raincoats and children in blue bathrobes. At Edith Knight’s insistence she had given all but one of her unopened Christmas presents to the evacuated children, whose own, Edith Knight had explained, were floating over to the poor Chinese children. Put that way, it had seemed an ideal situation, one in which only Lily came out behind.
Although Everett should have eaten with her mother tonight, eaten with her or taken her down to the ranch, he would not have thought of it. And her mother was so lonely that she seemed to have lost even the idea of communication. “Some nights when the wind comes up I think I’m the only person alive on the river,” she had said a few weeks ago. “Why don’t you call me?” Lily said. “Why don’t you call me or one of the Randalls?” “I could, of course,” her mother said without interest, as if Lily had introduced a quite irrelevant topic. In a sense she had: there was little that Lily or the Randalls or anyone else could do to mend the web of concern which Walter Knight and Rita Blanchard had woven around Edith Knight for a dozen years and had torn apart in June. It had once occurred to Lily that her mother missed Rita more than she missed Walter Knight; it had been Rita, after all, who provided her with her rôle, who might well have gone on providing it, walking proof not only of Walter Knight’s failure (dead or alive) but of Edith Knight’s strength in the face of it.
Well, her mother had chosen her rôle, the nuns theirs. But how did they know. How had Mary Knight known. Mary Knight Randall had entered the Sisters of Mercy the summer she was eighteen. She had gone to Europe with her father, Walter Knight’s cousin, and when they got off the boat in New York that August she told him that she did not intend to go to Berkeley in September. Although he tried to reason with her all the way across the country on the train, even promised that she could have a new robin’s-egg blue Ford convertible and spend the entire month of January skiing at Aspen, Mary Knight entered the convent the same week Lily went down to Berkeley. It was the week of rushing, and because Mary Knight had planned to be with her, Lily had a double room alone at the Durant Hotel. She lay awake every night, listening to the Campanile strike in the coastal fog and feeling intensely sorry for herself, partly because she did not know how to talk to the golden girls from San Francisco and Pasadena but mostly because she had been deprived of Mary Knight, who was older than she was but had never known anything at all, had moved through adolescence in an untroubled innocence which had obscurely reassured Lily, made her want to have Mary Knight with her always, a talisman. (Once at a beach party, Joe Templeton’s younger brother, Pete, had tried to get Mary Knight up on the bluff in a car with him. “Why do they want to do that?” she whispered later to Lily. “Never you mind,” Lily said, throwing sand on the fire. She had disliked Pete Templeton for trying and loved Mary Knight for not knowing.) Even the Catholics mourned Mary Knight; Helen Randall, who had refused to go to Europe with them because she wanted to go to Banff, still put the blame on Mary Knight’s father. Mary Knight was an impressionable girl and if he had not exposed her day after day to those morbid European cathedrals it simply would not have happened. He should have taken her, as she, Helen, had suggested in the first place, to the Calgary Stampede. Now there was a portrait in the dining room of the