“Mary,” she said, “I am Sorry to tell you that your mother is ill.”
I listened intently, fearing that worse would follow.
“She is very ill—very seriously ill, and she wishes to see you. Therefore you are to go home immediately.”
The tears sprang to my eyes, and the Reverend Mother drew me to her side and laid my head on her breast and comforted me, saying my dear mother had lived the life of a good Christian and could safely trust in the redeeming blood of our Blessed Saviour. But I thought she must have some knowledge of the conditions of my life at home, for she told me that whatever happened I was to come back to her.
“Tell your father you wish to come back to me,” she said, and then she explained the arrangements that were being made for my journey.
I was to travel alone by the Paris express which left Rome at six o’clock that evening. The Mother of the Novices was to put me in a sleeping car and see that the greatest care would be taken of me until I arrived at Calais, where Father Donovan was to meet the train and take me home.
I cried a great deal, I remember, but everybody in the Convent was kind, and when, of my own choice, I returned to the girls at recreation, the sinister sense of dignity which by some strange irony of fate comes to all children when the Angel of Death is hovering over them, came to me also—poor, helpless innocent—and I felt a certain distinction in my sorrow.
At five o’clock the omnibus of the Convent had been brought round to the door, and I was seated in one corner of it, with the Mother of the Novices in front of me, when Mildred Bankes came running breathlessly downstairs to say that the Reverend Mother had given her permission to see me off.
Half an hour later Mildred and I were sitting in a compartment of the Wagon-Lit, while the Mother was talking to the conductor on the platform.
Mildred, whose eyes were wet, was saying something about herself which seems pitiful enough now in the light of what has happened since.
She was to leave the Convent soon, and before I returned to it she would be gone. She was poor and an orphan, both her parents being dead, and if she had her own way she would become a nun. In any case our circumstances would be so different, our ways of life so far apart, that we might never meet again; but if . . .
Before she had finished a bell rang on the platform, and a moment or two afterwards the train slid out of the station.
Then for the first time I began to realise the weight of the blow that had fallen on me. I was sitting alone in my big compartment, we were running into the Campagna, the heavens were ablaze with the glory of the sunset, which was like fields of glistening fire, but darkness seemed to have fallen on all the world.
Early on Good Friday I arrived at Calais. It was a misty, rimy, clammy morning, and a thick fog was lying over the Channel.