"IT'S THE MOTHER SUPERIOR to see you, sir."
Katie, our dark-eyed Irish maid from Rosslare, made this announcement to me in a voice hushed with awe. In Westbourne Grove, quite near, set back from the street, there stood a quiet grey building, the convent of the Bon Secours nuns. Occasionally one heard from it the soft chime of the Angelus bell. Otherwise it was quite unobtrusive, and one rarely saw signs of life within.
But "on the district," that network of poor slum streets and alleys surrounding Portobello Road and Notting Hill Gate, it was a different story. The order of the Bon Secours was not enclosed. On the contrary, its members, as their name implied, had pledged themselves before God to succour the needy, the destitute, and those unfortunates, outcast from society through their own misdeeds or the wrongdoing of others. Many times I had come across these good sisters, always two of them together, walking swiftly, with lowered gaze, on some errand of mercy, through mean and darkened streets which were scarcely safe by day and downright dangerous by night. These devious passages which opened off the Portobello Road -- itself a narrow channel choked by stalls and hucksters' barrows, lit in the evening by naphtha flares, crowded with the riffraff of the city, all pushing, jostling, and shouting -- were well known to the police as the resort of pickpockets, thieves, mobsters, and worse. Many of the houses were dens of iniquity, and evil things were done there. I always dreaded a call to this locality, and on several occasions, before I was recognised as a doctor, I had missed disaster by