Then came the shock.
As we drew up at our door a postman was delivering letters. One of them was for the Reverend Mother and I saw in a moment that it was in my father’s handwriting. She read it in silence, and in silence she handed it to me. It ran:
“I have come to Rome to take back my daughter. I believe her education will now be finished, and I reckon the time has arrived to prepare her for the change in life that is before her.
“The Bishop of our diocese has come with me, and we propose to pay our respects to you at ten o’clock prompt to-morrow morning.
I saw, as by a flash of light, what was before me, and my whole soul rose in rebellion against it. That my father after all the years during which he had neglected me, should come to me now, when my plans were formed, and change the whole current of my life, was an outrage—an iniquity. It might be his right—his natural right—but if so his natural right was a spiritual wrong—and I would resist it—to my last breath and my last hour I would resist it.
Such were the brave thoughts with which I passed that night, but at ten o’clock next morning, when I was summoned to meet my father himself, it was on trembling limbs and with a quivering heart that I went down to the Reverend Mother’s room.
Except that his hair was whiter than before my father was not much changed. He rose as I entered, saying, “Here she is herself,” and when I went up to him he put his hands on my shoulders and looked into my face.
“Quite a little Italian woman grown! Like your mother though,” he said, and then speaking over my head to the Bishop, who sat on the other side of the room, he added:
“Guess this will do, Bishop, eh?”
“Perfectly,” said the Bishop.
I was colouring in confusion at the continued scrutiny, with a feeling of being looked over for some unexplained purpose, when the Reverend Mother called me, and turning to go to her I saw, by the look of pain on her face that she, too, had been hurt by it.
She put me to sit on a stool by the side of her chair, and taking my right hand she laid it in her lap and held it there during the whole of the interview.
The Bishop, whom I had never seen before, was the first to speak. He was a type of the fashionable ecclesiastic, suave, smiling, faultlessly dressed in silk soutane and silver buckled shoes, and wearing a heavy gold chain with a jewelled cross.
“Reverend Mother,” he said, “you would gather from Mr. O’Neill’s letter that he wishes to remove his daughter immediately—I presume there will be no difficulty in his doing so?”
The Reverend Mother did not speak, but I think she must have bent her head.
“Naturally,” said the Bishop, “there will be a certain delay while suitable clothes are being made for her, but I have no doubt you will give Mr. O’Neill your help in these preparations.”