The Children of the Abbey
Oh! let me unlade my breast,
Pour out the fulness of my soul before you,
Show every tender, every grateful thought,
This wond’rous goodness stirs; But ’tis impossible,
And utt’rance all is vile: since I can only
Swear you reign here, but never tell how much.
Sister Mary recovered her with difficulty, but found it impossible to remove her from the cabin till she was once more composed. In about two hours its inhabitants returned, and the car having arrived, which she had ordered to convey Amanda to St. Catharine’s, she was placed upon it is a state scarcely animate, and supported by sister Mary, was conveyed to that peaceful asylum.342
On arriving at it, she was carried immediately into the prioress’ apartment, who received and welcomed her with the most tender affection and sensibility—a tenderness which roused Amanda from the stupefaction into which she appeared sinking and made her weep violently. She felt relieved from doing so, and as some return for the kindness she received, endeavoured to appear benefitted by it; she therefore declined going to bed, but lay down upon a little matted couch in the prioress’ room, the tea-table was close by it; as she refused any other refreshment, she obtained this by a promise of eating something with it; none of the sisterhood, sister Mary excepted, were admitted, and Amanda felt this delicate attention and respect to her sorrows with gratitude.
She arrived on the eve of their patron Saint at the convent, which was always celebrated with solemnity: after tea, therefore, the prioress and sister Mary were compelled to repair to the chapel, but she removed the reluctance they felt to leave her alone by complaining of being drowsy. A pillow being laid under her head by sister Mary, soon after they quitted her, she fell into a profound slumber, in which she continued till by distant music, so soft, so clear, so harmonious, that the delightful sensation it gave her, she could only compare to those which she imagined a distressed and pensive soul would feel, when, springing from the shackles of mortality, it first heard the heavenly sounds that welcomed it to the realms of eternal bliss.
The chapel, from which those celestial sounds proceeded, was at the extremity of the house, so that they sometimes swelled upon her ear, sometimes faintly sunk upon it. The pauses in the organ, which was finely played, were filled up by the sweet, though less powerful strains of the sisterhood, who sung a hymn in honour of their Saint.
No one was here exempt,
No voice but well could join melodious part.
’Tis a foretaste of heaven, thought Amanda. She heard a deep sigh behind her. She turned her head hastily, and perceived a figure standing near, which bore a strong resemblance to Lord Mortimer. She was alarmed—she could not believe it was him. The light which the small heavy-arched window admitted was imperfect, and she rose from the couch to be better assured it was or was not him; a second 343 glance convinced her she might have believed her eyes at first. —Trembling and astonished she sunk upon a seat, exclaiming, “Gracious heaven! what can have brought Lord Mortimer hither?”
He made no reply, but kneeling before her, took her hands in his and pressed them to his forehead and lips, and laid his head upon them.
“Why,” cried Amanda, unutterably affected by the emotions he betrayed, “why, my lord, are you come hither?”
“To try,” he replied in a voice scarcely articulate, “whether Miss Fitzalan will yet consider me as her friend?”
“That, my lord,” said she, “depends upon circumstances; but while your lordship remains in your present position, what they are I cannot explain.”
Lord Mortimer instantly arose, and seated himself by her; “Now tell me,” said he, “what those circumstances are.”
“The first, my lord, is to exculpate my father in the opinion of Lord Cherbury, and by declaring the commencement and progress of our acquaintance, eradicate from his lordship’s mind the injurious suspicions he entertained against him. This, perhaps, you will say is useless, considering those suspicions can no longer wound him; but, my lord, I deem it an incumbent duty on me to remove from his memory the obloquy on my account cast on it.”
“I promise you most solemnly,” said Lord Mortimer; “you shall be obeyed. This is a debt of justice, which I had resolved to pay ere I received your injunction for doing so; it is but lately I heard of the unjust charges made against him; nor do I know what fiend gave rise to them.”
“The same, perhaps,” exclaimed Amanda, “who spread such complicated snares for my destruction, and involved me in every horror but that which proceeds from conscious guilt. Oh! my lord, the second circumstance I allude to is, if you should hear my name treated with scorn and contempt by those few, those very few whom I had reason to esteem, and believed esteemed me, that you will kindly interpose in my justification, and say, I merited not the aspersions cast upon me. Believe me innocent, and you will easily persuade others that I am so. You shake your head, as much as to say you cannot think me so after the proofs you have seen to the contrary. Ah! my lord, the proofs were contrived by malice and treachery 344 to ruin me in the estimation of my friends, and by perfidy to force me into crime, of which I already bear the appearance and stigma. Surely in this solemn hour, which has seen my beloved father consigned to his kindred earth, when with a mind harassed by sorrow and with a body worn out with fatigue, I feel as if standing on the verge of the grave, I should be the most abandoned of wretches, if I could assert my innocence without the consciousness of really possessing it: No, my lord, by such a falsehood I should not only be wicked, but foolish in depriving myself of that happiness hereafter, which will so fully recompense my present miseries.”
“Oh! Amanda,” cried Lord Mortimer, who had been walking backwards and forwards in an agitated manner while she spoke, “you would almost convince me against the evidence of my own senses.”
“Almost,” she repeated; “then I see, my lord, you are determined to disbelieve me, but why, since so prejudiced against me, have you come hither? Was it merely to be assured of my wretchedness? To hear me say that I stand alone in the world, without one being interested about my welfare, that my present asylum is bestowed by charity, and that if my life be prolonged it must be spent in struggling against constitution, sorrow and ill fame to procure a subsistence.”
“No, no,” exclaimed Lord Mortimer, flinging himself at her feet, “never shall you suffer such misery; were you even the being I was tempted to think you some time ago, never would Mortimer suffer the woman his heart doated on to feel such calamity. I do not, I cannot believe you would deceive me. There is an irresistible eloquence in your words, that convinces me you have been the victim of treachery, and I its dupe; I cannot give you a more convincing proof of my confidence in you, than by again renewing my entreaties to have one fame, one fate, one fortune ours.”
The resolution which Amanda had forced to support her through the painful scene she guest would ensue the moment she saw Lord Mortimer now vanished, and she burst into a flood of tears.
She saw his conduct in the most generous, the most exalted light; notwithstanding appearances were so much against her, he was willing to rely solely on her own asseveration of innocence, and to run every risk on her account; that by a union he might shelter her from the distress of her present situation: But while her sensibility was affected by his expressions, her pride was alarmed lest he should 345 impute her ardent desire of vindicating herself to the expectation of having his addresses renewed. In broken accents she endeavoured to remove such an idea if it had risen, and to convince him that all further intimacy between them must now be terminated. Lord Mortimer ascribed the latter part of her speech to the resentment she felt against him for ever entertaining doubts of her worth. She desired him to rise, but he refused until he was forgiven. My forgiveness is yours indeed, my lord, said she, though your suspicions wounded me to the soul; I can scarcely wonder at your entertaining them, when I reflect on the different situations in which I was found, which, if your lordship can spare a little longer time, or deem it worth devoting to such a purpose, as well as I am able I will account for being involved in.—Lord Mortimer declared his ardent desire to hear those particulars, which nothing but a fear of fatiguing or agitating her could have prevented his before expressing. He then seated himself by her, and taking her cold and emaciated hand in his, listened to her little narrative.
She briefly informed him of her father’s residing in Devonshire after the death of her mother, of the manner in which they became acquainted with Colonel Belgrave, of his having ingratiated himself into their friendship, by pretending to be Oscar’s friend, and then, plunging them in distress, when he found they not only resisted but resented his villanous designs.
She related the artful manner in which Lady Greystock had drawn her from her father’s protection, and the cold and insolent reception she met with from the marchioness and her daughter, when introduced by the above mentioned lady; the enmity the marchioness bore her father, the sudden alteration in her behaviour, the invitation to her house, so unexpected and unnecessary, all tending to inspire a belief that she was concerned in contriving Colonel Belgrave’s admittance to the house, and had also given Lord Cherbury reason to suspect the integrity of her father.
Lord Mortimer here interrupted Amanda to mention the conversation which passed between him and Mrs. Jane in the Hall.
She raised her hands and eves to heaven with astonishment at such wickedness, and said, “though she always suspected the girl’s integrity, from a certain sycophant air, she never imagined she could be capable of such baseness.”
Lord Mortimer again interrupted her to mention what Lady Greystock 346 had told him concerning Mrs. Jennings, as also what the housekeeper had said of the note he gave for Amanda.
“Good God!” said Amanda, “when I hear of all the enemies I had, I almost wonder I escaped so well.” She then resumed her narrative, accounted for the dislike Mrs. Jennings had to her, and explained the way in which she was entrapped into Colonel Belgrave’s power, the almost miraculous manner in which she was freed from his house, the friendship she received from Howell, and the situation in which she arrived at Castle Carberry, and found her father. The closing scene she could not describe, for sighs and sobs impeded her utterance. Lord Mortimer gently folded her to his breast; he called his dear, his unfortunate, his lovely girl, more precious than ever to his heart, and declared he never again would quit her until she had given him a right to espouse her quarrels, and secure her from the machinations of her enemies. Her warm tears wet his cheek as she exclaimed, “that could never be.”
“My promise is already past,” cried she, which was given to the living shall not be forfeited to the dead; and this, my lord, by design, is the last time we must ever meet.”
“What promise?” exclaimed Lord Mortimer, “surely no one could be so inhuman as to extort a promise from you to give me up.”
“It was not inhumanity extorted it,” replied Amanda; “but honour, rectitude, and discretion; without forfeiting those, never can I violate it. There is but one event could make me acquiesce in your wishes, that is, having a fortune adequate to yours to bring you, because then Lord Cherbury would ascribe no selfish motive to my conduct; but as such an event is utterly improbable, I might almost say impossible, it is certain we shall never be united. Any further intercourse between us, you must therefore be convinced would injure me. Disturb not, therefore, my lord, my retirement; but ere you depart, allow me to assure you, you have lightened the weight on my heart by crediting what I have said: should I not recover from the illness which now preys upon me, it will cheer my departing spirit to know you think me innocent; and if I live, it will support me through many difficulties, and often, perhaps, after the toils of a busy day, shall comfort myself by reflecting, that those I esteem, if they think of me, it is with their wonted regard.”
Lord Mortimer was affected by the manner in which she spoke, his 347 eyes began to glisten, and he was again declaring he would not suffer her to sacrifice happiness at the shrine of a too scrupulous and romantic generosity, when the door opened and the prioress and sister Mary (who had been detained in the chapel by a long discourse from the priest) entered, bearing lights.
Lord Mortimer started in much confusion, retreated to one of the windows, and drew out his handkerchief to conceal the emotions Amanda had excited. She was unable to speak to the prioress and sister Mary who stared round them, and then at each other, not certain whether they should advance or retreat. Lord Mortimer in a few moments recovered his composure, and advancing to the prioress apologized for his intrusion into her apartment; but said he had the honour of being a friend of Miss Fitzalan’s, and could not resist his wish of inquiring in person after her health, as soon as he arrived in the country.
The prioress, who had once seen a good deal of the polite world, received this address with ease and complaisance. Sister Mary went over to Amanda, and found her weak, trembling, and weeping. She expressed the utmost concern at seeing her in such a situation, and immediately procured her a glass of wine, which she insisted on her taking. The lights now gave Lord Mortimer an opportunity of contemplating the depredations which grief and sickness had made upon her. Her pale and sallow complexion, her heavy and sunken eyes, struck him with horror. He could not conceal his feeling. “Gracious heaven,” cried he, going to the couch, and taking her , “I fear you are very ill.”
She looked mournfully in his face without speaking: but this look was sufficient to assure him he was not mistaken. The efforts she had made to converse with him, and the yet greater efforts she had made to banish him forever from her, quite exhausted her; after the various miseries she had gone through, how soothing to her soul would have been the attentions of Lord Mortimer, how pleasing, how delightful the she would have found in his arms! But no temptation, no distress, she resolved, should ever make her disobey the injunction of her adored father.
“She is very bad indeed,” said sister Mary, “and we must get her to bed as soon as possible.”
“She requires rest and repose indeed,” said Lord Mortimer; “but 348 tell me, my dear Miss Fitzalan,” taking her hand, “if I have those good ladies’ permission for calling here to-morrow, will you, if able to rise, see me?”
“I cannot indeed,” said Amanda; “I have already declared this must be our last interview, and I shall not retract from what I have said.”
“Then,” exclaimed Lord Mortimer, regardless, or rather forgetful of those who heard him, from the agitation and warmth of his feelings, “I shall in one respect, at least, accuse you of dissimulation, that of feigning a regard for me you never felt.”
“Such an accusation is now of little consequence,” replied Amanda; “perhaps you had better think it just.”
“Cruel, inexorable girl, to refuse seeing me, to wish to have the anxiety which preys upon my heart prolonged.”
“Young man,” said the prioress, in an accent of displeasure, seeing the tears streaming down Amanda’s cheeks, “respect her sorrows.”
“Respect them, madam,” repeated he; “O heaven! I respect, I venerate them: but will you, my dear lady! when Miss Fitzalan is able, prevail on her to communicate the particulars of our acquaintance; and will you then become my advocate, and persuade her to receive my visits?”
“Impossible, sir,” said the prioress; “I shall never attempt to desire a larger share of confidence from Miss Fitzalan than she desires to bestow upon me. From my knowledge of her I am convinced her conduct will be always guided by discretion; she has greatly obliged me by choosing this humble retreat for her residence; she has put herself under my protection, and I shall endeavour to fulfil that sacred trust by securing her from any molestation.”
“Well, madam,” said Lord Mortimer, “I flatter myself Miss Fitzalan will do me justice in declaring my visits proceeded from wishes, which, though she may disappoint, she cannot disapprove. I shall no longer intrude upon your time or hers, but will still hope I shall find you both less inflexible.”
He took up his hat, he approached the door; but when he glanced at Amanda, he could not depart without speaking to her, and again went to the couch. He entreated her to compose and exert herself; he desired her forgiveness for any warmth he had betrayed, and he 349 whispered to her that all his earthly happiness depended on her restoration to health, and her becoming his. He insisted on her now giving him her hand as a pledge of amity between them. She complied: but when presuming on this, he again asked her consent to repeat his visits, he found her inexorable as ever, and retired if not with a displeased, with a disappointed countenance. Sister Mary attended him from the apartment. At the door of the convent he requested her to walk a few paces from it with him, saying he wanted to speak to her. She consented, and remembering he was the person who frightened her one evening amongst the ruins, determined now, if she had an opportunity, to ask what had then brought him hither.
Lord Mortimer knew the poverty of the convent, and feared Amanda might want many things, or its inhabitants be distressed to procure them for her; he therefore pulled out a purse and presenting it to sister Mary, requested she would apply it for Miss Fitzalan’s use, without mentioning any thing about it to her.
Sister Mary shook the purse,—“Oh! Jesu Maria,” exclaimed she, “how heavy it is!”
Lord Mortimer was retiring, when catching hold of him, she cried, “Stay, stay, I have a word or two to say to you: I wonder how much there is in this purse?”
Lord Mortimer smiled. “If not enough for the present said he, “it shall soon be replenished.”
Sister Mary sat down upon a tomb-stone, and very deliberately counted the money into her lap. “Oh! mercy,” said she, “I never saw so many guineas together before in all my life!”
Again Lord Mortimer smiled, and was retiring, but again stopping him, she returned the gold into the purse, and declared she neither would or durst keep it.
Lord Mortimer was provoked at this declaration, and without replying to it walked on. She ran nimbly after him and dropping the purse at his feet, was out of sight in a moment.
When she returned to the prioress’ apartment she related the incident, and took much merit to herself for acting so prudently. The prioress commended her very much, and poor Amanda, with a faint voice, said she had acted quite right.
A little room, inside the prioress’ chamber, was prepared for Amanda, into which she was now conveyed, and the good natured sister Mary brought her own bed, and laid it beside hers.
a profound slumber, in which she continued till awoke by distant music
“My promise is already past,” cried she, “that which was given to the living
second open quote missing
“Gracious heaven,” cried he, going to the couch, and taking her hand,
text has her band,
how delightful the asylum she would have found in his arms!
text has ayslum
“If not enough for the present emergencies,” said he
close quote invisible
She remained a considerable time in a state of insensibility, and, when recovered, she found herself in a bed lain upon the floor, in a corner of the outside room
It will now be necessary to account for the sudden appearance of Lord Mortimer at the convent.