Page images

the listening multitude, while she who inspired this affecting demonstration, sat there calm and collected, with her eyes fixed upon those of the preacher. She had fully realised his words-aye, hundreds of times, in imagination and spirit, and could now calmly hear them without regret or fear.

The Bishop continued his discourse-"I have shown you but the outer cloud; now we will pass beneath it, and look upon the other side. What does she behold there to reward her for the temporary sacrifice? The sunshine, which it but hides; for she exchanges the communion of the outward world, for communion with God alone, who can strengthen and bring her nearer to Himself. Instead of the smiles and caresses of all who are dear to her, she feels the love of Him who is unchangeable; for the beauties of this world, which unfold only as a shadow of the loveliness of another, she sees beyond, with the eyes of faith, a fairer, purer world. Through the long vista that stretches out before her-the narrow and thorny way-there is that paradise, which she hopes and longs for, and shall obtain, if she has but the courage to follow after and seek it. Life is but a dream at the best, and at its end, yes, at that supreme moment, how think you she will feel as she looks back upon all that has been given up? Words cannot-imagination cannot-realise such a moment."

He ceased speaking, and the organ once more sent out its inspiring sounds, while all eyes were now directed towards the altar, where Catherine still knelt in prayer. The grand "Dei Profundis" was then sung, she herself joining in the responses. This concluded, her friends approached to take leave till the morrow, when they would, for the last time, look upon her. Catherine, according to the custom of the order that she belonged to, must remain alone in the chapel, fasting and praying, till the hour came for her final vow to be offered.

[ocr errors]

By degrees the chapel began to be empty, till only a

few stragglers here and there groped their way about. At last, they too have gone, and Catherine is now alone in the deserted church. The lights have been extinguished, and only two long candles upon the altar shed their feeble glimmer around, rendering the darkness more distinct, and throwing fantastic shadows down the long aisles and around the gothic pillars. There kneels that one solitary form, with her beating human heart, as we shall see, despite of all that prayer and seclusion had done to console her. Do no other thoughts, but those sacred to the life upon whose threshold she now stands, intrude upon her? Oh, human, sinful, poor, weak heart, even in the strongest mortal! What can you do? how drive out the passing form, and imaginings of what has, and might have been? The shadow is there, the shadow brought by sin into the world, for she sighs as she kneels-sighs, it may be, in memory of her unworthiness.

Yet, what strange fascination is upon her now, as she stands up and gazes around? The calm, peaceful look of some moments before has passed from her countenance, and a restlessness has come over her. She advances a few steps so as to assure herself of the reality of the present hour; then, as her gaze falls upon her rich apparel, a shudder passes through her-she places her hand upon her heart, as if to still its beating, while she fixes her eyes with a half-terrified, halfincredulous glance into the empty space around, as though she there saw something visible to her mind's eye alone. Her breath comes and goes with painful rapidity; and for a moment the dead silence is disturbed by the striking of the convent bell, as it chimes out, clear and sharp, the midnight hour. It ceases, and all is again silent, when suddenly a low sound strikes upon her ear, at first at intervals, and rather indistinctly, as if some one were descending the gallery; then she hears the clang of steel along the stone pavement of the central aisle.

A moment more, and a tall, dark figure rises, as it were, out of the obscurity, and rapidly approaches till within a few yards of her. Another moment passes -a moment of awful stillness-when, with a sudden bound, it rushes forward and clasps her in its embrace; she has watched it coming, yet has only power, at the instant in which it clasps her, to utter the name -"Pierce!" and falls into the outstretched arms of her lover.

He looks around as if in search of something; then lifting her in his arms, wraps his cloak round her, and walks rapidly down the aisle with his precious burden; he reaches the outer door, which happened to be locked from within; with one powerful effort he turns the ponderous key, and the next moment finds himself in the courtyard. The great difficulty now is, to gain the open street; for himself he entertains no fear, as he can easily account for his presence by saying that he was locked up in the chapel; but how account for the still lifeless figure that he clasps? She would be recognised, and what a recognition!—a novice, on the eve of taking her vow, escaping from the convent, in company with a strange man! why, it would be sacrilege in its worst form. As he was thus debating in his own mind, he heard steps approaching, and saw the tall, dark figure of a man before him. He tries to rush past, but the man has seen the flowing robes peep out from beneath the cloak. Pierce, as he reaches the lodge, desires, in commanding tones, the porter to open the gate, explaining, meanwhile, how he chanced to be locked-up in the church, and that his companion had fainted through fright. The porter, who sees nothing to doubt in this story, is just on the point of complying with his command, when the muffled figure, that had followed closely, passes between them, and placing his hand upon Pierce's shoulder, says, as he throws back the mantle, disclosing his priestly garments-" Forbear! Thank Heaven, I have come opportunely to pre

vent this sacrilege. Who, and what are you? Who is he that dares to violate this sancturay, with the intention of carrying off one of its votarists? As he spoke, he contrived to pull back the cloak that partly enveloped Catherine, when, by the light of the lamp hanging over the gateway, he sees the white face unconsciously leaning against the breast of the young man, who clasps her tightly to him, her dress and veil in disorder, and the long dishevelled hair flowing over her. A cry of rage and amazement is uttered by the priest as he identifies her, and he exclaims

"Put down your holy burden; or, by all that's sacred, I will alarm the whole convent! Put her down, I say!"

He looked terrible in his wrath, while the vehemence of his manner almost threatened to vent itself in some way or other upon whoever came nearest to him. At this moment some lay-sisters arrived on the spot; horrified, and scarcely believing what they witnessed, they came to the assistance of the priest. Pierce resisted all their efforts, till the continued movement, and the sound of the different voices, began to recall Catherine to her senses. She slowly opened her eyes, and tried to stand up; then, after some seconds, the recollection of the last few moments came back to her, and gazing wildly around-Pierce's arm the meantime still encircling her-her glance fell upon the dress and face of the priest who had seized hold of her. An exclamation escaped her, as she recognised in him Father Maguire, the friend and confessor of the family. The priest looked at her menacingly, while he thus addressed her—

"Catherine O'Neile! I command you to return with me instantly to the chapel, and to tell me by what right that man there tries to detain you!"

As he finished speaking, he shook her arm in a severe manner. The poor girl looked bewildered from one to the other, yet it was to her cousin that she involun

tarily clung. The priest began to mutter something aloud in the Latin tongue, at the same time making the sign of the cross. Catherine, as if suddenly electrified, tried, in great excitement, to extricate herself from her cousin's embrace, but he held her fast, which increased the rage of Father Maguire; who, turning to one of the lay-sisters standing near him, whispered something to her, and she quickly disappeared. Then, once more making an effort to disengage Catherine, he commanded her, if she did not wish him to call down the anathemas of the Church upon both of them, to free herself from the protection of that man, and to disclose who he was, so that proper measures might be taken to bring him to account for the dreadful crime that he had been on the point of perpetrating, when Providence had specially interfered to prevent it. Catherine, as she listened to the menaces of the priest, had freed herself from Pierce's arms, who became passive when he saw that she herself wished it; still she hesitated to disclose who he was, but, with a woman's instinct and fear, began to intercede for him, that he might be permitted to take his departure unmolested and unquestioned. However, the priest was obdurate, and would listen to no reasoning. Catherine, for the moment forgetting Father Maguire and his power over her, drew near to Pierce, and said to the priest, in a calm tone, while she looked him full in the face

"How far will your power extend over me, if I now, of my own free will, leave this convent? for you know that I am perfectly at liberty to do so if I choose; no vow has as yet passed my lips-I am still but a novice."

Father Maguire looked at her in amazement, as if he could scarcely believe what he heard. Turning round, he raised his arm, and, in severe tones, gave the command to ring the alarm-bell; then, looking towards Catherine, he slowly raised his outstretched arms over her, while his lips began to move. An awful fear

« PreviousContinue »