It was

“Remember," said Father Eustace, in a consolatory tone, "you have there a crucifix blessed expressly by the Pope for a happy death."

Lord Eaglescairn raised his livid face, gazed upon it for a moment, in the hands of his confessor, with a look of unutterable woe, then pushed it hurriedly away and buried his face in the pillows.

the dead hour of midnight, and all was still. The fire had gone out, the candles burned low in their sockets, and dark were the shadows in every distant corner of that large room in which the confessor and his penitent were alone.

My son,” said Father Eustace, “ you know despair is in itself a sin."

“Yet hope must be denied to a being of crime and impenitence like mine," exclaimed the dying

“Had I relied on my conscience it would not have deceived me, it would never have ceased to reproach me, it would have judged and condemned me; but you put my conscience to sleep, or rather to death, and offered me the use of your own! My sins, during health, were like caged lions that could not reach me till now, but a dying memory lets them loose to-night, like wild beasts in the desert. Yes, my sins have found me out. I must confess all.”

My son,” said Father Eustace, assuming a tone of gentle remonstrance, "you have confessed

“No, no, no! I need not confess to you, my accomplice," interrupted Lord Eaglescairn, with a look of dull horror, -"you who were my instigator. There are no disguises in death! Who


can warrant me that your absolution is ratified? —that your bail is accepted? No! Call my son. He already suspects something. He must be told all. He will do justice”— “Not to-night,” replied Father Eustace, in a tone of authority. “Dr. Cameron ordered you till to-morrow the strictest silence and solitude.” “To-morrow I shall have the unbroken silence and solitude of the tomb. For me, the next hour that strikes is eternity The first yawning grave shall be mine. Let my son be summoned now.” “Impossible. I owe it to my Church and to myself that you do nothing so rash and presumptuous as to act against the advice of your confessor,” replied Father Eustace, observing with imperturbable calmness the frenzy of anguish and despair painted iu the wan features of Lord Eaglescairn, now pinched and sharpened by approaching death. “You are excited and nervous. Take this composing draught, and we shall talk over all your desires and fears afterwards.” “At a more convenient season, which will never come !” muttered Lord Eaglescairn, grasping the bed-clothes with a look of livid despair. “My poor disinherited son, from whom I have alienated all in my power to your Church What will he think? What can he do? Send him to me now, and torment me no more with your false promises and pretended miracles. Can you still maintain that, by an absolution such as yours, the dark mass of my crimes could become whitewashed like an old house? No! My whole existence of late has

been a lie. I have acted a part too long, but I will act no more. My conscience has been chloroformed, but it is now most fearfully awakened. Send my son instantly. It is no man's affair but my own how I die.” “It is the affair of the Church; and it is my affair that you do not injure her by an unseemly death,” said Father Eustace, in a low tone of fierce determination, his whole form expanding with rage, while a gleam of intense wretchedness shot through the features of the dying man. “Do not forfeit the merit of a whole life by nervous terrors now, by open disobedience and disbelief. Let your dying testimony be a crowning effort, so that your family, servants, and tenants, may see an

example ——”

“Not an example, but a warning !” exclaimed Lord Eaglescairn, in a voice of deep despair. “Let there be an end, now, of my atrocious deceptions. Have you the audacity to speak of my merit? Alas, alas ! conscience is awake now, and will sleep no more throughout a long eternity.”

Lord Eaglescairn's voice had become hoarse and low from intense emotion, and he grasped the arm of Father Eustace with a look of desponding anxiety; but there was nothing to hope from the calm stern eye of the priest, who silently held out the sleeping potion, saying, “Remember, the first of duties is obedience. You are not to judge whether I, who command, am right or wrong, wise or imprudent, holy or imperfect; but I come in the name of our order, and your sole care must

be to obey. You must give up all if you would gain all.” “I cannot sleep. I have not time to sleep,” exclaimed the dying man, rejecting the potion with fearful earnestness, “a world of gold for a moment of time ! Do not oppress me in the last struggle of nature. The sharp stings of memory are tortures enough now !” “Then,” replied Father Eustace, “listen to these words from the Breviary, “If the winds of temptation arise, if thou run upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the star, call upon Mary. If, disturbed with the greatness of thy sins, troubled at the defilement of thy conscience, affrighted at the horrors of the judgment, thou beginnest to be swallowed up in the gulf of sadness, the abyss of despair, think upon Mary.” The patient now unwillingly received the draught recommended by Father Eustace in his hand, but with a fixed determination not to expend his few remaining moments in sleep. By a sudden gesture he directed the eye of Father Eustace for an instant towards the door, and during that moment secretly poured the whole potion noiselessly on the bed-clothes. He then laid his head back on the pillow, and seemed in a few minutes buried in most profound, almost deathlike repose. Father Eustace lingered for some time, but the low regular breathing of the sufferer convinced him that Dr. Cameron’s medicine had taken most marvellous effect; therefore summoning the old sick nurse, who was busy studying the “Visions of St. AnWOL. III. N

thony,” to take his place, he stole off silently to tell Lady Eaglescairn and Lord Iona that the patient still wished for quietness, and that he begged they would retire for the night, as it would relieve his mind to know they were in bed. Lord Iona had been sound asleep for some time, when he was suddenly awakened by hearing his door slowly open, and the old sick-nurse approaching on tiptoe scratched upon the curtains in Jesuit fashion, to announce her presence. She then made Lord Iona a sign instantly to rise and follow her, which he did with almost trembling haste. The young man perceiving at once that this must be a summons from his father, hurriedly threw on his dressing-gown, and left the tottering old woman far behind, as he rushed anxiously onward to obey the mandate, and entered in almost breathless anxiety lest Lord Eaglescairn might be at the point of death. No sooner had Lord Iona entered the room than his father, raising himself with difficulty from the pillow, sat up in bed— made an imperative sign for his son to lock the door, and instantly to seat himself by his side, when in a low gasping voice he whispered,—“Are We safe?” “Yes!” replied Lord Iona, in a tone of kind encouragement, “as safe as a closed door, and a trusty son can make you, my dear father.” “Then now for the worst of all penances ! To make my own high-minded and honourable son despise and hate me. Oh! that I were at this moment anything but what I am | The time is

« VorigeDoorgaan »