> Forse se tu gustassi una sol volta La millesima parte delle gioje, Che gust_n cor amato riamando, Diresti ripentita sospirando, Perduto e tutto il temp_he in amar non si sponde. Tasso.
> Hadst Thou but tasted once the thousandth part Of joys, which bless th_oved and loving heart, Your words repentant and your sighs would prove, Los_s the time which is not past in love.
The monks having attended their Abbot to the door of his Cell, He dismisse_hem with an air of conscious superiority in which Humility's semblanc_ombated with the reality of pride.
He was no sooner alone, than He gave free loose to the indulgence of hi_anity. When He remembered the Enthusiasm which his discourse had excited, hi_eart swelled with rapture, and his imagination presented him with splendi_isions of aggrandizement. He looked round him with exultation, and Pride tol_im loudly that He was superior to the rest of his fellow-Creatures.
'Who,' thought He; 'Who but myself has passed the ordeal of Youth, yet sees n_ingle stain upon his conscience? Who else has subdued the violence of stron_assions and an impetuous temperament, and submitted even from the dawn o_ife to voluntary retirement? I seek for such a Man in vain. I see no one bu_yself possessed of such resolution. Religion cannot boast Ambrosio's equal!
How powerful an effect did my discourse produce upon its Auditors! How the_rowded round me! How they loaded me with benedictions, and pronounced me th_ole uncorrupted Pillar of the Church! What then now is left for me to do?
Nothing, but to watch as carefully over the conduct of my Brothers as I hav_itherto watched over my own. Yet hold! May I not be tempted from those path_hich till now I have pursued without one moment's wandering? Am I not a Man, whose nature is frail, and prone to error? I must now abandon the solitude o_y retreat; The fairest and noblest Dames of Madrid continually presen_hemselves at the Abbey, and will use no other Confessor.
I must accustom my eyes to Objects of temptation, and expose myself to th_eduction of luxury and desire. Should I meet in that world which I a_onstrained to enter some lovely Female, lovely … as you, Madona… .!'
As He said this, He fixed his eyes upon a picture of the Virgin, which wa_uspended opposite to him: This for two years had been the Object of hi_ncreasing wonder and adoration. He paused, and gazed upon it with delight.
'What Beauty in that countenance!' He continued after a silence of som_inutes; 'How graceful is the turn of that head! What sweetness, yet wha_ajesty in her divine eyes! How softly her cheek reclines upon her hand! Ca_he Rose vie with the blush of that cheek? Can the Lily rival the whiteness o_hat hand? Oh! if such a Creature existed, and existed but for me! Were _ermitted to twine round my fingers those golden ringlets, and press with m_ips the treasures of that snowy bosom! Gracious God, should I then resist th_emptation? Should I not barter for a single embrace the reward of m_ufferings for thirty years? Should I not abandon… . Fool that I am! Whithe_o I suffer my admiration of this picture to hurry me? Away, impure ideas! Le_e remember that Woman is for ever lost to me. Never was Mortal formed s_erfect as this picture. But even did such exist, the trial might be to_ighty for a common virtue, but Ambrosio's is proof against temptation.
Temptation, did I say? To me it would be none. What charms me, when ideal an_onsidered as a superior Being, would disgust me, become Woman and tainte_ith all the failings of Mortality. It is not the Woman's beauty that fills m_ith such enthusiasm; It is the Painter's skill that I admire, it is th_ivinity that I adore! Are not the passions dead in my bosom? Have I not free_yself from the frailty of Mankind? Fear not, Ambrosio! Take confidence in th_trength of your virtue. Enter boldly into a world to whose failings you ar_uperior; Reflect that you are now exempted from Humanity's defects, and def_ll the arts of the Spirits of Darkness. They shall know you for what yo_re!'
Here his Reverie was interrupted by three soft knocks at the door of his Cell.
With difficulty did the Abbot awake from his delirium. The knocking wa_epeated.
'Who is there?' said Ambrosio at length.
'It is only Rosario,' replied a gentle voice.
'Enter! Enter, my Son!'
The Door was immediately opened, and Rosario appeared with a small basket i_is hand.
Rosario was a young Novice belonging to the Monastery, who in three Month_ntended to make his profession. A sort of mystery enveloped this Youth whic_endered him at once an object of interest and curiosity. His hatred o_ociety, his profound melancholy, his rigid observation of the duties of hi_rder, and his voluntary seclusion from the world at his age so unusual, attracted the notice of the whole fraternity. He seemed fearful of bein_ecognised, and no one had ever seen his face. His head was continuall_uffled up in his Cowl; Yet such of his features as accident discovered, appeared the most beautiful and noble. Rosario was the only name by which H_as known in the Monastery.
No one knew from whence He came, and when questioned in the subject H_reserved a profound silence. A Stranger, whose rich habit and magnificen_quipage declared him to be of distinguished rank, had engaged the Monks t_eceive a Novice, and had deposited the necessary sums. The next day H_eturned with Rosario, and from that time no more had been heard of him.
The Youth had carefully avoided the company of the Monks: He answered thei_ivilities with sweetness, but reserve, and evidently showed that hi_nclination led him to solitude. To this general rule the Superior was th_nly exception. To him He looked up with a respect approaching idolatry: H_ought his company with the most attentive assiduity, and eagerly seized ever_eans to ingratiate himself in his favour. In the Abbot's society his Hear_eemed to be at ease, and an air of gaiety pervaded his whole manners an_iscourse. Ambrosio on his side did not feel less attracted towards the Youth; With him alone did He lay aside his habitual severity. When He spoke to him, He insensibly assumed a tone milder than was usual to him; and no voic_ounded so sweet to him as did Rosario's. He repayed the Youth's attentions b_nstructing him in various sciences; The Novice received his lessons wit_ocility; Ambrosio was every day more charmed with the vivacity of his Genius, the simplicity of his manners, and the rectitude of his heart: In short H_oved him with all the affection of a Father. He could not help sometime_ndulging a desire secretly to see the face of his Pupil; But his rule o_elf-denial extended even to curiosity, and prevented him from communicatin_is wishes to the Youth.
'Pardon my intrusion, Father,' said Rosario, while He placed his basket upo_he Table; 'I come to you a Suppliant. Hearing that a dear Friend i_angerously ill, I entreat your prayers for his recovery. If supplications ca_revail upon heaven to spare him, surely yours must be efficacious.'
'Whatever depends upon me, my Son, you know that you may command.
What is your Friend's name?'
'Vincentio della Ronda.'
' 'Tis sufficient. I will not forget him in my prayers, and may our thrice- blessed St. Francis deign to listen to my intercession!—What have you in you_asket, Rosario?'
'A few of those flowers, reverend Father, which I have observed to be mos_cceptable to you. Will you permit my arranging them in your chamber?'
'Your attentions charm me, my Son.'
While Rosario dispersed the contents of his Basket in small Vases placed fo_hat purpose in various parts of the room, the Abbot thus continued th_onversation.
'I saw you not in the Church this evening, Rosario.'
'Yet I was present, Father. I am too grateful for your protection to lose a_pportunity of witnessing your Triumph.'
'Alas! Rosario, I have but little cause to triumph: The Saint spoke by m_outh; To him belongs all the merit. It seems then you were contented with m_iscourse?'
'Contented, say you? Oh! you surpassed yourself! Never did I hear suc_loquence … save once!'
Here the Novice heaved an involuntary sigh.
'When was that once?' demanded the Abbot.
'When you preached upon the sudden indisposition of our late Superior.'
'I remember it: That is more than two years ago. And were you present? I kne_ou not at that time, Rosario.'
' 'Tis true, Father; and would to God! I had expired, ere I beheld that day!
What sufferings, what sorrows should I have escaped!'
'Sufferings at your age, Rosario?'
'Aye, Father; Sufferings, which if known to you, would equally raise you_nger and compassion! Sufferings, which form at once the torment and pleasur_f my existence! Yet in this retreat my bosom would feel tranquil, were it no_or the tortures of apprehension. Oh God! Oh God! how cruel is a life o_ear!—Father! I have given up all; I have abandoned the world and its delight_or ever: Nothing now remains, Nothing now has charms for me, but you_riendship, but your affection. If I lose that, Father! Oh! if I lose that, tremble at the effects of my despair!'
'You apprehend the loss of my friendship? How has my conduct justified thi_ear? Know me better, Rosario, and think me worthy of your confidence. Wha_re your sufferings? Reveal them to me, and believe that if 'tis in my powe_o relieve them… .'
'Ah! 'tis in no one's power but yours. Yet I must not let you know them. Yo_ould hate me for my avowal! You would drive me from your presence with scor_nd ignominy!'
'My Son, I conjure you! I entreat you!'
'For pity's sake, enquire no further! I must not … I dare not … Hark! The Bel_ings for Vespers! Father, your benediction, and I leave you!'
As He said this, He threw himself upon his knees and received the blessin_hich He demanded. Then pressing the Abbot's hand to his lips, He started fro_he ground and hastily quitted the apartment. Soon after Ambrosio descended t_espers (which were celebrated in a small chapel belonging to the Abbey), filled with surprise at the singularity of the Youth's behaviour.
Vespers being over, the Monks retired to their respective Cells. The Abbo_lone remained in the Chapel to receive the Nuns of St. Clare. He had not bee_ong seated in the confessional chair before the Prioress made her appearance.
Each of the Nuns was heard in her turn, while the Others waited with th_omina in the adjoining Vestry. Ambrosio listened to the confessions wit_ttention, made many exhortations, enjoined penance proportioned to eac_ffence, and for some time every thing went on as usual: till at last one o_he Nuns, conspicuous from the nobleness of her air and elegance of he_igure, carelessly permitted a letter to fall from her bosom. She wa_etiring, unconscious of her loss. Ambrosio supposed it to have been writte_y some one of her Relations, and picked it up intending to restore it to her.
'Stay, Daughter,' said He; 'You have let fall… .'
At this moment, the paper being already open, his eye involuntarily read th_irst words. He started back with surprise! The Nun had turned round o_earing his voice: She perceived her letter in his hand, and uttering a shrie_f terror, flew hastily to regain it.
'Hold!' said the Friar in a tone of severity; 'Daughter, I must read thi_etter.'
'Then I am lost!' She exclaimed clasping her hands together wildly.
All colour instantly faded from her face; she trembled with agitation, and wa_bliged to fold her arms round a Pillar of the Chapel to save herself fro_inking upon the floor. In the meanwhile the Abbot read the following lines.
'All is ready for your escape, my dearest Agnes. At twelve tomorrow night _hall expect to find you at the Garden door: I have obtained the Key, and _ew hours will suffice to place you in a secure asylum. Let no mistake_cruples induce you to reject the certain means of preserving yourself and th_nnocent Creature whom you nourish in your bosom. Remember that you ha_romised to be mine, long ere you engaged yourself to the church; that you_ituation will soon be evident to the prying eyes of your Companions; and tha_light is the only means of avoiding the effects of their malevolen_esentment. Farewell, my Agnes! my dear and destined Wife! Fail not to be a_he Garden door at twelve!'
As soon as He had finished, Ambrosio bent an eye stern and angry upon th_mprudent Nun.
'This letter must to the Prioress!' said He, and passed her.
His words sounded like thunder to her ears: She awoke from her torpidity onl_o be sensible of the dangers of her situation. She followed him hastily, an_etained him by his garment.
'Stay! Oh! stay!' She cried in the accents of despair, while She threw hersel_t the Friar's feet, and bathed them with her tears. 'Father, compassionate m_outh! Look with indulgence on a Woman's weakness, and deign to conceal m_railty! The remainder of my life shall be employed in expiating this singl_ault, and your lenity will bring back a soul to heaven!'
'Amazing confidence! What! Shall St. Clare's Convent become the retreat o_rostitutes? Shall I suffer the Church of Christ to cherish in its boso_ebauchery and shame? Unworthy Wretch! such lenity would make me you_ccomplice. Mercy would here be criminal. You have abandoned yourself to _educer's lust; You have defiled the sacred habit by your impurity; and stil_are you think yourself deserving my compassion? Hence, nor detain me longer!
Where is the Lady Prioress?' He added, raising his voice.
'Hold! Father, Hold! Hear me but for one moment! Tax me not with impurity, no_hink that I have erred from the warmth of temperament. Long before I took th_eil, Raymond was Master of my heart: He inspired me with the purest, the mos_rreproachable passion, and was on the point of becoming my lawful husband. A_orrible adventure, and the treachery of a Relation, separated us from eac_ther: I believed him for ever lost to me, and threw myself into a Conven_rom motives of despair. Accident again united us; I could not refuse mysel_he melancholy pleasure of mingling my tears with his: We met nightly in th_ardens of St. Clare, and in an unguarded moment I violated my vows o_hastity. I shall soon become a Mother: Reverend Ambrosio, take compassion o_e; take compassion on the innocent Being whose existence is attached to mine.
If you discover my imprudence to the Domina, both of us are lost: Th_unishment which the laws of St. Clare assign to Unfortunates like myself i_ost severe and cruel. Worthy, worthy Father! Let not your own untainte_onscience render you unfeeling towards those less able to withstan_emptation! Let not mercy be the only virtue of which your heart i_nsusceptible! Pity me, most reverend! Restore my letter, nor doom me t_nevitable destruction!'
'Your boldness confounds me! Shall I conceal your crime, I whom you hav_eceived by your feigned confession? No, Daughter, no! I will render you _ore essential service. I will rescue you from perdition in spite of yourself; Penance and mortification shall expiate your offence, and Severity force yo_ack to the paths of holiness. What; Ho! Mother St. Agatha!'
'Father! By all that is sacred, by all that is most dear to you, I supplicate, I entreat… .'
'Release me! I will not hear you. Where is the Domina? Mother St. Agatha, where are you?'
The door of the Vestry opened, and the Prioress entered the Chapel, followe_y her Nuns.
'Cruel! Cruel!' exclaimed Agnes, relinquishing her hold.
Wild and desperate, She threw herself upon the ground, beating her bosom an_ending her veil in all the delirium of despair. The Nuns gazed wit_stonishment upon the scene before them. The Friar now presented the fata_aper to the Prioress, informed her of the manner in which he had found it, and added, that it was her business to decide, what penance the delinquen_erited.
While She perused the letter, the Domina's countenance grew inflamed wit_assion. What! Such a crime committed in her Convent, and made known t_mbrosio, to the Idol of Madrid, to the Man whom She was most anxious t_mpress with the opinion of the strictness and regularity of her House! Word_ere inadequate to express her fury. She was silent, and darted upon th_rostrate Nun looks of menace and malignity.
'Away with her to the Convent!' said She at length to some of her Attendants.
Two of the oldest Nuns now approaching Agnes, raised her forcibly from th_round, and prepared to conduct her from the Chapel.
'What!' She exclaimed suddenly shaking off their hold with distracte_estures; 'Is all hope then lost? Already do you drag me to punishment? Wher_re you, Raymond? Oh! save me! save me!'
Then casting upon the Abbot a frantic look, 'Hear me!' She continued; 'Man o_n hard heart! Hear me, Proud, Stern, and Cruel! You could have saved me; yo_ould have restored me to happiness and virtue, but would not! You are th_estroyer of my Soul; You are my Murderer, and on you fall the curse of m_eath and my unborn Infant's! Insolent in your yet-unshaken virtue, yo_isdained the prayers of a Penitent; But God will show mercy, though you sho_one. And where is the merit of your boasted virtue? What temptations have yo_anquished? Coward! you have fled from it, not opposed seduction. But the da_f Trial will arrive! Oh! then when you yield to impetuous passions! when yo_eel that Man is weak, and born to err; When shuddering you look back upo_our crimes, and solicit with terror the mercy of your God, Oh! in tha_earful moment think upon me! Think upon your Cruelty! Think upon Agnes, an_espair of pardon!'
As She uttered these last words, her strength was exhausted, and She san_nanimate upon the bosom of a Nun who stood near her. She was immediatel_onveyed from the Chapel, and her Companions followed her.
Ambrosio had not listened to her reproaches without emotion. A secret pang a_is heart made him feel, that He had treated this Unfortunate with too grea_everity. He therefore detained the Prioress and ventured to pronounce som_ords in favour of the Delinquent.
'The violence of her despair,' said He, 'proves, that at least Vice is no_ecome familiar to her. Perhaps by treating her with somewhat less rigour tha_s generally practised, and mitigating in some degree the accustomed penance… .'
'Mitigate it, Father?' interrupted the Lady Prioress; 'Not I, believe me. Th_aws of our order are strict and severe; they have fallen into disuse of late, But the crime of Agnes shows me the necessity of their revival. I go t_ignify my intention to the Convent, and Agnes shall be the first to feel th_igour of those laws, which shall be obeyed to the very letter. Father, Farewell.'
Thus saying, She hastened out of the Chapel.
'I have done my duty,' said Ambrosio to himself.
Still did He not feel perfectly satisfied by this reflection. To dissipate th_npleasant ideas which this scene had excited in him, upon quitting the Chape_e descended into the Abbey Garden.
In all Madrid there was no spot more beautiful or better regulated. It wa_aid out with the most exquisite taste; The choicest flowers adorned it in th_eight of luxuriance, and though artfully arranged, seemed only planted by th_and of Nature: Fountains, springing from basons of white Marble, cooled th_ir with perpetual showers; and the Walls were entirely covered by Jessamine, vines, and Honeysuckles. The hour now added to the beauty of the scene. Th_ull Moon, ranging through a blue and cloudless sky, shed upon the trees _rembling lustre, and the waters of the fountains sparkled in the silver beam: A gentle breeze breathed the fragrance of Orange-blossoms along the Alleys; and the Nightingale poured forth her melodious murmur from the shelter of a_rtificial wilderness. Thither the Abbot bent his steps.
In the bosom of this little Grove stood a rustic Grotto, formed in imitatio_f an Hermitage. The walls were constructed of roots of trees, and th_nterstices filled up with Moss and Ivy. Seats of Turf were placed on eithe_ide, and a natural Cascade fell from the Rock above. Buried in himself th_onk approached the spot. The universal calm had communicated itself to hi_osom, and a voluptuous tranquillity spread languor through his soul.
He reached the Hermitage, and was entering to repose himself, when He stoppe_n perceiving it to be already occupied. Extended upon one of the Banks lay _an in a melancholy posture.
His head was supported upon his arm, and He seemed lost in mediation. The Mon_rew nearer, and recognised Rosario: He watched him in silence, and entere_ot the Hermitage. After some minutes the Youth raised his eyes, and fixe_hem mournfully upon the opposite Wall.
'Yes!' said He with a deep and plaintive sigh; 'I feel all the happiness o_hy situation, all the misery of my own! Happy were I, could I think lik_hee! Could I look like Thee with disgust upon Mankind, could bury myself fo_ver in some impenetrable solitude, and forget that the world holds Being_eserving to be loved! Oh God! What a blessing would Misanthropy be to me!'
'That is a singular thought, Rosario,' said the Abbot, entering the Grotto.
'You here, reverend Father?' cried the Novice.
At the same time starting from his place in confusion, He drew his Cow_astily over his face. Ambrosio seated himself upon the Bank, and obliged th_outh to place himself by him.
'You must not indulge this disposition to melancholy,' said He; 'What ca_ossibly have made you view in so desirable a light, Misanthropy, of al_entiments the most hateful?'
'The perusal of these Verses, Father, which till now had escaped m_bservation. The Brightness of the Moonbeams permitted my reading them; an_h! how I envy the feelings of the Writer!'
As He said this, He pointed to a marble Tablet fixed against the opposit_all: On it were engraved the following lines.
INSCRIPTION IN AN HERMITAGE
Who-e'er Thou art these lines now reading, Think not, though from the worl_eceding I joy my lonely days to lead in This Desart drear, That with remors_conscience bleeding Hath led me here.
No thought of guilt my bosom sowrs: Free-willed I fled from courtly bowers; For well I saw in Halls and Towers That Lust and Pride, The Arch-Fiend'_earest darkest Powers, In state preside.
I saw Mankind with vice incrusted; I saw that Honour's sword was rusted; Tha_ew for aught but folly lusted; That He was still deceiv'd, who trusted I_ove or Friend; And hither came with Men disgusted My life to end.
In this lone Cave, in garments lowly, Alike a Foe to noisy folly, And brow- bent gloomy melancholy I wear away My life, and in my office holy Consume th_ay.
Content and comfort bless me more in This Grot, than e'er I felt before in _alace, and with thoughts still soaring To God on high, Each night and mor_ith voice imploring This wish I sigh.
'Let me, Oh! Lord! from life retire, Unknown each guilty worldly fire, Remorseful throb, or loose desire; And when I die, Let me in this belie_xpire, ''To God I fly''!'
Stranger, if full of youth and riot As yet no grief has marred thy quiet, Tho_aply throw'st a scornful eye at The Hermit's prayer: But if Thou hast a caus_o sigh at Thy fault, or care;
If Thou hast known false Love's vexation, Or hast been exil'd from thy Nation, Or guilt affrights thy contemplation, And makes thee pine, Oh! how must Tho_ament thy station, And envy mine!
'Were it possible' said the Friar, 'for Man to be so totally wrapped up i_imself as to live in absolute seclusion from human nature, and could yet fee_he contented tranquillity which these lines express, I allow that th_ituation would be more desirable, than to live in a world so pregnant wit_very vice and every folly. But this never can be the case. This inscriptio_as merely placed here for the ornament of the Grotto, and the sentiments an_he Hermit are equally imaginary. Man was born for society. However little H_ay be attached to the World, He never can wholly forget it, or bear to b_holly forgotten by it. Disgusted at the guilt or absurdity of Mankind, th_isanthrope flies from it: He resolves to become an Hermit, and buries himsel_n the Cavern of some gloomy Rock. While Hate inflames his bosom, possibly H_ay feel contented with his situation: But when his passions begin to cool; when Time has mellowed his sorrows, and healed those wounds which He bore wit_im to his solitude, think you that Content becomes his Companion? Ah! no, Rosario. No longer sustained by the violence of his passions, He feels all th_onotony of his way of living, and his heart becomes the prey of Ennui an_eariness. He looks round, and finds himself alone in the Universe: The lov_f society revives in his bosom, and He pants to return to that world which H_as abandoned. Nature loses all her charms in his eyes: No one is near him t_oint out her beauties, or share in his admiration of her excellence an_ariety. Propped upon the fragment of some Rock, He gazes upon the tumblin_aterfall with a vacant eye, He views without emotion the glory of the settin_un. Slowly He returns to his Cell at Evening, for no one there is anxious fo_is arrival; He has no comfort in his solitary unsavoury meal: He throw_imself upon his couch of Moss despondent and dissatisfied, and wakes only t_ass a day as joyless, as monotonous as the former.'
'You amaze me, Father! Suppose that circumstances condemned you to solitude; Would not the duties of Religion and the consciousness of a life well spen_ommunicate to your heart that calm which… .'
'I should deceive myself, did I fancy that they could. I am convinced of th_ontrary, and that all my fortitude would not prevent me from yielding t_elancholy and disgust. After consuming the day in study, if you knew m_leasure at meeting my Brethren in the Evening! After passing many a long hou_n solitude, if I could express to you the joy which I feel at once mor_eholding a fellow-Creature! 'Tis in this particular that I place th_rincipal merit of a Monastic Institution. It secludes Man from th_emptations of Vice; It procures that leisure necessary for the proper servic_f the Supreme; It spares him the mortification of witnessing the crimes o_he worldly, and yet permits him to enjoy the blessings of society. And d_ou, Rosario, do YOU envy an Hermit's life? Can you be thus blind to th_appiness of your situation? Reflect upon it for a moment. This Abbey i_ecome your Asylum: Your regularity, your gentleness, your talents hav_endered you the object of universal esteem: You are secluded from the worl_hich you profess to hate; yet you remain in possession of the benefits o_ociety, and that a society composed of the most estimable of Mankind.'
'Father! Father! 'tis that which causes my Torment! Happy had it been for me, had my life been passed among the vicious and abandoned! Had I never hear_ronounced the name of Virtue! 'Tis my unbounded adoration of religion; 'Ti_y soul's exquisite sensibility of the beauty of fair and good, that loads m_ith shame! that hurries me to perdition! Oh! that I had never seen thes_bbey walls!'
'How, Rosario? When we last conversed, you spoke in a different tone. Is m_riendship then become of such little consequence? Had you never seen thes_bbey walls, you never had seen me: Can that really be your wish?'
'Had never seen you?' repeated the Novice, starting from the Bank, an_rasping the Friar's hand with a frantic air; 'You? You? Would to God, tha_ightning had blasted them, before you ever met my eyes! Would to God! that _ere never to see you more, and could forget that I had ever seen you!'
With these words He flew hastily from the Grotto. Ambrosio remained in hi_ormer attitude, reflecting on the Youth's unaccountable behaviour. He wa_nclined to suspect the derangement of his senses: yet the general tenor o_is conduct, the connexion of his ideas, and calmness of his demeanour til_he moment of his quitting the Grotto, seemed to discountenance thi_onjecture. After a few minutes Rosario returned. He again seated himself upo_he Bank: He reclined his cheek upon one hand, and with the other wiped awa_he tears which trickled from his eyes at intervals.
The Monk looked upon him with compassion, and forbore to interrupt hi_editations. Both observed for some time a profound silence. The Nightingal_ad now taken her station upon an Orange Tree fronting the Hermitage, an_oured forth a strain the most melancholy and melodious. Rosario raised hi_ead, and listened to her with attention.
'It was thus,' said He, with a deep-drawn sigh; 'It was thus, that during th_ast month of her unhappy life, my Sister used to sit listening to th_ightingale. Poor Matilda! She sleeps in the Grave, and her broken hear_hrobs no more with passion.'
'You had a Sister?'
'You say right, that I HAD; Alas! I have one no longer. She sunk beneath th_eight of her sorrows in the very spring of life.'
'What were those sorrows?'
'They will not excite YOUR pity: YOU know not the power of those irresistible, those fatal sentiments, to which her Heart was a prey. Father, She love_nfortunately. A passion for One endowed with every virtue, for a Man, Oh!
rather let me say, for a divinity, proved the bane of her existence. His nobl_orm, his spotless character, his various talents, his wisdom solid, wonderful, and glorious, might have warmed the bosom of the most insensible.
My Sister saw him, and dared to love though She never dared to hope.'
'If her love was so well bestowed, what forbad her to hope the obtaining o_ts object?'
'Father, before He knew her, Julian had already plighted his vows to a Brid_ost fair, most heavenly! Yet still my Sister loved, and for the Husband'_ake She doted upon the Wife. One morning She found means to escape from ou_ather's House: Arrayed in humble weeds She offered herself as a Domestic t_he Consort of her Beloved, and was accepted. She was now continually in hi_resence: She strove to ingratiate herself into his favour: She succeeded. He_ttentions attracted Julian's notice; The virtuous are ever grateful, and H_istinguished Matilda above the rest of her Companions.'
'And did not your Parents seek for her? Did they submit tamely to their loss, nor attempt to recover their wandering Daughter?'
'Ere they could find her, She discovered herself. Her love grew too violen_or concealment; Yet She wished not for Julian's person, She ambitioned but _hare of his heart. In an unguarded moment She confessed her affection. Wha_as the return? Doating upon his Wife, and believing that a look of pit_estowed upon another was a theft from what He owed to her, He drove Matild_rom his presence. He forbad her ever again appearing before him. His severit_roke her heart: She returned to her Father's, and in a few Months after wa_arried to her Grave.'
'Unhappy Girl! Surely her fate was too severe, and Julian was too cruel.'
'Do you think so, Father?' cried the Novice with vivacity; 'Do you think tha_e was cruel?'
'Doubtless I do, and pity her most sincerely.'
'You pity her? You pity her? Oh! Father! Father! Then pity me!'
The Friar started; when after a moment's pause Rosario added with a falterin_oice,—'for my sufferings are still greater. My Sister had a Friend, a rea_riend, who pitied the acuteness of her feelings, nor reproached her with he_nability to repress them. I … ! I have no Friend! The whole wide world canno_urnish an heart that is willing to participate in the sorrows of mine!'
As He uttered these words, He sobbed audibly. The Friar was affected. He too_osario's hand, and pressed it with tenderness.
'You have no Friend, say you? What then am I? Why will you not confide in me, and what can you fear? My severity? Have I ever used it with you? The dignit_f my habit? Rosario, I lay aside the Monk, and bid you consider me as n_ther than your Friend, your Father. Well may I assume that title, for neve_id Parent watch over a Child more fondly than I have watched over you. Fro_he moment in which I first beheld you, I perceived sensations in my boso_ill then unknown to me; I found a delight in your society which no one's els_ould afford; and when I witnessed the extent of your genius and information, I rejoiced as does a Father in the perfections of his Son. Then lay aside you_ears; Speak to me with openness: Speak to me, Rosario, and say that you wil_onfide in me. If my aid or my pity can alleviate your distress… .'
'Yours can! Yours only can! Ah! Father, how willingly would I unveil to you m_eart! How willingly would I declare the secret which bows me down with it_eight! But Oh! I fear! I fear!'
'What, my Son?'
'That you should abhor me for my weakness; That the reward of my confidenc_hould be the loss of your esteem.'
'How shall I reassure you? Reflect upon the whole of my past conduct, upon th_aternal tenderness which I have ever shown you. Abhor you, Rosario? It is n_onger in my power. To give up your society would be to deprive myself of th_reatest pleasure of my life. Then reveal to me what afflicts you, and believ_e while I solemnly swear… .'
'Hold!' interrupted the Novice; 'Swear, that whatever be my secret, you wil_ot oblige me to quit the Monastery till my Noviciate shall expire.'
'I promise it faithfully, and as I keep my vows to you, may Christ keep his t_ankind. Now then explain this mystery, and rely upon my indulgence.'
'I obey you. Know then… . Oh! how I tremble to name the word! Listen to m_ith pity, revered Ambrosio! Call up every latent spark of human weakness tha_ay teach you compassion for mine! Father!' continued He throwing himself a_he Friar's feet, and pressing his hand to his lips with eagerness, whil_gitation for a moment choaked his voice; 'Father!' continued He in falterin_ccents, 'I am a Woman!'
The Abbot started at this unexpected avowal. Prostrate on the ground lay th_eigned Rosario, as if waiting in silence the decision of his Judge.
Astonishment on the one part, apprehension on the other, for some minute_hained them in the same attitudes, as had they been touched by the Rod o_ome Magician. At length recovering from his confusion, the Monk quitted th_rotto, and sped with precipitation towards the Abbey. His action did no_scape the Suppliant. She sprang from the ground; She hastened to follow him, overtook him, threw herself in his passage, and embraced his knees. Ambrosi_trove in vain to disengage himself from her grasp.
'Do not fly me!' She cried; 'Leave me not abandoned to the impulse of despair!
Listen, while I excuse my imprudence; while I acknowledge my Sister's story t_e my own! I am Matilda; You are her Beloved.'
If Ambrosio's surprise was great at her first avowal, upon hearing her secon_t exceeded all bounds. Amazed, embarrassed, and irresolute He found himsel_ncapable of pronouncing a syllable, and remained in silence gazing upo_atilda: This gave her opportunity to continue her explanation as follows.
'Think not, Ambrosio, that I come to rob your Bride of your affections. No, believe me: Religion alone deserves you; and far is it from Matilda's wish t_raw you from the paths of virtue. What I feel for you is love, no_icentiousness; I sigh to be possessor of your heart, not lust for th_njoyment of your person. Deign to listen to my vindication: A few moment_ill convince you that this holy retreat is not polluted by my presence, an_hat you may grant me your compassion without trespassing against you_ows.'—She seated herself: Ambrosio, scarcely conscious of what He did, followed her example, and She proceeded in her discourse.
'I spring from a distinguished family: My Father was Chief of the noble Hous_f Villanegas. He died while I was still an Infant, and left me sole Heires_f his immense possessions. Young and wealthy, I was sought in marriage by th_oblest Youths of Madrid; But no one succeeded in gaining my affections. I ha_een brought up under the care of an Uncle possessed of the most soli_udgment and extensive erudition. He took pleasure in communicating to me som_ortion of his knowledge. Under his instructions my understanding acquire_ore strength and justness than generally falls to the lot of my sex: Th_bility of my Preceptor being aided by natural curiosity, I not only made _onsiderable progress in sciences universally studied, but in others, reveale_ut to few, and lying under censure from the blindness of superstition. Bu_hile my Guardian laboured to enlarge the sphere of my knowledge, He carefull_nculcated every moral precept: He relieved me from the shackles of vulga_rejudice; He pointed out the beauty of Religion; He taught me to look wit_doration upon the pure and virtuous, and, woe is me! I have obeyed him bu_oo well!
'With such dispositions, Judge whether I could observe with any othe_entiment than disgust the vice, dissipation, and ignorance, which disgrac_ur Spanish Youth. I rejected every offer with disdain. My heart remaine_ithout a Master till chance conducted me to the Cathedral of the Capuchins.
Oh! surely on that day my Guardian Angel slumbered neglectful of his charge!
Then was it that I first beheld you: You supplied the Superior's place, absen_rom illness. You cannot but remember the lively enthusiasm which you_iscourse created. Oh! how I drank your words! How your eloquence seemed t_teal me from myself! I scarcely dared to breathe, fearing to lose a syllable; and while you spoke, Methought a radiant glory beamed round your head, an_our countenance shone with the majesty of a God. I retired from the Church, glowing with admiration. From that moment you became the idol of my heart, th_ever-changing object of my Meditations. I enquired respecting you. Th_eports which were made me of your mode of life, of your knowledge, piety, an_elf-denial riveted the chains imposed on me by your eloquence. I wa_onscious that there was no longer a void in my heart; That I had found th_an whom I had sought till then in vain. In expectation of hearing you again, every day I visited your Cathedral: You remained secluded within the Abbe_alls, and I always withdrew, wretched and disappointed. The Night was mor_ropitious to me, for then you stood before me in my dreams; You vowed to m_ternal friendship; You led me through the paths of virtue, and assisted me t_upport the vexations of life. The Morning dispelled these pleasing visions; _oke, and found myself separated from you by Barriers which appeare_nsurmountable. Time seemed only to increase the strength of my passion: _rew melancholy and despondent; I fled from society, and my health decline_aily. At length no longer able to exist in this state of torture, I resolve_o assume the disguise in which you see me. My artifice was fortunate: I wa_eceived into the Monastery, and succeeded in gaining your esteem.
'Now then I should have felt compleatly happy, had not my quiet been disturbe_y the fear of detection. The pleasure which I received from your society, wa_mbittered by the idea that perhaps I should soon be deprived of it: and m_eart throbbed so rapturously at obtaining the marks of your friendship, as t_onvince me that I never should survive its loss. I resolved, therefore, no_o leave the discovery of my sex to chance, to confess the whole to you, an_hrow myself entirely on your mercy and indulgence. Ah! Ambrosio, can I hav_een deceived? Can you be less generous than I thought you? I will not suspec_t. You will not drive a Wretch to despair; I shall still be permitted to se_ou, to converse with you, to adore you! Your virtues shall be my exampl_hrough life; and when we expire, our bodies shall rest in the same Grave.'
She ceased. While She spoke, a thousand opposing sentiments combated i_mbrosio's bosom. Surprise at the singularity of this adventure, Confusion a_er abrupt declaration, Resentment at her boldness in entering the Monastery, and Consciousness of the austerity with which it behoved him to reply, suc_ere the sentiments of which He was aware; But there were others also whic_id not obtain his notice. He perceived not, that his vanity was flattered b_he praises bestowed upon his eloquence and virtue; that He felt a secre_leasure in reflecting that a young and seemingly lovely Woman had for hi_ake abandoned the world, and sacrificed every other passion to that which H_ad inspired: Still less did He perceive that his heart throbbed with desire, while his hand was pressed gently by Matilda's ivory fingers.
By degrees He recovered from his confusion. His ideas became less bewildered: He was immediately sensible of the extreme impropriety, should Matilda b_ermitted to remain in the Abbey after this avowal of her sex. He assumed a_ir of severity, and drew away his hand.
'How, Lady!' said He; 'Can you really hope for my permission to remain amongs_s? Even were I to grant your request, what good could you derive from it?
Think you that I ever can reply to an affection, which … '.
'No, Father, No! I expect not to inspire you with a love like mine. I onl_ish for the liberty to be near you, to pass some hours of the day in you_ociety; to obtain your compassion, your friendship and esteem. Surely m_equest is not unreasonable.'
'But reflect, Lady! Reflect only for a moment on the impropriety of m_arbouring a Woman in the Abbey; and that too a Woman, who confesses that Sh_oves me. It must not be. The risque of your being discovered is too great, and I will not expose myself to so dangerous a temptation.'
'Temptation, say you? Forget that I am a Woman, and it no longer exists: Consider me only as a Friend, as an Unfortunate, whose happiness, whose lif_epends upon your protection. Fear not lest I should ever call to you_emembrance that love the most impetuous, the most unbounded, has induced m_o disguise my sex; or that instigated by desires, offensive to YOUR vows an_y own honour, I should endeavour to seduce you from the path of rectitude.
No, Ambrosio, learn to know me better. I love you for your virtues: Lose them, and with them you lose my affections. I look upon you as a Saint; Prove to m_hat you are no more than Man, and I quit you with disgust. Is it then from m_hat you fear temptation? From me, in whom the world's dazzling pleasure_reated no other sentiment than contempt? From me, whose attachment i_rounded on your exemption from human frailty? Oh! dismiss such injuriou_pprehensions! Think nobler of me, think nobler of yourself. I am incapable o_educing you to error; and surely your Virtue is established on a basis to_irm to be shaken by unwarranted desires. Ambrosio, dearest Ambrosio! drive m_ot from your presence; Remember your promise, and authorize my stay!'
'Impossible, Matilda; YOUR interest commands me to refuse your prayer, since _remble for you, not for myself. After vanquishing the impetuous ebullition_f Youth; After passing thirty years in mortification and penance, I migh_afely permit your stay, nor fear your inspiring me with warmer sentiment_han pity. But to yourself, remaining in the Abbey can produce none but fata_onsequences. You will misconstrue my every word and action; You will seiz_very circumstance with avidity, which encourages you to hope the return o_our affection; Insensibly your passions will gain a superiority over you_eason; and far from these being repressed by my presence, every moment whic_e pass together, will only serve to irritate and excite them. Believe me, unhappy Woman! you possess my sincere compassion. I am convinced that you hav_itherto acted upon the purest motives; But though you are blind to th_mprudence of your conduct, in me it would be culpable not to open your eyes.
I feel that Duty obliges my treating you with harshness: I must reject you_rayer, and remove every shadow of hope which may aid to nourish sentiments s_ernicious to your repose. Matilda, you must from hence tomorrow.'
'Tomorrow, Ambrosio? Tomorrow? Oh! surely you cannot mean it!
You cannot resolve on driving me to despair! You cannot have the cruelty… .'
'You have heard my decision, and it must be obeyed. The Laws of our Orde_orbid your stay: It would be perjury to conceal that a Woman is within thes_alls, and my vows will oblige me to declare your story to the Community. Yo_ust from hence!—I pity you, but can do no more!'
He pronounced these words in a faint and trembling voice: Then rising from hi_eat, He would have hastened towards the Monastery. Uttering a loud shriek, Matilda followed, and detained him.
'Stay yet one moment, Ambrosio! Hear me yet speak one word!'
'I dare not listen! Release me! You know my resolution!'
'But one word! But one last word, and I have done!'
'Leave me! Your entreaties are in vain! You must from hence tomorrow!'
'Go then, Barbarian! But this resource is still left me.'
As She said this, She suddenly drew a poignard: She rent open her garment, an_laced the weapon's point against her bosom.
'Father, I will never quit these Walls alive!'
'Hold! Hold, Matilda! What would you do?'
'You are determined, so am I: The Moment that you leave me, I plunge thi_teel in my heart.'
'Holy St. Francis! Matilda, have you your senses? Do you know the consequence_f your action? That Suicide is the greatest of crimes? That you destroy you_oul? That you lose your claim to salvation? That you prepare for yoursel_verlasting torments?'
'I care not! I care not!' She replied passionately; 'Either your hand guide_e to Paradise, or my own dooms me to perdition! Speak to me, Ambrosio! Tel_e that you will conceal my story, that I shall remain your Friend and you_ompanion, or this poignard drinks my blood!'
As She uttered these last words, She lifted her arm, and made a motion as i_o stab herself. The Friar's eyes followed with dread the course of th_agger. She had torn open her habit, and her bosom was half exposed. Th_eapon's point rested upon her left breast: And Oh! that was such a breast!
The Moonbeams darting full upon it enabled the Monk to observe its dazzlin_hiteness. His eye dwelt with insatiable avidity upon the beauteous Orb. _ensation till then unknown filled his heart with a mixture of anxiety an_elight: A raging fire shot through every limb; The blood boiled in his veins, and a thousand wild wishes bewildered his imagination.
'Hold!' He cried in an hurried faultering voice; 'I can resist no longer!
Stay, then, Enchantress; Stay for my destruction!'
He said, and rushing from the place, hastened towards the Monastery: H_egained his Cell and threw himself upon his Couch, distracted irresolute an_onfused.
He found it impossible for some time to arrange his ideas. The scene in whic_e had been engaged had excited such a variety of sentiments in his bosom, that He was incapable of deciding which was predominant. He was irresolut_hat conduct He ought to hold with the disturber of his repose. He wa_onscious that prudence, religion, and propriety necessitated his obliging he_o quit the Abbey: But on the other hand such powerful reasons authorized he_tay that He was but too much inclined to consent to her remaining. He coul_ot avoid being flattered by Matilda's declaration, and at reflecting that H_ad unconsciously vanquished an heart which had resisted the attacks o_pain's noblest Cavaliers: The manner in which He had gained her affection_as also the most satisfactory to his vanity: He remembered the many happ_ours which He had passed in Rosario's society, and dreaded that void in hi_eart which parting with him would occasion. Besides all this, He considered, that as Matilda was wealthy, her favour might be of essential benefit to th_bbey.
'And what do I risque,' said He to himself, 'by authorizing her stay? May _ot safely credit her assertions? Will it not be easy for me to forget he_ex, and still consider her as my Friend and my disciple? Surely her love i_s pure as She describes. Had it been the offspring of mere licentiousness, would She so long have concealed it in her own bosom? Would She not hav_mployed some means to procure its gratification? She has done quite th_ontrary: She strove to keep me in ignorance of her sex; and nothing but th_ear of detection, and my instances, would have compelled her to reveal th_ecret. She has observed the duties of religion not less strictly than myself.
She has made no attempts to rouze my slumbering passions, nor has She eve_onversed with me till this night on the subject of Love. Had She bee_esirous to gain my affections, not my esteem, She would not have conceale_rom me her charms so carefully: At this very moment I have never seen he_ace: Yet certainly that face must be lovely, and her person beautiful, t_udge by her … by what I have seen.'
As this last idea passed through his imagination, a blush spread itself ove_is cheek. Alarmed at the sentiments which He was indulging, He betook himsel_o prayer; He started from his Couch, knelt before the beautiful Madona, an_ntreated her assistance in stifling such culpable emotions. He then returne_o his Bed, and resigned himself to slumber.
He awoke, heated and unrefreshed. During his sleep his inflamed imaginatio_ad presented him with none but the most voluptuous objects. Matilda stoo_efore him in his dreams, and his eyes again dwelt upon her naked breast. Sh_epeated her protestations of eternal love, threw her arms round his neck, an_oaded him with kisses: He returned them; He clasped her passionately to hi_osom, and … the vision was dissolved. Sometimes his dreams presented th_mage of his favourite Madona, and He fancied that He was kneeling before her: As He offered up his vows to her, the eyes of the Figure seemed to beam on hi_ith inexpressible sweetness. He pressed his lips to hers, and found the_arm: The animated form started from the Canvas, embraced him affectionately, and his senses were unable to support delight so exquisite. Such were th_cenes, on which his thoughts were employed while sleeping: His unsatisfie_esires placed before him the most lustful and provoking Images, and he riote_n joys till then unknown to him.
He started from his Couch, filled with confusion at the remembrance of hi_reams. Scarcely was He less ashamed, when He reflected on his reasons of th_ormer night which induced him to authorize Matilda's stay. The cloud was no_issipated which had obscured his judgment: He shuddered when He beheld hi_rguments blazoned in their proper colours, and found that He had been a slav_o flattery, to avarice, and self-love. If in one hour's conversation Matild_ad produced a change so remarkable in his sentiments, what had He not t_read from her remaining in the Abbey? Become sensible of his danger, awakene_rom his dream of confidence, He resolved to insist on her departing withou_elay. He began to feel that He was not proof against temptation; and tha_owever Matilda might restrain herself within the bounds of modesty, He wa_nable to contend with those passions, from which He falsely thought himsel_xempted.
'Agnes! Agnes!' He exclaimed, while reflecting on his embarrassments, '_lready feel thy curse!'
He quitted his Cell, determined upon dismissing the feigned Rosario. H_ppeared at Matins; But his thoughts were absent, and He paid them but littl_ttention. His heart and brain were both of them filled with worldly objects, and He prayed without devotion. The service over, He descended into th_arden. He bent his steps towards the same spot where, on the preceding night, He had made this embarrassing discovery. He doubted not but that Matilda woul_eek him there: He was not deceived. She soon entered the Hermitage, an_pproached the Monk with a timid air. After a few minutes during which bot_ere silent, She appeared as if on the point of speaking; But the Abbot, wh_uring this time had been summoning up all his resolution, hastily interrupte_er. Though still unconscious how extensive was its influence, He dreaded th_elodious seduction of her voice.
'Seat yourself by my side, Matilda,' said He, assuming a look of firmness, though carefully avoiding the least mixture of severity; 'Listen to m_atiently, and believe, that in what I shall say, I am not more influenced b_y own interest than by yours: Believe, that I feel for you the warmes_riendship, the truest compassion, and that you cannot feel more grieved tha_ do, when I declare to you that we must never meet again.'
'Ambrosio!' She cried, in a voice at once expressive of surprise and sorrow.
'Be calm, my Friend! My Rosario! Still let me call you by that name so dear t_e! Our separation is unavoidable; I blush to own, how sensibly it affect_e.— But yet it must be so. I feel myself incapable of treating you wit_ndifference, and that very conviction obliges me to insist upon you_eparture. Matilda, you must stay here no longer.'
'Oh! where shall I now seek for probity? Disgusted with a perfidious world, i_hat happy region does Truth conceal herself? Father, I hoped that She reside_ere; I thought that your bosom had been her favourite shrine. And you to_rove false? Oh God! And you too can betray me?'
'Yes, Father, Yes! 'Tis with justice that I reproach you. Oh! where are you_romises? My Noviciate is not expired, and yet will you compell me to quit th_onastery? Can you have the heart to drive me from you? And have I no_eceived your solemn oath to the contrary?'
'I will not compell you to quit the Monastery: You have received my solem_ath to the contrary. But yet when I throw myself upon your generosity, when _eclare to you the embarrassments in which your presence involves me, will yo_ot release me from that oath? Reflect upon the danger of a discovery, upo_he opprobrium in which such an event would plunge me: Reflect that my honou_nd reputation are at stake, and that my peace of mind depends on you_ompliance. As yet my heart is free; I shall separate from you with regret, but not with despair. Stay here, and a few weeks will sacrifice my happines_n the altar of your charms. You are but too interesting, too amiable! _hould love you, I should doat on you! My bosom would become the prey o_esires which Honour and my profession forbid me to gratify. If I resiste_hem, the impetuosity of my wishes unsatisfied would drive me to madness: If _ielded to the temptation, I should sacrifice to one moment of guilty pleasur_y reputation in this world, my salvation in the next. To you then I fly fo_efence against myself. Preserve me from losing the reward of thirty years o_ufferings! Preserve me from becoming the Victim of Remorse! YOUR heart ha_lready felt the anguish of hopeless love; Oh! then if you really value me, spare mine that anguish! Give me back my promise; Fly from these walls. Go, and you bear with you my warmest prayers for your happiness, my friendship, m_steem and admiration: Stay, and you become to me the source of danger, o_ufferings, of despair! Answer me, Matilda; What is your resolve?'—She wa_ilent—'Will you not speak, Matilda? Will you not name your choice?'
'Cruel! Cruel!' She exclaimed, wringing her hands in agony; 'You know too wel_hat you offer me no choice! You know too well that I can have no will bu_ours!'
'I was not then deceived! Matilda's generosity equals my expectations.'
'Yes; I will prove the truth of my affection by submitting to a decree whic_uts me to the very heart. Take back your promise. I will quit the Monaster_his very day. I have a Relation, Abbess of a Covent in Estramadura: To he_ill I bend my steps, and shut myself from the world for ever. Yet tell me, Father; Shall I bear your good wishes with me to my solitude? Will yo_ometimes abstract your attention from heavenly objects to bestow a though_pon me?'
'Ah! Matilda, I fear that I shall think on you but too often for my repose!'
'Then I have nothing more to wish for, save that we may meet in heaven.
Farewell, my Friend! my Ambrosio!— And yet methinks, I would fain bear with m_ome token of your regard!'
'What shall I give you?'
'Something.—Any thing.—One of those flowers will be sufficient.' (Here Sh_ointed to a bush of Roses, planted at the door of the Grotto.) 'I will hid_t in my bosom, and when I am dead, the Nuns shall find it withered upon m_eart.'
The Friar was unable to reply: With slow steps, and a soul heavy wit_ffliction, He quitted the Hermitage. He approached the Bush, and stooped t_luck one of the Roses. Suddenly He uttered a piercing cry, started bac_astily, and let the flower, which He already held, fall from his hand.
Matilda heard the shriek, and flew anxiously towards him.
'What is the matter?' She cried; 'Answer me, for God's sake! What ha_appened?'
'I have received my death!' He replied in a faint voice; 'Concealed among th_oses … A Serpent… .'
Here the pain of his wound became so exquisite, that Nature was unable to bea_t: His senses abandoned him, and He sank inanimate into Matilda's arms.
Her distress was beyond the power of description. She rent her hair, beat he_osom, and not daring to quit Ambrosio, endeavoured by loud cries to summo_he Monks to her assistance. She at length succeeded. Alarmed by her shrieks, Several of the Brothers hastened to the spot, and the Superior was conveye_ack to the Abbey. He was immediately put to bed, and the Monk who officiate_s Surgeon to the Fraternity prepared to examine the wound. By this tim_mbrosio's hand had swelled to an extraordinary size; The remedies which ha_een administered to him, 'tis true, restored him to life, but not to hi_enses; He raved in all the horrors of delirium, foamed at the mouth, and fou_f the strongest Monks were scarcely able to hold him in his bed.
Father Pablos, such was the Surgeon's name, hastened to examine the wounde_and. The Monks surrounded the Bed, anxiously waiting for the decision: Amon_hese the feigned Rosario appeared not the most insensible to the Friar'_alamity. He gazed upon the Sufferer with inexpressible anguish; and th_roans which every moment escaped from his bosom sufficiently betrayed th_iolence of his affliction.
Father Pablos probed the wound. As He drew out his Lancet, its point wa_inged with a greenish hue. He shook his head mournfully, and quitted th_edside.
' 'Tis as I feared!' said He; 'There is no hope.'
'No hope?' exclaimed the Monks with one voice; 'Say you, no hope?'
'From the sudden effects, I suspected that the Abbot was stung by _ientipedoro: The venom which you see upon my Lancet confirms my idea: H_annot live three days.'
'And can no possible remedy be found?' enquired Rosario.
'Without extracting the poison, He cannot recover; and how to extract it is t_e still a secret. All that I can do is to apply such herbs to the wound a_ill relieve the anguish: The Patient will be restored to his senses; But th_enom will corrupt the whole mass of his blood, and in three days He wil_xist no longer.'
Excessive was the universal grief at hearing this decision. Pablos, as He ha_romised, dressed the wound, and then retired, followed by his Companions: Rosario alone remained in the Cell, the Abbot at his urgent entreaty havin_een committed to his care. Ambrosio's strength worn out by the violence o_is exertions, He had by this time fallen into a profound sleep. So totall_as He overcome by weariness, that He scarcely gave any signs of life; He wa_till in this situation, when the Monks returned to enquire whether any chang_ad taken place. Pablos loosened the bandage which concealed the wound, mor_rom a principle of curiosity than from indulging the hope of discovering an_avourable symptoms. What was his astonishment at finding, that th_nflammation had totally subsided! He probed the hand; His Lancet came ou_ure and unsullied; No traces of the venom were perceptible; and had not th_rifice still been visible, Pablos might have doubted that there had ever bee_ wound.
He communicated this intelligence to his Brethren; their delight was onl_qualled by their surprize. From the latter sentiment, however, they were soo_eleased by explaining the circumstance according to their own ideas: The_ere perfectly convinced that their Superior was a Saint, and thought, tha_othing could be more natural than for St. Francis to have operated a miracl_n his favour. This opinion was adopted unanimously: They declared it s_oudly, and vociferated,—'A miracle! a miracle!'—with such fervour, that the_oon interrupted Ambrosio's slumbers.
The Monks immediately crowded round his Bed, and expressed their satisfactio_t his wonderful recovery. He was perfectly in his senses, and free from ever_omplaint except feeling weak and languid. Pablos gave him a strengthenin_edicine, and advised his keeping his bed for the two succeeding days: He the_etired, having desired his Patient not to exhaust himself by conversation, but rather to endeavour at taking some repose. The other Monks followed hi_xample, and the Abbot and Rosario were left without Observers.
For some minutes Ambrosio regarded his Attendant with a look of mingle_leasure and apprehension. She was seated upon the side of the Bed, her hea_ending down, and as usual enveloped in the Cowl of her Habit.
'And you are still here, Matilda?' said the Friar at length. 'Are you no_atisfied with having so nearly effected my destruction, that nothing but _iracle could have saved me from the Grave? Ah! surely Heaven sent tha_erpent to punish… .'
Matilda interrupted him by putting her hand before his lips with an air o_aiety.
'Hush! Father, Hush! You must not talk!'
'He who imposed that order, knew not how interesting are the subjects on whic_ wish to speak.'
'But I know it, and yet issue the same positive command. I am appointed you_urse, and you must not disobey my orders.'
'You are in spirits, Matilda!'
'Well may I be so: I have just received a pleasure unexampled through my whol_ife.'
'What was that pleasure?'
'What I must conceal from all, but most from you.'
'But most from me? Nay then, I entreat you, Matilda… .'
'Hush, Father! Hush! You must not talk. But as you do not seem inclined t_leep, shall I endeavour to amuse you with my Harp?'
'How? I knew not that you understood Music.'
'Oh! I am a sorry Performer! Yet as silence is prescribed you for eight an_orty hours, I may possibly entertain you, when wearied of your ow_eflections. I go to fetch my Harp.'
She soon returned with it.
'Now, Father; What shall I sing? Will you hear the Ballad which treats of th_allant Durandarte, who died in the famous battle of Roncevalles?'
'What you please, Matilda.'
'Oh! call me not Matilda! Call me Rosario, call me your Friend! Those are th_ames, which I love to hear from your lips. Now listen!'
She then tuned her harp, and afterwards preluded for some moments with suc_xquisite taste as to prove her a perfect Mistress of the Instrument. The ai_hich She played was soft and plaintive:
Ambrosio, while He listened, felt his uneasiness subside, and a pleasin_elancholy spread itself into his bosom. Suddenly Matilda changed the strain: With an hand bold and rapid She struck a few loud martial chords, and the_haunted the following Ballad to an air at once simple and melodious.
**DURANDARTE AND BELERMA**
Sad and fearful is the story Of the Roncevalles fight; On those fatal plain_f glory Perished many a gallant Knight.
There fell Durandarte; Never Verse a nobler Chieftain named: He, before hi_ips for ever Closed in silence thus exclaimed.
'Oh! Belerma! Oh! my dear-one! For my pain and pleasure born! Seven long year_ served thee, fair-one, Seven long years my fee was scorn:
'And when now thy heart replying To my wishes, burns like mine, Cruel Fate m_liss denying Bids me every hope resign.
'Ah! Though young I fall, believe me, Death would never claim a sigh; 'Tis t_ose thee, 'tis to leave thee, Makes me think it hard to die!
'Oh! my Cousin Montesinos, By that friendship firm and dear Which from Yout_as lived between us, Now my last petition hear!
'When my Soul these limbs forsaking Eager seeks a purer air, From my breas_he cold heart taking, Give it to Belerma's care.
Say, I of my lands Possessor Named her with my dying breath: Say, my lips _p'd to bless her, Ere they closed for aye in death:
'Twice a week too how sincerely I adored her, Cousin, say; Twice a week fo_ne who dearly Loved her, Cousin, bid her pray.
'Montesinos, now the hour Marked by fate is near at hand: Lo! my arm has los_ts power! Lo! I drop my trusty brand!
'Eyes, which forth beheld me going, Homewards ne'er shall see me hie! Cousin, stop those tears o'er-flowing, Let me on thy bosom die!
'Thy kind hand my eyelids closing, Yet one favour I implore: Pray Thou for m_oul's reposing, When my heart shall throb no more;
'So shall Jesus, still attending Gracious to a Christian's vow, Pleased accep_y Ghost ascending, And a seat in heaven allow.'
Thus spoke gallant Durandarte; Soon his brave heart broke in twain. Greatl_oyed the Moorish party, That the gallant Knight was slain.
Bitter weeping Montesinos Took from him his helm and glaive; Bitter weepin_ontesinos Dug his gallant Cousin's grave.
To perform his promise made, He Cut the heart from out the breast, Tha_elerma, wretched Lady! Might receive the last bequest.
Sad was Montesinos' heart, He Felt distress his bosom rend. 'Oh! my Cousi_urandarte, Woe is me to view thy end!
'Sweet in manners, fair in favour, Mild in temper, fierce in fight, Warrior, nobler, gentler, braver, Never shall behold the light!
'Cousin, Lo! my tears bedew thee! How shall I thy loss survive! Durandarte, H_ho slew thee, Wherefore left He me alive!'
While She sung, Ambrosio listened with delight: Never had He heard a voic_ore harmonious; and He wondered how such heavenly sounds could be produced b_ny but Angels. But though He indulged the sense of hearing, a single loo_onvinced him that He must not trust to that of sight. The Songstress sat at _ittle distance from his Bed. The attitude in which She bent over her harp, was easy and graceful: Her Cowl had fallen back- warder than usual: Two cora_ips were visible, ripe, fresh, and melting, and a Chin in whose dimple_eemed to lurk a thousand Cupids. Her Habit's long sleeve would have swep_long the Chords of the Instrument: To prevent this inconvenience She ha_rawn it above her elbow, and by this means an arm was discovered formed i_he most perfect symmetry, the delicacy of whose skin might have contende_ith snow in whiteness. Ambrosio dared to look on her but once: That glanc_ufficed to convince him, how dangerous was the presence of this seducin_bject. He closed his eyes, but strove in vain to banish her from hi_houghts. There She still moved before him, adorned with all those charm_hich his heated imagination could supply: Every beauty which He had seen, appeared embellished, and those still concealed Fancy represented to him i_lowing colours. Still, however, his vows and the necessity of keeping to the_ere present to his memory. He struggled with desire, and shuddered when H_eheld how deep was the precipice before him.
Matilda ceased to sing. Dreading the influence of her charms, Ambrosi_emained with his eyes closed, and offered up his prayers to St. Francis t_ssist him in this dangerous trial! Matilda believed that He was sleeping. Sh_ose from her seat, approached the Bed softly, and for some minutes gazed upo_im attentively.
'He sleeps!' said She at length in a low voice, but whose accents the Abbo_istinguished perfectly; 'Now then I may gaze upon him without offence! I ma_ix my breath with his; I may doat upon his features, and He cannot suspect m_f impurity and deceit!—He fears my seducing him to the violation of his vows!
Oh! the Unjust! Were it my wish to excite desire, should I conceal my feature_rom him so carefully? Those features, of which I daily hear him… .'
She stopped, and was lost in her reflections.
'It was but yesterday!' She continued; 'But a few short hours have past, sinc_ was dear to him! He esteemed me, and my heart was satisfied! Now!… Oh! no_ow cruelly is my situation changed! He looks on me with suspicion! He bids m_eave him, leave him for ever! Oh! You, my Saint! my Idol! You, holding th_ext place to God in my breast! Yet two days, and my heart will be unveiled t_ou.—Could you know my feelings, when I beheld your agony! Could you know, ho_uch your sufferings have endeared you to me! But the time will come, when yo_ill be convinced that my passion is pure and disinterested. Then you wil_ity me, and feel the whole weight of these sorrows!'
As She said this, her voice was choaked by weeping. While She bent ove_mbrosio, a tear fell upon his cheek.
'Ah! I have disturbed him!' cried Matilda, and retreated hastily.
Her alarm was ungrounded. None sleep so profoundly, as those who ar_etermined not to wake. The Friar was in this predicament: He still seeme_uried in a repose, which every succeeding minute rendered him less capable o_njoying. The burning tear had communicated its warmth to his heart.
'What affection! What purity!' said He internally; 'Ah! since my bosom is thu_ensible of pity, what would it be if agitated by love?'
Matilda again quitted her seat, and retired to some distance from the Bed.
Ambrosio ventured to open his eyes, and to cast them upon her fearfully. He_ace was turned from him. She rested her head in a melancholy posture upon he_arp, and gazed on the picture which hung opposite to the Bed.
'Happy, happy Image!' Thus did She address the beautiful Madona; ' 'Tis to yo_hat He offers his prayers! 'Tis on you that He gazes with admiration! _hought you would have lightened my sorrows; You have only served to increas_heir weight: You have made me feel that had I known him ere his vows wer_ronounced, Ambrosio and happiness might have been mine. With what pleasure H_iews this picture! With what fervour He addresses his prayers to th_nsensible Image! Ah! may not his sentiments be inspired by some kind an_ecret Genius, Friend to my affection? May it not be Man's natural instinc_hich informs him… Be silent, idle hopes! Let me not encourage an idea whic_akes from the brilliance of Ambrosio's virtue. 'Tis Religion, not Beaut_hich attracts his admiration; 'Tis not to the Woman, but the Divinity that H_neels. Would He but address to me the least tender expression which He pour_orth to this Madona! Would He but say that were He not already affianced t_he Church, He would not have despised Matilda! Oh! let me nourish that fon_dea! Perhaps He may yet acknowledge that He feels for me more than pity, an_hat affection like mine might well have deserved a return; Perhaps, He ma_wn thus much when I lye on my deathbed! He then need not fear to infringe hi_ows, and the confession of his regard will soften the pangs of dying. Would _ere sure of this! Oh! how earnestly should I sigh for the moment o_issolution!'
Of this discourse the Abbot lost not a syllable; and the tone in which Sh_ronounced these last words pierced to his heart. Involuntarily He raise_imself from his pillow.
'Matilda!' He said in a troubled voice; 'Oh! my Matilda!'
She started at the sound, and turned towards him hastily. The suddenness o_er movement made her Cowl fall back from her head; Her features becam_isible to the Monk's enquiring eye. What was his amazement at beholding th_xact resemblance of his admired Madona? The same exquisite proportion o_eatures, the same profusion of golden hair, the same rosy lips, heavenl_yes, and majesty of countenance adorned Matilda! Uttering an exclamation o_urprize, Ambrosio sank back upon his pillow, and doubted whether the Objec_efore him was mortal or divine.
Matilda seemed penetrated with confusion. She remained motionless in he_lace, and supported herself upon her Instrument. Her eyes were bent upon th_arth, and her fair cheeks overspread with blushes. On recovering herself, he_irst action was to conceal her features. She then in an unsteady and trouble_oice ventured to address these words to the Friar.
'Accident has made you Master of a secret, which I never would have reveale_ut on the Bed of death. Yes, Ambrosio; In Matilda de Villanegas you see th_riginal of your beloved Madona. Soon after I conceived my unfortunat_assion, I formed the project of conveying to you my Picture: Crowds o_dmirers had persuaded me that I possessed some beauty, and I was anxious t_now what effect it would produce upon you. I caused my Portrait to be draw_y Martin Galuppi, a celebrated Venetian at that time resident in Madrid. Th_esemblance was striking: I sent it to the Capuchin Abbey as if for sale, an_he Jew from whom you bought it was one of my Emissaries. You purchased it.
Judge of my rapture, when informed that you had gazed upon it with delight, o_ather with adoration; that you had suspended it in your Cell, and that yo_ddressed your supplications to no other Saint. Will this discovery make m_till more regarded as an object of suspicion? Rather should it convince yo_ow pure is my affection, and engage you to suffer me in your society an_steem. I heard you daily extol the praises of my Portrait: I was a_yewitness of the transports, which its beauty excited in you: Yet I forbor_o use against your virtue those arms, with which yourself had furnished me. _oncealed those features from your sight, which you loved unconsciously. _trove not to excite desire by displaying my charms, or to make mysel_istress of your heart through the medium of your senses. To attract you_otice by studiously attending to religious duties, to endear myself to you b_onvincing you that my mind was virtuous and my attachment sincere, such wa_y only aim. I succeeded; I became your companion and your Friend. I conceale_y sex from your knowledge; and had you not pressed me to reveal my secret, had I not been tormented by the fear of a discovery, never had you known m_or any other than Rosario. And still are you resolved to drive me from you?
The few hours of life which yet remain for me, may I not pass them in you_resence? Oh! speak, Ambrosio, and tell me that I may stay!'
This speech gave the Abbot an opportunity of recollecting himself. He wa_onscious that in the present disposition of his mind, avoiding her societ_as his only refuge from the power of this enchanting Woman.
'You declaration has so much astonished me,' said He, 'that I am at presen_ncapable of answering you. Do not insist upon a reply, Matilda; Leave me t_yself; I have need to be alone.'
'I obey you—But before I go, promise not to insist upon my quitting the Abbe_mmediately.'
'Matilda, reflect upon your situation; Reflect upon the consequences of you_tay. Our separation is indispensable, and we must part.'
'But not to-day, Father! Oh! in pity not today!'
'You press me too hard, but I cannot resist that tone of supplication. Sinc_ou insist upon it, I yield to your prayer: I consent to your remaining here _ufficient time to prepare in some measure the Brethren for your departure.
Stay yet two days; But on the third,' … (He sighed involuntarily)—'Remember, that on the third we must part for ever!'
She caught his hand eagerly, and pressed it to her lips.
'On the third?' She exclaimed with an air of wild solemnity; 'You are right, Father! You are right! On the third we must part for ever!'
There was a dreadful expression in her eye as She uttered these words, whic_enetrated the Friar's soul with horror: Again She kissed his hand, and the_led with rapidity from the chamber.
Anxious to authorise the presence of his dangerous Guest, yet conscious tha_er stay was infringing the laws of his order, Ambrosio's bosom became th_heatre of a thousand contending passions. At length his attachment to th_eigned Rosario, aided by the natural warmth of his temperament, seemed likel_o obtain the victory: The success was assured, when that presumption whic_ormed the groundwork of his character came to Matilda's assistance. The Mon_eflected that to vanquish temptation was an infinitely greater merit than t_void it: He thought that He ought rather to rejoice in the opportunity give_im of proving the firmness of his virtue. St. Anthony had withstood al_eductions to lust; Then why should not He? Besides, St. Anthony was tempte_y the Devil, who put every art into practice to excite his passions: Whereas, Ambrosio's danger proceeded from a mere mortal Woman, fearful and modest, whose apprehensions of his yielding were not less violent than his own.
'Yes,' said He; 'The Unfortunate shall stay; I have nothing to fear from he_resence. Even should my own prove too weak to resist the temptation, I a_ecured from danger by the innocence of Matilda.'
Ambrosio was yet to learn, that to an heart unacquainted with her, Vice i_ver most dangerous when lurking behind the Mask of Virtue.
He found himself so perfectly recovered, that when Father Pablos visited hi_gain at night, He entreated permission to quit his chamber on the da_ollowing. His request was granted. Matilda appeared no more that evening, except in company with the Monks when they came in a body to enquire after th_bbot's health. She seemed fearful of conversing with him in private, an_tayed but a few minutes in his room. The Friar slept well; But the dreams o_he former night were repeated, and his sensations of voluptuousness were ye_ore keen and exquisite. The same lust-exciting visions floated before hi_yes: Matilda, in all the pomp of beauty, warm, tender, and luxurious, claspe_im to her bosom, and lavished upon him the most ardent caresses. He returne_hem as eagerly, and already was on the point of satisfying his desires, whe_he faithless form disappeared, and left him to all the horrors of shame an_isappointment.
The Morning dawned. Fatigued, harassed, and exhausted by his provoking dreams, He was not disposed to quit his Bed. He excused himself from appearing a_atins: It was the first morning in his life that He had ever missed them. H_ose late. During the whole of the day He had no opportunity of speaking t_atilda without witnesses. His Cell was thronged by the Monks, anxious t_xpress their concern at his illness; And He was still occupied in receivin_heir compliments on his recovery, when the Bell summoned them to th_efectory.
After dinner the Monks separated, and dispersed themselves in various parts o_he Garden, where the shade of trees or retirement of some Grotto presente_he most agreeable means of enjoying the Siesta. The Abbot bent his step_owards the Hermitage: A glance of his eye invited Matilda to accompany him.
She obeyed, and followed him thither in silence. They entered the Grotto, an_eated themselves. Both seemed unwilling to begin the conversation, and t_abour under the influence of mutual embarrassment. At length the Abbot spoke: He conversed only on indifferent topics, and Matilda answered him in the sam_one. She seemed anxious to make him forget that the Person who sat by him wa_ny other than Rosario. Neither of them dared, or indeed wished to make a_llusion, to the subject which was most at the hearts of both.
Matilda's efforts to appear gay were evidently forced: Her spirits wer_ppressed by the weight of anxiety, and when She spoke her voice was low an_eeble. She seemed desirous of finishing a conversation which embarrassed her; and complaining that She was unwell, She requested Ambrosio's permission t_eturn to the Abbey. He accompanied her to the door of her cell; and whe_rrived there, He stopped her to declare his consent to her continuing th_artner of his solitude so long as should be agreeable to herself.
She discovered no marks of pleasure at receiving this intelligence, though o_he preceding day She had been so anxious to obtain the permission.
'Alas! Father,' She said, waving her head mournfully; 'Your kindness comes to_ate! My doom is fixed. We must separate for ever. Yet believe, that I a_rateful for your generosity, for your compassion of an Unfortunate who is bu_oo little deserving of it!'
She put her handkerchief to her eyes. Her Cowl was only half drawn over he_ace. Ambrosio observed that She was pale, and her eyes sunk and heavy.
'Good God!' He cried; 'You are very ill, Matilda! I shall send Father Pablo_o you instantly.'
'No; Do not. I am ill, 'tis true; But He cannot cure my malady. Farewell, Father! Remember me in your prayers tomorrow, while I shall remember you i_eaven!'
She entered her cell, and closed the door.
The Abbot dispatched to her the Physician without losing a moment, and waite_is report impatiently. But Father Pablos soon returned, and declared that hi_rrand had been fruitless. Rosario refused to admit him, and had positivel_ejected his offers of assistance. The uneasiness which this account gav_mbrosio was not trifling: Yet He determined that Matilda should have her ow_ay for that night: But that if her situation did not mend by the morning, h_ould insist upon her taking the advice of Father Pablos.
He did not find himself inclined to sleep. He opened his casement, and gaze_pon the moonbeams as they played upon the small stream whose waters bathe_he walls of the Monastery. The coolness of the night breeze and tranquillit_f the hour inspired the Friar's mind with sadness. He thought upon Matilda'_eauty and affection; Upon the pleasures which He might have shared with her, had He not been restrained by monastic fetters. He reflected, that unsustaine_y hope her love for him could not long exist; That doubtless She woul_ucceed in extinguishing her passion, and seek for happiness in the arms o_ne more fortunate. He shuddered at the void which her absence would leave i_is bosom. He looked with disgust on the monotony of a Convent, and breathed _igh towards that world from which He was for ever separated. Such were th_eflections which a loud knocking at his door interrupted. The Bell of th_hurch had already struck Two. The Abbot hastened to enquire the cause of thi_isturbance. He opened the door of his Cell, and a Lay-Brother entered, whos_ooks declared his hurry and confusion.
'Hasten, reverend Father!' said He; 'Hasten to the young Rosario.
He earnestly requests to see you; He lies at the point of death.'
'Gracious God! Where is Father Pablos? Why is He not with him? Oh! I fear! _ear!'
'Father Pablos has seen him, but his art can do nothing. He says that H_uspects the Youth to be poisoned.'
'Poisoned? Oh! The Unfortunate! It is then as I suspected! But let me not los_ moment; Perhaps it may yet be time to save her!'
He said, and flew towards the Cell of the Novice. Several Monks were alread_n the chamber. Father Pablos was one of them, and held a medicine in his han_hich He was endeavouring to persuade Rosario to swallow. The Others wer_mployed in admiring the Patient's divine countenance, which They now saw fo_he first time. She looked lovelier than ever. She was no longer pale o_anguid; A bright glow had spread itself over her cheeks; her eyes sparkle_ith a serene delight, and her countenance was expressive of confidence an_esignation.
'Oh! torment me no more!' was She saying to Pablos, when the terrified Abbo_ushed hastily into the Cell; 'My disease is far beyond the reach of you_kill, and I wish not to be cured of it'—Then perceiving Ambrosio,— 'Ah! 'ti_e!' She cried; 'I see him once again, before we part for ever! Leave me, m_rethren; Much have I to tell this holy Man in private.'
The Monks retired immediately, and Matilda and the Abbot remained together.
'What have you done, imprudent Woman!' exclaimed the Latter, as soon as the_ere left alone; 'Tell me; Are my suspicions just? Am I indeed to lose you?
Has your own hand been the instrument of your destruction?'
She smiled, and grasped his hand.
'In what have I been imprudent, Father? I have sacrificed a pebble, and save_ diamond: My death preserves a life valuable to the world, and more dear t_e than my own. Yes, Father; I am poisoned; But know that the poison onc_irculated in your veins.'
'What I tell you I resolved never to discover to you but on the bed of death: That moment is now arrived. You cannot have forgotten the day already, whe_our life was endangered by the bite of a Cientipedoro. The Physician gave yo_ver, declaring himself ignorant how to extract the venom: I knew but of on_eans, and hesitated not a moment to employ it. I was left alone with you: Yo_lept; I loosened the bandage from your hand; I kissed the wound, and drew ou_he poison with my lips. The effect has been more sudden than I expected. _eel death at my heart; Yet an hour, and I shall be in a better world.'
'Almighty God!' exclaimed the Abbot, and sank almost lifeless upon the Bed.
After a few minutes He again raised himself up suddenly, and gazed upo_atilda with all the wildness of despair.
'And you have sacrificed yourself for me! You die, and die to preserv_mbrosio! And is there indeed no remedy, Matilda? And is there indeed no hope?
Speak to me, Oh! speak to me! Tell me, that you have still the means of life!'
'Be comforted, my only Friend! Yes, I have still the means of life in m_ower: But 'tis a means which I dare not employ. It is dangerous! It i_readful! Life would be purchased at too dear a rate, … unless it wer_ermitted me to live for you.'
'Then live for me, Matilda, for me and gratitude!'— (He caught her hand, an_ressed it rapturously to his lips.)—'Remember our late conversations; I no_onsent to every thing: Remember in what lively colours you described th_nion of souls; Be it ours to realize those ideas. Let us forget th_istinctions of sex, despise the world's prejudices, and only consider eac_ther as Brother and Friend. Live then, Matilda! Oh! live for me!'
'Ambrosio, it must not be. When I thought thus, I deceived both you an_yself. Either I must die at present, or expire by the lingering torments o_nsatisfied desire. Oh! since we last conversed together, a dreadful veil ha_een rent from before my eyes. I love you no longer with the devotion which i_aid to a Saint: I prize you no more for the virtues of your soul; I lust fo_he enjoyment of your person. The Woman reigns in my bosom, and I am become _rey to the wildest of passions. Away with friendship! 'tis a cold unfeelin_ord. My bosom burns with love, with unutterable love, and love must be it_eturn. Tremble then, Ambrosio, tremble to succeed in your prayers. If I live, your truth, your reputation, your reward of a life past in sufferings, al_hat you value is irretrievably lost. I shall no longer be able to combat m_assions, shall seize every opportunity to excite your desires, and labour t_ffect your dishonour and my own. No, no, Ambrosio; I must not live! I a_onvinced with every moment, that I have but one alternative; I feel wit_very heart-throb, that I must enjoy you, or die.'
'Amazement!—Matilda! Can it be you who speak to me?'
He made a movement as if to quit his seat. She uttered a loud shriek, an_aising herself half out of the Bed, threw her arms round the Friar to detai_im.
'Oh! do not leave me! Listen to my errors with compassion! In a few hours _hall be no more; Yet a little, and I am free from this disgraceful passion.'
'Wretched Woman, what can I say to you! I cannot … I must not … But live, Matilda! Oh! live!'
'You do not reflect on what you ask. What? Live to plunge myself in infamy? T_ecome the Agent of Hell? To work the destruction both of you and of Myself?
Feel this heart, Father!'
She took his hand: Confused, embarrassed, and fascinated, He withdrew it not, and felt her heart throb under it.
'Feel this heart, Father! It is yet the seat of honour, truth, and chastity: If it beats tomorrow, it must fall a prey to the blackest crimes. Oh! let m_hen die today! Let me die, while I yet deserve the tears of the virtuous!
Thus will expire!'—(She reclined her head upon his shoulder; Her golden Hai_oured itself over his Chest.)— 'Folded in your arms, I shall sink to sleep; Your hand shall close my eyes for ever, and your lips receive my dying breath.
And will you not sometimes think of me? Will you not sometimes shed a tea_pon my Tomb? Oh! Yes! Yes! Yes! That kiss is my assurance!'
The hour was night. All was silence around. The faint beams of a solitary Lam_arted upon Matilda's figure, and shed through the chamber a dim mysteriou_ight. No prying eye, or curious ear was near the Lovers: Nothing was hear_ut Matilda's melodious accents. Ambrosio was in the full vigour of Manhood.
He saw before him a young and beautiful Woman, the preserver of his life, th_dorer of his person, and whom affection for him had reduced to the brink o_he Grave. He sat upon her Bed; His hand rested upon her bosom; Her hea_eclined voluptuously upon his breast. Who then can wonder, if He yielded t_he temptation? Drunk with desire, He pressed his lips to those which sough_hem: His kisses vied with Matilda's in warmth and passion. He clasped he_apturously in his arms; He forgot his vows, his sanctity, and his fame: H_emembered nothing but the pleasure and opportunity.
'Ambrosio! Oh! my Ambrosio!' sighed Matilda.
'Thine, ever thine!' murmured the Friar, and sank upon her bosom.