The Children of the Abbey
My heavy heart,
The prophetess of woe, fortells some ill
Lord Cherbury hastened to support and calm her agitation, by assuring her Lord Mortimer was in perfect safety. Recovering a little by this assertion, she asked him how he was assured of this. He answered, because he had seen him, though without being perceived by him, about an hour ago. Amanda, restored to her faculties, by being assured he was uninjured, began to reflect on the suddenness of Lord Cherbury’s visit. She would have flattered herself he came to introduce her to his family himself, had not his looks almost forbid such an idea; they were gloomy and disordered; his eyes were fastened on her, yet he appeared unwilling to speak.
Amanda felt herself in too awkward and embarrassing a situation to break the unpleasant silence. At last Lord Cherbury suddenly exclaimed: “Lord Mortimer does not, nor must not, know of my being here.”
“Must not!” repeated Amanda in inconceivable astonishment.
“Gracious heaven,” said Lord Cherbury, starting from the chair on which he had thrown himself, opposite to her, “how shall I begin, how shall I tell her? Oh! Miss Fitzalan,” he continued, approaching her, “I have much to say, and you have much to hear, which will shock you; I believed I could better in an interview have informed you of particulars, but I find I was mistaken. I will write to you.”
“My lord,” cried Amanda, rising, all pale and trembling, “tell me now; to leave me in suspense, after receiving such dreadful hints, would be cruelty. Oh! surely, if Lord Mortimer be safe; if Lady Martha Dormer, if Lady Araminta is well, I can have nothing so very shocking to hear.”
“Alas!” replied he, mournfully shaking his head, “you are mistaken. Be satisfied, however, that the friends you have mentioned are all well. I have said I would write to you. Can you meet me this evening amongst the ruins!” Amanda gave an assenting bow. “I shall then,” pursued he, “have a letter ready to deliver you. In the mean time, I must inform you, no person in the world knows of my 397 visit here but yourself, and, of all beings, Lord Mortimer is the last I should wish to know it. Remember, then, Miss Fitzalan,” taking her hand, which he grasped with violence, as if to impress his words upon her heart, “remember, that on secrecy every thing most estimable in life, even life itself, perhaps, depends.”
With these dreadful and mysterious words he departed, leaving Amanda a picture of horror and surprise; it was many minutes ere she moved from the attitude in which he left her, and when she did, it was only to walk in a disordered manner about the room, repeating his dreadful words. He was come perhaps to part her and Lord Mortimer; and yet, after consenting to their union, surely Lord Cherbury could not be guilty of such treachery and deceit. Yet, if this were not the case, why conceal his coming to Ireland from Lord Mortimer? Why let it be known only to her? And what could be the secrets of dreadful import he had to communicate?
From these self-interrogations, in which her reason was almost bewildered, the entrance of the prioress drew her.
She started at seeing the pale and distracted looks of Amanda, and asked “if she had heard any bad tidings of Lord Mortimer.”
Amanda sighed heavily at this question, and said, “No.” The secrecy she had been enjoined she durst not violate by mentioning the mysterious visit to her friend. Unable, however, to converse on any other subject, she resolved to retire to her chamber. She placed her illness and agitation to the account of Lord Mortimer, and said a little rest was absolutely necessary for her, and begged, if his lordship came in the course of the evening, he might be told she was too ill to see him.
pressed her to stay for tea. She refused, and, as she retired from the room, desired nothing might be said of the person who had just seen her, to Lord Mortimer; saying with a faint smile, would not make him vain, by letting him know of her anxiety about him.” She retired to her chamber, and endeavoured to control her perturbations, that she might be the better enabled to support what she had so much reason to apprehend. Neither the prioress nor the nuns, in obedience to her injunctions, intruded upon her, and, at the appointed hour, she softly opened the chamber door, and, every price being clear, stole softly from the convent.
She found Lord Cherbury waiting for her amidst the solitary ruins. 398 He had a letter in his hand, which he presented to her the moment she appeared.
“In this letter, Miss Fitzalan,” said he, “I have opened to you my whole heart: I have disburthened it of secrets which have long oppressed it; I have entrusted my honour to your care. From what I have said, that its contents are of a sacred nature, you may believe; should they be considered in any other light by you, the consequences may, nay must be fatal.”—He said this with a sternness that made Amanda shrink. “Meditate well on the contents of that letter, Miss Fitzalan,” continued he, in a voice of deep solemnity, “for it is a letter which will fix your destiny and mine; even should the request contained in it be refused, let me be the first acquainted with the refusal; then, indeed, I shall urge you no more to secrecy, for what will follow, in consequence of such a refusal, must divulge all.”
“Oh! tell me, tell me,” said Amanda, catching hold of his arm, “Tell me what is the request, or what it is I am to fear: Oh! tell me at once, and rid me of the torturing suspense I endure.”
“I cannot,” he cried, “indeed I cannot. To-morrow night I shall expect your answer here at the same hour.”
At this moment Lord Mortimer’s voice calling upon Amanda was heard. Lord Cherbury dropped her hand which he had taken and instantly retired amongst the windings of the pile, from whence Lord Mortimer soon appeared, giving Amanda only time to hide the fatal letter.
“Good heaven!” exclaimed he, “what could have brought you hither, and who was the person who just departed from you?” It was well for Amanda that the twilight gave but an imperfect view of her face; she felt her colour come and go; a cold dew overspread her forehead; she leaned against a rude fragment of the building, and faintly exclaimed, “the person—”
“Yes,” said Lord Mortimer, “I am sure I heard retreating footsteps.”
“You are mistaken,” repeated Amanda in the same faint accent.
“Well,” said he, “though you may dispute the evidence of my ears, you cannot the evidence of my eyes; I see you here, and am astonished at it.”
“I came here for air,” said Amanda.
“For air,” repeated Lord Mortimer, “I own, I should have thought 399 the garden better adapted for such a purpose; but why come hither in a clandestine manner? Why, if you have fears you would persuade me you have, expose yourself to danger from the wretch who haunts the place, by coming here When I went to the convent, I was told you were indisposed, and could not be disturbed: I could not depart, however, without making an effort to see you; but you can easier imagine than I describe the consternation I felt when you could not be found. It was wrong; indeed, Amanda, it was wrong to come here alone, and affect concealment.”
“Gracious heaven!” said Amanda, raising her hands and eyes, and bursting into tears, “how wretched am I!”
was, indeed, at this moment superlatively wretched. Her heart was oppressed by the dread of evil, and she perceived suspicions in Lord Mortimer which she could not attempt to remove, lest an intimation of the secret she was so awfully enjoined to keep should escape.
“Ah! Amanda,” said Lord Mortimer, losing in a moment the asperity with which he had addressed her at first; “ah! Amanda, like the rest of your sex, you know too well the power of your tears not to use them. Forget, or at least forgive, all I have said. I was disappointed in not seeing you the moment I expected, and that put me out of temper. I know I am too impetuous, but you will in time subdue every unruly passion; I put myself into your hands, and you shall make me what you please.”
He now pressed her to his bosom, and finding her trembling universally, again implored her forgiveness, as he imputed the agitation she betrayed entirely to the uneasiness he had given her. She assured him, with a faltering voice, he had not offended her. Her spirits were affected, she said, by all she had suffered during the day; Lord Mortimer placing, as she wished, those sufferings to his own account, declared her anxiety at once pained and pleased him, adding he would truly confess what detained him from her during the day, as soon as they returned to the convent.
Their return to it relieved the sisterhood, who had also been seeking Amanda, from many apprehensions. The prioress and sister Mary followed them into the parlour, where Lord Mortimer begged they would have compassion on him, and give him something for his supper, as he had scarcely eaten anything for the whole day.400
Sister Mary instantly replied, “He would be gratified, and, as Amanda was in the same predicament, she hoped he would now be able to prevail on her to eat.” The cloth was accordingly laid, and a few trifles placed upon it. Sister Mary would gladly have staid, but the prioress had understanding enough to think the supper would be more palatable if they were absent, and accordingly retired.
Lord Mortimer now, with the most soothing tenderness, tried to cheer his fair companion, and make her take some refreshment; but his efforts for either of these purposes were unsuccessful, and she besought him not to think her obstinate, if she could not in a moment recover her spirits. To divert his attention a little from herself, she asked him to perform his promise by relating what kept him the whole day from St. Catharine’s.
He now acknowledged he had been in search of Belgrave; but the precautions he had taken to conceal himself baffled all inquiries; “which convinces me,” continued Lord Mortimer—“if I wanted conviction about such a matter, that he has not yet dropped his villainous designs upon you. But the wretch cannot always escape the vengeance he merits.”
“May he never,” cried Amanda, fervently, yet involuntarily, “meet it from your hands!”
“We will drop that part of the subject,” said Lord Mortimer, “if you please. You must know,” continued he, “after scouring the whole neighbourhood, I fell in, about four miles hence, with a gentleman, who had visited at the Marquis of Rosline’s last summer. He immediately asked me to accompany him home to dinner. From his residence in the country, I thought it probable he might be able to give some account of Belgrave, and therefore accepted the invitation; but my inquiries were as fruitless here as elsewhere. When I found it so, I was on thorns to depart, particularly as all the gentlemen were set in for drinking, and I feared I might be thrown into an improper situation to visit my Amanda. I was on the watch, however; and, to use their sportive term, literally stole away.”
“Thank Heaven!” said Amanda, “your inquiries proved fruitless. Oh! never, never repeat them; think no more about a wretch so despicable.”
“Well,” cried Lord Mortimer, “why don’t you hurry me from the neighbourhood? Fix the day, the moment for our departure: I have 401 been here already five days; Lady Martha’s patience is, I dare say, quite exhausted by this time, and, should we delay much longer, I suppose she will think we have both become converts to the holy rites of this convent, and that I, instead of taking the vows which should make me a joyful bridegroom, am about taking those which shall doom me to celibacy; seriously, what but want of inclination can longer detain you?”
“Ah!” said Amanda, “you know too well that my departure cannot be retarded by want of inclination.”
“Then why not decide immediately upon the day?” Amanda was silent; her situation was agonizing; how could she fix upon a day, uncertain whether she did not possess a letter which would prevent her ever taking the projected journey?
“Well,” said Lord Mortimer, after allowing her some time to speak, “I see I must fix the day myself: this is Tuesday—let it be Thursday.”
“Let us drop the subject this night, my lord,” said Amanda; “I am really ill, and only wait for your departure to retire to rest.”
Lord Mortimer obeyed her, but with reluctance, and soon after retired.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XL
They then pressed her to stay for tea.
text unchanged: 1800 edition has “The Prioress pressed her”
saying with a faint smile, “she would not make him vain
text has ‘she
danger from the wretch who haunts the place, by coming here alone.
She was, indeed, at this moment superlatively wretched.
text has “She
Joy is as great an enemy to repose as anxiety. Amanda passed an almost sleepless night, but her thoughts were too agreeably employed to allow her to suffer for want of rest
Amanda went to her chamber the moment Lord Mortimer departed