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   Chapter 19 SALOME'S REFUGE.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 15107

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


Salome was scarcely sane. Married that morning, with the approval and congratulations of all her friends, by one of the most venerable fathers of the church, to one of the most distinguished young noblemen in the peerage, who was also the sole master of her heart, and-

Flying from her bridegroom this afternoon as from her worst and most hated enemy!

She could not realize her situation at all.

All seemed a horrible nightmare dream, from which she was powerless to arouse herself; in which she was compelled to act a painful part, until some merciful influence from without should awaken and deliver her!

In this dream she was whirled onward toward the South Coast, on that clear, autumnal afternoon.

In this dream she reached Dover, and got out at the station amid all the confusion attending the arrival of the tidal train, and the babel of voices from cabmen, porters, hotel runners, and such, shouting their offers of:

"Carriage, sir!"

"Carriage, ma'am!"

"Steamboat!"

"Calais steamer!"

"Lord Warden's!"

"Victoria!" and so forth.

Acting instinctively and mechanically, she made her way to the steamboat.

There seemed to be an unusually large number of people going across.

She saw no one among the passengers, whom she recognized; but still she kept her vail folded twice across her face, as she passed to a settee on deck.

She was scarcely seated before the boat left the pier.

Wind and tide was against her, and the passage promised to be a slow and rough one.

And soon indeed the steamer began to roll and toss amid the short, crisp waves of Dover Straits, now whipped to a froth by wind against tide.

Most of the passengers succumbed and went below.

Now, whether intense mental pre-occupation be an antidote to sea-sickness, we cannot tell. But it is certain that Salome did not suffer from the violent motion of the boat. She was indeed scarcely conscious of it.

She sat upon the deck, wrapped in a large shepherd's plaid shawl, with her gray vail thickly folded over her face, which was turned toward the west, where the setting sun was sinking below the ocean horizon, and drawing down after him a long train of glory from over the troubled waters.

But it is doubtful if Salome even saw this, or knew what hour, what season it was!

A rough night followed. Wrapped in her shawl, absorbed in her dream, Salome remained on deck, unaffected by the weather, and indifferent to its consequences, although more than once the captain approached and kindly advised her to go below.

It was after midnight when the boat reached her pier at Calais.

In the same dream Salome left her seat and landed among the sea-sick crowd.

In the same dream she allowed the custom-house officers to tumble out the contents of her little valise, and satisfied, without cavil, all their demands, and answered without hesitation all the questions put to her by the officials.

In the same dream she made her way to a carriage on the railway train just about to start for Paris.

There were three other occupants of the carriage, which was but dimly lighted by two oil lamps. Salome did not look toward them, but doubled her vail still more closely over her face as she sat down in a corner and turned toward the window, on the left side of her seat.

The night was so dark that she could see but little, as the train flashed past what seemed to be but the black shadows of trees, fields, farm-houses, groves, villages, and lonely chateaux.

A weird midnight journey, through a strange land to an unknown bourne.

Occasionally she stole a glance through her thick vail toward her three fellow passengers, who sat opposite to her, on the back seat-three silent, black-shrouded figures who sat mute and motionless as watchers of the dead.

Very terrifying, but very appropriate figures to take part in her nightmare dream.

She turned her eyes away from those silent, shrouded, mysterious figures, and prayed to awake.

She could not yet.

But as she peered out through the darkness of the night, and saw the black shadows of the roadway flying behind her as the train sped southward, her physical powers gradually succumbed to fatigue, and her waking dream passed off in a dreamless sleep.

She slept long and profoundly. She slept through many brief stoppages and startings at the little way stations. She slept until she was rudely awakened by the uproar incident upon the arrival of the train at a large town.

She awoke in confusion. Day was dawning. Many passengers were leaving the train. Many others were getting on it.

She rubbed her eyes and looked around in amazement and terror. She did not in the least know where she was, or how she had come there.

For during her deep and dreamless sleep she had utterly forgotten the occurrences of the last twenty-four hours.

Now she was rudely awakened, bewildered, and frightened to find herself in a strange scene, amid alarming circumstances, of which she knew or could remember nothing; connected with which she only felt the deep impression of some heavy preceding calamity. She saw before her the three silent, black, shrouded forms of her fellow-passengers, but their presence, instead of enlightening, only deepened and darkened the gloomy mystery.

She pressed her icy fingers to her hot and throbbing temples, and tried to understand the situation.

Then memory flashed back like lightning, revealing all the desolation of her storm-blasted, wrecked and ruined life.

With a deep and shuddering groan she threw her hands up to her head, and sank back in her seat.

"Is Madame ill? Can we do anything to help her?" inquired a kindly voice near her.

In her surprise Salome dropped her hands, and at the same time her vail fell from before her face.

Suddenly she then saw that the three mute, shrouded forms before her were Sisters of Mercy, in the black robes of their order, and knew that they had only maintained silence in accordance with their decorous rule of avoiding vain conversation.

Even now the taller and elder of the three had spoken only to tender her services to a suffering fellow-creature.

The fugitive bride and the Sister of Mercy looked at each other, and at the instant uttered exclamations of surprise.

In the sister, Salome recognized a lay nun of the Convent of St. Rosalie, in which she had passed nearly all the years of her young life, and in which she had received her education, and to which it had once been her cherished desire to return and dedicate herself to a conventual service.

In Salome the nun saw again a once beloved pupil, whom she, in common with all her sisterhood, had fondly expected to welcome back to her novitiate.

"Sister Josephine! You! Is it indeed you! Oh, how I thank Heaven!" fervently exclaimed the fugitive.

"Mademoiselle Laiveesong! You here! My child! And alone! But how is that possible?" cried the good sister in amazement.

Before Salome could answer the guard opened the door with a party of passengers at his back. But seeing the compartment already well filled by the three Sisters of Mercy and another lady, he closed the door again and passed down the platform to find places for his party elsewhere.

The incident was little noticed by Salome at the time, although it was destined to have a serious effect upon her after fate.

In a few minutes the train started.

"My dear child," recommenced Sister Josephine, as soon as the train was well under way-"my dear child, how is it possible that I find you

here, alone on the train at midnight! Were you going on to Paris, and alone? Was any one to meet you there?"

"Dear, good Sister Josephine, ask me no questions yet. I am ill-really and truly ill!" sighed Salome.

"Ah! I see you are, my dear child. Ill and alone on the night train! Holy Virgin preserve us!" said the sister, devoutly crossing herself.

"Ask me no questions yet, dear sister, because I cannot answer them. But take me with you wherever you go, for wherever that may be, there will be peace and rest and safety, I know! Say, will you take me with you, good Sister Josephine?" pleaded Salome.

"Ah! surely we will, my child. With much joy we will. We-(Sister Francoise and Sister Felecitie-Mademoiselle Laiveesong,)" said Sister Josephine, stopping to introduce her companions to each other.

The three young persons thus named bowed and smiled, and pressed palms, and then sat back in their seats, while the elder Sister, Josephine, continued:

"We have come up from Fontevrau, and are now going straight on to our convent. With joy we will take you with us, my dear child. Our holy mother will be transported to see you. Does she expect you, my dear child?" inquired the sister, forgetting her tacit promise to ask no more questions.

"No, no one expects me," sighed the fugitive, in so faint a voice that the good Sister forbore to make any more inquiries for the moment.

The train rushed onward. Day was broadening. The horizon was growing red in the east.

The party travelled on in silence for some ten or fifteen minutes, and then, Sister Josephine growing impatient to have her curiosity satisfied, made a few leading remarks.

"And so you were coming to us unannounced by any previous communication to our holy mother? And coming alone on the night train! You possess a noble courage, my child, but the adventure was hazardous to a young and lovely unmarried woman. The Virgin be praised we met you when we did!" said the Sister, devoutly crossing herself.

"Amen, and amen, to that!" sighed Salome.

"Our holy mother will be overjoyed to see you. You are sure she does not expect you, my dear child?"

"No, Sister, she does not expect me, unless she has the gift of second sight. For I did not expect myself to return to St. Rosalie, to-day, or ever. When I took my place in this carriage at midnight, I did not know how far I should go, or where I should stop. I took a through ticket to Paris; but I did not know whether I should stop at Paris, or go on to Marseilles, or Rome, or St. Petersburg, or New York, or where!" moaned the fugitive.

"The holy saints protect us, my child! What wild thing is this you are saying?" exclaimed Sister Josephine, making the sign of the cross.

"No matter what I say now, good Sister, I will tell our holy mother all. Is la Mere Genevieve now your lady superior?" softly inquired the fugitive.

"Yes, surely, my child. And she will be transported to behold her best beloved pupil again. You are sure that she will be taken by surprise?" said the good, simple minded Sister, still innocently angling for a farther explanation.

"Yes, I feel sure that I shall surprise our good mother if I do not delight her; for, as I told you before, I gave her no intimation of any intended visit. I repeat that when I set foot upon this train, I had no fixed plan in my mind. I did not know where I should go. My meeting with you is providential. It decides me, nay, rather let me say, it directs me to seek rest and peace and safety there where my happy childhood and early youth were passed, and where I once desired to spend my whole life in the service of Heaven. I, too, fervently praise the Virgin for this blessed meeting. I too thank the Mother of Sorrows for being near me in my sorrow and in my madness!" murmured Salome, in a low, earnest tone.

"Holy saints, my child! What can have happened to you to inspire such words as these?" exclaimed Sister Josephine in alarm.

"Never mind what, good Sister. You shall hear all in time. I am forced by fate to keep a promise that I made and might have broken. That is all."

"Ah, my dear child, I comprehend sorrow and despair in your words; but I do not comprehend your words!" sighed Sister Josephine.

"When I left your convent three years ago, I promised did I not, that after I should have become of age and be mistress of my fate, I would return, dedicate my life to the service of Heaven, and spend the remainder of it here? Did I not?" inquired Salome, in a low voice.

"You did, you did, my child. And for a long time we looked for you in vain. And when you did not come, or even write to us, we thought the world had won you, and made you forget your promise," sighed Sister Josephine crossing herself.

The two youthful Sisters followed her example, sighed and crossed themselves.

There was a grave pause of a few minutes, and then the voice of Salome was heard in solemn tones:

"The world won me. The world broke me and flung me back upon the convent, and forced me to remember and keep my promise. I return now to dedicate myself to the service of Heaven, at the altar of your convent, if indeed Heaven will take a heart that earth has crushed!"

She sighed.

"It is the world-crushed, bleeding heart that is the sweetest offering to all-healing, all-merciful Heaven," said Sister Josephine, tenderly lifting the hand of Salome and pressing it to her bosom.

Again a solemn silence fell upon the little party.

Salome was the first to break it.

"It seems to me we have come a very long way, since we left the last station. Are we near ours?" she inquired, in a voice sinking with fatigue.

"We will be at our station in a very few minutes. A comfortable close carriage will meet us there to convey us to St. Rosalie," said Sister Josephine, soothingly.

Salome sank wearily back in her corner seat. The short-lived energy that enabled her to talk was dying out. Her hands and feet were cold as ice. Her head was hot as fire. Her frame was faint almost to swooning.

The train sped on. The party in the carriage fell into silence that lasted until the train "slowed," and stopped at a little way station.

"Here we are!" said Sister Josephine, rising to leave the carriage with her companions.

The guard opened the door.

Sister Josephine led the way out, and then took the hand of the half fainting Salome, to help her on.

The two other sisters followed. A close carriage, with an aged coachman on the box, awaited them. The old man did not leave his seat; but Sister Josephine opened the door and helped Salome into the carriage, and placed her comfortably on the cushions in a corner of the back seat, and then sat down beside her.

The two younger sisters followed and placed themselves on the front seat.

The aged coachman, who knew his duty, did not wait for orders, but turned immediately away from the station, and drove off just as the train started again on its way to Paris.

They entered a country road running through a wood-a pleasant ride, if Salome could have enjoyed it-but she leaned back on her cushions, with closed eyes, fever-flushed cheeks, and fainting frame. The sisters, seeing her condition, refrained from disturbing her by any conversation.

They rode on in perfect silence for about a mile, when they came to a high stone wall, which ran along on the left-hand side of their road, while the thick wood continued on their right-hand side. The road here ran between the wood and the wall of the convent grounds.

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