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again repeated in a tone of greater anguish than before, and a low anxious voice was heard to say, in a tone of trembling apprehension : “Do I once more hear the voice of strangers? oh, help a wretched prisoner All my friends believe me dead! All: around are my enemies! My very name is changed! I am utterly lost and forgotten Be generous and help a helpless being! Long years have passed away, and still I am here. Give information, I am utterly and hopelessly crushed. Oh, let me be released ”
Lady Anne stood petrified with horror, while Beatrice, though trembling and aghast, hurriedly endeavoured to open the door, which was both locked and barred. Sister Martha now flew like lightning to seize Beatrice by the hand, saying, in a tone of suppressed agitation, “Come away—come away instantly She is a dangerous lunatic. I shall tell you all elsewhere, but that poor maniac grows frantically excited often. We are all in terror for her She screams sometimes like a witch in a storm ' Come away, or she may burst out and do us a mischief!”
“Sister Martha, you lie in saying so; but they will believe you,” said the prisoner, in a tone of heart-broken despondency. “Speak one kind word to me, strangers, before you go! Even if I am mad, say you pity me. I have forgotten the voice of sympathy, and would be comforted by hearing it once again. Death alone can release me, unless you do. I have much to tell—secrets that ought not to die with me !”
“She will certainly break loose—she has done so often l’exclaimed sister Martha, affecting the terror which Beatrice, who fixed on her a steady penetrating gaze, perceived she did not really feel. “Sister Rachel ought to be in a strait waistcoat. You should hear her battering frantically against that door, as she will do, with all the strength of desperation | If you remain here, her hideous language, her wild discordant shrieks, and her threats of vengeance, would make you thankful, indeed, to me for taking you away. Come, instantly l’”
Lady Anne, pale with agitation, and shaking in every limb, allowed sister Martha to lead her away, and Beatrice having managed for a single minute to elude the vigilant eye of her cicerone, contrived hurriedly to push under the door a card, on which she had written clandestinely with her pencil some words of promise, of sympathy, and of consolation. Beatrice heard a deep sob through the door as she left it in pursuit of her companions, and then all was quiet as death, while her little manoeuvre had been so instantaneously completed that no one could guess she had held any communication with the prisoner, as the watchful eye of sister Martha was chiefly engrossed by Lady Anne's more active movementS.
“It is much better for our poor maniac, and for every one else, that this unfortunate sister Rachel should be tenderly watched,” observed sister Martha, assuming a tone of composed gentleness, and of most contemptuous pity; “we thus prevent her doing mischief to herself and others, in body and soul.” “Yet surely the most wretched maniac might have friends of former and better days who should gain access to her l’” said Beatrice hastily; but seeing sister Martha look disconcerted and angry, she at once resolved to hide the deep interest she felt in this solitary captive until circumstances enabled her to make some effort for her relief. She appeared, therefore, absorbed in contemplating the red centre of a moss-rose in her hand, and took no part in a dissertation which followed between sister Martha and Lady Anne, on the subject of lunacy and its treatment, believing in her own mind that this was a case of causing insanity, rather than of curing it. The fervent appeal of that prisoner for help still rung in her ears, and should not be in vain; but what help could reach any one within the iron bars of a convent? If the unfortunate captive had friends, they now believed her dead; or if she had been kidnapped into this den unknown to them, those who did miss her might vainly have advertised in every newspaper throughout Scotland, every day of every week for a year, but no inmate of that prison-house would have betrayed the secret of where she was incarcerated. Beatrice thought with secret emotions of sympathy how that weary captive must have devoured her tears alone for years in unknown imprisonment; and as these thoughts crowded into her mind, the whole firmness and benevolence of her nature seemed at once roused into action. Meanwhile, though making a flurried endeavour to look quite unconcerned, her earnest resolution was that no stone should be unturned to release, with Lady Edith's advice and assistance, the object of her profound interest and anxious sympathy. “For hers had been the fate of those
“Pray mention nothing of what you have seen,” whispered sister Martha, very earnestly. “You know in our order we all assume characteristic names. Mine is ‘the Mother of Charity,” and our lady abbess calls herself ‘the Mother of Mercy,’ but she caused me to be frightfully scourged the last time that a secret was discovered through my inadvertence. I am in general cautious to excess of speaking to any one about anything; very silent, as you see, and circumspect; but how it happened I cannot tell, some secret by some means transpired, and I was blamed. They dragged me out of bed last week, and the Mother of Mercy herself pulled me along that floor, by the hair, into a dungeon, kicked me several times, and left me there fainting. For two days I got no food; my hair was tied to nails fastened in the wall, so that I could not sleep for the pain, and I remained in cold and darkness, with bruises on my chest as large as the palm of my hand, and only my night-dress on for a week. How anything like a secret could come out through me, I never can guess, for no one is so cautious and silent as myself—careful even to a fault. I do certainly tire of silence sometimes, when shut up for twenty days alone, with my face to a whitewashed wall. It may be wrong to say so, but I do weary, and almost envy the criminals in jail, for they can talk once a day to the turnkey. We are particularly forbid to have any friendships or preferences among ourselves, but quarrels are always winked at, and I think sister Dorcas invented the whole story to spite me for having let out a secret of hers. It was the greatest mistake to suspect me, as I never speak to anybody when I can help it. Never! But I desire to be like brother Juniper, of the order of St. Francis, who welcomed all insults and injuries as he would the most costly gems.” “Milton was right,” thought Beatrice—