The Children of the Abbey
Remote from man, with God they pass’d their
Prayer all their business, all their pleasure praise.
The following evening they were engaged at a farmer’s; the invitation was given with such humility, yet pressed with such warmth, that they could not avoid accepting it: and accordingly soon after dinner walked to the house, which was about a mile from Castle Carberry. It was a low thatched building; every appendage to it bespoke neatness and comfort: it was situated in a beautiful meadow, enclosed from the road by a hawthorn hedge, and on the opposite side lay an extensive common, on which stood the stupendous and venerable ruins of an abbey called St. Catharine’s; they appeared a melancholy monument of the power of time over strength and grandeur, and, while they attracted the observation of the curious, excited a sigh in the bosom of sensibility.
The farmer’s family consisted of three daughters and two sons, who were now dressed in their best array; they had assembled a number of their neighbours, among whom was a little fat priest, called Father O’Gallaghan, considered the life of every party, and a blind piper; the room was small and crowded with furniture, as well as company; it was only divided from the kitchen by a short passage, and the steam of hot cakes, and the smoke of a turf fire, which issued thence, soon rendered it distressingly warm. Amanda got as near the window as possible, but still could not procure sufficient air, and as every thing for tea was not quite ready, asked one of the Miss O’Flanaghans if she would accompany her to St. Catharine’s. She answered in the affirmative. The priest, who had been smirking at her ever since her entrance, now shook his fat sides, and said he wished he could get her initiated there, “for it would do my soul good,” cried he, “to confess such a pretty little creature as you are, though, faith, I believe I should find you like Paddy M’Denough, who used come to confession every Easter, though the devil a thing the poor man had to confess about at all, at all; so says I to him, Paddy, my jewel, says I, I believe I must make a saint of you, and lay you on 158 the altar.” “Oh! honey, father,” cried he, “not yet a while, till I get a new suit of clothes on, which I shall by next Michaelmas.” Amanda left them all laughing at the story, and her father engaged in conversation with some farmers, who were desiring his interest with Lord Cherbury, for new leases on moderate terms.
Amanda had about a quarter of a mile to walk across the common: the ground was marshy and uneven, and numerous stumps of trees denoted its having once been a noble forest, of which no memorial but these stumps, and a few tall trees immediately near the abbey, remained, that stretched their venerable arms around it, as if to shade that ruin whose progress they had witnessed, and which Amanda found well worthy of inspection. She was equally astonished at its elegance and extent; with sacred awe traversed spacious cloisters, the former walks of holy meditation; she pursued her way through winding passages, where vestiges of cells were yet discernible, over whose mouldering arches the grass waved in rank luxuriance, and the creeping ivy spread its gloomy foliage, and viewed with reverence the graves of those who had once inhabited them. They surrounded that of the founder’s, which was distinguished by a cross, and Miss O’Flanaghan related the traditions that were current concerning him. He was a holy monk, who had the care of a pious lady’s conscience; she, on her death-bed, had a remarkable dream, or vision, in which she thought an angel appeared, and charged her to bequeath her wealth to her confessor, who would, no doubt, make a much better use of it than those she designed it for; she obeyed the sacred injunction, and the good man immediately laid the foundation of this abbey, which he called after his benefactress, and to which he and the community he belonged to removed. The chapel was roofless, but still contained many relics of superstitious piety, which had escaped, in a tolerable degree, both time and weather: saints and martyrs were curiously cut, over the places where the altars and cisterns for holy water had once stood, to which Amanda passed through a long succession of elegant arches, among which were a number of tombstones, with curious devices, and unintelligible inscriptions; half hid in grass and weeds, on a flag which she perceived must have been lately placed there, she saw some faded flowers strewn, and looking at her companion, saw a tear dropping from her on them. She gently asked the cause of it, and 159 heard a favourite brother was interred there. The girl moved from the spot, but Amanda, detained by an irrepressible emotion, staid a minute longer to contemplate the awful scene; all was silent, sad, and solitary, the grass-grown aisles looked long untrodden by human foot, the green and mouldering walls appeared ready to crumble into atoms, and the wind, which howled through their crevices, sounded to the ear of fancy, as sighs of sorrow for the desolations of the place: full of moralizing melancholy, the young, the lovely Amanda, hung over the grave of her companion’s youthful brother, and taking up the withered flower, wet by the tears of sisterly affection, dropped another on it, and cried, “Oh! how fit an emblem is this of life, how illustrative of these words: “Man comes forth as the flower of the field, and is soon cut down.”
Miss O’Flanaghan now led her through some more windings, when suddenly emerging from them she found herself, to her great surprise, in a large garden, entirely encompassed by the ruins, and in the centre of it stood a large low building, which her companion informed her was a convent; a folding door at the side opened into the chapel, which they entered and found a nun praying.
Amanda drew back, fearful of disturbing her; but Miss O’Flanaghan accosted her without ceremony, and the nun returned the salutation, with the most cordial good humour. She was fifty, as Amanda afterwards heard, for she never could, from her appearance, have conceived her to be so much: her skin was fair, and perfectly free from wrinkle, the bloom and down upon her cheeks as bright and soft as that upon a peach: though her accent at once proclaimed her country, it was not unharmonious, and the cheerful obligingness of her manner amply compensated the want of elegance; she wore the religious habit of the house, which was a loose flannel dress, bound round her waist by a girdle, from which hung her beads and a cross; a veil of the same stuff descended to the ground, and a mob cap and forehead cloth quite concealed her hair.* Miss O’Flanaghan presented Amanda to her, as a stranger who wished to see every thing curious in the chapel. “Ah! my honey,” cried she, “I am sorry she has come at a time when she’ll see us all in the dismals, for you know we are in mourning for our prioress (the altar was hung with black;) 160 but, my dear, (turning to Amanda,) do you mean to come here next Sunday, for if you do, you will find us all bright again.” Upon Amanda’s answering in the negative, she continued: “Faith, and I am sorry for that, for I have taken a great fancy to you, and when I like a person, I always wish them as great a chance of happiness as I have myself.” Amanda smiling, said she believed none could desire a greater; and the nun obligingly proceeded to show her all the relics and finery of the chapels; among the former was a head belonging to one of the eleven thousand virgin martyrs, and the latter, a chest full of rich silks, which pious ladies had given for the purpose of dressing the altar; pulling a drawer from under it, she displayed a quantity of artificial flowers, which she said were made by the sisters and their scholars. Amanda wished to make a recompense for the trouble she had given, and finding they were to be sold, purchased a number, and having given some to Miss O’Flanaghan, whom she observed viewing them with a wishful eye, she left the rest with the nun, promising to call for them the ensuing day. “Ay, do,” said she, “and you may be sure of a sincere welcome; you will see a set of happy poor creatures, and none happier than myself. I entered the convent at ten, I took vows at fifteen, and from that time to the present, which is a long stretch, I have passed a contented life, thanks be to our blessed lady,” raising her sparkling eyes to heaven. They ascended a few steps to a place where the community sat; it was divided from the body of the chapel by a slight railing; here stood the organ; the nun sighed as she looked at it: “Poor sister Agatha,” cried she, “we shall never get such another organist; she was always fit indeed for the heavenly choir. Oh! my dear,” turning to Amanda, “had you known her you would have loved her; she was our late prioress; and elected to that office at twenty-nine, which is reckoned an early age for it, on account of the cleverness it requires; she had held it but two years when she died, and we were never so comfortable as during her time, she managed so well; the mourning in the chapel, as I have already told you, will be over for her next Sunday, but that which is in our hearts will not be so speedily removed.” Miss O’Flanaghan now reminded Amanda it was time to return, to which with secret reluctance she consented; the nun pressed her to stay to tea, but on hearing of her engagement only reminded her of the promised visit. In their walk back her companion informed Amanda 161 that the society consisted of twelve nuns; their little fortunes, though sunk in one common fund, were insufficient to supply their necessities, which compelled them to keep a day school, in which the neighbouring children were instructed in reading, writing, plain work, embroidery, and artificial flowers; she also added that the nuns were allowed to go out, but few availed themselves of that liberty, and that, except in fasting, they were strangers to the austerities practiced in foreign convents.
* The abbey and the nun, which the author has endeavoured to describe, were such as she really saw, but in a different part of Ireland from that which she has mentioned.
For such a society Amanda thought nothing could be better adapted than the present situation sheltered by the ruins, like the living entombed among the dead, their wishes, like their views, were bounded by the mouldering walls, as no object appeared beyond them which could tempt their wandering from their usual limits; the dreary common which met the view, could not be more bleak and inhospitable than the world in general would have proved to the children of poverty and nature.
Father O’Gallaghan met the ladies, at the door, and, familiarly taking Amanda’s hand, said, “Why you have staid long enough to be made a nun of; here (said he), the cakes are buttered, the tea made, and we all waiting for you: ah! you little rogue,” smirking in her face, “by the head of St. Patrick, those twinklers of yours were not given for the good of your soul; here you are come to play pell-mell among the hearts of the honest Irish lads; ah! the devil a doubt but you will have mischief enough to answer for by and by, and then I suppose you will be coming to me to confess and absolve you; but remember, my little honey, if you do I must be paid beforehand.” Amanda disengaged her hand, and entered the parlour, where the company, by a display of pocket-handkerchiefs on their laps, seemed prepared to make a downright meal of the good things before them; the Miss O’Flanaghans, from the toils of the tea table, at last grew as red as the ribbon with which they were profusely ornamented; the table at length removed, the chairs arranged, and the benches placed in the passage for the old folks, the signal for a dance was given, by the piper’s playing an Irish jig; the farmer’s eldest son, habited in a new sky-blue coat, his hair combed sleek on his forehead, and his complexion as bright as a full blown poppy, advanced to our heroine, and begged, with much modesty, and many bows, she would do him the favor to stand up with him; she hesitated a little, 162 when Father O’Gallaghan, giving her a tap, or rather slap, on the shoulder, made her start suddenly from her seat; he laughed heartily at this, declaring, he liked to see a girl alive and merry; as he could not join in the dance, he consoled himself with being master of the ceremonies, and insisted on Amanda’s dancing and leading off the priest in his boots; she felt little inclined to comply, but she was one of those who can sacrifice their own inclinations to that of others; being directed in the figure by the priest, she went down the dance, but the floor being an earthen one, by the time she concluded it, she begged they would excuse her sitting the remainder of the evening, she felt so extremely fatigued; she and Fitzalan would gladly have declined staying to supper, but this they found impossible, without either greatly mortifying, or absolutely offending their hospitable entertainers.
The table was covered with a profusion of good country fare, and none seemed to enjoy it more truly than the priest: in the intervals of eating, his jests flew about in every direction: the scope he gave to his vivacity exhilarated the rest, so that, like Falstaff, he was not only witty himself, but a of wit in others. “Pray, father,” said a young man to him, “what do you give in return for all the good cheer you get?” “My blessing, to be sure,” replied he, “what better could I give?” “Ay, so you may think, but that is not the case with us all, I promise you; ’tis so pat, I must tell you a story about that same thing called a priest’s blessing.—A poor man went one day to a priest, who had the name of being very rich, and very charitable; but as all we hear is not gospel, so the poor man doubted a little the truth of the latter report, and resolved on trying him—“Father,” says he, “I have met with great losses: my cabin was burned, my pigs stolen, and my cow fell into a ditch and broke her neck; so I am come to ask your reverence, for the love of heaven, to lend me a crown.”—“A crown,” repeated the angry and astonished priest, “oh! you rogue, where do you think I could get money to lend, except, like yourself, I had pilfered and stolen?”—“Oh! that is neither here nor there,” replied the man, “you know I cleared the score on my conscience with you long ago; so tell me father, if you will lend me half a crown?” “No, nor a shilling;” “Well, a farthing then, anything from such a good man as you.” “No,” said the priest, “not a mite.” Mayn’t I have your blessing then— asked 163 the man. “Oh! that you shall and replied he, smiling. “Why then, father,” returned the other, “I would refuse it if you forced it upon me, for d’ye see, had it been worth one farthing you would have refused it to me.”
“You have put me in mind of a very curious story,” exclaimed another young man, as this one concluded his. “A young knight went into a chapel in Spain one morning, where he observed a monk standing in a supplicating attitude, with a box in his hand: he asked him what this was for, and learned, to collect money for praying the souls of fifty Christians out of purgatory, whom the Moors had murdered: the knight threw a piece of money into the box, and the monk, after repeating a short prayer, exclaimed, “there is one soul redeemed.” The knight threw in a second, and the priest, after the same ceremony, cried, “there is another free.” Thus they both went on, one giving and the other praying, till, by the monk’s account, all the souls were free: “Are you sure of this?” inquired the knight. “Ay,” replied the priest, are all assembled together, at the gate of heaven, which St. Peter gladly opened for them, and they are now joyfully seated in Paradise.” “From whence they cannot be removed, I suppose?” said the knight. “Removed!” repeated the astonished priest, “no the world itself might be easier removed.” “Then if you please, holy father, return me my ducats; they have accomplished the purpose for which they were given, and as I am only a poor cavalier, without chance of being as happily situated, at least for some years, as the souls we have mutually contributed to release, I stand in great need of them.”
Fitzalan was surprised at the freedom with which they treated the priest, but he laughed as merrily as the rest at their stories, for he knew that though they sometimes allowed themselves a little latitude, they neither wished nor attempted to shake off his power.
Fitzalan and Amanda withdrew as early as possible from the party, which if it wanted every other charm, had that of novelty, at least to them. The next morning Amanda repaired to the convent, and inquired for sister Mary, the good-natured nun she had seen the preceding evening; she immediately made her appearance, and was delighted at seeing Amanda; she conducted her to the school-room, where the rest of the nuns and the pupils were assembled, and Amanda was delighted with the content and regularity which 164 appeared in the society, as well as the obliging eagerness they showed to gratify her curiosity; they led her through the house, which contained a number of apartments, every nun having one to herself, furnished with a bed, chair, table, and crucifix, and then to the parlour, where their new prioress sat; she was a woman far advanced in life; had a painter wanted to personify benevolence, he might have chosen her for a model, so soft, so benignant, was her countenance: sorrow as well as time had marked it deeply, but the mild expression of her eyes announced the most perfect resignation to that sorrow: she received Amanda with the truest politeness and most friendly warmth, and Amanda felt impressed with real reverence for her, whilst she acknowledged in her mind there could not be a happier situation for her than her present, she thought it a pity the world had been deprived of a woman who would have proved such an ornament to it. Sister Mary disappeared, but returned in a few minutes with cakes and currant wine, which she forced Amanda to take; the good sister was enchanted with her young visitor, and having no idea of concealing her feelings, she openly expressed her admiration,—“Dear mother,” said she, addressing the prioress, “is she not a lovely creature? What pretty eyes she has got, and what sweet little hands. Oh! if our blessed lady would but touch her heart and make her become one of us, I should be so happy.” The prioress smiled, she was not so great an enthusiast as sister Mary. “It would be a pity,” said she, “so sweet a flower should be hid among the ruins of St. Catharine’s.”
Amanda made an addition to her flowers, she was thanked by the nuns, and entreated to favour them often with a visit; just as she reached Castle Carberry she saw the Kilcorbans’ carriage stop at it, from which the Lady Greystock and the young ladies alighted; they both spoke at once, and so extremely fast, that Amanda scarcely understood what they said; they declared a thousand impertinent visitors had prevented their coming the preceding morning, and looking at the things she had obligingly promised to show them.—Amanda recollected no such promise, but would not contradict them, and permitted their taking what patterns they liked. Lady Greystock smiled sarcastically at her young kinswoman, and expressed a wish to see the castle. Amanda led her through it: her ladyship was particularly pleased with the dressing-room: here the young ladies, with 165 rude and eager curiosity, examined every thing, but her ladyship, who was full as curious as themselves, could not condemn freedoms she took herself; observing a petticoat in a tambour frame, she admired the pattern, and hearing it was designed by Amanda, extolled her fine taste, and declared she should of all things, like to have one worked in the same; this hint was too plain to pass unnoticed. Amanda wished to oblige particularly any one advanced in life, and told her she would work one for her. Lady Greystock smiled most graciously at this, and pressing her hand, declared she was a charming girl. The Miss Kilcorbans winked slyly, and taking her hand in turn, assured her they had conceived a most ardent friendship for her, and hoped she would often favour them with her company. Amanda answered these insincere professions with cold civility, and the visitors departed.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XVII
Remote from man, with God they pass’d their days,
text has days.
M’Denough, who used to come to confession
text has who used come to
he was not only witty himself, but a promoter of wit in others.
text has prompter
“Oh! that you shall and welcome,” replied he,
text has welcome.”
“they are all assembled together,
open quote missing
The solitude of Castle Carberry was interrupted, in less than a fortnight, by visits and invitations from the neighbouring families.
Solitude to Amanda was a luxury, as it afforded her opportunities of indulging the ideas on which her heart delighted to dwell