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Her eyes were now fearfully directed towards Caroline, who was leaning, half fainting, against the back of a chair. Her eyes were closed, as if to conceal or suppress her emotion; but the pallid cheek and quivering lip too plainly betrayed an inward conflict. A heavy sigh somewhat relieved Emily's oppressed heart, and she, too, placed her hand before her eyes, to shut out the scene altogether from her view.
A slight movement near her roused her attention; she raised her head, and saw Madame d'Elfort, kneeling at the altar, with another party of her school-fellows. A lightning-glance of displeasure escaped that lady, as she observed the two cousins standing; but no further notice was taken of the circumstance, although Emily observed, on leaving the cathedral, that the sparkling countenance of Madame d'Arblay was slightly overcast by a frown.
THE NUNS OF ST. THOMAS.
For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.-Roм. x. 3.
THE anxious and contending feelings which so incessantly occupied the mind of Emily, joined to the extreme severity of the winter, and the total absence of everything like English comfort, now began to manifest their effects on a delicate constitution. She was seized with a low, nervous fever, which, though it soon yielded to the efforts of medical skill, left her in a state of great weak ness, and incapacitated her for active exertion.
Nothing could exceed the tenderness and affection shown her by her friends, but especially by Caroline, and Mademoiselle de Liancourt. The latter, indeed, could seldom pass much time with her, in consequence of the almost monastic strictness which pervaded every rule of the house; but the former seemed entirely to have resumed her former character, and to be only alive to the health and comfort of the beloved invalid. There was but one subject on which the most perfect confidence did not exist between them; but there was an unembarrassed freedom in her manner, which seemed to Emily the dawn of a brighter day; and hope again smiled, as she pointed to the future.
As the intensity of the cold abated, and Emily began to recover her strength and spirits, the physician advised that she should take as much exercise as possible. Madame Dorville, an intimate friend of Madame d'Elfort's, who had always manifested a great partiality for the cousins, now offered to accompany them in frequent excursions to the country-and generally took Emily out every fine day for a walk. The lady possessed a highly cultivated mind, and great vivacity of disposition: she was, therefore, a most agreeable companion, and particularly insinuating in her manners. Her conversation was eminently sensible, varied, and interesting; and her penetrating insight into character, gave her considerable influence over those with whom she associated. Her attachment to the religion she professed amounted to positive bigotry, and she had long wished for an opportunity of converting the young persons she now patronized. She would not, indeed, openly attack their principles, but resolved to set all the fascinations connected with her religion before their eyes in the light which she saw would be most likely to produce a powerful impression on their minds.
With this view, she one day invited them to pay a visit to one of the hospitals. They gladly accepted the proposal; for, besides the lively interest which an institution for the relief of suffering humanity must excite in every feeling mind, their curiosity was not a little awakened, by the description of the nuns of St. Thomas, who, they were informed, fulfilled all the duties of nurses to the sick in those establishments.
"You can form no idea," said Madame Dorville, as they proceeded to the hospital, "of the exalted virtues which distinguish these benevolent ladies. No sacrificè seems too great, no undertaking too painful, no act of condescension too humiliating for their piety and charity. Born in the highest and most respectable circles, educated in the most delicate manner, and accustomed to move in the most brilliant society, they forsake their families, their comforts, and all the allurements of the world, to embrace a life of self-denial, and stoop to the most degrading offices! They pass their days and nights by the beds of the sick and afflicted; they dress their wounds, prepare their medicines, administer their nourishment, soothe their pains, sympathize in their sorrows, and either contribute essentially to their recovery, or smoothe with angel hands their passage to the grave. Is not this sublime devotedness? Is not this the most exalted piety ?"
Emily was spared the necessity of answering this subtle question, by their entering a small church, which was connected with the hospital. Madame Dorville dipped her finger in the bason of holy water at the door, and crossed herself; a profound silence ensued, while they walked up the centre aisle of the building, and observed the different objects it contained. It was distinguished by the same gorgeous magnificence which everywhere marks Ro
man Catholic places of worship. The principal altar was profusely decorated with silver candlesticks, wax tapers, and rich paintings. Several inferior altars were placed in small chapels devoted to the saints, along the two sides of the church. An air of mysterious solemnity seemed to pervade the whole place. A few infirm old people were repeating their prayers in different spots; and the figure of one of the nuns, kneeling at a side altar, not a little heightened the picturesque effect of the scene.
Having remained a few minutes absorbed in contemplation, Madame Dorville led the way to the hospital. She stopped a few minutes at the door, to speak to a former servant of Madame d' Elfort's, who, being disabled by a rheumatic complaint, had been lately received into the institution. Jeannette had not left Madame d'Elfort's till some time after the arrival of Emily and Caroline; they were extremely partial to her, for they had always found her particularly obliging; and the poor girl was delighted to see them again. She was about to lead them to the room on the first floor of the building, when the lady they had before seen in the church passed by them, and, bowing in silence, entered the apartment before them.
"The mother is going to read the chapelet," said Jeannette, dropping a curtesy," and as these young ladies are not Catholics, they had better wait till it is over before they enter."
So saying, she led them into a small side-room, and instantly returned for prayers.
The little apartment in which they now were, might well have been taken for a druggist's shop, so completely was it furnished with every kind of medicine and cordial restorative. These were arranged with the greatest order and neatness, and presented a picture at once pleasing to the eye, and grateful to the feelings.
"These are all prepared by the ladies themselves," said Madame Dorville; "they study pharmacy, that they may be able to compound all the medicines that are necessary in the house. The lady who just now passed us is Maria Thérsée de Joinville. She belongs to one of the first families of the town. At the age of seventeen she renounced all the pleasures of fashionable life, and evinced the strongest desire to take the veil; but her family were decidedly opposed to her wishes: they tried every method to detain her in the world, and absolutely forbade the sacrifice she meditated. She, however, was steadfast in her purpose, and persevered in it, notwithstanding every kind of discouragement. Having at length surmounted every obstacle, and wrung a reluctant consent from her family, she took the veil at nineteen, and has now been eighteen years the constant attendant on the poor of this hospital. Before that period, I was intimately acquainted with her, and never have I known a young person more engaging, or better calculated to shine in society. But her devotedness to the cause of
religion and humanity, has left me at so immense a distance from her, that I feel as if she were now a being of another world."
Madame Dorville's enthusiasm, while she spoke of her friend, seemed to have communicated itself to the minds of her young auditors, for Emily felt much moved, and Caroline's eyes were suffused with tears. Jeannette now re-entered the apartment, and offered to conduct them to la mère Joinville ;-the familiar and endear ing appellation of mother being that by which these ladies are invariably addressed by the poor.
The religieuse met them at the door of her ward, and received them with the most engaging politeness. She was an interesting woman, with a countenance peculiarly expressive of every amia. ble feeling, but evidently in very delicate health.
The apartment which they now entered was of great length, and occupied two sides of the building. It was extremely clean and airy, and the long rows of beds looked very comfortable. In the angle formed by the middle of the room was an altar, over which was placed a figure of the Virgin. The sick and infirm persons in this room had an appearance of content and comfort. which was truly gratifying, and they all seemed to regard the mother with feelings of veneration and love.
"I should think," said Madame Dorville to the nun, after they had walked through the ward, spoken to some of the patients, and inquired into the cases of others," that, in addition to the painful nature of the duties you have to perform, you must sometimes be in great danger from infectious disorders."
"True," replied the nun, "but the good God in whom we trust, and for whose sake we do everything, has generally preserved us. During the war with England, we sometimes had seven or eight hundred soldiers under our care, wounded, dying, or attacked with contagious disorders. To meet the numberless wants of these poor creatures, to undergo all the fatigue attendant on the care of them, and to fulfil all the laborious duties of the establishment, there were only twenty of us, assisted by a few of the infirm old men and women residing here. Yet no sister suffered materially; and, after all, our employments are less trying than those of the Grey Sisters."
Well, your charity is certainly beyond all praise," observed Madame Dorville, after the religieuse had led them through two other apartments, similar to her own. "Is see that my two young friends here are struck with admiration, and I am sure they would feel very much inclined to follow your example, though Miss Howard's countenance certainly betrays at this moment, a great want of the courage necessary for such an undertaking."
The nun looked at the pallid cheeks of Caroline, and observing that the scene had too much affected her spirits, led the way to her own little apartment, near the centre of her ward.
"Have I not heard you say, Miss Mortimer," inquired Madame Dorville of Emily, " that you would like very much to be a religi euse de la charité ?"
Before she could answer, Madame de Joinville asked, with a peculiar expression," Are these young ladies Catholics ?"
Caroline started, and Emily could not suppress a smile, but Madame Dorville answered, in a tone of sadness, "Alas, no!"
"Ah! then," observed the nun, in the same tone, "there is a great deal to be done, before Mademoiselle could become one of
"I should be very unhappy, indeed," observed Emily, still smil. ing, "if I did not consider myself a true Catholic."
The nun looked surprised, and requested that she would explain herself.
"You refuse us that title," continued Emily, "but we claim it as our just right; for we belong to the only true church-the universal church of Christ."
"Oh! I understand you now; you mean that you are an Apostolic, but not a Roman Catholic."
Emily assented, and Madame Dorville observed, with that insinuating flattery so characteristic of her nation.
"If my young friends are not Catholics, they want but that' one thing needful; for they are everything else that can be wished, in talents, in goodness, and piety".
Emily and Caroline interrupted her, by disclaiming the excellences she attributed to their characters; but, however disgusted and annoyed by her flattery, they could not arrest her voluble tongue, till the former at length observed, that, admitting they did indeed possess all these exalted virtues and advantages, they would be but additional motives for gratitude and humility.
"Humility!" exclaimed Madame Dorville, " I can scarcely con ceive how they can produce humility."
"How can a creature," inquired Emily, "be proud of what she has received as a free gift, from the hand of her Creator? Would you not, Madam, think it exceedingly absurd, for a destitute beggar to glory in the alms which have been bestowed upon him ?"
Madame Dorville made no answer, but the nun and she looked significantly at each other. After a few unimportant remarks, the former asked Emily why she did not acknowledge the pope as the head of the church?
Because, madam, I do not believe that he has any scriptural ight to assume that title."
The nun referred to St. Matthew xvi. 18, "Thou art Peter, and apon this rock I will build my church," and inquired, if she did not acknowledge that passage to be the word of God? ; "I do, madam, but the meaning you attach to it is plainly con.