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CHAPTER XXIX.

THE CONVENT.

Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, wh ch God hath created to be received with thanksgiving.-TIM. iv. 9.

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ONCE more the dark walls and frowning towers of S-rose to their view in the distance, and they could not altogether repress the feelings of sweet, yet painful, emotion they excited. These feelings were of various kinds, according to the different minds in which they arose. Lydia thought of the joy of Helen, and their mutual delight on meeting again; but her heart sunk in despondency, as she cast a glance on the future, and pictured a thousand evils, as resulting from their residence at the convent. The gentle form of Rose, also, rose before the eyes of Emily; but it was a mournful vision, and she turned from it to the contemplation of the difficult duties which now devolved upon her. She fearfully asked herself the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?" but she felt, at the same time, some encouragement from the promise," My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."

They were to remain at the Major's till the second day, when Mr. Fortescue had kindly promised to accompany them to the convent. Lydia immediately despatched a note to her friend Helen, to inform her of their arrival, promising, at the same time, to see her on the following morning. But what was her surprise, when the messenger returned, with the information that Miss Douglas had been gone about a week from Madame d'Elfort's, her parents having sent for her, in consequence of the delicate state of her health, which had been declining for the last three months! This was a severe disappointment to Lydia; but she comforted herself with the reflection, that her beloved Helen was now happy in the enjoyment of home-comforts, and that she should no doubt soon hear from her.

Emily thought it a duty she owed to Madame d'Elfort, to wait on that lady, and explain the cause of their entering the convent. This she did without reserve, and without concealing her repugnance to the arrangement. Madame d'Elfort received her with the utmost kindness, and expressed a hope that she would come very often to see her; but Emily could not determine, either from her countenance or her manner, whether she was pleased or other. wise with the intelligence she had communicated.

They now proceeded to the convent, and saw the same religieuse they had before conversed with. She expressed the greatest pleasure at their intention of becoming inmates of the house, and

after some conversation, called the lady who presided over the school department, a dignified religieuse, with whom all the necessary preliminaries were soon arranged. Caroline had inquired for her friend Sophie, but had been told she was engaged in the chapel. Thither they now repaired, though without the least expectation of seeing her. As they approached it, their ears were agreeably saluted by the full rich tones of the organ, blended with the soft melody of a female voice, which they instantly recognized as that of Sophie. She was practising an anthem for the next saint's day; the small gallery in which she sat was screened from the prying eye of curiosity, by a high curtain of crimson cloth: but the visitors stood beneath it, and listened in rapt admiration to the soul-subduing strains of the music. It was one of those spells which no heart, endowed with sensibility, could resist; and they remained as if chained to the spot, till the swelling notes of the organ gradually sunk into silence, and the sweet voice died away in one long, thrilling cadence. Soon after, the shutting of a door announced the departure of the musician, and left them at leisure to examine the small chapel in which they now were. It was not splendid, but was decorated with exquisite taste; the altar-piece was a magnificent painting of the resurrection, and on each side of it were two others, the one representing St. Anne, as engaged in the instruction of children, and the other a nun in the dress of the Ursuline order. Around a figure of the Virgin were suspended innumerable relics of various kinds, and some of which it was not easy to guess the nature, intermixed with offerings of different value, but generally handsome and costly. Several other pictures were hung about the chapel, and the altar-cloth, being the work of the nuns, was elegantly embroidered. A few old men and poor women were kneeling in different parts of the chapel, very busily counting their beads, yet not so deeply engaged as to prevent their looking at the strangers, with a curiosity which soon changed into displeasure, when they perceived that they neither knelt nor crossed themselves.

Caroline then expressed a wish to return to the parlor, as she thought they could now see Sophie; and the rest of the party did not oppose her desire. Sister Sophie immediately obeyed the summons, and it was curious to observe the meeting of the two friends. They could not embrace, for a double grating interposed between them, through which they could but just touch each other's fingers; and Caroline though fully prepared for the change, could scarcely repress a start, at the sight of Sophie in a novice's dress. The latter expressed the greatest delight at the prospect of their spending some time together, and, after a short conversation, the party returned to Mrs. Fortescue's.

The next morning they bade the good Major farewell, and proceeded with Mrs. Fortescue to the convent. They were received

in the parlor by the superior, a tall, majestic woman, who was distinguished from the other nuns by the imposing stateliness of her carriage, and by a long rosary of gold beads, to which was attached a cross of considerable value. She received the new comers in the most gracious manner, paid them a few flattering, but delicate compliments, and then summoned Sophie to the grate to welcome her friends. After a little more conversation, the inner door of the convent was opened, and Mrs. Fortescue bade her young charges farewell on the threshold. Emily and Lydia could not repress a shudder of apprehension, as they embraced this kind friend, and then watched her retreating steps; but Caroline and Sophie were joyfully locked in each other's arms, and Henrietta and Julia seemed delighted at the novelty of their situation.

When Mrs. Fortescue was no longer visible, the ponderous door was shut and secured by the portress with the greatest care. Emily's heart involuntarily sank within her, as she listened to the creaking and grating of the massive bolts and bars; again she shuddered, and clasped her hands in silent prayer. Lydia seemed not less startled by the ominous sound; she stooped suddenly, and looked as if she was determined to go back; then, conquering her emotion by a strong effort, grasped Emily's hand with almost convulsive energy, and proceeded. Even the two little girls were terrified for a moment, and clung to their cousin, as if for protection. The gloomy aspect of the cloisters and corridors through which they passed, was not calculated to cheer their spirits, and they tremblingly followed the steps of the supérieure and Sophie, with whom Caroline was engaged in earnest conversation. At length, however, they were shown into two apartments, of a somewhat more pleasing description. They were small, and scantily furnished as bed-rooms; but they overlooked a garden of considerable size and great beauty, and commanded a rather extensive view of a rich and varied landscape. The first room was intended for Caroline, the other for Emily and Lydia. Henrietta and Julia were to sleep in a larger room, which was already occupied by several other boarders.

"I think," said the supérieure, with an evident attempt at condescension, "you will find everything here that is necessary for your accommodation; and we have an excellent library, from which I shall be happy to lend you books, whenever you feel inclined to read. In the mean time, as soon as you have taken off your bonnets, I shall introduce you to Miss Smithson, a countrywoman of yours, who takes the drawing department in the school, and also to Mrs. Brownlow, another English lady, who has now been e long time residing with us as a boarder."

The visitors bowed in acknowledgment, and followed the stately lady down stairs, to a school-room of large dimensions, in which were several young ladies of different ages, and two or three of the

nuns, whose task it was to preside over their studies. To these they were presented, as well as to Miss Smithson; but they could not help observing how differently they were received by these ladies. The nuns were kind and affable, while Miss Smithson's manner was cold, haughty, and even contemptuous. The pupils greeted them with a general stare, and they were glad when they followed the supérieure out of the room. She led them into the garden, where she again introduced them to Mrs. Brownlow, a pleasing elderly lady, whose address immediately prepossessed them in her favor. Soon after la mère Sainte Hélène, the superior of the school, coming up to them, Madame la Supérieure resigned the new comers to her care, and, with a bow of lofty courtesy, retired.

They spent a part of the day with Mrs. Brownlow, from whom they learned a great many particulars respecting the establishment. This lady was a widow of small fortune, who had chosen the convent for her residence, on account of its cheapness, and its quiet seclusion. She was, however, a Protestant, at least in profession, though deeply tinctured with that fatal spirit of liberalism, which considers all religions as very nearly alike, or in themselves indifferent. On their inquiring the reason why Miss Smithson did not take the boarders to church, as she seemed to be engaged in the school, Mrs. Brownlow replied, that that lady was a Roman Catholic, having become one since her residence at the convent, whither she had been sent for her education.

Emily inquired whether this was not frequently the consequence of being educated there.

"Very frequently," replied Mrs. Brownlow," and it can scarcely be otherwise, when children are sent hither, without any one to take care of them. The nuns are very skilful in making converts, and the Catholic ceremonies very well calculated to captivate the minds of young people. There are two or three little girls here, who are nearly converted, and they are the only Protestants in the convent, except one young lady of about thirteen, who has not been long here, and is indisposed to-day. The others are all children of Roman Catholic parents."

"I should think," observed Emily, "that you, madame, might have some influence in counteracting the ill-effects produced on the minds of those poor children."

"Oh, dear, no!" replied Mrs. Brownlow, "I am no bigot,-I never interfere. I have no doubt the Catholics are as sincere as ourselves, in the exercise of their religion; there are good and bad people in all religions; and I believe that all those who act up conscientiously to the best of their knowledge, will be equally accepted by God."

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But, my dear madam," observed Emily, "God has revealed kis will explicitly in his Word, and if we see our fellow-creatures

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in danger of being misled, by a system which is directly opposed to that word, by which he himself has declared 'we shall be judged at the last day,'-is it not our duty to endeavor, at least, to warn them against the delusion?"

"Well!" replied Mrs. Brownlow, "it is no business of mine to examine into the merits of the different systems. I dislike bigotry, and have the greatest horror of controversy. If people will expose their children to the danger of error, they must take the consequences. I would not interfere on any account, and strongly advise you not to attempt it either, for I assure you it would be taken very ill."

"The Roman Catholics, then," observed Lydia, "are not so indifferent on the subject; for, by your account of the matter, they are very anxious to make proselytes."

"Oh! yes, they are indeed, they do everything they can, with out absolutely infringing on the liberty of the children. But the greatest bigot in the house is decidedly Miss Smithson,-indeed, she is almost beyond endurance. She is perfectly furious against Protestantism, and cannot even speak of it without abuse. The only way to be at peace with her, is never to mention the subject, either to her, or in her hearing."

The conversation was now interrupted, by their being summoned to dinner. They took this meal in a large hall, with the rest of the boarders, and the whole communauté of nuns, about thirty in number. All conversation was prevented, during the repast, by one of the nuns reading aloud, from a book containing the lives of several saints of the Romish church. The pupils were then allowed to play or walk in the garden for an hour, and saw no more of the nuns till supper, with the exception of those whose peculiar province it was to attend to the school duties. These were four in number,-la mère Sainte Hélène, la mère Sainte Euphrasie, la sœur Sainte Anne, and la sœur Constance. The two former.were somewhat advanced in life; sister St. Anne was a blooming, lively girl, of eighteen, who took charge of the younger pupils; and sister Constance immediately struck Emily and Lydia, as being peculiarly interesting in her appearance. She was apparently about twenty, her form slight and fragile, and the delicacy of her complexion indicated a precarious state of health There was an expression of thoughtfulness, and melancholy sweetness, in her countenance, which at once touched the heart, and riveted the affections. She was much beloved by the pupils, and seemed to be stationed among them, principally on account of the influence she always acquired over their minds.

In the course of the afternoon, Lydia formed an acquaintance with Miss Somers, the English girl she had not seen that morning. She seemed amiable and gentle, though, as might naturally be expected, devoid of everything like religious principle. She

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