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The Children of the Abbey

CHAPTER XLVI.

What beck’ning ghost along the moonlight shade

Invites my steps?

Pope.

The next evening Amanda’s patience was put to the test; for after tea, Mrs. Duncan proposed a walk, which seemed to cut off her hopes of visiting the chapel that evening; but after strolling some time about the valley, complaisance for her aunt made Mrs. Duncan return to the parlour, where she was expected to take her usual hand at piquet. The hour was late, and the sky so gloomy, that the moon, though at its full, could scarcely penetrate the darkness; notwith­standing 454 all this, Amanda resolved on going to the chapel, consi­dering this as, in all proba­bility, the only opportunity she would have of visiting the apart­ments her mother had occupied (which she had an inexpressible desire to enter,) as in two days she was to accompany Mrs. Duncan to lodgings in the neighbouring town: she accordingly said she had a mind to walk a little longer. Mrs. Bruce bid her beware of catching cold, and Mrs. Duncan said she was too fond of solitary rambles; but no opposition being made to her intention, she hurried to the chapel, and entering the little arched door, found herself in a lofty hall, in the centre of which was a grand staircase, the whole enlightened by a large Gothic window at the head of the stairs.—She ascended them with a trepidation, for her footsteps produced a hollow echo which added something awful to the gloom that enveloped her. On gaining the top of the stairs, she saw two large folding doors on either side, both closed. She knew the direction to take, and by a small exertion of strength, pulled the one on the left side open, and perceived a long gallery, which she knew was terminated by the apart­ments she wanted to visit. Its almost total darkness, however, nearly conquered her wish, and shook her resolution of proceeding, but alarmed, even to herself, to give way to super­stitious fears, or turn back without gratifying her inclination after going so far, she advanced into the gallery, though with a trembling step, and as she let the door out of her hand, it shut to, with a violence that shook the whole building. The gallery on one side had a row of arched doors, and on the other an equal number of windows; but so small, and placed so high, as scarcely to admit a ray of light.—Amanda’s heart began to beat with unusual quickness, and she thought she could never reach the end of the gallery. She at last came to a door; it was closed, not fastened; she pushed it gently open, and could just discern a spacious room: this she supposed had been her mother’s dressing-room; the moon-beams, as if to aid her wish of examining it, suddenly darted through the casements. Cheered by the unexpected light, she advanced into the room; at the upper end of it something in white attracted her notice: she concluded it to be the portrait of Lady Malvina’s mother, which she had been informed hung in this room. She went up to examine it: but her horror may be better conceived than described, when she found herself not by a 455 picture, but by the real form of a woman, with a death-like countenance! She screamed wildly at the terrifying spectre (for such she believed it to be,) and as quick as lightning flew from the room. Again was the moon obscured by a cloud, and she involved in utter darkness. She ran with such violence, that as she reached the door at the end of the gallery, she fell against it. Extremely hurt, she had not power to move for a few minutes, but while she involuntarily paused, she heard approaching footsteps. Wild with terror, she instantly recovered her faculties, and attempted opening it, but it resisted all her efforts.—“Protect me, Heaven!” she exclaimed, and at the moment felt an icy hand upon hers! Her senses instantly receded, and she sunk to the floor. When she recovered from her insensi­bility, she perceived a glimmering light around her. She opened her eyes with fearfulness, but no object appeared, and to her great joy she saw the door standing open, and found that the light proceeded from a large window. She instantly rose and descended the staircase with as much haste as her trembling limbs could make, but again, what was her horror when, on entering the chapel, the first object she beheld was the same that had already alarmed her so much! She made a spring to escape through the entrance, but the apparition, with a rapidity equal to her own, glided before her, and with a hollow voice, as she waved her emaciated hand, exclaimed, “Forbear to go.”

A deadly faintness again came over Amanda; she sunk upon a broken seat, and put her hand over her eyes to shut out the frightful vision.

“Lose,” continued the figure in a hollow voice, “lose your super­stitious fears, and in me behold not an airy inhabitant of the other world, but a sinful, sorrowing, and repentant woman.”

The terrors of Amanda gave way to this unexpected address; but her surprise was equal to what these terrors had been; she withdrew her hand, and gazed attentively on the form before her.

“If my eye, if my ear deceives me not,” it continued, “you are a descendant of the Dunreath family. I heard you last night, when you imagined no being near, call yourself the unfortunate orphan of Lady Malvina Fitzalan.”

“I am indeed her child,” replied Amanda.

“Tell me then, by what means you have been brought hither; you called yourself a stranger, and a dependant in the house of your ancestors.”

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“I am both,” said Amanda: “my real name is concealed from circum­stances peculiarly distressing, and I have been brought to the Abbey an instructress to two children related to the person who takes care of it.”

“My prayers at length,” exclaimed the ghastly figure, raising her hollow eyes and emaciated hands, “my prayers have reached the throne of mercy, and as a proof that my repentance is accepted, power is given me to make reparation for the injuries I have committed.

“Oh! thou,” she cried, turning to Amanda, “whose form revives in my remembrance the youth and beauty blasted by my means, if thy mind, as well as face, resembles Lady Malvina’s, thou wilt, in pity to my sufferings, forbear to reproach my crimes. In me,” she continued, “you behold the guilty, but contrite, widow of the Earl of Dunreath.”

Amanda started. “Oh, gracious Heaven!” she exclaimed, “can this be possible?”

“Have you not been taught to execrate my name?” asked the unhappy woman.

“Oh! no,” replied Amanda.

“No,” replied Lady Dunreath, “because your mother was an angel. But did she not leave a son?”

“Yes,” said Amanda.

“And does he live?”

“Alas! I do not know,” replied Amanda, melting into tears; “distress separated us, and he is not more ignorant of my destiny than I am of his.”

“It is I,” exclaimed Lady Dunreath, “have been the cause of this distress; it is I, sweet and sainted Malvina, have been the cause of calamity to your children; but blessed be the wonder-working hand of Providence,” she continued, “which has given me an opportunity of making some amends for my cruelty and injustice: but,” she proceeded, “as I know the chance which led you to the chapel, I dread to detain you longer, lest it should lead to a discovery. Was it known that you saw me, all my intentions would be defeated. Be secret, then, I conjure you, more on your own account than on my own, and let not Mrs. Bruce have the smallest intimation of what has passed: but return to-morrow night, and you shall receive from me a sacred deposit, which will, if affluence can do it, render you 457 completely happy. In the mean time do you throw upon paper a brief account of your life, that I may know the incidents which so provi­dentially brought you to the Abbey.” Amanda promised to obey her in every respect, and the unfortunate woman, unable longer to speak, kissed her hand, and retired through the little arched door. Amanda left the chapel, and full of wonder, pity, and expectation, moved mechanically to the parlour. Mrs. Bruce and Mrs. Duncan had just risen from cards, and both were instantly struck with her pallid and disordered looks. They inquired if she was ill: their inquiries roused her from a deep reverie. She recollected the danger of exciting suspicions, and replied, “she was only fatigued with walking, and begged leave to retire to her chamber.” Mrs. Duncan attended her to it, and would have sat with her till she saw her in bed, had Amanda allowed; but it was not her intention, indeed, to go to bed, for some time. When left to herself, the surprising and inter­esting discovery she had made had so agitated her, that she could scarcely compose herself enough to take up a pen to narrate the parti­culars of her life, as Lady Dunreath had requested. She sketched them in a brief yet hasty manner, sufficiently strong, however, to interest the feelings of a sympathetic heart: the tender and peculiar sorrows of her own she omitted; her life was repre­sented sufficiently calamitous, without mentioning the incurable sorrow which disap­pointed love had entailed upon it. She was glad she had executed her task with haste, as Mrs. Duncan called upon her in the course of the next day to assist in packing for their removal to the neighbouring town. The evening was far advanced ere she had an opportunity of repairing to the chapel, where she found the unfortunate Lady Dunreath resting, in an attitude of deep despondence, against the rails of the altar.

Her pale and wo-worn countenance; her emaciated form; her solitary situation, all inspired Amanda with the tenderest compassion, and she dropped a tear upon the cold and withered hand which was extended to hers as she approached. “I merit not the tear of pity,” said the unhappy woman; “yet it casts a gleam of comfort on my heart to meet with a being who feels for its sorrows; but the moments are precious.” She then led Amanda to the altar, and stooping down, desired her assistance in removing a small marble flag beneath 458 it. This being effected with difficulty, Amanda perceived an iron box, which she also assisted in raising. Lady Dunreath then took a key from her bosom, with which she opened it, and took from thence a sealed paper. “Receive,” said she, presenting it to Amanda, “receive the will of your grandfather, a sacred deposit, entrusted to your care for your brother, the rightful heir of the Earl of Dunreath. Oh, may its restoration, and my sincere repentance, atone for its long detention and concealment: oh! may the fortune it will bestow upon you, as well as your brother, be productive to both of the purest happiness!”

Trembling with joyful surprise, Amanda received the paper. “Gracious Heaven!” exclaimed she, “is it possible? Do I really hold the will of my grandfather—a will which will entitle my brother to affluence? Oh! Providence, how mysterious are thy ways! Oh! Oscar, beloved of my heart,” she continued, forgetting at that moment every consi­deration of self, “could thy sister have possibly foreseen her sorrows would have led to such a discovery, half their bitterness would have been allayed. Yes, my father, one of thy children may at least be happy, and, in witnessing that happiness, the other will find a mitigation of misery.” Tears burst from her as she spoke, and relieved the strong emotions that swelled her heart almost to bursting.

“Oh! talk not of your misery,” said Lady Dunreath, with a convulsive sigh, “lest you drive me to despair. For ever I must accuse myself of being the real source of calamity to Lady Malvina and her children.”

“Excuse me,” cried Amanda, wiping her eyes; “I should be ungrateful to Heaven and to you if I dwelt upon my sorrows; but let me not neglect this opportunity,” she continued, “of inquiring if there is any way in which I can possibly serve you. Is there no friend to whom I could apply in your name, to have you released from this cruel and unjustifiable confinement?”

“No,” said Lady Dunreath, “no such friend exists; when I had the power to do so, I never conciliated friendship, and if I am still remembered in the world, it is only with contempt and abhorrence. The laws of my country would certainly liberate me at once; but if things turn out as I expect, there will be no occasion for an appli­cation 459 to them, and any step of that kind at present, might be attended with the most unpleasant consequences. Your future prosperity, my present safety, all depend on a secrecy for a short period. In this paper,” drawing one from her pocket and presenting it to Amanda, “I have explained my reason for desiring such secrecy.” Amanda put it with the will into her bosom, and gave in return the little narrative she had sketched. They both assisted in replacing the box and flag, and then seated themselves on the steps of the altar. Amanda informed Lady Dunreath of her intended departure the next day from the Abbey, and the occasion of it. Lady Dunreath expressed the utmost impatience to have everything put in a proper train for the avowal of the will, declaring that the sight of the rightful heir in possession of the Abbey, would calm the agitation of a spirit which she believed would soon forsake its earthly habitation.—Tears of compassion fell from Amanda at these words, and she shuddered to think that the unfortunate woman might die abandoned, and bereft of comfort; again she urged her to think of some expedient for procuring immediate liberty, and again Lady Dunreath assured her it was impossible.

Absorbed in a kind of sympathetic melancholy, they forgot the danger of delay, till the Abbey clock chiming half an hour past ten, which was later than Mrs. Bruce’s usual hour of supper, startled and alarmed them both. “Go, go,” cried Lady Dunreath, with wild expression of fear, “go, or we are undone!” Amanda pressed her hand in silence, and trembling departed from the chapel. She stopped at the outside to listen, for by her ear alone could she now receive any intimation of danger, as the night was too dark to permit any object to be discerned; but the breeze sighing amongst the trees of the valley, and the melancholy murmur of the water falls were the only sounds she heard. She groped along the wall of the chapel to keep in the path, which wound from it to the entrance of the Abbey, and doing so, passed her hand over the cold face of a human being; terrified, an involuntary scream burst from her, and she faintly articulated, “Defend me, Heaven!” In the next moment she was seized round the waist, her senses were receding, when Mrs. Duncan’s voice recalled them. She apologized to Amanda for giving her such a fright: but said, that her uneasiness was so great at her long absence that, attended by a servant, she had come in quest of her.

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Mrs. Duncan’s voice relieved Amanda from the horror of thinking she had met with a person who would insult her; but it had given rise to a new alarm. She feared she had been traced to the chapel, that her discourse with Lady Dunreath had been overheard, and of course the secret of the will discovered, and that Mrs. Duncan, amiable as she was, might sacrifice friendship to interest and consanguinity. This idea overwhelmed her with anguish; her deep and heavy sighs, her violent trembling, alarmed Mrs. Duncan, who hastily called the servant to assist her in supporting Amanda home; drops were then administered, but they would have wanted their usual efficacy with the poor night-wanderer, had she not been convinced by Mrs. Duncan’s manner she had not made the dreaded discovery.

Amanda would have retired to her chamber before supper, but that she feared distressing Mrs. Duncan by doing so, who would have imputed her indisposition to her fright. She accordingly remained in the parlour, and with a mind so occupied with the inter­esting events of the evening, that she soon forgot the purpose for which she sat down to table, and neither heeded what she was doing or saying. From this reverie she was suddenly roused by the sound of a name forever dear and precious, which in a moment had power to recall her wandering ideas. She raised her eyes, and with a sad intenseness fixed them on Mrs. Bruce, who continued to talk of the approaching nuptials of Lord Mortimer. Tears now fell from Amanda in spite of her efforts to restrain them, and while drooping her head to wipe them away, she caught the eye of Mrs. Duncan fastened on her with an expression of pity and curiosity. A deep crimson suffused the face of Amanda at the consciousness of having betrayed the secret of her heart; but her confusion was inferior to her grief, and the rich suffusion of one, soon gave place to the deadly hue of the other. “Ah!” thought she, “what is now the acquisition of wealth, when happiness is beyond my reach?” Yet scarcely had she conceived the thought ere she wished it buried in oblivion. “Is the comfort of indepen­dence, the power of dispensing happiness to others, nothing?” she asked herself. “Do they not merit gratitude of the most pure thankfulness, of the most fervent nature, to Providence? They do,” she cried, and paid them at the moment in the silent tribute of her heart.

It was late ere the ladies separated for the night, and as soon as 461 Amanda had secured the door of her chamber, she drew from her bosom the papers so carefully deposited in them, and sat down to peruse the narrative of Lady Dunreath.

Errata: Chapter XLVI

while she involuntarily paused
text has involuntary

“Tell me then, by what means
paragraph break supplied from 1810 edition

I have been brought to the Abbey an instructress to two children
text has instructess

“And does he live?”
paragraph break supplied from 1810 edition

begged leave to retire to her chamber.”
close quote missing


Experience convinced Amanda that the change in her situation was, if possible, more pleasing than she expected it would be.


“Adoring the Power who has given me means of making restitution for my injustice, I take up my pen to disclose to your view, oh! lovely orphan of the injured Malvina

Introduction and Contents

 

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.