I was trembling more than ever now, and at first I could not reply.
“Don’t you wish to go back home with your father?”
“No, sir,” I answered.
“And why not, please?”
“Because my father’s home is no home to me—because my aunt has always been unkind to me, and because my father has never cared for me or protected me, and because . . .”
“Well, what else?”
“Because . . . because I wish to become a nun.”
There was silence for a moment, and then my father broke into bitter laughter.
“So that’s it, is it? I thought as much. You want to go into partnership with the Mother in the nun business, eh?”
“My mother wished me to become a nun, and I wish it myself, sir.”
“Your mother was a baby—that’s what she was.”
“My mother was an angel, sir,” I said, bridling up, “and when she was dying she hoped I should become a nun, and I can never become anything else under any circumstance.”
“Bah!” said my father, with a contemptuous lift of the hand, and then turning to the Reverend Mother he said:
“Hark here, ma’am. There’s an easy way and a hard way in most everything. I take the easy way first, and if it won’t work I take the hard way next, and then it’s stiff pulling for the people who pull against me. I came to Rome to take my daughter home. I don’t feel called upon to explain why I want to take her home, or what I’m going to do with her when I get her there. I believe I’ve got the rights of a father to do what I mean to do, and that it will be an ugly business for anybody who aids and abets my daughter in resisting her father’s will. So I’ll leave her here a week longer, and when I come back, I’ll expect her to be ready and waiting and willing—ready and waiting and willing, mind you—to go along with me.”
After saying this my father faced about and with his heavy flat step went out of the room, whereupon the Bishop bowed to the Reverend Mother and followed him.
My heart was by this time in fierce rebellion—all that the pacifying life of the convent-school had done for me in ten years being suddenly swept away—and I cried:
“I won’t do it! I won’t do it!”
But I had seen that the Reverend Mother’s face had suddenly become very white while my father spoke to her at the end and now she said, in a timid, almost frightened tone:
“Mary, we’ll go out to Nemi to-day. I have something to say to you.”
In the late afternoon of the same day we were sitting together for the last time on the terrace of the Reverend Mother’s villa.
It was a peaceful evening, a sweet and holy time. Not a leaf was stirring, not a breath of wind was in the air; but the voice of a young boy, singing a love-song, came up from somewhere among the rocky ledges of the vineyards below, and while the bell of the monastic church behind us was ringing the Ave Maria, the far-off bell of the convent church at Gonzano was answering from the other side of the lake—like angels calling to each other from long distances in the sky.