> Oh! could I worship aught beneath the skies That earth hath seen or fanc_ould devise, Thine altar, sacred Liberty, should stand, Built by no mercenar_ulgar hand, With fragrant turf, and flowers as wild and fair, As ever dresse_ bank, or scented summer air. Cowper.
His whole attention bent upon bringing to justice the Assassins of his Sister, Lorenzo little thought how severely his interest was suffering in anothe_uarter. As was before mentioned, He returned not to Madrid till the evenin_f that day on which Antonia was buried. Signifying to the Grand Inquisito_he order of the Cardinal-Duke (a ceremony not to be neglected, when a Membe_f the Church was to be arrested publicly) communicating his design to hi_ncle and Don Ramirez, and assembling a troop of Attendants sufficiently t_revent opposition, furnished him with full occupation during the few hour_receding midnight. Consequently, He had no opportunity to enquire about hi_istress, and was perfectly ignorant both of her death and her Mother's.
The Marquis was by no means out of danger: His delirium was gone, but had lef_im so much exhausted that the Physicians declined pronouncing upon th_onsequences likely to ensue. As for Raymond himself, He wished for nothin_ore earnestly than to join Agnes in the grave. Existence was hateful to him: He saw nothing in the world deserving his attention; and He hoped to hear tha_gnes was revenged, and himself given over in the same moment.
Followed by Raymond's ardent prayers for success, Lorenzo was at the Gates o_t. Clare a full hour before the time appointed by the Mother St. Ursula. H_as accompanied by his Uncle, by Don Ramirez de Mello, and a party of chose_rchers. Though in considerable numbers their appearance created no surprize: A great Crowd was already assembled before the Convent doors, in order t_itness the Procession. It was naturally supposed that Lorenzo and hi_ttendants were conducted thither by the same design. The Duke of Medina bein_ecognised, the People drew back, and made way for his party to advance.
Lorenzo placed himself opposite to the great Gate, through which the Pilgrim_ere to pass. Convinced that the Prioress could not escape him, He waite_atiently for her appearance, which She was expected to make exactly a_idnight.
The Nuns were employed in religious duties established in honour of St. Clare, and to which no Prophane was ever admitted. The Chapel windows wer_lluminated. As they stood on the outside, the Auditors heard the full swel_f the organ, accompanied by a chorus of female voices, rise upon th_tillness of the night. This died away, and was succeeded by a single strai_f harmony: It was the voice of her who was destined to sustain in th_rocession the character of St. Clare. For this office the most beautifu_irgin of Madrid was always selected, and She upon whom the choice fel_steemed it as the highest of honours. While listening to the Music, whos_elody distance only seemed to render sweeter, the Audience was wrapped up i_rofound attention. Universal silence prevailed through the Crowd, and ever_eart was filled with reverence for religion. Every heart but Lorenzo's.
Conscious that among those who chaunted the praises of their God so sweetly, there were some who cloaked with devotion the foulest sins, their hymn_nspired him with detestation at their Hypocrisy. He had long observed wit_isapprobation and contempt the superstition which governed Madrid'_nhabitants. His good sense had pointed out to him the artifices of the Monks, and the gross absurdity of their miracles, wonders, and supposititiou_eliques. He blushed to see his Countrymen the Dupes of deceptions s_idiculous, and only wished for an opportunity to free them from their monkis_etters. That opportunity, so long desired in vain, was at length presented t_im. He resolved not to let it slip, but to set before the People in glarin_olours how enormous were the abuses but too frequently practised i_onasteries, and how unjustly public esteem was bestowed indiscriminately upo_ll who wore a religious habit. He longed for the moment destined to unmas_he Hypocrites, and convince his Countrymen that a sanctified exterior doe_ot always hide a virtuous heart.
The service lasted, till Midnight was announced by the Convent Bell. Tha_ound being heard, the Music ceased: The voices died away softly, and soo_fter the lights disappeared from the Chapel windows. Lorenzo's heart bea_igh, when He found the execution of his plan to be at hand. From the natura_uperstition of the People He had prepared himself for some resistance. But H_rusted that the Mother St. Ursula would bring good reasons to justify hi_roceeding. He had force with him to repel the first impulse of the Populace, till his arguments should be heard: His only fear was lest the Domina, suspecting his design, should have spirited away the Nun on whose depositio_very thing depended. Unless the Mother St. Ursula should be present, He coul_nly accuse the Prioress upon suspicion; and this reflection gave him som_ittle apprehension for the success of his enterprize. The tranquillity whic_eemed to reign through the Convent in some degree re-assured him: Still H_xpected the moment eagerly, when the presence of his Ally should deprive hi_f the power of doubting.
The Abbey of Capuchins was only separated from the Convent by the Garden an_emetery. The Monks had been invited to assist at the Pilgrimage. They no_rrived, marching two by two with lighted Torches in their hands, an_haunting Hymns in honour of St. Clare. Father Pablos was at their head, th_bbot having excused himself from attending. The people made way for the hol_rain, and the Friars placed themselves in ranks on either side of the grea_ates. A few minutes sufficed to arrange the order of the Procession. Thi_eing settled, the Convent doors were thrown open, and again the female Choru_ounded in full melody. First appeared a Band of Choristers: As soon as the_ad passed, the Monks fell in two by two, and followed with steps slow an_easured. Next came the Novices; They bore no Tapers, as did the Professed, but moved on with eyes bent downwards, and seemed to be occupied by tellin_heir Beads. To them succeeded a young and lovely Girl, who represented St.
Lucia: She held a golden bason in which were two eyes: Her own were covered b_ velvet bandage, and She was conducted by another Nun habited as an Angel.
She was followed by St. Catherine, a palm-branch in one hand, a flaming Swor_n the other: She was robed in white, and her brow was ornamented with _parkling Diadem. After her appeared St. Genevieve, surrounded by a number o_mps, who putting themselves into grotesque attitudes, drawing her by th_obe, and sporting round her with antic gestures, endeavoured to distract he_ttention from the Book, on which her eyes were constantly fixed. These merr_evils greatly entertained the Spectators, who testified their pleasure b_epeated bursts of Laughter. The Prioress had been careful to select a Nu_hose disposition was naturally solemn and saturnine. She had every reason t_e satisfied with her choice: The drolleries of the Imps were entirely throw_way, and St. Genevieve moved on without discomposing a muscle.
Each of these Saints was separated from the Other by a band of Choristers, exalting her praise in their Hymns, but declaring her to be very much inferio_o St. Clare, the Convent's avowed Patroness. These having passed, a lon_rain of Nuns appeared, bearing like the Choristers each a burning Taper. Nex_ame the reliques of St. Clare, inclosed in vases equally precious for thei_aterials and workmanship: But they attracted not Lorenzo's attention. The Nu_ho bore the heart occupied him entirely. According to Theodore's description, He doubted not her being the Mother St. Ursula. She seemed to look round wit_nxiety. As He stood foremost in the rank by which the procession past, he_ye caught Lorenzo's. A flush of joy overspread her till then pallid cheek.
She turned to her Companion eagerly.
'We are safe!' He heard her whisper; ' 'tis her Brother!'
His heart being now at ease, Lorenzo gazed with tranquillity upon th_emainder of the show. Now appeared its most brilliant ornament. It was _achine fashioned like a throne, rich with jewels and dazzling with light. I_olled onwards upon concealed wheels, and was guided by several lovel_hildren, dressed as Seraphs. The summit was covered with silver clouds, upo_hich reclined the most beautiful form that eyes ever witnessed. It was _amsel representing St. Clare: Her dress was of inestimable price, and roun_er head a wreath of Diamonds formed an artificial glory: But all thes_rnaments yielded to the lustre of her charms. As She advanced, a murmur o_elight ran through the Crowd. Even Lorenzo confessed secretly, that He neve_eheld more perfect beauty, and had not his heart been Antonia's, it must hav_allen a sacrifice to this enchanting Girl. As it was, He considered her onl_s a fine Statue: She obtained from him no tribute save cold admiration, an_hen She had passed him, He thought of her no more.
'Who is She?' asked a By-stander in Lorenzo's hearing.
'One whose beauty you must often have heard celebrated. Her name is Virgini_e Villa-Franca: She is a Pensioner of St. Clare's Convent, a Relation of th_rioress, and has been selected with justice as the ornament of th_rocession.'
The Throne moved onwards. It was followed by the Prioress herself: She marche_t the head of the remaining Nuns with a devout and sanctified air, and close_he procession. She moved on slowly: Her eyes were raised to heaven: He_ountenance calm and tranquil seemed abstracted from all sublunary things, an_o feature betrayed her secret pride at displaying the pomp and opulence o_er Convent. She passed along, accompanied by the prayers and benedictions o_he Populace: But how great was the general confusion and surprize, when Do_amirez starting forward, challenged her as his Prisoner.
For a moment amazement held the Domina silent and immoveable: But no soone_id She recover herself, than She exclaimed against sacrilege and impiety, an_alled the People to rescue a Daughter of the Church. They were eagerl_reparing to obey her; when Don Ramirez, protected by the Archers from thei_age, commanded them to forbear, and threatened them with the severes_engeance of the Inquisition. At that dreaded word every arm fell, every swor_hrunk back into its scabbard. The Prioress herself turned pale, and trembled.
The general silence convinced her that She had nothing to hope but fro_nnocence, and She besought Don Ramirez in a faultering voice, to inform he_f what crime She was accused.
'That you shall know in time,' replied He; 'But first I must secure the Mothe_t. Ursula.'
'The Mother St. Ursula?' repeated the Domina faintly.
At this moment casting her eyes round, She saw near her Lorenzo and the Duke, who had followed Don Ramirez.
'Ah! great God!' She cried, clasping her hands together with a frantic air; '_m betrayed!'
'Betrayed?' replied St. Ursula, who now arrived conducted by some of th_rchers, and followed by the Nun her Companion in the procession: 'No_etrayed, but discovered. In me recognise your Accuser: You know not how wel_ am instructed in your guilt!—Segnor!' She continued, turning to Don Ramirez;
'I commit myself to your custody. I charge the Prioress of St. Clare wit_urder, and stake my life for the justice of my accusation.'
A general cry of surprize was uttered by the whole Audience, and a_xplanation was demanded loudly.n The trembling Nuns, terrifiedat the nois_nd universal confusion, had dispersed, and fleddifferent ways. Some regaine_he Convent; Others sought refugein the dwellings of their Relations; an_any, only sensible oftheir present danger, and anxious to escape from th_umult, ran through the Streets, and wandered, they knew not whither. Th_ovely Virginia was one of the first to fly: And in order that She might b_etter seen and heard, the People desired that St. Ursula should harangue the_rom the vacant Throne. The Nun complied; She ascended the glittering Machine, and then addressed the surrounding multitude as follows.
'However strange and unseemly may appear my conduct, when considered to b_dopted by a Female and a Nun, necessity will justify it most fully. A secret, an horrible secret weighs heavy upon my soul: No rest can be mine till I hav_evealed it to the world, and satisfied that innocent blood which calls fro_he Grave for vengeance. Much have I dared to gain this opportunity o_ightening my conscience. Had I failed in my attempt to reveal the crime, ha_he Domina but suspected that the mystery was none to me, my ruin wa_nevitable. Angels who watch unceasingly over those who deserve their favour, have enabled me to escape detection: I am now at liberty to relate a Tale, whose circumstances will freeze every honest soul with horror. Mine is th_ask to rend the veil from Hypocrisy, and show misguided Parents to wha_angers the Woman is exposed, who falls under the sway of a monastic Tyrant.
'Among the Votaries of St. Clare, none was more lovely, none more gentle, tha_gnes de Medina. I knew her well; She entrusted to me every secret of he_eart; I was her Friend and Confident, and I loved her with sincere affection.
Nor was I singular in my attachment. Her piety unfeigned, her willingness t_blige, and her angelic disposition, rendered her the Darling of all that wa_stimable in the Convent. The Prioress herself, proud, scrupulous an_orbidding, could not refuse Agnes that tribute of approbation which Sh_estowed upon no one else. Every one has some fault: Alas! Agnes had he_eakness! She violated the laws of our order, and incurred the inveterate hat_f the unforgiving Domina. St. Clare's rules are severe: But grown antiquate_nd neglected, many of late years have either been forgotten, or changed b_niversal consent into milder punishments. The penance, adjudged to the crim_f Agnes, was most cruel, most inhuman! The law had been long exploded: Alas!
It still existed, and the revengeful Prioress now determined to revive it.
This law decreed that the Offender should be plunged into a private dungeon, expressly constituted to hide from the world for ever the Victim of Cruelt_nd tyrannic superstition. In this dreadful abode She was to lead a perpetua_olitude, deprived of all society, and believed to be dead by those who_ffection might have prompted to attempt her rescue. Thus was She to languis_ut the remainder of her days, with no other food than bread and water, and n_ther comfort than the free indulgence of her tears.'
The indignation created by this account was so violent, as for some moments t_nterrupt St. Ursula's narrative. When the disturbance ceased, and silenc_gain prevailed through the Assembly, She continued her discourse, while a_very word the Domina's countenance betrayed her increasing terrors.
'A Council of the twelve elder Nuns was called: I was of the number. Th_rioress in exaggerated colours described the offence of Agnes, and scruple_ot to propose the revival of this almost forgotten law. To the shame of ou_ex be it spoken, that either so absolute was the Domina's will in th_onvent, or so much had disappointment, solitude, and self-denial hardene_heir hearts and sowered their tempers that this barbarous proposal wa_ssented to by nine voices out of the twelve. I was not one of the nine.
Frequent opportunities had convinced me of the virtues of Agnes, and I love_nd pitied her most sincerely. The Mothers Bertha and Cornelia joined m_arty: We made the strongest opposition possible, and the Superior foun_erself compelled to change her intention. In spite of the majority in he_avour, She feared to break with us openly. She knew that supported by th_edina family, our forces would be too strong for her to cope with: And Sh_lso knew that after being once imprisoned and supposed dead, should Agnes b_iscovered, her ruin would be inevitable. She therefore gave up her design, though which much reluctance. She demanded some days to reflect upon a mode o_unishment which might be agreeable to the whole Community; and She promised, that as soon as her resolution was fixed, the same Council should be agai_ummoned. Two days passed away: On the Evening of the Third it was announce_hat on the next day Agnes should be examined; and that according to he_ehaviour on that occasion, her punishment should be either strengthened o_itigated.
'On the night preceding this examination, I stole to the Cell of Agnes at a_our when I supposed the other Nuns to be buried in sleep. I comforted her t_he best of my power: I bad her take courage, told her to rely upon th_upport of her friends, and taught her certain signs, by which I migh_nstruct her to answer the Domina's questions by an assent or negative.
Conscious that her Enemy would strive to confuse, embarrass, and daunt her, _eared her being ensnared into some confession prejudicial to her interests.
Being anxious to keep my visit secret, I stayed with Agnes but a short time. _ad her not let her spirits be cast down; I mingled my tears with those whic_treamed down her cheek, embraced her fondly, and was on the point o_etiring, when I heard the sound of steps approaching the Cell. I starte_ack. A Curtain which veiled a large Crucifix offered me a retreat, and _astened to place myself behind it. The door opened. The Prioress entered, followed by four other Nuns. They advanced towards the bed of Agnes. Th_uperior reproached her with her errors in the bitterest terms: She told he_hat She was a disgrace to the Convent, that She was resolved to deliver th_orld and herself from such a Monster, and commanded her to drink the content_f a Goblet now presented to her by one of the Nuns. Aware of the fata_roperties of the liquor, and trembling to find herself upon the brink o_ternity, the unhappy Girl strove to excite the Domina's pity by the mos_ffecting prayers.
She sued for life in terms which might have melted the heart of a Fiend: Sh_romised to submit patiently to any punishment, to shame, imprisonment, an_orture, might She but be permitted to live! Oh! might She but live anothe_onth, or week, or day! Her merciless Enemy listened to her complaint_nmoved: She told her that at first She meant to have spared her life, an_hat if She had altered her intention, She had to thank the opposition of he_riends. She continued to insist upon her swallowing the poison: She bad he_ecommend herself to the Almighty's mercy, not to hers, and assured her tha_n an hour She would be numbered with the Dead. Perceiving that it was vain t_mplore this unfeeling Woman, She attempted to spring from her bed, and cal_or assistance: She hoped, if She could not escape the fate announced to her, at least to have witnesses of the violence committed. The Prioress guessed he_esign. She seized her forcibly by the arm, and pushed her back upon he_illow. At the same time drawing a dagger, and placing it at the breast of th_nfortunate Agnes, She protested that if She uttered a single cry, o_esitated a single moment to drink the poison, She would pierce her heart tha_nstant. Already half-dead with fear, She could make no further resistance.
The Nun approached with the fatal Goblet. The Domina obliged her to take it, and swallow the contents. She drank, and the horrid deed was accomplished. Th_uns then seated themselves round the Bed. They answered her groans wit_eproaches; They interrupted with sarcasms the prayers in which Sh_ecommended her parting soul to mercy: They threatened her with heaven'_engeance and eternal perdition: They bad her despair of pardon, and strowe_ith yet sharper thorns Death's painful pillow. Such were the sufferings o_his young Unfortunate, till released by fate from the malice of he_ormentors. She expired in horror of the past, in fears for the future; an_er agonies were such as must have amply gratified the hate and vengeance o_er Enemies. As soon as her Victim ceased to breathe, the Domina retired, an_as followed by her Accomplices.
'It was now that I ventured from my concealment. I dared not to assist m_nhappy Friend, aware that without preserving her, I should only have brough_n myself the same destruction. Shocked and terrified beyond expression a_his horrid scene, scarcely had I sufficient strength to regain my Cell. As _eached the door of that of Agnes, I ventured to look towards the bed, o_hich lay her lifeless body, once so lovely and so sweet! I breathed a praye_or her departed Spirit, and vowed to revenge her death by the shame an_unishment of her Assassins. With danger and difficulty have I kept my oath. _nwarily dropped some words at the funeral of Agnes, while thrown off my guar_y excessive grief, which alarmed the guilty conscience of the Prioress. M_very action was observed; My every step was traced. I was constantl_urrounded by the Superior's spies. It was long before I could find the mean_f conveying to the unhappy Girl's Relations an intimation of my secret. I_as given out that Agnes had expired suddenly: This account was credited no_nly by her Friends in Madrid, but even by those within the Convent. Th_oison had left no marks upon her body: No one suspected the true cause of he_eath, and it remained unknown to all, save the Assassins and Myself.
'I have no more to say: For what I have already said, I will answer with m_ife. I repeat that the Prioress is a Murderess; That She has driven from th_orld, perhaps from heaven, an Unfortunate whose offence was light and venial; that She has abused the power intrusted to her hands, and has been a Tyrant, _arbarian, and an Hypocrite. I also accuse the four Nuns, Violante, Camilla, Alix, and Mariana, as being her Accomplices, and equally criminal.'
Here St. Ursula ended her narrative. It created horror and surpriz_hroughout: But when She related the inhuman murder of Agnes, the indignatio_f the Mob was so audibly testified, that it was scarcely possible to hear th_onclusion. This confusion increased with every moment: At length a multitud_f voices exclaimed that the Prioress should be given up to their fury. T_his Don Ramirez refused to consent positively. Even Lorenzo bad the Peopl_emember that She had undergone no trial, and advised them to leave he_unishment to the Inquisition. All representations were fruitless: Th_isturbance grew still more violent, and the Populace more exasperated. I_ain did Ramirez attempt to convey his Prisoner out of the Throng. Wherever H_urned, a band of Rioters barred his passage, and demanded her being delivere_ver to them more loudly than before. Ramirez ordered his Attendants to cu_heir way through the multitude: Oppressed by numbers, it was impossible fo_hem to draw their swords. He threatened the Mob with the vengeance of th_nquisition: But in this moment of popular phrenzy even this dreadful name ha_ost its effect. Though regret for his Sister made him look upon the Priores_ith abhorrence, Lorenzo could not help pitying a Woman in a situation s_errible: But in spite of all his exertions, and those of the Duke, of Do_amirez, and the Archers, the People continued to press onwards. They forced _assage through the Guards who protected their destined Victim, dragged he_rom her shelter, and proceeded to take upon her a most summary and crue_engeance. Wild with terror, and scarcely knowing what She said, the wretche_oman shrieked for a moment's mercy: She protested that She was innocent o_he death of Agnes, and could clear herself from the suspicion beyond th_ower of doubt. The Rioters heeded nothing but the gratification of thei_arbarous vengeance. They refused to listen to her: They showed her every sor_f insult, loaded her with mud and filth, and called her by the mos_pprobrious appellations. They tore her one from another, and each ne_ormentor was more savage than the former. They stifled with howls an_xecrations her shrill cries for mercy; and dragged her through the Streets, spurning her, trampling her, and treating her with every species of cruelt_hich hate or vindictive fury could invent. At length a Flint, aimed by som_ell-directing hand, struck her full upon the temple. She sank upon the groun_athed in blood, and in a few minutes terminated her miserable existence. Ye_hough She no longer felt their insults, the Rioters still exercised thei_mpotent rage upon her lifeless body. They beat it, trod upon it, and ill-use_t, till it became no more than a mass of flesh, unsightly, shapeless, an_isgusting.
Unable to prevent this shocking event, Lorenzo and his Friends had beheld i_ith the utmost horror: But they were rouzed from their compelled inactivity, on hearing that the Mob was attacking the Convent of St. Clare. The incense_opulace, confounding the innocent with the guilty, had resolved to sacrific_ll the Nuns of that order to their rage, and not to leave one stone of th_uilding upon another. Alarmed at this intelligence, they hastened to th_onvent, resolved to defend it if possible, or at least to rescue th_nhabitants from the fury of the Rioters. Most of the Nuns had fled, but a fe_till remained in their habitation. Their situation was truly dangerous.
However, as they had taken the precaution of fastening the inner Gates, wit_his assistance Lorenzo hoped to repel the Mob, till Don Ramirez should retur_o him with a more sufficient force.
Having been conducted by the former disturbance to the distance of som_treets from the Convent, He did not immediately reach it: When He arrived, the throng surrounding it was so excessive as to prevent his approaching th_ates. In the interim, the Populace besieged the Building with perseverin_age: They battered the walls, threw lighted torches in at the windows, an_wore that by break of day not a Nun of St. Clare's order should be lef_live. Lorenzo had just succeeded in piercing his way through the Crowd, whe_ne of the Gates was forced open. The Rioters poured into the interior part o_he Building, where they exercised their vengeance upon every thing whic_ound itself in their passage. They broke the furniture into pieces, tore dow_he pictures, destroyed the reliques, and in their hatred of her Servan_orgot all respect to the Saint. Some employed themselves in searching out th_uns, Others in pulling down parts of the Convent, and Others again in settin_ire to the pictures and valuable furniture which it contained. These Latte_roduced the most decisive desolation: Indeed the consequences of their actio_ere more sudden than themselves had expected or wished. The Flames risin_rom the burning piles caught part of the Building, which being old and dry, the conflagration spread with rapidity from room to room. The Walls were soo_haken by the devouring element: The Columns gave way: The Roofs came tumblin_own upon the Rioters, and crushed many of them beneath their weight. Nothin_as to be heard but shrieks and groans; The Convent was wrapped in flames, an_he whole presented a scene of devastation and horror.
Lorenzo was shocked at having been the cause, however innocent, of thi_rightful disturbance: He endeavoured to repair his fault by protecting th_elpless Inhabitants of the Convent. He entered it with the Mob, and exerte_imself to repress the prevailing Fury, till the sudden and alarming progres_f the flames compelled him to provide for his own safety. The People no_urried out, as eagerly as they had before thronged in; But their number_logging up the doorway, and the fire gaining upon them rapidly, many of the_erished ere they had time to effect their escape. Lorenzo's good fortun_irected him to a small door in a farther Aisle of the Chapel. The bolt wa_lready undrawn: He opened the door, and found himself at the foot of St.
Here He stopped to breathe. The Duke and some of his Attendants had followe_im, and thus were in security for the present. They now consulted, what step_hey should take to escape from this scene of disturbance: But thei_eliberations were considerably interrupted by the sight of volumes of fir_ising from amidst the Convent's massy walls, by the noise of some heavy Arc_umbling down in ruins, or by the mingled shrieks of the Nuns and Rioters, either suffocating in the press, perishing in the flames, or crushed beneat_he weight of the falling Mansion.
Lorenzo enquired, whither the Wicket led? He was answered, to the Garden o_he Capuchins, and it was resolved to explore an outlet upon that side.
Accordingly the Duke raised the Latch, and passed into the adjoining Cemetery.
The Attendants followed without ceremony. Lorenzo, being the last, was also o_he point of quitting the Colonnade, when He saw the door of the Sepulchr_pened softly. Someone looked out, but on perceiving Strangers uttered a lou_hriek, started back again, and flew down the marble Stairs.
'What can this mean?' cried Lorenzo; 'Here is some mystery concealed. Follo_e without delay!'
Thus saying, He hastened into the Sepulchre, and pursued the person wh_ontinued to fly before him. The Duke knew not the cause of his exclamation, but supposing that He had good reasons for it, he followed him withou_esitation. The Others did the same, and the whole Party soon arrived at th_oot of the Stairs.
The upper door having been left open, the neighbouring flames darted fro_bove a sufficient light to enable Lorenzo's catching a glance of the Fugitiv_unning through the long passages and distant Vaults: But when a sudden tur_eprived him of this assistance, total darkness succeeded, and He could onl_race the object of his enquiry by the faint echo of retiring feet. Th_ursuers were now compelled to proceed with caution: As well as they coul_udge, the Fugitive also seemed to slacken pace, for they heard the step_ollow each other at longer intervals. They at length were bewildered by th_abyrinth of passages, and dispersed in various directions. Carried away b_is eagerness to clear up this mystery, and to penetrate into which He wa_mpelled by a movement secret and unaccountable, Lorenzo heeded not thi_ircumstance till He found himself in total solitude. The noise of footstep_ad ceased. All was silent around, and no clue offered itself to guide him t_he flying Person. He stopped to reflect on the means most likely to aid hi_ursuit. He was persuaded that no common cause would have induced the Fugitiv_o seek that dreary place at an hour so unusual: The cry which He had heard, seemed uttered in a voice of terror, and He was convinced that some myster_as attached to this event. After some minutes past in hesitation He continue_o proceed, feeling his way along the walls of the passage. He had alread_ast some time in this slow progress, when He descried a spark of ligh_limmering at a distance. Guided by this observation, and having drawn hi_word, He bent his steps towards the place, whence the beam seemed to b_mitted.
It proceeded from the Lamp which flamed before St. Clare's Statue. Before i_tood several Females, their white Garments streaming in the blast, as i_owled along the vaulted dungeons. Curious to know what had brought the_ogether in this melancholy spot, Lorenzo drew near with precaution. Th_trangers seemed earnestly engaged in conversation. They heard not Lorenzo'_teps, and He approached unobserved, till He could hear their voice_istinctly.
'I protest,' continued She who was speaking when He arrived, and to whom th_est were listening with great attention; 'I protest, that I saw them with m_wn eyes. I flew down the steps; They pursued me, and I escaped falling int_heir hands with difficulty. Had it not been for the Lamp, I should never hav_ound you.'
'And what could bring them hither?' said another in a trembling voice; 'Do yo_hink that they were looking for us?'
'God grant that my fears may be false,' rejoined the First; 'But I doubt the_re Murderers! If they discover us, we are lost! As for me, my fate i_ertain: My affinity to the Prioress will be a sufficient crime to condemn me; and though till now these Vaults have afforded me a retreat… … .'
Here looking up, her eye fell upon Lorenzo, who had continued to approac_oftly.
'The Murderers!' She cried—
She started away from the Statue's Pedestal on which She had been seated, an_ttempted to escape by flight. Her Companions at the same moment uttered _errified scream, while Lorenzo arrested the Fugitive by the arm. Frightene_nd desperate She sank upon her knees before him.
'Spare me!' She exclaimed; 'For Christ's sake, spare me! I am innocent, indeed, I am!'
While She spoke, her voice was almost choaked with fear. The beams of the Lam_arting full upon her face which was unveiled, Lorenzo recognized th_eautiful Virginia de Villa-Franca. He hastened to raise her from the ground, and besought her to take courage. He promised to protect her from the Rioters, assured her that her retreat was still a secret, and that She might depen_pon his readiness to defend her to the last drop of his blood. During thi_onversation, the Nuns had thrown themselves into various attitudes: On_nelt, and addressed herself to heaven; Another hid her face in the lap of he_eighbour; Some listened motionless with fear to the discourse of the suppose_ssassin; while Others embraced the Statue of St. Clare, and implored he_rotection with frantic cries. On perceiving their mistake, they crowded roun_orenzo and heaped benedictions on him by dozens. He found that, on hearin_he threats of the Mob, and terrified by the cruelties which from the Conven_owers they had seen inflicted on the Superior, many of the Pensioners an_uns had taken refuge in the Sepulchre. Among the former was to be reckone_he lovely Virginia. Nearly related to the Prioress, She had more reason tha_he rest to dread the Rioters, and now besought Lorenzo earnestly not t_bandon her to their rage. Her Companions, most of whom were Women of nobl_amily, made the same request, which He readily granted. He promised not t_uit them, till He had seen each of them safe in the arms of her Relations: But He advised their deferring to quit the Sepulchre for some time longer, when the popular fury should be somewhat calmed, and the arrival of militar_orce have dispersed the multitude.
'Would to God!' cried Virginia, 'That I were already safe in my Mother'_mbraces! How say you, Segnor; Will it be long, ere we may leave this place?
Every moment that I pass here, I pass in torture!'
'I hope, not long,' said He; 'But till you can proceed with security, thi_epulchre will prove an impenetrable asylum. Here you run no risque of _iscovery, and I would advise your remaining quiet for the next two or thre_ours.'
'Two or three hours?' exclaimed Sister Helena; 'If I stay another hour i_hese vaults, I shall expire with fear! Not the wealth of worlds should brib_e to undergo again what I have suffered since my coming hither. Blesse_irgin! To be in this melancholy place in the middle of night, surrounded b_he mouldering bodies of my deceased Companions, and expecting every moment t_e torn in pieces by their Ghosts who wander about me, and complain, an_roan, and wail in accents that make my blood run cold, … … Christ Jesus! I_s enough to drive me to madness!'
'Excuse me,' replied Lorenzo, 'if I am surprized that while menaced by rea_oes you are capable of yielding to imaginary dangers. These terrors ar_uerile and groundless: Combat them, holy Sister; I have promised to guard yo_rom the Rioters, but against the attacks of superstition you must depend fo_rotection upon yourself. The idea of Ghosts is ridiculous in the extreme; An_f you continue to be swayed by ideal terrors … … '
'Ideal?' exclaimed the Nuns with one voice; 'Why we heard it ourselves, Segnor! Every one of us heard it! It was frequently repeated, and it sounde_very time more melancholy and deep. You will never persuade me that we coul_ll have been deceived. Not we, indeed; No, no; Had the noise been merel_reated by fancy … .'
'Hark! Hark!' interrupted Virginia in a voice of terror; 'God preserve us!
There it is again!'
The Nuns clasped their hands together, and sank upon their knees.
Lorenzo looked round him eagerly, and was on the point of yielding to th_ears which already had possessed the Women. Universal silence prevailed. H_xamined the Vault, but nothing was to be seen. He now prepared to address th_uns, and ridicule their childish apprehensions, when his attention wa_rrested by a deep and long-drawn groan.
'What was that?' He cried, and started.
'There, Segnor!' said Helena; 'Now you must be convinced! You have heard th_oise yourself! Now judge, whether our terrors are imaginary. Since we hav_een here, that groaning has been repeated almost every five minutes.
Doubtless, it proceeds from some Soul in pain, who wishes to be prayed out o_urgatory: But none of us here dares ask it the question. As for me, were I t_ee an Apparition, the fright, I am very certain, would kill me out of hand.'
As She said this, a second groan was heard yet more distinctly. The Nun_rossed themselves, and hastened to repeat their prayers against evil Spirits.
Lorenzo listened attentively. He even thought that He could distinguis_ounds, as of one speaking in complaint; But distance rendered the_narticulate. The noise seemed to come from the midst of the small Vault i_hich He and the Nuns then were, and which a multitude of passages branchin_ut in various directions, formed into a sort of Star. Lorenzo's curiosit_hich was ever awake, made him anxious to solve this mystery. He desired tha_ilence might be kept. The Nuns obeyed him. All was hushed, till the genera_tillness was again disturbed by the groaning, which was repeated severa_imes successively. He perceived it to be most audible, when upon followin_he sound He was conducted close to the shrine of St. Clare;
'The noise comes from hence,' said He; 'Whose is this Statue?'
Helena, to whom He addressed the question, paused for a moment. Suddenly Sh_lapped her hands together.
'Aye!' cried She, 'it must be so. I have discovered the meaning of thes_roans.'
The Nuns crowded round her, and besought her eagerly to explain herself. Sh_ravely replied that for time immemorial the Statue had been famous fo_erforming miracles: From this She inferred that the Saint was concerned a_he conflagration of a Convent which She protected, and expressed her grief b_udible lamentations. Not having equal faith in the miraculous Saint, Lorenz_id not think this solution of the mystery quite so satisfactory, as the Nuns, who subscribed to it without hesitation. In one point, 'tis true, that H_greed with Helena.
He suspected that the groans proceeded from the Statue: The more He listened, the more was He confirmed in this idea. He drew nearer to the Image, designin_o inspect it more closely: But perceiving his intention, the Nuns besough_im for God's sake to desist, since if He touched the Statue, his death wa_nevitable.
'And in what consists the danger?' said He.
'Mother of God! In what?' replied Helena, ever eager to relate a miraculou_dventure; 'If you had only heard the hundredth part of those marvellou_tories about this Statue which the Domina used to recount! She assured u_ften and often, that if we only dared to lay a finger upon it, we migh_xpect the most fatal consequences. Among other things She told us that _obber having entered these Vaults by night, He observed yonder Ruby, whos_alue is inestimable. Do you see it, Segnor? It sparkles upon the third finge_f the hand, in which She holds a crown of Thorns. This Jewel naturall_xcited the Villain's cupidity. He resolved to make himself Master of it. Fo_his purpose He ascended the Pedestal: He supported himself by grasping th_aint's right arm, and extended his own towards the Ring. What was hi_urprize, when He saw the Statue's hand raised in a posture of menace, an_eard her lips pronounce his eternal perdition! Penetrated with awe an_onsternation, He desisted from his attempt, and prepared to quit th_epulchre. In this He also failed. Flight was denied him. He found i_mpossible to disengage the hand, which rested upon the right arm of th_tatue. In vain did He struggle: He remained fixed to the Image, till th_nsupportable and fiery anguish which darted itself through his veins, compelled his shrieking for assistance.
The Sepulchre was now filled with Spectators. The Villain confessed hi_acrilege, and was only released by the separation of his hand from his body.
It has remained ever since fastened to the Image. The Robber turned Hermit, and led ever after an exemplary life: But yet the Saint's decree wa_erformed, and Tradition says that He continues to haunt this Sepulchre, an_mplore St. Clare's pardon with groans and lamentations. Now I think of it, those which we have just heard, may very possibly have been uttered by th_host of this Sinner: But of this I will not be positive. All that I can sa_s, that since that time no one has ever dared to touch the Statue: Then d_ot be foolhardy, good Segnor! For the love of heaven, give up your design, nor expose yourself unnecessarily to certain destruction.'
Not being convinced that his destruction would be so certain as Helena seeme_o think it, Lorenzo persisted in his resolution. The Nuns besought him t_esist in piteous terms, and even pointed out the Robber's hand, which i_ffect was still visible upon the arm of the Statue. This proof, as the_magined, must convince him. It was very far from doing so; and they wer_reatly scandalized when he declared his suspicion that the dried an_hrivelled fingers had been placed there by order of the Prioress. In spite o_heir prayers and threats He approached the Statue. He sprang over the iro_ails which defended it, and the Saint underwent a thorough examination. Th_mage at first appeared to be of Stone, but proved on further inspection to b_ormed of no more solid materials than coloured Wood. He shook it, an_ttempted to move it; But it appeared to be of a piece with the Base which i_tood upon. He examined it over and over: Still no clue guided him to th_olution of this mystery, for which the Nuns were become equally solicitous, when they saw that He touched the Statue with impunity. He paused, an_istened: The groans were repeated at intervals, and He was convinced of bein_n the spot nearest to them. He mused upon this singular event, and ran ove_he Statue with enquiring eyes. Suddenly they rested upon the shrivelled hand.
It struck him, that so particular an injunction was not given without cause, not to touch the arm of the Image. He again ascended the Pedestal; He examine_he object of his attention, and discovered a small knob of iron conceale_etween the Saint's shoulder and what was supposed to have been the hand o_he Robber. This observation delighted him. He applied his fingers to th_nob, and pressed it down forcibly. Immediately a rumbling noise was hear_ithin the Statue, as if a chain tightly stretched was flying back. Startle_t the sound the timid Nuns started away, prepared to hasten from the Vault a_he first appearance of danger. All remaining quiet and still, they agai_athered round Lorenzo, and beheld his proceedings with anxious curiosity.
Finding that nothing followed this discovery, He descended. As He took hi_and from the Saint, She trembled beneath his touch. This created new terror_n the Spectators, who believed the Statue to be animated. Lorenzo's idea_pon the subject were widely different. He easily comprehended that the nois_hich He had heard, was occasioned by his having loosened a chain whic_ttached the Image to its Pedestal. He once more attempted to move it, an_ucceeded without much exertion. He placed it upon the ground, and the_erceived the Pedestal to be hollow, and covered at the opening with an heav_ron grate.
This excited such general curiosity that the Sisters forgot both their rea_nd imaginary dangers. Lorenzo proceeded to raise the Grate, in which the Nun_ssisted him to the utmost of their strength. The attempt was accomplishe_ith little difficulty. A deep abyss now presented itself before them, whos_hick obscurity the eye strove in vain to pierce. The rays of the Lamp wer_oo feeble to be of much assistance. Nothing was discernible, save a flight o_ough unshapen steps which sank into the yawning Gulph and were soon lost i_arkness. The groans were heard no more; But All believed them to hav_scended from this Cavern. As He bent over it, Lorenzo fancied that H_istinguished something bright twinkling through the gloom. He gaze_ttentively upon the spot where it showed itself, and was convinced that H_aw a small spark of light, now visible, now disappearing. He communicate_his circumstance to the Nuns: They also perceived the spark; But when H_eclared his intention to descend into the Cave, they united to oppose hi_esolution. All their remonstrances could not prevail on him to alter it. Non_f them had courage enough to accompany him; neither could He think o_epriving them of the Lamp. Alone therefore, and in darkness, He prepared t_ursue his design, while the Nuns were contented to offer up prayers for hi_uccess and safety.
The steps were so narrow and uneven, that to descend them was like walkin_own the side of a precipice. The obscurity by which He was surrounde_endered his footing insecure. He was obliged to proceed with great caution, lest He should miss the steps and fall into the Gulph below him. This He wa_everal times on the point of doing. However, He arrived sooner upon soli_round than He had expected: He now found that the thick darkness an_mpenetrable mists which reigned through the Cavern had deceived him into th_elief of its being much more profound than it proved upon inspection. H_eached the foot of the Stairs unhurt: He now stopped, and looked round fo_he spark which had before caught his attention. He sought it in vain: All wa_ark and gloomy. He listened for the groans; But his ear caught no sound, except the distant murmur of the Nuns above, as in low voices they repeate_heir Ave-Marias. He stood irresolute to which side He should address hi_teps. At all events He determined to proceed: He did so, but slowly, fearin_est instead of approaching, He should be retiring from the object of hi_earch. The groans seemed to announce one in pain, or at least in sorrow, an_e hoped to have the power of relieving the Mourner's calamities. A plaintiv_one, sounding at no great distance, at length reached his hearing; He ben_is course joyfully towards it. It became more audible as He advanced; and H_oon beheld again the spark of light, which a low projecting Wall had hithert_oncealed from him.
It proceeded from a small Lamp which was placed upon an heap of stones, an_hose faint and melancholy rays served rather to point out, than dispell th_orrors of a narrow gloomy dungeon formed in one side of the Cavern; It als_howed several other recesses of similar construction, but whose depth wa_uried in obscurity. Coldly played the light upon the damp walls, whose dew- stained surface gave back a feeble reflection. A thick and pestilential fo_louded the height of the vaulted dungeon. As Lorenzo advanced, He felt _iercing chillness spread itself through his veins. The frequent groans stil_ngaged him to move forwards. He turned towards them, and by the Lamp'_limmering beams beheld in a corner of this loathsome abode, a Creatur_tretched upon a bed of straw, so wretched, so emaciated, so pale, that H_oubted to think her Woman. She was half-naked: Her long dishevelled hair fel_n disorder over her face, and almost entirely concealed it. One wasted Ar_ung listlessly upon a tattered rug which covered her convulsed and shiverin_imbs: The Other was wrapped round a small bundle, and held it closely to he_osom. A large Rosary lay near her: Opposite to her was a Crucifix, on whic_he bent her sunk eyes fixedly, and by her side stood a Basket and a smal_arthen Pitcher.
Lorenzo stopped: He was petrified with horror. He gazed upon the miserabl_bject with disgust and pity. He trembled at the spectacle; He grew sick a_eart: His strength failed him, and his limbs were unable to support hi_eight. He was obliged to lean against the low Wall which was near him, unabl_o go forward, or to address the Sufferer. She cast her eyes towards th_taircase: The Wall concealed Lorenzo, and She observed him not.
'No one comes!' She at length murmured.
As She spoke, her voice was hollow, and rattled in her throat: She sighe_itterly.
'No one comes!' She repeated; 'No! They have forgotten me! They will come n_ore!'
She paused for a moment: Then continued mournfully.
'Two days! Two long, long days, and yet no food! And yet no hope, no comfort!
Foolish Woman! How can I wish to lengthen a life so wretched! Yet such _eath! O! God! To perish by such a death! To linger out such ages in torture!
Till now, I knew not what it was to hunger! Hark! No. No one comes! They wil_ome no more!'
She was silent. She shivered, and drew the rug over her naked shoulders.
'I am very cold! I am still unused to the damps of this dungeon!
'Tis strange: But no matter. Colder shall I soon be, and yet not feel it—_hall be cold, cold as Thou art!'
She looked at the bundle which lay upon her breast. She bent over it, an_issed it: Then drew back hastily, and shuddered with disgust.
'It was once so sweet! It would have been so lovely, so like him! I have los_t for ever! How a few days have changed it! I should not know it agai_yself! Yet it is dear to me! God! how dear! I will forget what it is: I wil_nly remember what it was, and love it as well, as when it was so sweet! s_ovely! so like him! I thought that I had wept away all my tears, but here i_ne still lingering.'
She wiped her eyes with a tress of her hair. She put out her hand for th_itcher, and reached it with difficulty. She cast into it a look of hopeles_nquiry. She sighed, and replaced it upon the ground.
'Quite a void! Not a drop! Not one drop left to cool my scorched-up burnin_alate! Now would I give treasures for a draught of water! And they are God'_ervants, who make me suffer thus! They think themselves holy, while the_orture me like Fiends! They are cruel and unfeeling; And 'tis they who bid m_epent; And 'tis they, who threaten me with eternal perdition! Saviour, Saviour! You think not so!'
She again fixed her eyes upon the Crucifix, took her Rosary, and while Sh_old her beads, the quick motion of her lips declared her to be praying wit_ervency.
While He listened to her melancholy accents, Lorenzo's sensibility became ye_ore violently affected. The first sight of such misery had given a sensibl_hock to his feelings: But that being past, He now advanced towards th_aptive. She heard his steps, and uttering a cry of joy, dropped the Rosary.
'Hark! Hark! Hark!' She cried: 'Some one comes!'
She strove to raise herself, but her strength was unequal to the attempt: Sh_ell back, and as She sank again upon the bed of straw, Lorenzo heard th_attling of heavy chains. He still approached, while the Prisoner thu_ontinued.
'Is it you, Camilla? You are come then at last? Oh! it was time! I though_hat you had forsaken me; that I was doomed to perish of hunger. Give me t_rink, Camilla, for pity's sake! I am faint with long fasting, and grown s_eak that I cannot raise myself from the ground. Good Camilla, give me t_rink, lest I expire before you!'
Fearing that surprize in her enfeebled state might be fatal, Lorenzo was at _oss how to address her.
'It is not Camilla,' said He at length, speaking in a slow and gentle voice.
'Who is it then?' replied the Sufferer: 'Alix, perhaps, or Violante. My eye_re grown so dim and feeble that I cannot distinguish your features. Bu_hichever it is, if your breast is sensible of the least compassion, if yo_re not more cruel than Wolves and Tigers, take pity on my sufferings. Yo_now that I am dying for want of sustenance. This is the third day, sinc_hese lips have received nourishment. Do you bring me food? Or come you onl_o announce my death, and learn how long I have yet to exist in agony?'
'You mistake my business,' replied Lorenzo; 'I am no Emissary of the crue_rioress. I pity your sorrows, and come hither to relieve them.'
'To relieve them?' repeated the Captive; 'Said you, to relieve them?'
At the same time starting from the ground, and supporting herself upon he_ands, She gazed upon the Stranger earnestly.
'Great God! It is no illusion! A Man! Speak! Who are you? What brings yo_ither? Come you to save me, to restore me to liberty, to life and light? Oh!
speak, speak quickly, lest I encourage an hope whose disappointment wil_estroy me.'
'Be calm!' replied Lorenzo in a voice soothing and compassionate; 'The Domin_f whose cruelty you complain, has already paid the forfeit of her offences: You have nothing more to fear from her.
A few minutes will restore you to liberty, and the embraces of your Friend_rom whom you have been secluded. You may rely upon my protection. Give m_our hand, and be not fearful. Let me conduct you where you may receive thos_ttentions which your feeble state requires.'
'Oh! Yes! Yes! Yes!' cried the Prisoner with an exulting shriek; 'There is _od then, and a just one! Joy! Joy! I shall once more breath the fresh air, and view the light of the glorious sunbeams! I will go with you! Stranger, _ill go with you! Oh! Heaven will bless you for pitying an Unfortunate! Bu_his too must go with me,' She added pointing to the small bundle which Sh_till clasped to her bosom; 'I cannot part with this. I will bear it away: I_hall convince the world how dreadful are the abodes so falsely terme_eligious. Good Stranger, lend me your hand to rise: I am faint with want, an_orrow, and sickness, and my forces have quite forsaken me! So, that is well!'
As Lorenzo stooped to raise her, the beams of the Lamp struck full upon hi_ace.
'Almighty God!' She exclaimed; 'Is it possible! That look! Those features! Oh!
Yes, it is, it is … . .'
She extended her arms to throw them round him; But her enfeebled frame wa_nable to sustain the emotions which agitated her bosom. She fainted, an_gain sank upon the bed of straw.
Lorenzo was surprized at her last exclamation. He thought that He had befor_eard such accents as her hollow voice had just formed, but where He could no_emember. He saw that in her dangerous situation immediate physical aid wa_bsolutely necessary, and He hastened to convey her from the dungeon. He wa_t first prevented from doing so by a strong chain fastened round th_risoner's body, and fixing her to the neighbouring Wall. However, his natura_trength being aided by anxiety to relieve the Unfortunate, He soon forced ou_he Staple to which one end of the Chain was attached. Then taking the Captiv_n his arms, He bent his course towards the Staircase. The rays of the Lam_bove, as well as the murmur of female voices, guided his steps. He gained th_tairs, and in a few minutes after arrived at the iron-grate.
The Nuns during his absence had been terribly tormented by curiosity an_pprehension: They were equally surprized and delighted on seeing him suddenl_merge from the Cave. Every heart was filled with compassion for the miserabl_reature whom He bore in his arms. While the Nuns, and Virginia in particular, employed themselves in striving to recall her to her senses, Lorenzo relate_n few words the manner of his finding her. He then observed to them that b_his time the tumult must have been quelled, and that He could now conduc_hem to their Friends without danger. All were eager to quit the Sepulchre: Still to prevent all possibility of ill-usage, they besought Lorenzo t_enture out first alone, and examine whether the Coast was clear. With thi_equest He complied. Helena offered to conduct him to the Staircase, and the_ere on the point of departing, when a strong light flashed from severa_assages upon the adjacent walls. At the same time Steps were heard of peopl_pproaching hastily, and whose number seemed to be considerable. The Nuns wer_reatly alarmed at this circumstance: They supposed their retreat to b_iscovered, and the Rioters to be advancing in pursuit of them. Hastil_uitting the Prisoner who remained insensible, they crowded round Lorenzo, an_laimed his promise to protect them. Virginia alone forgot her own danger b_triving to relieve the sorrows of Another. She supported the Sufferer's hea_pon her knees, bathing her temples with rose-water, chafing her cold hands, and sprinkling her face with tears which were drawn from her by compassion.
The Strangers approaching nearer, Lorenzo was enabled to dispel the fears o_he Suppliants. His name, pronounced by a number of voices among which H_istinguished the Duke's, pealed along the Vaults, and convinced him that H_as the object of their search. He communicated this intelligence to the Nuns, who received it with rapture. A few moments after confirmed his idea. Do_amirez, as well as the Duke, appeared, followed by Attendants with Torches.
They had been seeking him through the Vaults, in order to let him know tha_he Mob was dispersed, and the riot entirely over. Lorenzo recounted briefl_is adventure in the Cavern, and explained how much the Unknown was in want o_edical assistance. He besought the Duke to take charge of her, as well as o_he Nuns and Pensioners.
'As for me,' said He, 'Other cares demand my attention. While you with on_alf of the Archers convey these Ladies to their respective homes, I wish th_ther half to be left with me. I will examine the Cavern below, and pervad_he most secret recesses of the Sepulchre. I cannot rest till convinced tha_onder wretched Victim was the only one confined by Superstition in thes_aults.'
The Duke applauded his intention. Don Ramirez offered to assist him in hi_nquiry, and his proposal was accepted with gratitude.
The Nuns having made their acknowledgments to Lorenzo, committed themselves t_he care of his Uncle, and were conducted from the Sepulchre. Virgini_equested that the Unknown might be given to her in charge, and promised t_et Lorenzo know whenever She was sufficiently recovered to accept his visits.
In truth, She made this promise more from consideration for herself than fo_ither Lorenzo or the Captive. She had witnessed his politeness, gentleness, and intrepidity with sensible emotion. She wished earnestly to preserve hi_cquaintance; and in addition to the sentiments of pity which the Prisone_xcited, She hoped that her attention to this Unfortunate would raise her _egree in the esteem of Lorenzo. She had no occasion to trouble herself upo_his head. The kindness already displayed by her and the tender concern whic_he had shown for the Sufferer had gained her an exalted place in his goo_races. While occupied in alleviating the Captive's sorrows, the nature of he_mployment adorned her with new charms, and rendered her beauty a thousan_imes more interesting. Lorenzo viewed her with admiration and delight: H_onsidered her as a ministering Angel descended to the aid of afflicte_nnocence; nor could his heart have resisted her attractions, had it not bee_teeled by the remembrance of Antonia.
The Duke now conveyed the Nuns in safety to the Dwellings of their respectiv_riends. The rescued Prisoner was still insensible and gave no signs of life, except by occasional groans. She was borne upon a sort of litter; Virginia, who was constantly by the side of it, was apprehensive that exhausted by lon_bstinence, and shaken by the sudden change from bonds and darkness to libert_nd light, her frame would never get the better of the shock. Lorenzo and Do_amirez still remained in the Sepulchre. After deliberating upon thei_roceedings, it was resolved that to prevent losing time, the Archers shoul_e divided into two Bodies: That with one Don Ramirez should examine th_avern, while Lorenzo with the other might penetrate into the further Vaults.
This being arranged, and his Followers being provided with Torches, Do_amirez advanced to the Cavern. He had already descended some steps when H_eard People approaching hastily from the interior part of the Sepulchre. Thi_urprized him, and He quitted the Cave precipitately.
'Do you hear footsteps?' said Lorenzo; 'Let us bend our course towards them.
'Tis from this side that they seem to proceed.'
At that moment a loud and piercing shriek induced him to quicken his steps.
'Help! Help, for God's sake! cried a voice, whose melodious tone penetrate_orenzo's heart with terror.
He flew towards the cry with the rapidity of lightning, and was followed b_on Ramirez with equal swiftness.