Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

penances too rigid; but in that I may be quite wrong. The poor girl who accompanied sister Agnes here last week seems already more than half dead. She is obliged by our confessor to stand all night in the open air in order to overcome sleep, and I heard him telling her about St. Peter of Alcantara, who during forty years slept but one hour and a half each night. She will obstinately persist in denying * that the new robe given last week to Father Eustace was her making, though ordered to say it was. The fact is, she never saw it in her life; but obedience is the first of duties, therefore as a punishment she has the penance of prostration for a whole day, and must sit all next week with her face to a damp white-washed wall, speaking to nobody.”

“Poor, misguided Bessiel will nothing open her eyes?” exclaimed Beatrice; “so lately with the bloom of happy girlhood on her lovely cheek!”

“She will evidently not live many weeks, and is said to be nearly blind already. She has certainly lost one eye, and Father Eustace makes her stand for hours with her hands bound between her shoulders, and her face bowed down; or she lies on ashes, with her head between her knees. Sometimes, too, she beats the ground with her forehead, and her cheeks are already furrowed by continual streams of tears. Poor thing ! It is lucky for nuns that they do not live always, and very few of Father Eustace's votaries last more than five or ten years.”

* The Times, 7th August, 1852.

“He is a most mysterious tyrant, and an uncomfortable person to converse with,” said Beatrice; “his unfortunate eyes are always thrown on the ground, or under the table, or anywhere but at the person he speaks to.” “Of course,” replied sister Martha, in a low confiding voice; “he practises the sanctification of the eyes, like St. Bernard, who, after being a novice during an entire year, never knew that his own cell was vaulted, nor did he ever observe that there were but three windows in the church of the monastery where he spent his noviciate. St. Lewis of Gonzaga never was known to look in the face of his own mother.” “How very stupid and unfeeling !” exclaimed Beatrice, indignantly. “But what pride is so great as spiritual pride l’” “Perhaps you are not far wrong,” answered Lady Anne, in a tone of more than common reflection. “Certainly, sister Agnes expects to acquire such a preeminence in holiness that hereafter her name shall only be spoken on bended knees. After all, perhaps I shall act better without her influence. She certainly had a spite at poor dear mamma, and made her life utterly miserable of late. I begin now to like your notions of religion better than Miss Turton's. Any she had depend chiefly on music, poetry, taste, and impulse.” “Yes; and how often among beautiful flowers like these an adder is concealed !” continued Beatrice. “I could almost thank you, Lady Anne, for this glimpse into convent life, which I should never willingly have ventured to take. Seeing is indeed believing ! Nothing short of such a visit could have fully revealed to me the evils and dangers, the absurdities and follies of Popery. I certainly felt a sort of gloomy curiosity to know the worst; but all my anticipations have been exceeded by witnessing here the wild dreams of enthusiastic devotion, the terrors of superstition, and the petty despotism of a little secluded world, where all is misery or degradation, despair or death. Father Eustace would persuade us (but I trust he will not succeed with you) that religion is his accomplice, in recommending you a life of solitary idleness, of voluntary austerities, of moral suicide, which would hurry you into an early grave, or make you such an idiot as poor sister Martha and her companions, who lose the faculty of knowing right from wrong, as they are never allowed to judge and act either way for themselves, and are often driven to deeds of immorality which would amaze any honest mind with that Protestant superfluity, a conscience.” “I shall not venture rashly on choosing either the bridal or the conventual veil,” said Lady Anne, with a relapse into her former heedless vivacity. “The very sameness and wearisomeness of a life here would, as you say, or seem to say, biologize my mind into idiotcy.” “Yes, Lady Anne. May a brighter destiny await you than the solitude and gloom of a cloister ' " said Beatrice warmly. “With your brilliant spirits, bright talents, and energetic mind,

let not the spring-time of your felicity be blighted by the creeping palsy of superstition; but dare to be happy, and avoid the phantoms which Popery substitutes for reality. You and my old companion, Allan, are made for happiness, and why not enjoy it together?” Lady Anne coloured and looked down; but a smile dimpled round her mouth, and she was if possible more cordially confidential to Beatrice that evening than she had ever dared to be under the blighting influence of Miss Turton and Father Eustace. “By nature,” she said, “my governess found me very ready for her Popish teaching. Everything that I had to learn, I wished, like any young Jesuit, to be told, and to see every difficulty removed by my teacher from my path. Miss Turton forbad me, under desperate penalties, to think of anything that she did not explain, and I was only too happy indolently to acquiesce in whatever she chose to say, repeating her opinions like a parrot, rather than have the trouble of forming my own. It is so easy, you know, to gaze at an image, to count a score of beads, to be present when a distant priest mutters unintelligible litanies, and to repeat the same form endlessly over and over again myself. My poor little cramped and stunted mind seemed to me quite a giant of perfection, till I measured it beside yours; but now I can compare my own mutilated intellect to nothing but the Torso in Lord Elgin's marbles, with neither head, eyes, arms, nor legs, to act, or think, or see with. No faculty is cultivated in the Church of Rome but memory. We learn a creed by rote, not to be understood, but merely to be recapitulated.” It was not long before Lady Anne saw a specimen of those rather uncommon views of duty entertained by the Jesuit sisterhood. She was on the point of retiring to bed in her little solitary cell, and felt her position an interesting rehearsal of convent life, when, to her surprise, Mrs. Lorraine, Lady Abbess of St. Ignatia, entered with cautious step, as if afraid of being overheard, and told her that the community felt most grateful for her present visit, and the more so, as she had brought Miss Farinelli, whom it was of the greatest consequence that they should detain, whether willingly or not, within their walls for a fortnight. “Indeed so urgent is the case, that, truth to say, I have no choice, nor can I give you any. Stay she must.” “Impossible! quite impossible! I had difficulty enough in bringing her here for one night,” exclaimed Lady Anne, almost breathless with consternation. “My honour is pledged that she shall be with Lady Edith to-morrow. You make me feel quite all-over-ish with fright.” “No matter | You act under my authority, therefore the responsibility is mine. The order to detain Miss Farinelli comes from our bishop, who cannot do wrong. I have let Lady Edith know that she need not expect her protegée for some time. She believes that Miss Farinelli has set out suddenly for Spain in search of her unknown relatives, and indeed, if she prove refractory, that must be her ultimate destination.”

« VorigeDoorgaan »