So I lost her, my mother, my saint, my angel.
It was Easter Eve, and the church bells were ringing the Gloria.
After my mother’s death there was no place left for me in my father’s house.
Betsy Beauty (who was now called Miss Betsy and gave herself more than ever the airs of the daughter of the family) occupied half her days with the governess who had been engaged to teach her, and the other half in driving, dressed in beautiful clothes, to the houses of the gentry round about.
Nessy MacLeod, called the young mistress, had become my father’s secretary, and spent most of her time in his private room, a privilege which enlarged her pride without improving her manners.
Martin Conrad I did not see, for in reward for some success at school the doctor had allowed him to spend his Easter holidays in London in order to look at Nansen’s ship, the Fram, which had just then arrived in the Thames.
Hence it happened that though home made a certain tug at me, with its familiar sights and sounds, and more than once I turned with timid steps towards my father’s busy room, intending to say, “Please, father, don’t send me back to school,” I made no demur when, six or seven days after the funeral, Aunt Bridget began to prepare for my departure.
“There’s odds of women,” said Tommy the Mate, when I went into the garden to say good bye to him “They’re like sheep’s broth, is women. If there’s a head and a heart in them they’re good, and if there isn’t you might as well be supping hot water. Our Big Woman is hot water—but she’ll die for all.”
Within a fortnight I was back at the Convent, and there the Reverend Mother atoned to me for every neglect.
“I knew you would come back to me,” she said, and from that hour onward she seemed to be trying to make up to me for the mother I had lost.
I became deeply devoted to her. As a consequence her spirit became my spirit, and, little by little, the religious side of the life of the Convent took complete possession of me.
At first I loved the church and its services because the Reverend Mother loved them, and perhaps also for the sake of the music, the incense, the flowers and the lights on the altar; but after I had taken my communion, the mysteries of our religion took hold of me—the Confessional with its sense of cleansing and the unutterable sweetness of the Mass.
For a long time there was nothing to disturb this religious side of my mind. My father never sent for me, and as often as the holidays came round the Reverend Mother took me with her to her country home at Nemi.
That was a beautiful place—a sweet white cottage, some twenty kilometres from Rome, at the foot of Monte Cavo, in the middle of the remains of a mediaeval village which contained a castle and a monastery, and had a little blue lake lying like an emerald among the green and red of the grass and poppies in the valley below.