A child lives from hour to hour, and almost at the same moment that my heart was made desolate by the loss of my two friends it was quickened to a new interest.
Immediately after the departure of Sister Angela and Alma we were all gathered in the Meeting Room for our weekly rehearsal of the music of the Benediction—the girls, the novices, the nuns, the Reverend Mother, and a Maestro from the Pope’s choir, a short fat man, who wore a black soutane and a short lace tippet.
Benediction was the only service of our church which I knew, being the one my mother loved best and could do most of for herself in the solitude of her invalid room, but the form used in the Convent differed from that to which I had been accustomed, and even the Tantum ergo and the O Salutaris Hostia I could not sing.
On this occasion a litany was added which I had heard before, and then came a hymn of the Blessed Virgin which I remembered well. My mother sang it herself and taught me to sing it, so that when the Maestro, swinging his little ivory baton, began in his alto voice—
“Ave maris stella,
Dei Mater alma—”
I joined in with the rest, but sang in English instead of Latin Of all appeals to the memory that of music is the strongest, and after a moment I forgot that I was at school in Rome, being back in my mother’s room in Ellan, standing by her piano and singing while she played. I think I must have let my little voice go, just as I used to do at home, when it rang up to the wooden rafters, for utterly lost to my surroundings I had got as far as—
“Virgin of all virgins,
To thy shelter take us—”
when suddenly I became aware that I alone was singing, the children about me being silent, and even the Maestro’s baton slowing down. Then I saw that all eyes were turned in my direction, and overwhelmed with confusion I stopped, for my voice broke and slittered into silence.
“Go on, little angel,” said the Maestro, but I was trembling all over by this time and could not utter a sound.
Nevertheless the Reverend Mother said: “Let Mary O’Neill sing the hymn in church in future.”
As soon as I had conquered my nervousness at singing in the presence of the girls, I did so, singing the first line of each verse alone, and I remember to have heard that the congregations on Sunday afternoons grew larger and larger, until, within a few weeks, the church was densely crowded.
Perhaps my childish heart was stirred by vanity in all this, for I remember that ladies in beautiful dresses would crowd to the bronze screen that separated us from the public and whisper among themselves, “Which is she?” “The little one in the green scarf with the big eyes!” “God bless her!”
But surely it was a good thing that at length life had began to have a certain joy for me, for as time went on I became absorbed in the life of the Convent, and particularly in the services of the church, so that home itself began to fade away, and when the holidays came round and excuses were received for not sending for me, the pain of my disappointment became less and less until at last it disappeared altogether.