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They were not allowed to take anything, not even a drop of water, previous to going to church. Rose was busily engaged in preparing her sister, and the elegant simplicity of Claire's attire excited the general admiration of the English girls. They could, however, catch but a transient glimpse of her, as her sister conducted her to Madame d'Elfort's apartment, where the young communicants belonging to the school were all assembled. Emily's window overlooked that part of the building, and she and Lydia followed them with their eyes. Rose put a richly-orna mented missal into her sister's hand, and, as she embraced her, suspended a plain gold locket round her neck. She then dismissed her, and, concealing her face with her handkerchief, hurried back to her own room.
"What a sweet creature is Rose!" exclaimed Lydia, as she lost sight of her, "but how very sad she always looks! I am sure she is unhappy, and Mademoiselle Saint André told us last night, that her father was a very wicked man, and that his conduct had driven her mother to distraction."
Emily was too much affected to make any remark on this explanation of poor Rose's melancholy, and Lydia was about to proceed, when Louisa and Helen entered, and informed them that the communicants were just going to set out for the appointed place of general meeting; which was the church belonging to the hospital. They, therefore, descended to the salon, from whence they could see the little train cross the lawn, on their way to the outer gate.
The children were all dressed in white, but the materials of their dress were different, and varied with the inequality of fortune, or the variety of taste. Some were habited in richly embroidered muslins, or tulle, while others were only distinguished by the neatness and simplicity of their appearance. Their pélerines, caps, and veils, displayed the same variety. The dress of Claire was of expensive materials, and intended to denote her father's rank; but her sister had contrived to exclude every unnecessary ornament, and her appearance was therefore rather elegant than fine.
The little ones, with Madame d'Elfort at their head, walked slowly and regularly out of the house, with their veils partly thrown back, and partly concealing their faces. They carried in their hands the large, heavy tapers, and were followed by others of their companions, who were going to the sacrament for the second time, and were only distinguished by having no tapers. As they issued from the door, Emily silently pressed the hand of Claire; but the little girl started back, as if she dreaded the touch, and hurried away, without even looking up.
As soon as they were gone, the other pupils were summoned to dress, in order to be ready to follow the procession, when it
should pass the house, on its way to the cathedral. The Catholics went first to church, under the care of Mademoiselle SaintAndré, and the others were to await the procession, with Mademoiselle Laval.
They were hardly assembled at the outer gate, when a con fused murmur, and the trampling of feet, announced the approach of the pageant. In front of it walked a little girl from the charityschool, carrying a large gilt cross, and two priests with a standard, on which was delineated an image of the Virgin, with an inscription, requiring the children to acknowledge her as their mother. Then followed a choir of young ladies, singing an anthem, in which they were occasionally joined by the priests, who. in great numbers, mixed with the procession. The cther children then came on, bearing their immense tapers; the poor and the rich were promiscuously disposed, and presented altogether a very interesting spectacle. It was not difficult to perceive, however, that many of them were far more engrossed by the thoughts of their dress and appearance, than by the occasion which thus brought them under public notice. But this was evidently not the case with Claire, whose fluctuating color, trembling pace, and downcast eyes, indicated excessive emotion. The streets and windows were crowded with spectators, and, after the boys, who closed the procession in the same order as the girls, came a multitude of people of all descriptions, who thronged to the cathedral, to witness the ceremony,
Mademoiselle Laval now led forward her little train, for whom accommodation had been provided in the organ-gallery. As they entered through a side-door, to reach this place, they saw the communicants moving slowly up the central aisle, towards the high altar. An unusual bustle was at that moment observable among them, and they suddenly stopped. Every eye was directed to one spot, and a little girl was seen, leaning, pale, and breathless, against her companion. It was Claire, whose agitation was so great that she was sinking under the weight of her taper. A venerable priest approached her, and spoke in a low and encouraging tone. The fainting child was at length relieved by a gush of tears; and the priest, having given her taper to another, supported her gently towards the altar.
"That is Monsieur de Beauvais, Rose's confessor," observed Anna Lushington, in a whisper to Emily. "He is a dear, kind old man, and seems to feel for those children the affection of a father."
The young ladies now ascended to the organ-gallery, and placed themselves so as to command an advantageous view of the high altar. The communicants were still slowly approaching it; their soft hallelujahs were almost drowned in the majestic peals of the organ. At length, after some bustle, they were all seated at a little distance from the altar. Looking down the body of the
church, Emily observed Caroline and Emma Selwyn, with the Dorville family. They also saw her, but, whether from this, or any other circumstance, it was impossible to say, the whole party immediately removed to another situation, in which she could not see them.
The pompous and splendid solemnities of the high mass now commenced. To most of the English girls they had lost the charm of novelty, but not their hold on the senses and the imagination. At the conclusion, the organ began a strain of the most captivating sweetness, blended with a thrilling solemnity. The attention of the congregation was now intensely fixed on the youthful communicants, while the final preparations were going forward. Emily's eyes immediately sought Claire, and she observed her rise, and walk, with faltering steps, to Monsieur de Beauvais. She knelt at his feet, and, as his head was bent over her, she whispered something in his ear. The old man spoke a few words, apparently in reply, then, placing his hand kindly on her head, led her back to her place.
"She has been confessing," observed Miss Lushington, whose good-nature led her to be Emily's constant informant. "It is a point conscience with them to confess, before they approach the altar, any sin they may have forgotten in their last confession, or committed since."
The appointed priests were now standing round the altar, with Monsieur de Beauvais, as grand curé of the town, at their head. The children, formed into several divisions, were successively ranged around it, and, on their knees, awaited their own participation in the ceremony. Two priests held a long white linen cloth before them; one was placed behind them, to hold back their heads; a third, with a silver spoon, of a very peculiar construction, placed on their tongues the consecrated wafer, which they were to swallow immediately; and a fourth held a small plate of the same metal under their chins, lest the host should, by any accident, fall to the ground. The whole of this scene presented a subject of merriment to most of the English girls, in which they would doubtless have indulged, had they not been restrained by the presence of the French teacher; but, to Emily, its ludicrous appearance did not disguise the reality of its superstitious character. Every feeling, however, was soon absorbed in the enchantment of the music; the full and rich tones of the organ were exquisitely blended with the melting voices of the finest singers in the town, and the melody was altogether so entrancing, that it seemed to raise the ravished soul above mortality and all its cares. Emily and Lydia felt its fascinating power in no common degree; and, as the service concluded, and they descended from the gallery, the latter repeated, while her eyes sparkled through her tears, those beautiful lines of the poet,
Now loud the tuneful thunders roll,
O'er earth and all its care;
I seem to hear, from heavenly plains,
Before the procession left the cathedral, all the children's tapers were lighted at the altar. Our young ladies then returned home and awaited its re-appearance at the front gate. It is impossible to conceive anything more imposing, and, at the same time, more affecting, than the sight of these lovely children, in their uniform white drapery. The solemnity and stillness of their tread, and the flickering glare of their tapers, gave to the whole scene an air of dreamy uncertainty that almost bewildered the senses; the deep voices of the priests, and the sweet touching harmony of the children, as they uttered the frequent and prolonged hallelu jahs, seemed to make Emily's heart pause; but when the mournful truth rushed on her mind, that all these interesting beings were but the deluded vetaries of superstition, the revulsion of oppressed feeling overcame her, and a burst of tears came to her relief.
"What is the matter, Emily?" inquired Anna, with a look and tone of alarm. "Are you ill?”
"Oh! nothing, nothing, dear Anna. I am very well; but, tell me, do you not find this scene very affecting?"
Oh, is that all ?" exclaimed Miss Lushington,with a shrug, and a smile of good-natured raillery. "Why, yes, I found it very pathetic at first, but now it appears to me superlatively ridiculous."
Emily made no further observations, for she perceived that Anna's feelings on the subject had never been in unison with her own; and the whole party returned to the house, to discourse on the events of the morning. Emily retired to her room, to pray that God in Christ Jesus would reveal himself to the dear children she had just beheld, and that he would graciously preserve all those who were dear to her, from the delusions that surrounded them.
Lydia and Helen now entered, to inform her that the school was assembled in the garden, awaiting the summons to breakfast, and that the communicants were returning from the Hospital church, whither they had gone to deposit their tapers, and receive the final benediction. The friends, therefore, descended, and, just as they joined the group, Emily observed little Claire approaching. Rose, whose pale countenance still retained the traces of tears and emotion, flew to meet her, and the sweet child flung herself into her sister's arms, and sobbed on her bosom. Madame d'Elfort at that moment appeared, and, with gentle violence, parting the sisters, spoke a few kind words, of mingled reproof and encouragement, to each; and then drew Claire towards the other
young ladies. The child embraced her school-fellows, and then approached the small arbor where Emily was sitting. She led by the hand two little girls from the charity-school, her companions at the communion, it being the custom for every young lady to choose one or two poor children on that occasion, and bring them home to share in the festivities of the day. Emily pressed Claire to her heart, with inexpressible emotion, and, as she kissed her dimpled cheek, from which the bloom of health had been dis placed by the tears and agitation of that morning, the sweet child twined her arms round her friend's neck, and whispered, "You must not be angry with me, for my rudeness in not speaking to you this morning; we were commanded to observe the strictest reserve, and especially not to speak to...........................the Protestants," she at last articulated, as the effort to suppress the word "heretics," used by her instructors, covered her face with the crimson of embarrassment. She sought to hide her confusion, by turning to her humble companions, and Emily, unable to make any other answer, again kissed her affectionately, and, with a sigh, walked towards the house.
The bell now summoned the whole party to the salle à manger, where a plentiful and elegant breakfast was prepared. The communicants were placed along the upper part of the table, and each young lady had her protégées by her side. Every possible honor was paid to the heroines of the day, and every mark of distinction heaped upon them; they were the queens of the feast, or rather the idols of the moment, considered as sanctified by the sacrament of which they had partaken, and looked up to with superstitious veneration. At dinner, the same honors were bestow ed upon them, and in the afternoon they paraded, with their hum ble companions, through the town, paying visits to their different friends and connexions, and receiving, at every house, the same incense of adulation, the same flattering marks of distinction and regard. As it was intended that this day should be the happiest of their life, nothing that could enhance their pleasure, or satisfy their utmost wishes, was denied them; and the proud triumph of gratified vanity, that sparkled in every eye, and flushed every youthful cheek, bore sufficient testimony to the baneful effects of this practice.
On the following Sunday, the communicants again went to mass in procession, accompanied by their protégées, who once more dined with the family, and then were dismissed with a handsome present. This was the last day of greatness to the objects of the festival; after having been almost deified through the week, they now fell back into their original obscurity.