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   Chapter 25 IN THE SUNBEAMS.

A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 8432

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Our friends having reached Lyons, where they had business, and would rest for the night, we shall leave them and meet them again on the mountains. Suffice it to say they enjoyed the varied grandeur, beauty and magnificence of the scenes through which they passed, as natures alive to the beauties of natural scenery alone can; the weather was charming, the coach not uncomfortable, and three happier in each other, or handsomer faces, had never before looked out upon the many charms of landscape. The snow-topped mountains, the small white fleecy clouds chasing each other across the blue sky, and looking as though gathered from the snow-flakes on their peaks. The varied tints of the trees, looking from a distance like a huge bouquet in the hand of Dame Nature; again, a mountain stream dashing headlong down, down, gathering strength as it rolls until lost in some sudden curve or wild projection. A gleaming crag with belts of pine now burst upon the view, in its rich dark dress, while here we have the delicate tints of the valley. Let us kneel here as we gaze on the giants of the forest, as they spread their huge arms and rear their proud heads to the sky, and thank heaven that in some favoured spots the timber is not the prey of the ruthless destroyer, man. What new country in God's world but has been shorn of its beauty to gratify man's unsatiable love of clearing; and the ignorant clod is not the only despoiler, for peer and peasant rival the great Liberal Leader in wielding the axe, the one to pay his debts, the other because he is only a clod; and Mother Earth is made barren, and her heart dry and hard, and she cannot give nourishment to the seedlings committed to her care.

For a few days of pure mountain air and scenery, we again meet Lady Esmondet and her companions, lingering at a small town east of Genoa; on the last day of their stay, they have taken a conveyance and, Sims as driver, in descending by another road they came suddenly upon one of those mediaeval castles, or rather its ruins, the greater part having fallen to decay.

"Eureka," exclaimed Lionel; "the quaint spot I have wished to see again; and which you should sketch, Miss Vernon."

The Brothers of Saint Gregory had, with tool and hammer, made the most of the ruins remaining; and here some twenty lived, sheltering the weary traveller. Our friends were almost close to the ruin ere observing it, it being hidden partly by a magnificent belt of pine, partly by a freak of nature, in shape of huge upheavals of rock, thrown up as it were from the earth's bowels, and in the clefts of which rocks, beautiful moss, hardy trailing plants, and ferns grew luxuriantly. Here the Brothers had built a tiny chapel, one side and part of roof being formed of these rocks, the other side, remainder of roof, and western entrance, were of stone and marble. The eastern end of beautiful specimens of Italian marble, the altar of pure white, its many coloured background throwing it out in all its purity; seats of rude stone; the floor strewn with sweet scented leaves and twigs, sending up when crushed by one's foot, a sweet odour as of incense. On our travellers nearing, a magnificent voice full of melody, fell upon the air.

"What a grand singer!" exclaimed Vaura, as they with one consent, deserted the carriage.

It was a Christmas anthem, "Regina coeli loetare, alleluia, quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia, etc."

"'Tis a beautiful spot, and a great and rich voice," said Lady

Esmondet; "I wonder if petticoats are admitted."

"Even if not," said Vaura, "we can sit on the rocks or grassy seats and fill our ears with music, which, after we descend, will lift us to the heights once more."

In following a narrow, irregular path, which led to the iron gate of the garden, Lady Esmondet, becoming separated from her companions, Vaura climbed to a rock; just a foot-hold, to endeavour to ascertain her whereabouts; Lionel overtook her, as becoming dizzy, she would have fallen.

"Spring into my arms; there, that is it; do not fear," he said breathlessly.

"I was foolish to attempt it when you were not near," she said softly, as he loosened his hold on the level path.

"How glad I was to

be in time, and you cannot know how my heart leaped when you had to come, to me and I held you in my arms, even for a moment," he says brokenly.

They come now to a few yards of narrow path, a steep precipice at one side. With a whispered "may I?" his arm is around her in guiding her steps; no word is spoken and we all know the silent ecstasy of such moments. A turn in the path and they come upon Lady Esmondet, seated on a rocky seat (she having taken a safer way) and listening to the sweet voice still singing.

"I wonder if they will admit us," said Lady Esmondet.

"I can try," answered Lionel, and moving down the few natural steps to the iron gate of the garden, rang the bell.

The gate was opened by a priest, an elderly man, severe of aspect, but courteous in manner, and a man of letters from his intellectual cast of countenance. In very good English, he said:

"In the name of Saint Gregory, I welcome you; whether you come for food for the soul or body, our prayers are yours, and our poor fare awaits you."

"Thank you, sir priest," said Lady Esmondet; "we shall just admire your chapel and garden and go on our way."

"We were attracted from the direct path by a magnificent voice within your walls," said Vaura.

"Yes, Brother Thomas is greatly gifted; well for him that his great powers are given to good, rather than to evil. The sacred festival of the birth of the Christ is so near, and our brother sings at Paris the joyful songs of his nativity. This being a Saint's day, some of the younger brothers of our order have begged our sweet singer of the churches to pour forth the notes of his melody, that they also, may feel as the Parisiens, the wonderful power and charm of his song."

"Such melody stirs one's very soul!" said Vaura earnestly, her large eyes full of moisture as the music thrills her.

"What a lull there seems!" said Lady Esmondet, "now that his voice is still."

"Yes!" said Vaura, "as if nature herself had been listening."

Lady Esmondet now introduced to Father Ignatius herself and companions, and as they followed the winding path from the chapel to the ruins, whither to the habitable wing they are bending their steps to partake of some slight refreshment, they come suddenly upon the owner of the throat, full of song, who is now kneeling beside a large urn, in which are some live coals, upon which he has just laid some elegantly bound volumes; he is pale and emaciated, but with the remains of wonderful beauty; with folded hands and eyes closed turned heavenward, on hearing footsteps he looks and would have started to his feet and flown, but by a visible effort restrained himself. On observing his agitation, Trevalyon suggested the turning into another path, but the stern priest objected.

"Yes! pray do," said Lady Esmondet, "there is a lovely shrub I should like a nearer view of."

"Be it so; I perceive, Monsieur, I mean," checking herself, "Brother Thomas is not yet free from the pride that lacks humility, that you being of the world he has left forever, have still power to stir his feelings, he was ashamed of his garb, but must steel his heart against such emotion."

"Poor fellow," said Vaura, in pitying tones, "he looks ill, and is perhaps weak and nervous, his habiliments look stiff and new, not seeming a part of him as yours, he has perhaps but lately joined your brotherhood, and all is strange as yet."

"You are right, Mlle. Vernon, his garb is as new as it is new for him to lift up his voice in the church, and while you partake of our poor fare, I shall pass away the time in telling you something of him."

They now enter the noble vaulted stone entrance with its ancient workmanship and massive proportions, seeming in its substantial build to defy the destroying hand of time. The spacious hall has been converted by the brothers into a refectory; the priest bidding them to the table on which were dried fruits from the northern, with fresh from the southern climes, English walnuts and biscuits, with a bottle of old French wine. Before his guests partook of the food, the priest kneeling, made the sign of the cross, asked a blessing, then seating himself a little apart, spoke as follows:

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