« السابقةمتابعة »
The next day was the Sabbath, and, to gratify her friends, Emily remained at school dang the afternoon; but her spirits were deeply affected by the total want of even common decorum, in the behavior of both Miss Bradford and too many of her pupils, during the time allotted for their devotions. Her heart sickened, when she saw, in one corner of the room, a group engaged in study, while others were struggling to keep their attention fixed on the prayers, which every now and then interrupted by the scarcely-suppressed laughter of one, or the whispering observations of another. It was still worse, during the repetition of the catechism, and Miss Bradford at length dismissed the party before the expiration of the hour, with the usual threat of informing Madame d'Elfort, which was as little regarded as before.
The young ladies descended to the garden, but a few of them gathered round Emily, and again expressed their regret, at the painful change in their once-delightful Sunday afternoon service.
"I never witnessed anything so scandalous," observed Miss Maxwell, with indignation. I certainly have seen the French girls look around them, while running over their unmeaning repetitions, and even listen to, and sometimes join in, the conversation that was going on in the room; but I should never have expected to see Protestants, who have been taught that prayer is something more than counting beads, and repeating words, behave in so a disgraceful manner."
"How thankful I am," exclaimed Lydia, "that my stay in this place will now be very short, and that papa will soon come to fetch us away."
These words were scarcely uttered, when Lydia felt the pres sure of a hand on her arm, and, turning round, she beheld the soft hazel eyes of Helen fixed on her countenance, with a look of tender reproach.
"How can you rejoice at your approaching departure, dearest Lydia, when you know that we shall then lose all the Christian society we are now favored with, and shall then have no one to advise or direct us in the right path? When you and Miss Mortimer are gone, Louisa will be the only serious friend I shall have here; but she is going away in two months, and then your poor Helen will indeed be left desolate!"
"My beloved Helen!" exclaimed Lydia, straining the sweet girl to her heart, and affectionately kissing her tearful cheek, "forgive me, I beseech you, if my joy appears selfish; but even you cannot imagine how impatiently, how passionately I long to leave this detestable place. I have a presentiment, perhaps a foolish one, that some misfortune will result from our residence here but oh! how fervently do I wish that both you and Louisa could depart with us!"
"My dear Helen," said Emily, approaching, and taking her hand,
"do not forget that you have in Jesus 'a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.' He will never leave you nor forsake you ;' and you may confidently rely upon His protection, His tenderness, and His love."
Helen threw herself on Emily's neck, and wept silently and bitterly. Her heart was overwhelmed with sorrow, and she could not then realize the comfort of the promise. But it was now necessary to separate, and, wiping the tears from her eyes, she reluctantly joined the noisy groups in the garden.
The annual distribution of prizes was approaching, and she had been selected, with several others, to sing a grand chorus on that important occasion. Madame d'Elfort had never yet heard it, and she now called them up, and requested them to sing it before her. They obeyed, and ranged themselves in a semicircle round their governess. Her quick eye however, soon perceived the absence of one, and she inquired where Miss Douglas was? Helen had kept her seat, at a little distance, but her changing color betrayed the agitation of her feelings. She was immediately pointed out to Madame d'Elfort, and Mademoiselle St. André approached, and reiterated that lady's commands. Helen, timid, confused, and gasping for breath, had scarce power to answer; but the strong feeling of duty, and the consciousness that she was acting right, upheld her. She rose, and walked up to Madame d'Elfort, who, with a stern and displeased countenance, commanded her to take her place among the singers. Poor Helen's courage nearly forsook her, under that angry look; but she remembered the Saviour's awful denunciation against those who should be ashamed of Him, and, at length, with a violent effort, addressed her governess,
"Have the goodness, I beseech you, Madame, to excuse me, for I cannot conscientiously sing anything but sacred music on the Sunday."
The crimson glow of anger and offended dignity instantly flushed the face of Madame d'Elfort; her brow contracted into a terrible frown, and, with a majestic wave of her hand, she motioned Helen to retire. The trembling girl obeyed, and sank, almost fainting, against a tree. The chorus was sung by the other young ladies, and commended by their governess; but some of the English girls felt that Helen had acted right, though they trembled for her, and would not have dared to imitate her temerity.
Mesdemoiselles Mornay and St. André remained in close conversation with Madame d'Elfort, who seemed much incensed at Helen's resistance; and the latter was evidently desirous of irritating her against Emily, whom she represented as the sole cause of her opposition to her wishes. In this she partially succeeded for Madame d'Elfort again sent for the offender, and thus addressed her,
"I shall not say, Mademoiselle Douglas, how much I have been
surprised at your disobedience this day. You have reason to expect the punishment your conduct deserves; but you have assigned a scruple of conscience as your motive, and I respect the plea. I am fully convinced, however, that even your religion does not require such singularity of conduct, else, why should not all your fellow Protestants be equally scrupulous? I know by whose influence it is, that these false principles have obtained an ascendency over the minds of several of my pupils; but I shall take care that such counsels be no longer given, nor such interference again take place. And you may now withdraw."
Pale, cold, and trembling, Helen tottered from the spot, and hastened, as well as she was able, to warn Emily of the displeasure which she had thus involuntarily drawn upon her. But this intelligence had already been communicated to her by one or two of the young ladies, who had contrived to slip away, as soon as Madame d'Elfort's tremendous lecture was uttered. Emily was certainly not unmoved by the storm which seemed ready to burst on her head; but though her governess's displeasure was a matter of no trifling importance, in a place where every one stood in awe of her lightest word, she yet felt that the God she served would assuredly sustain her in the trial; and her mind recurred with confidence to that triumphant question of the apostle, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" See was, therefore, enabled to comfort Helen, whose distress and agitation had found relief in a flood of tears, and to remind her of the inspired declaration, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye."
But poor Helen's feelings had been too highly excited to be easily calmed, and a violent nervous headache compelled her to go to bed immediately. Emily's emotion was extreme, in the prospect of the dreaded conference with Madame d'Elfort, and she fancied every step that approached the room was hers. She had recourse to prayer, for divine support in this trying exigency; but, though she felt re-assured, and strengthened with a renewed sense of confidence in her heavenly Father, she found it impossible to repress entirely the involuntary tremors of nervous agitation.
These terrors, however, were altogether superfluous, for, when Madame d'Elfort's anger was cooled by reflection, she felt the injustice, as well as impolicy, of interfering with the religious principles of any of her pupils; and her respect for consistency increased the good opinion she had always entertained of Emily and Helen. She, therefore, met them on the morrow with even more than her wonted kindness of manner; and the storm which threatened their tranquillity was succeeded by sunshine.
But a cloud of deeper gloom was now about to burst over the heads of Emily and her cousins. A packet came from Mr. Mortimer, addressed to Madame d'Elfort, and enclosing letters for Caroline, Lydia, and Emily. These epistles contained the melan
choly intelligence of the death of Mrs. Howard, in a manner as sudden as it was distressing. The painful truth was communicated by Madame d'Elfort, with the utmost sympathy and tenderness. But what precaution can blunt the anguish occasioned by the loss of a mother, a kind, affectionate, invaluable mother? Lydia's grief was deep, intense, and lasting; but Caroline's agony completely overwhelmed her. It brought on a fit of illness, from which she did not recover for some weeks. Emily suffered too, for she had loved her aunt fondly and sincerely; but she was enabled to subdue her grief, and exerted herself with earnestness to comfort, her afflicted cousins. They listened, with tearful attention, to the sweet voice of gospel consolation; but, while Lydia received it with humility and thankfulness, Caroline's heart seemed closed against its soothing and hope-inspiring accents. She evidently desired the society of Sophia Dorville, more than that of her sister or cousin ; yet the gloomy despondency of her mind was in nowise relieved by their frequent conversations. At length, however, she resumed her scholastic duties, and seemed to look forward with pleasure to the arrival of her father, who had announced it as his intention to spend some time in France for the restoration of his health, which had been much impaired by grief for the loss of a beloved wife, and to bring with him her two younger sisters, whom he intended to place at school.
Major and Mrs. Fortescue, with their usual kindness, frequently invited the cousins to their house, and used every exertion to cheer them. They were allowed to spend two or three days with these estimable friends; and Mrs. Fortescue, thinking it would amuse Caroline, took them with her to pay a visit to a convent in the neighborhood of S. It was situated in the centre of a large inclosed space, and approached by a large avenue of trees. They entered a wide Gothic porch, and pulled the string of a bell which hung at the side of an inner door. There was a small square grating in that door, and a shutter which closed it on the inside being slipped back, the head and veil of a nun appeared, and they were asked their business. Mrs. Fortescue inquired for la mère Sainte Euphrasie, and the portress then requested them to enter the parlor on the right hand. The door, however, was shut, and the young people looked round for some one to open it. They were not long kept in suspense; a spring was touched from inside, and the door flew open to admit them. They entered, and seated themselves close to a double iron grating, which divided the small apartment into two equal parts. They had not waited long, when the nun they asked for made her appearance on the other side. She was a middle-aged woman, of prepossessing appearance, and the eyes of the cousins were instantly riveted upon her, with as intense a gaze as politeness would allow. Her dress consisted of a very long and full black woollen robe, confined at the waist by a
leathern girdle, a white apron, a broad collar falling over the bosom, and a close cap, from which a long black veil descended even to the feet. It was thrown back from her face, which, however, was almost concealed by a broad linen bandeau, which cov ered the forehead, and was then brought round the chin, in a manner that gave her almost the appearance of a corpse. From her girdle depended a long black rosary, to which was attached a
Her address was graceful, and her manners and conversation peculiarly polished. She spoke to Mrs. Fortescue, as to an old friend, and to the young people with winning suavity. She inquired how they would like a convent life, and, on their expressing a great dislike to it, assured them that they were under the influence of prejudice, for that it was, in reality, a life of serene uninterrupted happiness. She spoke eloquently on that subject, and her apparent cheerfulness certainly seemed to corroborate her statement.
Mrs. Fortescue requested to see some specimens of fancy-work, as she intended to make a few purchases; and the sister immediately gave directions to that effect. A great number and variety of beautiful and ingenious articles, the work of the sisterhood, were exhibited, and the visitors purchased several. Sister Sainte Euphrasie then offered to show them an altar-cloth, which some of the nuns were embroidering for their chapel. This offer heing accepted, the inner door of the convent was opened, and two young nuns appeared at it, holding between them a frame on which was displayed a superb piece of embroidery, elegantly wrought in gold and silver thread, intermixed with silk of different colors. The visitors admired it, and then took their leave: but the cousins cast back many a look of mingled curiosity and interest, at the frowning walls of the convent, which enclosed so large a number of deluded human beings, formed for the duties and the enjoyments of social life, yet condemned, by the fatal in fluence of an unscriptural system of " will-worship," to waste their youth, their energies, and their whole existence, in the gloomy and useless solitude of a cloister. There was something exceed ingly painful in these reflections; and this feeling was not diminished by the information which Caroline now communicated,— that her friend, Sophia Dorville, was resolved to become a nun as soon as her education was finished.
"Would to God," whispered Lydia to her cousin, "that Sophia had not so much influence over the mind of Caroline! I cannot help dreading the consequences of their intimacy."
Emily only replied by an expressive pressure of the hand; but Lydia felt that she was understood, and her sentiments sympa. thized in.