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A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 14594

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

"About eight months ago at last Easter-tide, and while the ladies of Sainte Marie were attending mass in their little chapel, situated about a quarter of a mile east from the road by which you descend to Italia, a traveller was carried into their midst more dead than alive, in a faint, having been struck down by the fell hand of disease suddenly, and while making his way over the mountains; the hireling who drove the conveyance had carried him in, well knowing the convent and hospital to be a harbour of rest for the sick and weary, having deposited his living freight upon one of the rude benches of the chapel, bringing also his luggage, left him in God and our Lady's hands. The mother superior at the close of mass, hastily summoned the strong-armed portress, who with the assistance of the officiating priest, carried him to the adjoining hospital. You all doubtless observed traces of unusual beauty in Brother Thomas, but in the emaciated form you have seen, can form no conception of his comeliness, ere wasted by slow lingering fever; yes! he was handsome, wondrously so. In critical cases of illness, the mother is wont to call me to aid, I having studied the science of healing in the great schools of Europe and England, ere taking the vows of our order; in the character of physician I saw much of Monsieur-I mean Brother Thomas. As a penance for evil, wrought by him upon mankind, he has permitted me to tell his story, but as he is dead to his own former world, and as a punishment, to no more speak his name. Suffice it to say he is a man of culture, a man of letters. You have heard his voice, and he was born among the great. Alas! when one sees to what base ends education is applied plied, one is inclined to regret the early days. At one time in the strangers illness, he was so nearly passing through the valley of the Shadow of Death, as to make it incumbent upon me to open his luggage in order to ascertain his name and address, whereby to communicate with his friends; in an iron box I was horror-struck to find volume after volume, his own work, which rivalled Voltaire in its teachings. I trembled to think of such godless productions within the walls of a holy convent and of the awful responsibility resting upon myself; should I allow such instruments of evil to exist? did it not seem providential, my being placed in such a position as to be able in a few minutes, by the aid of fire, to destroy the labour of years, and so give to the church another victory over Satan?

"I saw him from time to time, and as it proved to be a low wasting fever, he was with the sisters four long months. Among the nuns who attend the sick, is a beautiful young English girl, of patrician face and mien. And now a word of her; eighteen years ago, it was a fete day at Rome, and among the seductions offered to the senses of man, was that of the stage; one of your most gifted of English stars held men chained in fetters wrought by her beauty and talent, night after night, in their boxes at the theatre, while the priests of the Lord wept at the altar, because of the deserted sanctuary; but it was carnival time, and men, at that season, forget the God who gave them power to enjoy. In one of the churches, at midnight, a lady closely veiled, entered, carrying a bundle, and going up to the altar, without reverence and in haste, deposited her burden at the foot of the cross. The officiating priest directed one of the sextons to follow her in haste, but the lady was too quick for him. A carriage was in waiting, which a gentleman with hat over brow, and muffled about throat, speedily drove off, almost before the lady was seated; they were soon lost in the maddening crowd, for humanity held high revel; the jester was abroad, and theatre, with amusement and music hall, poured forth their devotees, though the ball, both in palace and street, would be kept rolling all night. The emissaries of the church learned that your star of the London stage left Rome closely veiled, and attended by a stranger, a gentleman, at midnight. Enough said; only this, that her business manager and waiting woman had been sent on to Venice, the next scene of triumph, the morning of the same day. The child, a lovely girl infant, wore robes of wealth, rich muslin and lace, and was lolled in a carriage rug of the skin of the seal, five hundred pounds, in English gold, was pushed loosely into the bosom of her dress, and three lines of writing were found there also, which read as follows: 'Communicate, in case of infant's death, with --' giving name of banking house at London; 'until that time we have instructions to pay L200 yearly, for her benefit, if not annoyed by efforts to ascertain her parentage.' That child is the young Saxon nun, now at the convent of Ste. Marie; a convent has been ever her home, and she loves its life, early showing a strong inclination for the study of medicine, for the past five years she has been an apt pupil of mine; with great beauty, cleverness, and persuasive manner, she, at the sick-bed, has gained already many souls within the true pale. And now, to continue of the illness of Monsieur, now Brother Thomas, as I have already made you aware, a low fever caused him to remain at the convent for the space of four months. Sister Fidele, a French nun, shared the fatigue and duty of ministering to the sick man's wants, with the young Saxon sister, whose life I have told you of. She is with us Sister Faith; a name given to her by his Holiness, Pope Pius, her child-like belief and peaceful beauty of expression, suggesting it.

"But to proceed, Sister Fidele, seeing her patient was ever restless and unsatisfied during the absence of Sister Faith, informed the Mother Abbess, saving: 'He is a heretic, mother, and if you permit Sister Faith to be more with him her prayers, zeal and gentle pious converse may impress his godless soul.'

"Thus it was that Sister Faith spent all her time not devoted to necessary rest at the bedside of Monsieur. But, alas for the weakness of man, instead of the piety of her teachings impressing his soul, or the sacredness of her office shielding her from such passions, her great beauty had kindled in his heart the flame of a moral love. I as her father confessor learned of the unlawful words spoken to her; my indignation and sorrow were great. But when she assured me that to her he was only a soul to be saved, that her life was only happy in doing good for the beloved Church, that no earthly love could ever enter her soul; moreover, that she firmly believed the stranger was beginning to feel the beauties of our holy faith I abandoned my resolve to bring him hither, and instead left him in her hands. At first he tried every fascination of which he was master to make her love him and fly with him. I need not tell you without avail. Then her gentle piety seemed to have touched his heart. He permitted her to send for me. I obeyed the summons joyfully, for I well knew what a triumph over Satan his conversion would be, and his own wish or consent to see me made me hopeful. We conversed by the hour on knotty theological questions, he talking well and seeming at times half persuaded to be a Christian, but as if too proud to humble himself. The blessed saints made intercession for hi

m, for our prayers were heard; and I had the great triumph of baptising and administering to him the blessed sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. After he had received he begged of me a private interview, and then implored of me to give him Sister Faith to wife. He said her great faith and gentle converse had made him think, 'If these things be, how great is my condemnation.' It was she who had taught him to say or think it possible he might ever say: 'Whereas I was blind I now see.' He said he had great wealth, and if she was his they would give much gold to the Church.

"But I could not grant his wish. Six months before his advent amongst us our sweet-faced sister had taken, the black veil; had she been in her novitiate I might by personal application to his Holiness have granted his prayer. He bowed his head in grief. I told him of the unchanging vow of celibacy of priest and nun, and of the immovableness of the Church; I feared he would have a relapse and removed him hither, where he has since taken our vows, and is now a brother. You have heard his wondrous power of song, and, as I told you, goes soon to Paris. He grieves yet to the very heart that Sister Faith cannot be his, but his penances are severe, and I am in hopes the saints will strengthen him to subdue the flesh altogether to the spirit; 'tis so new to him to sing the songs of the Church that he practices at whatever hour allowed him; but has been anxious to destroy his infidel writings that I have given him an hour to-day and tonight at midnight for the work.

"Such, noble guests, is a page in our new brother's life," concluded the priest.

"And a most interesting page, reverend father," said Lady Esmondet.

"What a checkered life his has been," said Lionel thoughtfully, as they wended their way from the quiet seclusion of the monastery out to the carriage which was to convey them once more to the busy life of the world.

"Yes, none more so," said the priest; "how kind is Providence to lead this wayward soul at last, and in its great pride to the cross, and through the piety of a young maiden."

Here the heavy, iron gate of the garden is reached and they bid the hospitable, though austere, monk adieu.

"Could we see the beautiful Sister Faith?" enquired Vaura; "if we in our descent into Italy, call at the convent of Ste. Marie, I feel so interested in her, she deserves perfect happiness; do you think reverend Father, that she is so?"

"Your own lovely face, Mademoiselle, looks as if it had never been clouded by sorrow. The face of Sister Faith is unclouded as your own, and we know that the trials of the world can never reach her, the protecting arms of the church enfold her; I am full of regrets that you cannot see her, she is now praying devotedly to the saints that Brother Thomas may be given strength to banish her image altogether from his heart, as well as attending two cases of fever among the inmates."

"Are you not afraid, in her great self-abnegation, that her own health will give way?" inquired Lady Esmondet.

"No, she is gifted with wonderful health and strength, one quiet hour in the cell restores the vigour lost in days and nights of fatigue; and now adieu, and may the blessing of St. Gregory go with you, and I thank you in the name of Christ's poor, for the gold you have given."

"Adieu, adieu, farewell!".

And our friends are again en route.

"Depend upon it," said Lionel, "in ages to come, the good Sister Faith will be Ste. Faith of the Alpine mountains."

"Poor young creature, I cannot but think," said Vaura, her eyes suffused with tears, "that she would be happier in the bright world, loved and loving, than in the cloister."

"What a gifted couple they would have been," observed Lady Esmondet.

"Brother Thomas has lived and knows what life is, and I cannot help thinking the cloister, will not bring him peace," said Lionel.

"What a power in the church the nuns are," said Vaura; "not in her grand ceremonial, not in her unity, not in her much gold dwelleth her greatest and most powerful arm, but in her gentle sisterhood."

"True," said Lionel; "though I cannot but think, that the church would have gained more had they united the Saxon nun with the now Brother Thomas; what a power their united lives, and with much gold; his influence will not tell immurred in a cell."

"I am sure we shall not soon forget the story of poor Brother Thomas and Sister Faith," remarked Vaura.

"There was a time," said Lionel, "when I used to wonder that so many fellows gave up this life of ours and buried themselves in a monastry, but as I listened to the priest I felt that if a man is feeling that the love of the one woman he craves can never be his, that, as an escape from the speculative eye of Mrs. Grundy, a cell might look inviting."

"So you give Mrs. Grundy credit for a speculative eye, Lionel," said

Lady Esmondet, amusingly.

"What else is she but a speculator? she is ever busy, always alive and speculating with some unfortunate beings, name or fame," said Lionel bitterly.

"I am glad we have run away from her; she cannot be with us on the mountains, so rest easy for to-day, Lionel," answered Lady Esmondet.

"No," said Vaura, earnestly; "the Alpine heights are too pure and too lofty for her, she loves the heated gaslit salon, with the music of many voices; but we are all the better for an outing with Dame Nature, I do love her so, with her sunlit air, her breezy fan, her robes of green, while her children, the brook and field, sing and laugh, they are so merry and so rich; yes, I love her so, I should just like to take her in my arms; see the birds in the trees as we pass, she rocks them to sleep, for as she breathes she sways the branches to and fro, and so gives a tuneful accompanyment to their song ere they rest."

And so in gay chit-chat or more serious converse, the descent into fair Italia is made. The grand passion of Trevalyon's life becoming more earnest, and completely mastering him for this sweet woman; the companion of his journey; for not only her grace and rich beauty made him her captive, but her tender womanliness, underlying her vivacity, charmed him, and his eyes were seldom off her face as she sat opposite him; he was never tired of watching the ever-warying expression of her countenance; and poor Lionel, subdued at last, felt he must clear himself to Eric Haughton, and have her ever beside him.

Her grey eyes were luminous as stars with a warmer light as they sometimes rested on his; there was a wild rose bloom on her cheeks painted by nature, with the invigorating air of the mountains. Sometimes, with a gay abandon, she tossed aside head-gear and cloak, and with Lionel, descended from the carriage to cull some rare moss or late flower, or make the ascent of a higher spot to view some lovelier scene; just now she is looking more than usually lovely. In this prelude to real love-making, as was now taking place daily between Lionel and Vaura; what a magical softening of expression there is, what a sweetness of languor in the eyes, a tremulous sighing from the waiting heart; and yet, she is blissfully happy, for she knows that she is loved by a man whom she will love, aye, does, with all the sympathy and passion of her nature.

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