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   Chapter 20 SALOME'S PROTECTRESS.

The Lost Lady of Lone By Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Sout Characters: 12827

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:02


"We have arrived. Welcome home, my dear child," said Sister Josephine, as the carriage drew up before the strong and solid, iron-bound, oaken gates of the convent.

The aged coachman blew a shrill summons upon a little silver whistle that he carried in his pocket for the purpose.

The gates were thrown wide open and the carriage rolled into an extensive court-yard, enclosed in a high stone wall, and having in its centre the massive building of the convent proper, with its chapel and offices.

A straight, broad, hard, rolled, gravelled carriage-way led from the gates through the court-yard and up to the main entrance of the building. This road was bordered on each side by grass-plots, now sear in the late October frosts, and flower-beds, from which the flowers had been removed to their winter quarters in the conservatories. Groups of shade trees, statues of saints, and fountains of crystal-clear water adorned the grounds at regular intervals. In the rear of the convent building was a thicket of trees reaching quite down to the back wall.

The carriage rolled along the gravelled road, crossing the court-yard, and drew up before the door of the convent.

Sister Josephine got out and helped Salome to alight.

The sun was just rising in cloudless glory.

"See, my child," said Sister Josephine, cheerily pointing to the eastern horizon; "see, a happy omen; the sun himself arises and smiles on your re-entrance into St. Rosalie."

Salome smiled faintly, and leaned heavily upon the arm of her companion as they went slowly up the steps, passed through the front doors, and found themselves in a little square entrance hall, surrounded on three sides by a bronze grating, and having immediately before them a grated door, with a little wicket near the centre.

Behind this wicket sat the portress, a venerable nun, whom age and obesity had consigned to this sedentary occupation.

"Benedicite, good Mother Veronique! How are all within the house?" inquired Sister Josephine, going up to the wicket.

"The saints be praised, all are well! They are just going in to matins. You come in good time, my sisters! But who is she whom you bring with you?" inquired the old nun, nodding toward Salome, even while she detached a great key from her girdle, and unlocked the door, to admit the party.

"Why, then, Mother Veronique, don't you see? An old, well-beloved pupil come back to see our holy mother? Don't you recognize her? Have you already forgotten Mademoiselle Laiveesong, who left us only three years ago?" inquired Sister Josephine, as she led Salome into the portress' parlor, followed by the two younger sisters, Francoise and Felecitie.

"Ah! ah! so it is! Mademoiselle Salome come back to us!" joyfully exclaimed the old nun, seizing and fondling the hands of the visitor, and gazing wistfully into her flushed and feverish face. "Yes, yes, I remember you! Mademoiselle Laiveesong! Mademoiselle, the rich banker's heiress! I am very happy to see you, my dear child! And our holy mother will be filled with joy! She has gone to matins now, but will soon return to give you her blessing. Ah! ah! Mademoiselle Salome! Mais Helas! How ill she looks! Her hands are ice! Her head is fire! Her limbs are withes! She is about to faint!" added Mother Veronique, aside to Sister Josephine.

"She is just off a long and fatiguing journey. She is tired and hungry, and needs rest and refreshment. That is all," answered the sister, drawing the arm of the fainting girl through her own, and supporting her as she led her from the portress' parlor.

"Ah! ah! is this so? The dear child! Take her in and rest and feed her, my sisters! And when matins are over, bring her to our venerable mother, whose soul will be filled with rapture to see her," twaddled the old nun, until the party passed in from her sight.

Sister Josephine led Salome to her own cell, and made her loosen her clothes and lie down on the cot-bed, while Sister Francoise and Sister Felecitie went to the refectory and brought her a plate of biscuit and a glass of wine and water.

Wine was not the proper drink for Salome, in her flushed and feverish condition. But she was both faint and thirsty, and the wine, mixed with water, seemed cool and refreshing, and she quaffed it eagerly.

But she refused the biscuits, declaring that she could not swallow. And so she thanked her kind friends for their attention, and sank back on her pillow and closed her eyes, as if she would go to sleep.

The sisters promised to bring the mother abbess to her bedside as soon as the matins should be over. And so they left her to repose, and went silently away to the chapel to take their accustomed places, and join, even at the "eleventh hour," in the morning worship.

But did Salome sleep?

Ah! no. She lay upon that cot-bed with her hands covering her eyes, as if to shut out all the earth. She might shut out all the visible creation, but she could not exclude the haunting images that filled her mind. She could not banish the forms and faces that floated before her inner vision-the most venerable face of her dear, lost father, the noble face of her once beloved-ah! still too well beloved Arondelle!

The music of the matin hymns softened by distance, floated into her room, but failed to soothe her to repose.

At length the sweet sounds ceased.

And then-

The abbess entered the cell so softly that Salome, lying with closed eyes on the cot, remained unconscious of the presence standing beside her, looking down upon her form.

The abbess was a tall, fair, blue-eyed woman, upon whose serene brow the seal of eternal peace seemed set. She was about fifty years of age, but her clear eyes and smooth skin showed how tranquilly these years had passed. She was clothed in the well-known garb of her order-in a black dress, with long, hanging sleeves, and a long, black vail. Her face was framed in with the usual white linen bands, her robe confined at the waist by a girdle, from which hung her rosary of agates; and her silver cross hung from her neck.

The abbess was a lady of the most noble birth, connected with the royal house of Orleans.

In the revolution which had driven Louis Philippe from the throne, her father and her brother had perished. Her mother had passed away long before. She remained in the convent of St. Rosalie, where she was being educated.

And when, ear

ly in the days of the Second Empire, her fortune was restored to her, instead of leaving the cloister, where she had found peace, for the world, where she had found only tribulation, she took the vail and the vows that bound her to the convent forever, and devoted her means to enriching and enlarging the house. The convent had always supported itself by its celebrated academy for young ladies. It had also maintained a free school for poor children. But now the heiress of the noble house of de Crespignie added a Home for Aged Women, an asylum for Orphan Girls and Nursery for Deserted Infants. And all these were placed under the charge of the Sisters of Mercy.

Of the fifty years of this lady's life, forty had been spent in the convent where she had lived as pupil, novice, nun and abbess. Her cloistered life had been passed in active good works, if nurturing infancy, educating orphans, cheering age, and ordering and governing an excellent academy for young ladies, can be called so.

And whatever such a life may have brought to others, it brought to this princess of the banished Orleans family perfect peace.

She stood now looking down with infinite pity on the stricken form and face of her late pupil. She saw that some heavy blow from sorrow had crushed her. And she did not wonder at this.

For to the apprehension of the abbess, the world from which her late pupil had returned was full of tribulation, as the convent was full of peace.

She stood looking down on her a moment, and then murmured, in tones of ineffable tenderness:

"My child!"

"Mother Genevieve! My dear mother!" answered Salome, clasping her hands and looking up.

The abbess drew a chair to the side of the cot, sat down, and took the hand of her pupil, saying:

"You have come back to us, my child. I thought you would. You are most welcome."

"Oh, mother! mother! I am driven back to you for shelter from a storm of trouble!" exclaimed Salome, in great excitement, her cheeks burning, and her eyes blazing with the fires of fever.

"We will receive you with love and cherish you in our hearts-unquestioned-for, my child, you are too ill to give us any explanation now," said the abbess, gently, laying her soft, cool hand upon the burning brow of the girl.

"Oh! mother, mother, let me talk now and unburden my heavy heart! You know not how it will relieve me to do so to you. I could not do so to any other. Let me tell you, dear mother, while I may, before it shall be too late. For I am going to be very ill, mother; and perhaps I may die! Oh Heaven grant I may be permitted to die!" fervently prayed Salome, clasping her hands.

"Hush, hush, my poor, unhappy child. I know not what your sorrow has been, but it cannot possibly justify you in your sinful petition. Life, my child, is the greatest of boons, since it contains within it the possibility of eternal bliss. We should be deeply thankful for simple life, whatever may be its present trials, since it holds the promise of future happiness," said the gentle abbess.

"Oh, mother, my life is wrecked-is hopelessly wrecked!" groaned Salome.

"Nay, nay, only storm-tossed on the treacherous seas of the world. Here is your harbor, my child. Come into port, little, weary one!" said the abbess, with a tender, cheerful smile.

"Oh, mother, your wayward pupil has wandered far, far from your teachings! She has become a heathen-an idolator! Yes, she set up unto herself an idol, and she worshiped it as a god, until at last, it fell!-it fell! and crushed her under its ruins!" said Salome, growing more and more excited and feverish.

"It is well for us, my child, when our earthly idols do fall and crush us, else we might go on to perdition in our fatal idolatry. Yes, my child, it is well that your idol has fallen, even though you lie buried and bleeding under its ruins; for our fraternity, like the good Samaritan of the parable, will raise you up and dress your wounds, and set you on your feet again, and lead you in the right path-the path of peace and safety."

"Mother, mother, will you now hear my story, my confession?" said Salome, earnestly.

"My child, I would rather you would defer it until you are better able to talk."

"Mother, mother, I have the strength of fever on me now; but my mind is growing confused. Let me speak while I may!"

"Speak on, then, my dear child, but don't exhaust yourself."

"Mother, though I have failed, through very shame of broken promises, to write to you lately, yet you must have heard from other sources of my father's tragic death?"

"I heard of it, my child. And I have daily remembered his soul in my prayers."

"And you heard, good mother, of how I forgot all my promises to devote myself to a religious life, and how I betrothed myself to the Marquis of Arondelle, who is now the Duke of Hereward?"

"You yielded to the expressed wishes of your father, my child, as it was natural you should do."

"I yielded to the inordinate and sinful affections of my own heart, and I have been punished for it."

"My poor child!"

"Listen, mother! Yesterday morning, at St. George's church, Hanover Square, in London, I was married by the Bishop of London to the Duke of Hereward. Yesterday afternoon I received secret but unquestionable proof that the duke was an already married man when he met me first, and that his wife was living in London!"

"Holy saints, Mademoiselle! What is this that you are telling me?" exclaimed the astonished abbess. "Surely, surely she is growing delirious with fever," she muttered to herself.

"I am telling you a terrible truth, my mother! Listen, and I will tell you everything, even as I know it myself!" said Salome, earnestly.

The abbess no longer opposed her speaking, although it was evident that her illness was hourly increasing.

And Salome told the terrible story of her sorrows, commencing with the first appointed wedding-day at Castle Lone, and ending with the second wedding-day at Elmhurst House, and her own secret flight from her false bridegroom, just as it is known to our readers.

The deeply shocked abbess heard and believed, and frequently crossed herself during the recital.

As Salome proceeded with what she called her confession, her fever and excitement increased rapidly. Toward the end of her recital her thoughts grew confused and wandered into the ravings of a brain fever.

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