> Great Heaven! How frail thy creature Man is made! How by himself insensibl_etrayed! In our own strength unhappily secure, Too little cautious of th_dverse power, On pleasure's flowery brink we idly stray, Masters as yet o_ur returning way: Till the strong gusts of raging passion rise, Till the dir_empest mingles earth and skies, And swift into the boundless Ocean borne, Ou_oolish confidence too late we mourn: Round our devoted heads the billow_eat, And from our troubled view the lessening lands retreat.
All this while, Ambrosio was unconscious of the dreadful scenes which wer_assing so near. The execution of his designs upon Antonia employed his ever_hought. Hitherto, He was satisfied with the success of his plans. Antonia ha_rank the opiate, was buried in the vaults of St. Clare, and absolutely in hi_isposal. Matilda, who was well acquainted with the nature and effects of th_oporific medicine, had computed that it would not cease to operate till on_n the Morning. For that hour He waited with impatience. The Festival of St.
Clare presented him with a favourable opportunity of consummating his crime.
He was certain that the Friars and Nuns would be engaged in the Procession, and that He had no cause to dread an interruption: From appearing himself a_he head of his Monks, He had desired to be excused. He doubted not, tha_eing beyond the reach of help, cut off from all the world, and totally in hi_ower, Antonia would comply with his desires. The affection which She had eve_xprest for him, warranted this persuasion: But He resolved that should Sh_rove obstinate, no consideration whatever should prevent him from enjoyin_er. Secure from a discovery, He shuddered not at the idea of employing force: If He felt any repugnance, it arose not from a principle of shame o_ompassion, but from his feeling for Antonia the most sincere and arden_ffection, and wishing to owe her favours to no one but herself.
The Monks quitted the Abbey at midnight. Matilda was among the Choristers, an_ed the chaunt. Ambrosio was left by himself, and at liberty to pursue his ow_nclinations. Convinced that no one remained behind to watch his motions, o_isturb his pleasures, He now hastened to the Western Aisles. His hear_eating with hope not unmingled with anxiety, He crossed the Garden, unlocke_he door which admitted him into the Cemetery, and in a few minutes He stoo_efore the Vaults. Here He paused.
He looked round him with suspicion, conscious that his business was unfit fo_ny other eye. As He stood in hesitation, He heard the melancholy shriek o_he screech-Owl: The wind rattled loudly against the windows of the adjacen_onvent, and as the current swept by him, bore with it the faint notes of th_haunt of Choristers. He opened the door cautiously, as if fearing to b_verheard: He entered; and closed it again after him. Guided by his Lamp, H_hreaded the long passages, in whose windings Matilda had instructed him, an_eached the private Vault which contained his sleeping Mistress.
Its entrance was by no means easy to discover: But this was no obstacle t_mbrosio, who at the time of Antonia's Funeral had observed it too carefull_o be deceived. He found the door, which was unfastened, pushed it open, an_escended into the dungeon. He approached the humble Tomb in which Antoni_eposed. He had provided himself with an iron crow and a pick-axe; But thi_recaution was unnecessary. The Grate was slightly fastened on the outside: H_aised it, and placing the Lamp upon its ridge, bent silently over the Tomb.
By the side of three putrid half-corrupted Bodies lay the sleeping Beauty. _ively red, the forerunner of returning animation, had already spread itsel_ver her cheek; and as wrapped in her shroud She reclined upon her funera_ier, She seemed to smile at the Images of Death around her. While He gaze_pon their rotting bones and disgusting figures, who perhaps were once a_weet and lovely, Ambrosio thought upon Elvira, by him reduced to the sam_tate. As the memory of that horrid act glanced upon his mind, it was cloude_ith a gloomy horror. Yet it served but to strengthen his resolution t_estroy Antonia's honour.
'For your sake, Fatal Beauty!' murmured the Monk, while gazing on his devote_rey; 'For your sake, have I committed this murder, and sold myself to eterna_ortures. Now you are in my power: The produce of my guilt will at least b_ine. Hope not that your prayers breathed in tones of unequalled melody, you_right eyes filled with tears, and your hands lifted in supplication, as whe_eeking in penitence the Virgin's pardon; Hope not that your moving innocence, your beauteous grief, or all your suppliant arts shall ransom you from m_mbraces. Before the break of day, mine you must, and mine you shall be!'
He lifted her still motionless from the Tomb: He seated himself upon a bank o_tone, and supporting her in his arms, watched impatiently for the symptoms o_eturning animation. Scarcely could He command his passions sufficiently, t_estrain himself from enjoying her while yet insensible. His natural lust wa_ncreased in ardour by the difficulties which had opposed his satisfying it: As also by his long abstinence from Woman, since from the moment of resignin_er claim to his love, Matilda had exiled him from her arms for ever.
'I am no Prostitute, Ambrosio;' Had She told him, when in the fullness of hi_ust He demanded her favours with more than usual earnestness; 'I am now n_ore than your Friend, and will not be your Mistress. Cease then to solicit m_omplying with desires, which insult me. While your heart was mine, I glorie_n your embraces: Those happy times are past: My person is become indifferen_o you, and 'tis necessity, not love, which makes you seek my enjoyment. _annot yield to a request so humiliating to my pride.'
Suddenly deprived of pleasures, the use of which had made them an absolut_ant, the Monk felt this restraint severely. Naturally addicted to th_ratification of the senses, in the full vigour of manhood, and heat of blood, He had suffered his temperament to acquire such ascendency that his lust wa_ecome madness. Of his fondness for Antonia, none but the grosser particle_emained: He longed for the possession of her person; and even the gloom o_he vault, the surrounding silence, and the resistance which He expected fro_er, seemed to give a fresh edge to his fierce and unbridled desires.
Gradually He felt the bosom which rested against his, glow with returnin_armth. Her heart throbbed again; Her blood flowed swifter, and her lip_oved. At length She opened her eyes, but still opprest and bewildered by th_ffects of the strong opiate, She closed them again immediately. Ambrosi_atched her narrowly, nor permitted a movement to escape him. Perceiving tha_he was fully restored to existence, He caught her in rapture to his bosom, and closely pressed his lips to hers. The suddenness of his action sufficed t_issipate the fumes which obscured Antonia's reason. She hastily raise_erself, and cast a wild look round her. The strange Images which presente_hemselves on every side contributed to confuse her. She put her hand to he_ead, as if to settle her disordered imagination. At length She took it away, and threw her eyes through the dungeon a second time. They fixed upon th_bbot's face.
'Where am I?' She said abruptly. 'How came I here? Where is my Mother?
Methought, I saw her! Oh! a dream, a dreadful dreadful dream told me … … Bu_here am I? Let me go! I cannot stay here!'
She attempted to rise, but the Monk prevented her.
'Be calm, lovely Antonia!' He replied; 'No danger is near you: Confide in m_rotection. Why do you gaze on me so earnestly? Do you not know me? Not kno_our Friend? Ambrosio?'
'Ambrosio? My Friend? Oh! yes, yes; I remember … … But why am I here? Who ha_rought me? Why are you with me? Oh! Flora bad me beware … . .! Here ar_othing but Graves, and Tombs, and Skeletons! This place frightens me! Goo_mbrosio take me away from it, for it recalls my fearful dream! Methought _as dead, and laid in my grave! Good Ambrosio, take me from hence. Will yo_ot? Oh! will you not? Do not look on me thus!
Your flaming eyes terrify me! Spare me, Father! Oh! spare me for God's sake!'
'Why these terrors, Antonia?' rejoined the Abbot, folding her in his arms, an_overing her bosom with kisses which She in vain struggled to avoid: 'Wha_ear you from me, from one who adores you? What matters it where you are? Thi_epulchre seems to me Love's bower; This gloom is the friendly night o_ystery which He spreads over our delights! Such do I think it, and such mus_y Antonia. Yes, my sweet Girl! Yes! Your veins shall glow with fire whic_ircles in mine, and my transports shall be doubled by your sharing them!'
While He spoke thus, He repeated his embraces, and permitted himself the mos_ndecent liberties. Even Antonia's ignorance was not proof against the freedo_f his behaviour. She was sensible of her danger, forced herself from hi_rms, and her shroud being her only garment, She wrapped it closely round her.
'Unhand me, Father!' She cried, her honest indignation tempered by alarm a_er unprotected position; 'Why have you brought me to this place? It_ppearance freezes me with horror! Convey me from hence, if you have the leas_ense of pity and humanity! Let me return to the House which I have quitted _now not how; But stay here one moment longer, I neither will, or ought.'
Though the Monk was somewhat startled by the resolute tone in which thi_peech was delivered, it produced upon him no other effect than surprize. H_aught her hand, forced her upon his knee, and gazing upon her with glotin_yes, He thus replied to her.
'Compose yourself, Antonia. Resistance is unavailing, and I need disavow m_assion for you no longer. You are imagined dead: Society is for ever lost t_ou. I possess you here alone; You are absolutely in my power, and I burn wit_esires which I must either gratify or die: But I would owe my happiness t_ourself. My lovely Girl! My adorable Antonia! Let me instruct you in joys t_hich you are still a Stranger, and teach you to feel those pleasures in m_rms which I must soon enjoy in yours. Nay, this struggling is childish,' H_ontinued, seeing her repell his caresses, and endeavour to escape from hi_rasp; 'No aid is near: Neither heaven or earth shall save you from m_mbraces. Yet why reject pleasures so sweet, so rapturous? No one observes us: Our loves will be a secret to all the world: Love and opportunity invite you_iving loose to your passions. Yield to them, my Antonia! Yield to them, m_ovely Girl! Throw your arms thus fondly round me; Join your lips thus closel_o mine! Amidst all her gifts, has Nature denied her most precious, th_ensibility of Pleasure? Oh! impossible! Every feature, look, and motio_eclares you formed to bless, and to be blessed yourself! Turn not on me thos_upplicating eyes: Consult your own charms; They will tell you that I am proo_gainst entreaty. Can I relinquish these limbs so white, so soft, so delicate; These swelling breasts, round, full, and elastic! These lips fraught with suc_nexhaustible sweetness? Can I relinquish these treasures, and leave them t_nother's enjoyment? No, Antonia; never, never! I swear it by this kiss, an_his! and this!'
With every moment the Friar's passion became more ardent, and Antonia's terro_ore intense. She struggled to disengage herself from his arms: Her exertion_ere unsuccessful; and finding that Ambrosio's conduct became still freer, Sh_hrieked for assistance with all her strength. The aspect of the Vault, th_ale glimmering of the Lamp, the surrounding obscurity, the sight of the Tomb, and the objects of mortality which met her eyes on either side, were ill- calculated to inspire her with those emotions by which the Friar was agitated.
Even his caresses terrified her from their fury, and created no othe_entiment than fear. On the contrary, her alarm, her evident disgust, an_ncessant opposition, seemed only to inflame the Monk's desires, and suppl_is brutality with additional strength. Antonia's shrieks were unheard: Ye_he continued them, nor abandoned her endeavours to escape, till exhausted an_ut of breath She sank from his arms upon her knees, and once more ha_ecourse to prayers and supplications. This attempt had no better success tha_he former. On the contrary, taking advantage of her situation, the Ravishe_hrew himself by her side: He clasped her to his bosom almost lifeless wit_error, and faint with struggling. He stifled her cries with kisses, treate_er with the rudeness of an unprincipled Barbarian, proceeded from freedom t_reedom, and in the violence of his lustful delirium, wounded and bruised he_ender limbs. Heedless of her tears, cries and entreaties, He gradually mad_imself Master of her person, and desisted not from his prey, till He ha_ccomplished his crime and the dishonour of Antonia.
Scarcely had He succeeded in his design than He shuddered at himself and th_eans by which it was effected. The very excess of his former eagerness t_ossess Antonia now contributed to inspire him with disgust; and a secre_mpulse made him feel how base and unmanly was the crime which He had jus_ommitted. He started hastily from her arms. She, who so lately had been th_bject of his adoration, now raised no other sentiment in his heart tha_version and rage. He turned away from her; or if his eyes rested upon he_igure involuntarily, it was only to dart upon her looks of hate. Th_nfortunate had fainted ere the completion of her disgrace: She only recovere_ife to be sensible of her misfortune. She remained stretched upon the eart_n silent despair: The tears chased each other slowly down her cheeks, and he_osom heaved with frequent sobs. Oppressed with grief, She continued for som_ime in this state of torpidity. At length She rose with difficulty, an_ragging her feeble steps towards the door, prepared to quit the dungeon.
The sound of her footsteps rouzed the Monk from his sullen apathy. Startin_rom the Tomb against which He reclined, while his eyes wandered over th_mages of corruption contained in it, He pursued the Victim of his brutality, and soon overtook her. He seized her by the arm, and violently forced her bac_nto the dungeon.
'Whither go you?' He cried in a stern voice; 'Return this instant!'
Antonia trembled at the fury of his countenance.
'What, would you more?' She said with timidity: 'Is not my ruin compleated? A_ not undone, undone for ever? Is not your cruelty contented, or have I ye_ore to suffer? Let me depart. Let me return to my home, and weep unrestraine_y shame and my affliction!'
'Return to your home?' repeated the Monk, with bitter and contemptuou_ockery; Then suddenly his eyes flaming with passion, 'What? That you ma_enounce me to the world? That you may proclaim me an Hypocrite, a Ravisher, _etrayer, a Monster of cruelty, lust, and ingratitude? No, no, no! I know wel_he whole weight of my offences; Well that your complaints would be too just, and my crimes too notorious! You shall not from hence to tell Madrid that I a_ Villain; that my conscience is loaded with sins which make me despair o_eaven's pardon. Wretched Girl, you must stay here with me! Here amidst thes_onely Tombs, these images of Death, these rotting loathsome corrupted bodies!
Here shall you stay, and witness my sufferings; witness what it is to die i_he horrors of despondency, and breathe the last groan in blasphemy an_urses! And who am I to thank for this? What seduced me into crimes, whos_are remembrance makes me shudder? Fatal Witch! was it not thy beauty? Hav_ou not plunged my soul into infamy? Have you not made me a perjure_ypocrite, a Ravisher, an Assassin! Nay, at this moment, does not that ange_ook bid me despair of God's forgiveness? Oh! when I stand before hi_udgment-throne, that look will suffice to damn me! You will tell my Judg_hat you were happy, till I saw you; that you were innocent, till I pollute_ou! You will come with those tearful eyes, those cheeks pale and ghastly, those hands lifted in supplication, as when you sought from me that merc_hich I gave not! Then will my perdition be certain! Then will come you_other's Ghost, and hurl me down into the dwellings of Fiends, and flames, an_uries, and everlasting torments! And 'tis you, who will accuse me! 'Tis you, who will cause my eternal anguish! You, wretched Girl! You! You!'
As He thundered out these words, He violently grasped Antonia's arm, an_purned the earth with delirious fury.
Supposing his brain to be turned, Antonia sank in terror upon her knees: Sh_ifted up her hands, and her voice almost died away, ere She could give i_tterance.
'Spare me! Spare me!' She murmured with difficulty.
'Silence!' cried the Friar madly, and dashed her upon the ground——
He quitted her, and paced the dungeon with a wild and disordered air. His eye_olled fearfully: Antonia trembled whenever She met their gaze. He seemed t_editate on something horrible, and She gave up all hopes of escaping from th_epulchre with life. Yet in harbouring this idea, She did him injustice.
Amidst the horror and disgust to which his soul was a prey, pity for hi_ictim still held a place in it. The storm of passion once over, He would hav_iven worlds had He possest them, to have restored to her that innocence o_hich his unbridled lust had deprived her. Of the desires which had urged hi_o the crime, no trace was left in his bosom: The wealth of India would no_ave tempted him to a second enjoyment of her person. His nature seemed t_evolt at the very idea, and fain would He have wiped from his memory th_cene which had just past. As his gloomy rage abated, in proportion did hi_ompassion augment for Antonia. He stopped, and would have spoken to her word_f comfort; But He knew not from whence to draw them, and remained gazing upo_er with mournful wildness. Her situation seemed so hopeless, so woebegone, a_o baffle mortal power to relieve her. What could He do for her? Her peace o_ind was lost, her honour irreparably ruined. She was cut off for ever fro_ociety, nor dared He give her back to it. He was conscious that were She t_ppear in the world again, his guilt would be revealed, and his punishmen_nevitable. To one so laden with crimes, Death came armed with double terrors.
Yet should He restore Antonia to light, and stand the chance of her betrayin_im, how miserable a prospect would present itself before her. She could neve_ope to be creditably established; She would be marked with infamy, an_ondemned to sorrow and solitude for the remainder of her existence. What wa_he alternative? A resolution far more terrible for Antonia, but which a_east would insure the Abbot's safety. He determined to leave the worl_ersuaded of her death, and to retain her a captive in this gloomy prison: There He proposed to visit her every night, to bring her food, to profess hi_enitence, and mingle his tears with hers. The Monk felt that this resolutio_as unjust and cruel; but it was his only means to prevent Antonia fro_ublishing his guilt and her own infamy. Should He release her, He could no_epend upon her silence: His offence was too flagrant to permit his hoping fo_er forgiveness. Besides, her reappearing would excite universal curiosity, and the violence of her affliction would prevent her from concealing it_ause. He determined therefore, that Antonia should remain a Prisoner in th_ungeon.
He approached her with confusion painted on his countenance. He raised he_rom the ground. Her hand trembled, as He took it, and He dropped it again a_f He had touched a Serpent. Nature seemed to recoil at the touch. He fel_imself at once repulsed from and attracted towards her, yet could account fo_either sentiment. There was something in her look which penetrated him wit_orror; and though his understanding was still ignorant of it, Conscienc_ointed out to him the whole extent of his crime. In hurried accents yet th_entlest He could find, while his eye was averted, and his voice scarcel_udible, He strove to console her under a misfortune which now could not b_voided. He declared himself sincerely penitent, and that He would gladly she_ drop of his blood, for every tear which his barbarity had forced from her.
Wretched and hopeless, Antonia listened to him in silent grief: But when H_nnounced her confinement in the Sepulchre, that dreadful doom to which eve_eath seemed preferable roused her from her insensibility at once. To linge_ut a life of misery in a narrow loathsome Cell, known to exist by no huma_eing save her Ravisher, surrounded by mouldering Corses, breathing th_estilential air of corruption, never more to behold the light, or drink th_ure gale of heaven, the idea was more terrible than She could support. I_onquered even her abhorrence of the Friar. Again She sank upon her knees: Sh_esought his compassion in terms the most pathetic and urgent. She promised, would He but restore her to liberty, to conceal her injuries from the world; to assign any reason for her reappearance which He might judge proper; and i_rder to prevent the least suspicion from falling upon him, She offered t_uit Madrid immediately. Her entreaties were so urgent as to make _onsiderable impression upon the Monk. He reflected that as her person n_onger excited his desires, He had no interest in keeping her concealed as H_ad at first intended; that He was adding a fresh injury to those which Sh_ad already suffered; and that if She adhered to her promises, whether She wa_onfined or at liberty, his life and reputation were equally secure. On th_ther hand, He trembled lest in her affliction Antonia should unintentionall_reak her engagement; or that her excessive simplicity and ignorance of decei_hould permit some one more artful to surprize her secret. However well- founded were these apprehensions, compassion, and a sincere wish to repair hi_ault as much as possible solicited his complying with the prayers of hi_uppliant. The difficulty of colouring Antonia's unexpected return to life, after her supposed death and public interment, was the only point which kep_im irresolute. He was still pondering on the means of removing this obstacle, when He heard the sound of feet approaching with precipitation. The door o_he Vault was thrown open, and Matilda rushed in, evidently much confused an_errified.
On seeing a Stranger enter, Antonia uttered a cry of joy: But her hopes o_eceiving succour from him were soon dissipated. The supposed Novice, withou_xpressing the least surprize at finding a Woman alone with the Monk, in s_trange a place, and at so late an hour, addressed him thus without losing _oment.
'What is to be done, Ambrosio? We are lost, unless some speedy means is foun_f dispelling the Rioters. Ambrosio, the Convent of St. Clare is on fire; Th_rioress has fallen a victim to the fury of the Mob. Already is the Abbe_enaced with a similar fate. Alarmed at the threats of the People, the Monk_eek for you everywhere. They imagine that your authority alone will suffic_o calm this disturbance. No one knows what is become of you, and your absenc_reates universal astonishment and despair. I profited by the confusion, an_led hither to warn you of the danger.'
'This will soon be remedied,' answered the Abbot; 'I will hasten back to m_ell: a trivial reason will account for my having been missed.'
'Impossible!' rejoined Matilda: 'The Sepulchre is filled with Archers. Lorenz_e Medina, with several Officers of the Inquisition, searches through th_aults, and pervades every passage. You will be intercepted in your flight; Your reasons for being at this late hour in the Sepulchre will be examined; Antonia will be found, and then you are undone for ever!'
'Lorenzo de Medina? Officers of the Inquisition? What brings them here? See_hey for me? Am I then suspected? Oh! speak, Matilda! Answer me, in pity!'
'As yet they do not think of you, but I fear that they will ere long. You_nly chance of escaping their notice rests upon the difficulty of explorin_his Vault. The door is artfully hidden:
Haply it may not be observed, and we may remain concealed till the search i_ver.'
'But Antonia … . . Should the Inquisitors draw near, and her cries be heard … .'
'Thus I remove that danger!' interrupted Matilda.
At the same time drawing a poignard, She rushed upon her devoted prey.
'Hold! Hold!' cried Ambrosio, seizing her hand, and wresting from it th_lready lifted weapon. 'What would you do, cruel Woman? The Unfortunate ha_lready suffered but too much, thanks to your pernicious consels! Would to Go_hat I had never followed them!
Would to God that I had never seen your face!'
Matilda darted upon him a look of scorn.
'Absurd!' She exclaimed with an air of passion and majesty which impressed th_onk with awe. 'After robbing her of all that made it dear, can you fear t_eprive her of a life so miserable? But 'tis well! Let her live to convinc_ou of your folly. I abandon you to your evil destiny! I disclaim you_lliance! Who trembles to commit so insignificant a crime, deserves not m_rotection. Hark! Hark! Ambrosio; Hear you not the Archers? They come, an_our destruction is inevitable!'
At this moment the Abbot heard the sound of distant voices. He flew to clos_he door on whose concealment his safety depended, and which Matilda ha_eglected to fasten. Ere He could reach it, He saw Antonia glide suddenly b_im, rush through the door, and fly towards the noise with the swiftness of a_rrow. She had listened attentively to Matilda: She heard Lorenzo's nam_entioned, and resolved to risque every thing to throw herself under hi_rotection. The door was open. The sounds convinced her that the Archers coul_e at no great distance. She mustered up her little remaining strength, rushe_y the Monk ere He perceived her design, and bent her course rapidly toward_he voices. As soon as He recovered from his first surprize, the Abbot faile_ot to pursue her. In vain did Antonia redouble her speed, and stretch ever_erve to the utmost. Her Enemy gained upon her every moment: She heard hi_teps close after her, and felt the heat of his breath glow upon her neck. H_vertook her; He twisted his hand in the ringlets of her streaming hair, an_ttempted to drag her back with him to the dungeon. Antonia resisted with al_er strength: She folded her arms round a Pillar which supported the roof, an_hrieked loudly for assistance. In vain did the Monk strive to threaten her t_ilence.
'Help!' She continued to exclaim; 'Help! Help! for God's sake!'
Quickened by her cries, the sound of footsteps was heard approaching. Th_bbot expected every moment to see the Inquisitors arrive. Antonia stil_esisted, and He now enforced her silence by means the most horrible an_nhuman. He still grasped Matilda's dagger: Without allowing himself _oment's reflection, He raised it, and plunged it twice in the bosom o_ntonia! She shrieked, and sank upon the ground. The Monk endeavoured to bea_er away with him, but She still embraced the Pillar firmly. At that instan_he light of approaching Torches flashed upon the Walls. Dreading a discovery, Ambrosio was compelled to abandon his Victim, and hastily fled back to th_ault, where He had left Matilda.
He fled not unobserved. Don Ramirez happening to arrive the first, perceived _emale bleeding upon the ground, and a Man flying from the spot, whos_onfusion betrayed him for the Murderer. He instantly pursued the Fugitiv_ith some part of the Archers, while the Others remained with Lorenzo t_rotect the wounded Stranger. They raised her, and supported her in thei_rms. She had fainted from excess of pain, but soon gave signs of returnin_ife. She opened her eyes, and on lifting up her head, the quantity of fai_air fell back which till then had obscured her features.
'God Almighty! It is Antonia!'
Such was Lorenzo's exclamation, while He snatched her from the Attendant'_rms, and clasped her in his own.
Though aimed by an uncertain hand, the poignard had answered but too well th_urpose of its Employer. The wounds were mortal, and Antonia was consciou_hat She never could recover. Yet the few moments which remained for her wer_oments of happiness. The concern exprest upon Lorenzo's countenance, th_rantic fondness of his complaints, and his earnest enquiries respecting he_ounds, convinced her beyond a doubt that his affections were her own. Sh_ould not be removed from the Vaults, fearing lest motion should only haste_er death; and She was unwilling to lose those moments which She past i_eceiving proofs of Lorenzo's love, and assuring him of her own. She told hi_hat had She still been undefiled She might have lamented the loss of life; But that deprived of honour and branded with shame, Death was to her _lessing: She could not have been his Wife, and that hope being denied her, She resigned herself to the Grave without one sigh of regret. She bad him tak_ourage, conjured him not to abandon himself to fruitless sorrow, and declare_hat She mourned to leave nothing in the whole world but him. While ever_weet accent increased rather than lightened Lorenzo's grief, She continued t_onverse with him till the moment of dissolution. Her voice grew faint an_carcely audible; A thick cloud spread itself over her eyes; Her heart bea_low and irregular, and every instant seemed to announce that her fate wa_ear at hand.
She lay, her head reclining upon Lorenzo's bosom, and her lips still murmurin_o him words of comfort. She was interrupted by the Convent Bell, as tollin_t a distance, it struck the hour. Suddenly Antonia's eyes sparkled wit_elestial brightness: Her frame seemed to have received new strength an_nimation. She started from her Lover's arms.
'Three o'clock!' She cried; 'Mother, I come!'
She clasped her hands, and sank lifeless upon the ground. Lorenzo in agon_hrew himself beside her: He tore his hair, beat his breast, and refused to b_eparated from the Corse. At length his force being exhausted, He suffere_imself to be led from the Vault, and was conveyed to the Palace de Medin_carcely more alive than the unfortunate Antonia.
In the meanwhile, though closely pursued, Ambrosio succeeded in regaining th_ault. The Door was already fastened when Don Ramirez arrived, and much tim_lapsed, ere the Fugitive's retreat was discovered. But nothing can resis_erseverance. Though so artfully concealed, the Door could not escape th_igilance of the Archers. They forced it open, and entered the Vault to th_nfinite dismay of Ambrosio and his Companion. The Monk's confusion, hi_ttempt to hide himself, his rapid flight, and the blood sprinkled upon hi_loaths, left no room to doubt his being Antonia's Murderer. But when He wa_ecognized for the immaculate Ambrosio, 'The Man of Holiness,' the Idol o_adrid, the faculties of the Spectators were chained up in surprize, an_carcely could they persuade themselves that what they saw was no vision. Th_bbot strove not to vindicate himself, but preserved a sullen silence. He wa_ecured and bound. The same precaution was taken with Matilda: Her Cowl bein_emoved, the delicacy of her features and profusion of her golden hai_etrayed her sex, and this incident created fresh amazement. The dagger wa_lso found in the Tomb, where the Monk had thrown it; and the dungeon havin_ndergone a thorough search, the two Culprits were conveyed to the prisons o_he Inquisition.
Don Ramirez took care that the populace should remain ignorant both of th_rimes and profession of the Captives. He feared a repetition of the riot_hich had followed the apprehending the Prioress of St. Clare. He contente_imself with stating to the Capuchins the guilt of their Superior. To avoi_he shame of a public accusation, and dreading the popular fury from whic_hey had already saved their Abbey with much difficulty, the Monks readil_ermitted the Inquisitors to search their Mansion without noise. No fres_iscoveries were made. The effects found in the Abbot's and Matilda's Cell_ere seized, and carried to the Inquisition to be produced in evidence. Ever_hing else remained in its former position, and order and tranquillity onc_ore prevailed through Madrid.
St. Clare's Convent was completely ruined by the united ravages of the Mob an_onflagration. Nothing remained of it but the principal Walls, whose thicknes_nd solidity had preserved them from the flames. The Nuns who had belonged t_t were obliged in consequence to disperse themselves into other Societies: But the prejudice against them ran high, and the Superiors were very unwillin_o admit them. However, most of them being related to Families the mos_istinguished for their riches birth and power, the several Convents wer_ompelled to receive them, though they did it with a very ill grace. Thi_rejudice was extremely false and unjustifiable: After a close investigation, it was proved that All in the Convent were persuaded of the death of Agnes, except the four Nuns whom St. Ursula had pointed out. These had fallen Victim_o the popular fury; as had also several who were perfectly innocent an_nconscious of the whole affair. Blinded by resentment, the Mob had sacrifice_very Nun who fell into their hands: They who escaped were entirely indebte_o the Duke de Medina's prudence and moderation. Of this they were conscious, and felt for that Nobleman a proper sense of gratitude.
Virginia was not the most sparing of her thanks: She wished equally to make _roper return for his attentions, and to obtain the good graces of Lorenzo'_ncle. In this She easily succeeded.
The Duke beheld her beauty with wonder and admiration; and while his eyes wer_nchanted with her Form, the sweetness of her manners and her tender concer_or the suffering Nun prepossessed his heart in her favour. This Virginia ha_iscernment enough to perceive, and She redoubled her attention to th_nvalid. When He parted from her at the door of her Father's Palace, the Duk_ntreated permission to enquire occasionally after her health. His request wa_eadily granted: Virginia assured him that the Marquis de Villa-Franca woul_e proud of an opportunity to thank him in person for the protection afforde_o her. They now separated, He enchanted with her beauty and gentleness, an_he much pleased with him and more with his Nephew.
On entering the Palace, Virginia's first care was to summon the famil_hysician, and take care of her unknown charge. Her Mother hastened to shar_ith her the charitable office. Alarmed by the riots, and trembling for hi_aughter's safety, who was his only child, the Marquis had flown to St.
Clare's Convent, and was still employed in seeking her. Messengers were no_ispatched on all sides to inform him that He would find her safe at hi_otel, and desire him to hasten thither immediately. His absence gave Virgini_iberty to bestow her whole attention upon her Patient; and though muc_isordered herself by the adventures of the night, no persuasion could induc_er to quit the bedside of the Sufferer. Her constitution being much enfeeble_y want and sorrow, it was some time before the Stranger was restored to he_enses. She found great difficulty in swallowing the medicines prescribed t_er: But this obstacle being removed, She easily conquered her disease whic_roceeded from nothing but weakness. The attention which was paid her, th_holesome food to which She had been long a Stranger, and her joy at bein_estored to liberty, to society, and, as She dared to hope, to Love, all thi_ombined to her speedy re-establishment.
From the first moment of knowing her, her melancholy situation, her suffering_lmost unparalleled had engaged the affections of her amiable Hostess: Virginia felt for her the most lively interest; But how was She delighted, when her Guest being sufficiently recovered to relate her History, Sh_ecognized in the captive Nun the Sister of Lorenzo!
This victim of monastic cruelty was indeed no other than the unfortunat_gnes. During her abode in the Convent, She had been well known to Virginia: But her emaciated form, her features altered by affliction, her deat_niversally credited, and her overgrown and matted hair which hung over he_ace and bosom in disorder at first had prevented her being recollected. Th_rioress had put every artifice in practice to induce Virginia to take th_eil; for the Heiress of Villa-Franca would have been no despicabl_cquisition. Her seeming kindness and unremitted attention so far succeede_hat her young Relation began to think seriously upon compliance. Bette_nstructed in the disgust and ennui of a monastic life, Agnes had penetrate_he designs of the Domina: She trembled for the innocent Girl, and endeavoure_o make her sensible of her error. She painted in their true colours th_umerous inconveniencies attached to a Convent, the continued restraint, th_ow jealousies, the petty intrigues, the servile court and gross flatter_xpected by the Superior. She then bad Virginia reflect on the brillian_rospect which presented itself before her: The Idol of her Parents, th_dmiration of Madrid, endowed by nature and education with every perfection o_erson and mind, She might look forward to an establishment the mos_ortunate. Her riches furnished her with the means of exercising in thei_ullest extent, charity and benevolence, those virtues so dear to her; and he_tay in the world would enable her discovering Objects worthy her protection, which could not be done in the seclusion of a Convent.
Her persuasions induced Virginia to lay aside all thoughts of the Veil: Bu_nother argument, not used by Agnes, had more weight with her than all th_thers put together. She had seen Lorenzo, when He visited his Sister at th_rate. His Person pleased her, and her conversations with Agnes generally use_o terminate in some question about her Brother. She, who doted upon Lorenzo, wished for no better than an opportunity to trumpet out his praise. She spok_f him in terms of rapture; and to convince her Auditor how just were hi_entiments, how cultivated his mind, and elegant his expressions, She showe_er at different times the letters which She received from him. She soo_erceived that from these communications the heart of her young Friend ha_mbibed impressions, which She was far from intending to give, but was trul_appy to discover. She could not have wished her Brother a more desirabl_nion: Heiress of Villa-Franca, virtuous, affectionate, beautiful, an_ccomplished, Virginia seemed calculated to make him happy. She sounded he_rother upon the subject, though without mentioning names or circumstances. H_ssured her in his answers that his heart and hand were totally disengaged, and She thought that upon these grounds She might proceed without danger. Sh_n consequence endeavoured to strengthen the dawning passion of her Friend.
Lorenzo was made the constant topic of her discourse; and the avidity wit_hich her Auditor listened, the sighs which frequently escaped from her bosom, and the eagerness with which upon any digression She brought back th_onversation to the subject whence it had wandered, sufficed to convince Agne_hat her Brother's addresses would be far from disagreeable. She at lengt_entured to mention her wishes to the Duke: Though a Stranger to the Lad_erself, He knew enough of her situation to think her worthy his Nephew'_and. It was agreed between him and his Niece, that She should insinuate th_dea to Lorenzo, and She only waited his return to Madrid to propose he_riend to him as his Bride. The unfortunate events which took place in th_nterim, prevented her from executing her design. Virginia wept her los_incerely, both as a Companion, and as the only Person to whom She could spea_f Lorenzo. Her passion continued to prey upon her heart in secret, and Sh_ad almost determined to confess her sentiments to her Mother, when acciden_nce more threw their object in her way. The sight of him so near her, hi_oliteness, his compassion, his intrepidity, had combined to give new ardou_o her affection. When She now found her Friend and Advocate restored to her, She looked upon her as a Gift from Heaven; She ventured to cherish the hope o_eing united to Lorenzo, and resolved to use with him his Sister's influence.
Supposing that before her death Agnes might possibly have made the proposal, the Duke had placed all his Nephew's hints of marriage to Virginia's account: Consequently, He gave them the most favourable reception. On returning to hi_otel, the relation given him of Antonia's death, and Lorenzo's behaviour o_he occasion, made evident his mistake. He lamented the circumstances; But th_nhappy Girl being effectually out of the way, He trusted that his design_ould yet be executed. 'Tis true that Lorenzo's situation just then ill-suite_im for a Bridegroom. His hopes disappointed at the moment when He expected t_ealize them, and the dreadful and sudden death of his Mistress had affecte_im very severely. The Duke found him upon the Bed of sickness. His Attendant_xpressed serious apprehensions for his life; But the Uncle entertained no_he same fears. He was of opinion, and not unwisely, that 'Men have died, an_orms have eat them; but not for Love!' He therefore flattered himself tha_owever deep might be the impression made upon his Nephew's heart, Time an_irginia would be able to efface it. He now hastened to the afflicted Youth, and endeavoured to console him: He sympathised in his distress, but encourage_im to resist the encroachments of despair. He allowed that He could not bu_eel shocked at an event so terrible, nor could He blame his sensibility; Bu_e besought him not to torment himself with vain regrets, and rather t_truggle with affliction, and preserve his life, if not for his own sake, a_east for the sake of those who were fondly attached to him. While He laboure_hus to make Lorenzo forget Antonia's loss, the Duke paid his cour_ssiduously to Virginia, and seized every opportunity to advance his Nephew'_nterest in her heart.
It may easily be expected that Agnes was not long without enquiring after Do_aymond. She was shocked to hear the wretched situation to which grief ha_educed him; Yet She could not help exulting secretly, when She reflected, that his illness proved the sincerity of his love. The Duke undertook th_ffice himself, of announcing to the Invalid the happiness which awaited him.
Though He omitted no precaution to prepare him for such an event, at thi_udden change from despair to happiness Raymond's transports were so violent, as nearly to have proved fatal to him. These once passed, the tranquillity o_is mind, the assurance of felicity, and above all the presence of Agnes, (Wh_as no sooner reestablished by the care of Virginia and the Marchioness, tha_he hastened to attend her Lover) soon enabled him to overcome the effects o_is late dreadful malady. The calm of his soul communicated itself to hi_ody, and He recovered with such rapidity as to create universal surprize.
No so Lorenzo. Antonia's death accompanied with such terrible circumstance_eighed upon his mind heavily. He was worn down to a shadow. Nothing coul_ive him pleasure. He was persuaded with difficulty to swallow nourishmen_ufficient for the support of life, and a consumption was apprehended. Th_ociety of Agnes formed his only comfort. Though accident had never permitte_heir being much together, He entertained for her a sincere friendship an_ttachment. Perceiving how necessary She was to him, She seldom quitted hi_hamber. She listened to his complaints with unwearied attention, and soothe_im by the gentleness of her manners, and by sympathising with his distress.
She still inhabited the Palace de Villa-Franca, the Possessors of whic_reated her with marked affection. The Duke had intimated to the Marquis hi_ishes respecting Virginia. The match was unexceptionable: Lorenzo was Heir t_is Uncle's immense property, and was distinguished in Madrid for hi_greeable person, extensive knowledge, and propriety of conduct: Add to this, that the Marchioness had discovered how strong was her Daughter'_repossession in his favour.
In consequence the Duke's proposal was accepted without hesitation: Ever_recaution was taken to induce Lorenzo's seeing the Lady with those sentiment_hich She so well merited to excite. In her visits to her Brother Agnes wa_requently accompanied by the Marchioness; and as soon as He was able to mov_nto his Antichamber, Virginia under her mother's protection was sometime_ermitted to express her wishes for his recovery. This She did with suc_elicacy, the manner in which She mentioned Antonia was so tender an_oothing, and when She lamented her Rival's melancholy fate, her bright eye_hone so beautiful through her tears, that Lorenzo could not behold, or liste_o her without emotion. His Relations, as well as the Lady, perceived tha_ith every day her society seemed to give him fresh pleasure, and that H_poke of her in terms of stronger admiration. However, they prudently kep_heir observations to themselves. No word was dropped which might lead him t_uspect their designs. They continued their former conduct and attention, an_eft Time to ripen into a warmer sentiment the friendship which He alread_elt for Virginia.
In the mean while, her visits became more frequent; and latterly there wa_carce a day, of which She did not pass some part by the side of Lorenzo'_ouch. He gradually regained his strength, but the progress of his recover_as slow and doubtful. One evening He seemed to be in better spirits tha_sual: Agnes and her Lover, the Duke, Virginia, and her Parents were sittin_ound him. He now for the first time entreated his Sister to inform him ho_he had escaped the effects of the poison which St. Ursula had seen he_wallow. Fearful of recalling those scenes to his mind in which Antonia ha_erished, She had hitherto concealed from him the history of her sufferings.
As He now started the subject himself, and thinking that perhaps the narrativ_f her sorrows might draw him from the contemplation of those on which H_welt too constantly, She immediately complied with his request. The rest o_he company had already heard her story; But the interest which all presen_elt for its Heroine made them anxious to hear it repeated. The whole societ_econding Lorenzo's entreaties, Agnes obeyed. She first recounted th_iscovery which had taken place in the Abbey Chapel, the Domina's resentment, and the midnight scene of which St. Ursula had been a concealed witness.
Though the Nun had already described this latter event, Agnes now related i_ore circumstantially and at large: After which She proceeded in her narrativ_s follows.
**Conclusion of the History of Agnes de Medina**
My supposed death was attended with the greatest agonies. Those moments whic_ believed my last, were embittered by the Domina's assurances that I coul_ot escape perdition; and as my eyes closed, I heard her rage exhale itself i_urses on my offence. The horror of this situation, of a death-bed from whic_ope was banished, of a sleep from which I was only to wake to find myself th_rey of flames and Furies, was more dreadful than I can describe. Whe_nimation revived in me, my soul was still impressed with these terribl_deas: I looked round with fear, expecting to behold the Ministers of divin_engeance. For the first hour, my senses were so bewildered, and my brain s_izzy, that I strove in vain to arrange the strange images which floated i_ild confusion before me. If I endeavoured to raise myself from the ground, the wandering of my head deceived me. Every thing around me seemed to rock, and I sank once more upon the earth. My weak and dazzled eyes were unable t_ear a nearer approach to a gleam of light which I saw trembling above me. _as compelled to close them again, and remain motionless in the same posture.
A full hour elapsed, before I was sufficiently myself to examine th_urrounding Objects. When I did examine them, what terror filled my bosom _ound myself extended upon a sort of wicker Couch: It had six handles to it, which doubtless had served the Nuns to convey me to my grave. I was covere_ith a linen cloth:
Several faded flowers were strown over me: On one side lay a small woode_rucifix; On the other, a Rosary of large Beads. Four low narrow wall_onfined me. The top was also covered, and in it was practised a small grate_oor: Through this was admitted the little air which circulated in thi_iserable place. A faint glimmering of light which streamed through the Bars, permitted me to distinguish the surrounding horrors. I was opprest by _oisome suffocating smell; and perceiving that the grated door was unfastened, I thought that I might possibly effect my escape. As I raised myself with thi_esign, my hand rested upon something soft: I grasped it, and advanced i_owards the light. Almighty God! What was my disgust, my consternation! I_pite of its putridity, and the worms which preyed upon it, I perceived _orrupted human head, and recognised the features of a Nun who had died som_onths before!
I threw it from me, and sank almost lifeless upon my Bier.
When my strength returned, this circumstance, and the consciousness of bein_urrounded by the loathsome and mouldering Bodies of my Companions, increase_y desire to escape from my fearful prison. I again moved towards the light.
The grated door was within my reach: I lifted it without difficulty; Probabl_t had been left unclosed to facilitate my quitting the dungeon. Aiding mysel_y the irregularity of the Walls some of whose stones projected beyond th_est, I contrived to ascend them, and drag myself out of my prison. I no_ound Myself in a Vault tolerably spacious. Several Tombs, similar i_ppearance to that whence I had just escaped, were ranged along the sides i_rder, and seemed to be considerably sunk within the earth. A sepulchral Lam_as suspended from the roof by an iron chain, and shed a gloomy light throug_he dungeon. Emblems of Death were seen on every side: Skulls, shoulder- blades, thigh-bones, and other leavings of Mortality were scattered upon th_ewy ground. Each Tomb was ornamented with a large Crucifix, and in one corne_tood a wooden Statue of St. Clare. To these objects I at first paid n_ttention: A Door, the only outlet from the Vault, had attracted my eyes. _astened towards it, having wrapped my winding-sheet closely round me. _ushed against the door, and to my inexpressible terror found that it wa_astened on the outside.
I guessed immediately that the Prioress, mistaking the nature of the liquo_hich She had compelled me to drink, instead of poison had administered _trong Opiate. From this I concluded that being to all appearance dead I ha_eceived the rites of burial; and that deprived of the power of making m_xistence known, it would be my fate to expire of hunger. This idea penetrate_e with horror, not merely for my own sake, but that of the innocent Creature, who still lived within my bosom. I again endeavoured to open the door, but i_esisted all my efforts. I stretched my voice to the extent of its compass, and shrieked for aid: I was remote from the hearing of every one: No friendl_oice replied to mine. A profound and melancholy silence prevailed through th_ault, and I despaired of liberty. My long abstinence from food now began t_orment me. The tortures which hunger inflicted on me, were the most painfu_nd insupportable: Yet they seemed to increase with every hour which past ove_y head. Sometimes I threw myself upon the ground, and rolled upon it wild an_esperate: Sometimes starting up, I returned to the door, again strove t_orce it open, and repeated my fruitless cries for succour. Often was I on th_oint of striking my temple against the sharp corner of some Monument, dashin_ut my brains, and thus terminating my woes at once; But still the remembranc_f my Baby vanquished my resolution: I trembled at a deed which equall_ndangered my Child's existence and my own. Then would I vent my anguish i_oud exclamations and passionate complaints; and then again my strengt_ailing me, silent and hopeless I would sit me down upon the base of St.
Clare's Statue, fold my arms, and abandon myself to sullen despair. Thu_assed several wretched hours. Death advanced towards me with rapid strides, and I expected that every succeeding moment would be that of my dissolution.
Suddenly a neighbouring Tomb caught my eye: A Basket stood upon it, which til_hen I had not observed. I started from my seat: I made towards it as swiftl_s my exhausted frame would permit. How eagerly did I seize the Basket, o_inding it to contain a loaf of coarse bread and a small bottle of water.
I threw myself with avidity upon these humble aliments. They had to al_ppearance been placed in the Vault for several days; The bread was hard, an_he water tainted; Yet never did I taste food to me so delicious. When th_ravings of appetite were satisfied, I busied myself with conjectures upo_his new circumstance: I debated whether the Basket had been placed there wit_ view to my necessity. Hope answered my doubts in the affirmative. Yet wh_ould guess me to be in need of such assistance? If my existence was known, why was I detained in this gloomy Vault? If I was kept a Prisoner, what mean_he ceremony of committing me to the Tomb? Or if I was doomed to perish wit_unger, to whose pity was I indebted for provisions placed within my reach? _riend would not have kept my dreadful punishment a secret; Neither did i_eem probable that an Enemy would have taken pains to supply me with the mean_f existence. Upon the whole I was inclined to think that the Domina's design_pon my life had been discovered by some one of my Partizans in the Convent, who had found means to substitute an opiate for poison: That She had furnishe_e with food to support me, till She could effect my delivery: And that Sh_as then employed in giving intelligence to my Relations of my danger, an_ointing out a way to release me from captivity. Yet why then was the qualit_f my provisions so coarse? How could my Friend have entered the Vault withou_he Domina's knowledge? And if She had entered, why was the Door fastened s_arefully? These reflections staggered me: Yet still this idea was the mos_avourable to my hopes, and I dwelt upon it in preference.
My meditations were interrupted by the sound of distant footsteps. The_pproached, but slowly. Rays of light now darted through the crevices of th_oor. Uncertain whether the Persons who advanced came to relieve me, or wer_onducted by some other motive to the Vault, I failed not to attract thei_otice by loud cries for help. Still the sounds drew near: The light gre_tronger: At length with inexpressible pleasure I heard the Key turning in th_ock. Persuaded that my deliverance was at hand, I flew towards the Door wit_ shriek of joy. It opened: But all my hopes of escape died away, when th_rioress appeared followed by the same four Nuns, who had been witnesses of m_upposed death. They bore torches in their hands, and gazed upon me in fearfu_ilence.
I started back in terror. The Domina descended into the Vault, as did also he_ompanions. She bent upon me a stern resentful eye, but expressed no surpriz_t finding me still living. She took the seat which I had just quitted: Th_oor was again closed, and the Nuns ranged themselves behind their Superior, while the glare of their torches, dimmed by the vapours and dampness of th_ault, gilded with cold beams the surrounding Monuments. For some moments al_reserved a dead and solemn silence. I stood at some distance from th_rioress. At length She beckoned me to advance. Trembling at the severity o_er aspect my strength scarce sufficed me to obey her. I drew near, but m_imbs were unable to support their burthen. I sank upon my knees; I clasped m_ands, and lifted them up to her for mercy, but had no power to articulate _yllable.
She gazed upon me with angry eyes.
'Do I see a Penitent, or a Criminal?' She said at length; 'Are those hand_aised in contrition for your crimes, or in fear of meeting their punishment?
Do those tears acknowledge the justice of your doom, or only solici_itigation of your sufferings? I fear me, 'tis the latter!'
She paused, but kept her eye still fixt upon mine.
'Take courage;' She continued: 'I wish not for your death, but you_epentance. The draught which I administered, was no poison, but an opiate. M_ntention in deceiving you was to make you feel the agonies of a guilt_onscience, had Death overtaken you suddenly while your crimes were stil_nrepented. You have suffered those agonies: I have brought you to be familia_ith the sharpness of death, and I trust that your momentary anguish wil_rove to you an eternal benefit. It is not my design to destroy your immorta_oul; or bid you seek the grave, burthened with the weight of sins unexpiated.
No, Daughter, far from it: I will purify you with wholesome chastisement, an_urnish you with full leisure for contrition and remorse. Hear then m_entence; The ill-judged zeal of your Friends delayed its execution, bu_annot now prevent it. All Madrid believes you to be no more; Your Relation_re thoroughly persuaded of your death, and the Nuns your Partizans hav_ssisted at your funeral. Your existence can never be suspected; I have take_uch precautions, as must render it an impenetrable mystery. Then abandon al_houghts of a World from which you are eternally separated, and employ the fe_ours which are allowed you, in preparing for the next.'
This exordium led me to expect something terrible. I trembled, and would hav_poken to deprecate her wrath: but a motion of the Domina commanded me to b_ilent. She proceeded.
'Though of late years unjustly neglected, and now opposed by many of ou_isguided Sisters, (whom Heaven convert!) it is my intention to revive th_aws of our order in their full force. That against incontinence is severe, but no more than so monstrous an offence demands: Submit to it, Daughter, without resistance; You will find the benefit of patience and resignation in _etter life than this. Listen then to the sentence of St. Clare. Beneath thes_aults there exist Prisons, intended to receive such criminals as yourself: Artfully is their entrance concealed, and She who enters them, must resign al_opes of liberty. Thither must you now be conveyed. Food shall be supplie_ou, but not sufficient for the indulgence of appetite: You shall have jus_nough to keep together body and soul, and its quality shall be the simples_nd coarsest. Weep, Daughter, weep, and moisten your bread with your tears: God knows that you have ample cause for sorrow! Chained down in one of thes_ecret dungeons, shut out from the world and light for ever, with no comfor_ut religion, no society but repentance, thus must you groan away th_emainder of your days. Such are St. Clare's orders; Submit to them withou_epining. Follow me!'
Thunderstruck at this barbarous decree, my little remaining strength abandone_e. I answered only by falling at her feet, and bathing them with tears. Th_omina, unmoved by my affliction, rose from her seat with a stately air. Sh_epeated her commands in an absolute tone: But my excessive faintness made m_nable to obey her. Mariana and Alix raised me from the ground, and carried m_orwards in their arms. The Prioress moved on, leaning upon Violante, an_amilla preceded her with a Torch. Thus passed our sad procession along th_assages, in silence only broken by my sighs and groans. We stopped before th_rincipal shrine of St. Clare. The Statue was removed from its Pedestal, though how I knew not. The Nuns afterwards raised an iron grate till the_oncealed by the Image, and let it fall on the other side with a loud crash.
The awful sound, repeated by the vaults above, and Caverns below me, rouzed m_rom the despondent apathy in which I had been plunged. I looked before me: A_byss presented itself to my affrighted eyes, and a steep and narro_taircase, whither my Conductors were leading me. I shrieked, and starte_ack. I implored compassion, rent the air with my cries, and summoned bot_eaven and earth to my assistance. In vain! I was hurried down the Staircase, and forced into one of the Cells which lined the Cavern's sides.
My blood ran cold, as I gazed upon this melancholy abode. The cold vapour_overing in the air, the walls green with damp, the bed of Straw so forlor_nd comfortless, the Chain destined to bind me for ever to my prison, and th_eptiles of every description which as the torches advanced towards them, _escried hurrying to their retreats, struck my heart with terrors almost to_xquisite for nature to bear. Driven by despair to madness, I burst suddenl_rom the Nuns who held me: I threw myself upon my knees before the Prioress, and besought her mercy in the most passionate and frantic terms.
'If not on me,' said I, 'look at least with pity on that innocent Being, whos_ife is attached to mine! Great is my crime, but let not my Child suffer fo_t! My Baby has committed no fault: Oh! spare me for the sake of my unbor_ffspring, whom ere it tastes life your severity dooms to destruction!'
The Prioress drew back haughtily: She forced her habit from my grasp, as if m_ouch had been contagious.
'What?' She exclaimed with an exasperated air; 'What? Dare you plead for th_roduce of your shame? Shall a Creature be permitted to live, conceived i_uilt so monstrous? Abandoned Woman, speak for him no more! Better that th_retch should perish than live: Begotten in perjury, incontinence, an_ollution, It cannot fail to prove a Prodigy of vice. Hear me, thou Guilty!
Expect no mercy from me either for yourself, or Brat. Rather pray that Deat_ay seize you before you produce it; Or if it must see the light, that it_yes may immediately be closed again for ever! No aid shall be given you i_our labour; Bring your Offspring into the world yourself, Feed it yourself, Nurse it yourself, Bury it yourself: God grant that the latter may happe_oon, lest you receive comfort from the fruit of your iniquity!'
This inhuman speech, the threats which it contained, the dreadful suffering_oretold to me by the Domina, and her prayers for my Infant's death, on who_hough unborn I already doated, were more than my exhausted frame coul_upport. Uttering a deep groan, I fell senseless at the feet of my unrelentin_nemy. I know not how long I remained in this situation; But I imagine tha_ome time must have elapsed before my recovery, since it sufficed the Priores_nd her Nuns to quit the Cavern. When my senses returned, I found myself i_ilence and solitude. I heard not even the retiring footsteps of m_ersecutors. All was hushed, and all was dreadful! I had been thrown upon th_ed of Straw: The heavy Chain which I had already eyed with terror, was woun_round my waist, and fastened me to the Wall. A Lamp glimmering with dull, melancholy rays through my dungeon, permitted my distinguishing all it_orrors: It was separated from the Cavern by a low and irregular Wall o_tone: A large Chasm was left open in it which formed the entrance, for doo_here was none. A leaden Crucifix was in front of my straw Couch. A tattere_ug lay near me, as did also a Chaplet of Beads; and not far from me stood _itcher of water, and a wicker Basket containing a small loaf, and a bottle o_il to supply my Lamp.
With a despondent eye did I examine this scene of suffering: When I reflecte_hat I was doomed to pass in it the remainder of my days, my heart was ren_ith bitter anguish. I had once been taught to look forward to a lot s_ifferent! At one time my prospects had appeared so bright, so flattering! No_ll was lost to me. Friends, comfort, society, happiness, in one moment I wa_eprived of all! Dead to the world, Dead to pleasure, I lived to nothing bu_he sense of misery. How fair did that world seem to me, from which I was fo_ver excluded! How many loved objects did it contain, whom I never shoul_ehold again! As I threw a look of terror round my prison, as I shrunk fro_he cutting wind which howled through my subterraneous dwelling, the chang_eemed so striking, so abrupt, that I doubted its reality.
That the Duke de Medina's Niece, that the destined Bride of the Marquis de la_isternas, One bred up in affluence, related to the noblest families in Spain, and rich in a multitude of affectionate Friends, that She should in one momen_ecome a Captive, separated from the world for ever, weighed down with chains, and reduced to support life with the coarsest aliments, appeared a change s_udden and incredible, that I believed myself the sport of some frightfu_ision. Its continuance convinced me of my mistake with but too muc_ertainty. Every morning my hopes were disappointed. At length I abandoned al_dea of escaping: I resigned myself to my fate, and only expected Liberty whe_he came the Companion of Death.
My mental anguish, and the dreadful scenes in which I had been an Actress, advanced the period of my labour. In solitude and misery, abandoned by all, unassisted by Art, uncomforted by Friendship, with pangs which if witnesse_ould have touched the hardest heart, was I delivered of my wretched burthen.
It came alive into the world; But I knew not how to treat it, or by what mean_o preserve its existence. I could only bathe it with tears, warm it in m_osom, and offer up prayers for its safety. I was soon deprived of thi_ournful employment: The want of proper attendance, my ignorance how to nurs_t, the bitter cold of the dungeon, and the unwholesome air which inflated it_ungs, terminated my sweet Babe's short and painful existence. It expired in _ew hours after its birth, and I witnessed its death with agonies which begga_ll description.
But my grief was unavailing. My Infant was no more; nor could all my sigh_mpart to its little tender frame the breath of a moment. I rent my winding- sheet, and wrapped in it my lovely Child. I placed it on my bosom, its sof_rm folded round my neck, and its pale cold cheek resting upon mine. Thus di_ts lifeless limbs repose, while I covered it with kisses, talked to it, wept, and moaned over it without remission, day or night. Camilla entered my priso_egularly once every twenty-four hours, to bring me food. In spite of he_linty nature, She could not behold this spectacle unmoved. She feared tha_rief so excessive would at length turn my brain, and in truth I was no_lways in my proper senses. From a principle of compassion She urged me t_ermit the Corse to be buried: But to this I never would consent. I vowed no_o part with it while I had life: Its presence was my only comfort, and n_ersuasion could induce me to give it up. It soon became a mass of putridity, and to every eye was a loathsome and disgusting Object; To every eye but _other's. In vain did human feelings bid me recoil from this emblem o_ortality with repugnance: I withstood, and vanquished that repugnance. _ersisted in holding my Infant to my bosom, in lamenting it, loving it, adoring it! Hour after hour have I passed upon my sorry Couch, contemplatin_hat had once been my Child: I endeavoured to retrace its features through th_ivid corruption, with which they were overspread: During my confinement thi_ad occupation was my only delight; and at that time Worlds should not hav_ribed me to give it up. Even when released from my prison, I brought away m_hild in my arms. The representations of my two kind Friends,''—(Here She too_he hands of the Marchioness and Virginia, and pressed them alternately to he_ips)—''at length persuaded me to resign my unhappy Infant to the Grave. Yet _arted from it with reluctance: However, reason at length prevailed; _uffered it to be taken from me, and it now reposes in consecrated ground.
I before mentioned that regularly once a day Camilla brought me food. Sh_ought not to embitter my sorrows with reproach: She bad me, 'tis true, resig_ll hopes of liberty and worldly happiness; But She encouraged me to bear wit_atience my temporary distress, and advised me to draw comfort from religion.
My situation evidently affected her more than She ventured to express: But Sh_elieved that to extenuate my fault would make me less anxious to repent it.
Often while her lips painted the enormity of my guilt in glaring colours, he_yes betrayed, how sensible She was to my sufferings. In fact I am certai_hat none of my Tormentors, (for the three other Nuns entered my priso_ccasionally) were so much actuated by the spirit of oppressive cruelty as b_he idea that to afflict my body was the only way to preserve my soul. Nay, even this persuasion might not have had such weight with them, and they migh_ave thought my punishment too severe, had not their good dispositions bee_eprest by blind obedience to their Superior. Her resentment existed in ful_orce. My project of elopement having been discovered by the Abbot of th_apuchins, She supposed herself lowered in his opinion by my disgrace, and i_onsequence her hate was inveterate. She told the Nuns to whose custody I wa_ommitted that my fault was of the most heinous nature, that no suffering_ould equal the offence, and that nothing could save me from eternal perditio_ut punishing my guilt with the utmost severity. The Superior's word is a_racle to but too many of a Convent's Inhabitants. The Nuns believed whateve_he Prioress chose to assert: Though contradicted by reason and charity, the_esitated not to admit the truth of her arguments. They followed he_njunctions to the very letter, and were fully persuaded that to treat me wit_enity, or to show the least pity for my woes, would be a direct means t_estroy my chance for salvation.
Camilla, being most employed about me, was particularly charged by th_rioress to treat me with harshness. In compliance with these orders, Sh_requently strove to convince me, how just was my punishment, and how enormou_as my crime: She bad me think myself too happy in saving my soul b_ortifying my body, and even threatened me sometimes with eternal perdition.
Yet as I before observed, She always concluded by words of encouragement an_omfort; and though uttered by Camilla's lips, I easily recognised th_omina's expressions. Once, and once only, the Prioress visited me in m_ungeon. She then treated me with the most unrelenting cruelty: She loaded m_ith reproaches, taunted me with my frailty, and when I implored her mercy, told me to ask it of heaven, since I deserved none on earth. She even gaze_pon my lifeless Infant without emotion; and when She left me, I heard he_harge Camilla to increase the hardships of my Captivity. Unfeeling Woman! Bu_et me check my resentment: She has expiated her errors by her sad an_nexpected death. Peace be with her; and may her crimes be forgiven in heaven, as I forgive her my sufferings on earth!
Thus did I drag on a miserable existence. Far from growing familiar with m_rison, I beheld it every moment with new horror. The cold seemed mor_iercing and bitter, the air more thick and pestilential. My frame becam_eak, feverish, and emaciated. I was unable to rise from the bed of Straw, an_xercise my limbs in the narrow limits, to which the length of my chai_ermitted me to move. Though exhausted, faint, and weary, I trembled to profi_y the approach of Sleep: My slumbers were constantly interrupted by som_bnoxious Insect crawling over me.
Sometimes I felt the bloated Toad, hideous and pampered with the poisonou_apours of the dungeon, dragging his loathsome length along my bosom: Sometimes the quick cold Lizard rouzed me leaving his slimy track upon m_ace, and entangling itself in the tresses of my wild and matted hair: Ofte_ave I at waking found my fingers ringed with the long worms which bred in th_orrupted flesh of my Infant. At such times I shrieked with terror an_isgust, and while I shook off the reptile, trembled with all a Woman'_eakness.
Such was my situation, when Camilla was suddenly taken ill. A dangerous fever, supposed to be infectious, confined her to her bed. Every one except the Lay- Sister appointed to nurse her, avoided her with caution, and feared to catc_he disease. She was perfectly delirious, and by no means capable of attendin_o me. The Domina and the Nuns admitted to the mystery, had latterly given m_ver entirely to Camilla's care: In consequence, they busied themselves n_ore about me; and occupied by preparing for the approaching Festival, it i_ore than probable that I never once entered into their thoughts. Of th_eason of Camilla's negligence, I have been informed since my release by th_other St. Ursula; At that time I was very far from suspecting its cause. O_he contrary, I waited for my Gaoler's appearance at first with impatience, and afterwards with despair. One day passed away; Another followed it; Th_hird arrived. Still no Camilla! Still no food! I knew the lapse of time b_he wasting of my Lamp, to supply which fortunately a week's supply of Oil ha_een left me. I supposed, either that the Nuns had forgotten me, or that th_omina had ordered them to let me perish. The latter idea seemed the mos_robable; Yet so natural is the love of life, that I trembled to find it true.
Though embittered by every species of misery, my existence was still dear t_e, and I dreaded to lose it. Every succeeding minute proved to me that I mus_bandon all hopes of relief. I was become an absolute skeleton: My eye_lready failed me, and my limbs were beginning to stiffen. I could onl_xpress my anguish, and the pangs of that hunger which gnawed my heart- strings, by frequent groans, whose melancholy sound the vaulted roof of th_ungeon re-echoed. I resigned myself to my fate: I already expected the momen_f dissolution, when my Guardian Angel, when my beloved Brother arrived i_ime to save me. My sight grown dim and feeble at first refused to recogniz_im; and when I did distinguish his features, the sudden burst of rapture wa_oo much for me to bear. I was overpowered by the swell of joy at once mor_eholding a Friend, and that a Friend so dear to me. Nature could not suppor_y emotions, and took her refuge in insensibility.
You already know, what are my obligations to the Family of Villa-Franca: Bu_hat you cannot know is the extent of my gratitude, boundless as th_xcellence of my Benefactors. Lorenzo! Raymond! Names so dear to me! Teach m_o bear with fortitude this sudden transition from misery to bliss. So latel_ Captive, opprest with chains, perishing with hunger, suffering every i_onvenience of cold and want, hidden from the light, excluded from society, hopeless, neglected, and as I feared, forgotten; Now restored to life an_iberty, enjoying all the comforts of affluence and ease, surrounded by thos_ho are most loved by me, and on the point of becoming his Bride who has lon_een wedded to my heart, my happiness is so exquisite, so perfect, tha_carcely can my brain sustain the weight. One only wish remains ungratified: It is to see my Brother in his former health, and to know that Antonia'_emory is buried in her grave.
Granted this prayer, I have nothing more to desire. I trust, that my pas_ufferings have purchased from heaven the pardon of my momentary weakness.
That I have offended, offended greatly and grievously, I am fully conscious; But let not my Husband, because He once conquered my virtue, doubt th_ropriety of my future conduct. I have been frail and full of error: But _ielded not to the warmth of constitution; Raymond, affection for you betraye_e. I was too confident of my strength; But I depended no less on your honou_han my own. I had vowed never to see you more: Had it not been for th_onsequences of that unguarded moment, my resolution had been kept. Fat_illed it otherwise, and I cannot but rejoice at its decree. Still my conduc_as been highly blameable, and while I attempt to justify myself, I blush a_ecollecting my imprudence. Let me then dismiss the ungrateful subject; Firs_ssuring you, Raymond, that you shall have no cause to repent our union, an_hat the more culpable have been the errors of your Mistress, the mor_xemplary shall be the conduct of your Wife.
Here Agnes ceased, and the Marquis replied to her address in terms equall_incere and affectionate. Lorenzo expressed his satisfaction at the prospec_f being so closely connected with a Man for whom He had ever entertained th_ighest esteem. The Pope's Bull had fully and effectually released Agnes fro_er religious engagements: The marriage was therefore celebrated as soon a_he needful preparations had been made, for the Marquis wished to have th_eremony performed with all possible splendour and publicity. This being over, and the Bride having received the compliments of Madrid, She departed with Do_aymond for his Castle in Andalusia: Lorenzo accompanied them, as did also th_archioness de Villa-Franca and her lovely Daughter. It is needless to sa_hat Theodore was of the party, and would be impossible to describe his joy a_is Master's marriage. Previous to his departure, the Marquis, to atone i_ome measure for his past neglect, made some enquiries relative to Elvira.
Finding that She as well as her Daughter had received many services fro_eonella and Jacintha, He showed his respect to the memory of his Sister-in- law by making the two Women handsome presents. Lorenzo followed hi_xample—Leonella was highly flattered by the attentions of Noblemen s_istinguished, and Jacintha blessed the hour on which her House was bewitched.
On her side, Agnes failed not to reward her Convent Friends. The worthy Mothe_t. Ursula, to whom She owed her liberty, was named at her reques_uperintendent of 'The Ladies of Charity:' This was one of the best and mos_pulent Societies throughout Spain. Bertha and Cornelia not choosing to qui_heir Friend, were appointed to principal charges in the same establishment.
As to the Nuns who had aided the Domina in persecuting Agnes, Camilla bein_onfined by illness to her bed, had perished in the flames which consumed St.
Clare's Convent. Mariana, Alix, and Violante, as well as two more, had falle_ictims to the popular rage. The three Others who in Council had supported th_omina's sentence, were severely reprimanded, and banished to religious House_n obscure and distant Provinces: Here they languished away a few years, ashamed of their former weakness, and shunned by their Companions wit_version and contempt.
Nor was the fidelity of Flora permitted to go unrewarded. Her wishes bein_onsulted, She declared herself impatient to revisit her native land. I_onsequence, a passage was procured for her to Cuba, where She arrived i_afety, loaded with the presents of Raymond and Lorenzo.
The debts of gratitude discharged, Agnes was at liberty to pursue he_avourite plan. Lodged in the same House, Lorenzo and Virginia were eternall_ogether. The more He saw of her, the more was He convinced of her merit. O_er part, She laid herself out to please, and not to succeed was for he_mpossible.
Lorenzo witnessed with admiration her beautiful person, elegant manners, innumerable talents, and sweet disposition: He was also much flattered by he_rejudice in his favour, which She had not sufficient art to conceal. However, his sentiments partook not of that ardent character which had marked hi_ffection for Antonia. The image of that lovely and unfortunate Girl stil_ived in his heart, and baffled all Virginia's efforts to displace it. Stil_hen the Duke proposed to him the match, which He wished to earnestly to tak_lace, his Nephew did not reject the offer. The urgent supplications of hi_riends, and the Lady's merit conquered his repugnance to entering into ne_ngagements. He proposed himself to the Marquis de Villa- Franca, and wa_ccepted with joy and gratitude. Virginia became his Wife, nor did She eve_ive him cause to repent his choice. His esteem increased for her daily. He_nremitted endeavours to please him could not but succeed. His affectio_ssumed stronger and warmer colours. Antonia's image was gradually efface_rom his bosom; and Virginia became sole Mistress of that heart, which Sh_ell deserved to possess without a Partner.
The remaining years of Raymond and Agnes, of Lorenzo and Virginia, were happ_s can be those allotted to Mortals, born to be the prey of grief, and spor_f disappointment. The exquisite sorrows with which they had been afflicted, made them think lightly of every succeeding woe. They had felt the sharpes_arts in misfortune's quiver; Those which remained appeared blunt i_omparison. Having weathered Fate's heaviest Storms, they looked calmly upo_ts terrors: or if ever they felt Affliction's casual gales, they seemed t_hem gentle as Zephyrs which breathe over summer-seas.