Part 2 out of 2
A calamity as thrilling and not less anticipated will fling a sad
memory around the venerable cloisters of Martigny.
Cassier is in the group listening to the aged monk recount his
adventures; with knitted eyebrows he hears him moralizing on the awful
destiny of the future. He is a silent listener; the conversation
is carried on by the garrulous and interested youths and the happy,
virtuous old monk. A forced sobriety, or the atmosphere of virtue
which he dreads, has cast a gloom over him. His thoughts are still
reeking with the blasphemy of the Masonic lodges, and, though restrained
by politeness from intruding his unbelief, he expresses in scowls
and monosyllables his dissentient feelings.
Charles still burns with indignation at her father's irreligion and
personal ill-treatment. Her flushed countenance and agitated manner
were at times indexes of passion, revenge, and self-love; for a moment
the feeling is strong and irresistible, then calms again with the
holier sentiments of remorse and self-condemnation.
A morning as brilliant as ever lit up the glaciers of Mt. Blank rose
over the cloisters. Charles and Henry accompany their father on a
stroll through the mountain. They miss their kind Mentor, who is
on a retreat for some days. Henry, commencing to love solitude, strays
from her father and Charles to gather ferns and wild flowers creeping
from the crevices of the rocks, or rising with exquisite beauty from
a layer of snow. They are emblems of her own innocence and fragrant
as her virtue, growing in the wilderness and shedding their charms
on rocks and snow-peaks, instead of ornamenting gardens of culture
and beauty. Poor Aloysia would be more at home in some arbor of
innocence where angels love to tarry, and where the voice and gaze of
the worldly-minded have never fallen.
Cassier and Charles had slowly climbed to a projecting rock where
nature had made a large table covered with grass. On one side the
ascent was easy, but the other overhung a frightful precipice. They
had entered into an animated conversation; Aloysia, down beneath,
could hear the sharp, quick answers of Charles, but, as such was usual
in the temper of Charles, she did not notice it.
But lo! another moment, and a wild, shrill scream bade her look up;
her father was no longer on the ledge of rock, and Charles flung her
arms towards heaven and fell in a swoon on the edge of the precipice.
A Funeral in the Snow.
When Charles had recovered her consciousness, she found herself
reclining on the lap of Henry, who had been bathing her face with snow
and tears. A long, painful call of her name had reached the inmost
recess of her being whither consciousness had repaired. Springing
to her feet, startled as if from a frightful dream, she gazed around.
Memory and sight returned; folding her face in her hands, she cried
in a paroxysm of grief: "My God! what have I done?"
This was the only intimation she ever gave Aloysia that in the heat
of passion she had pushed her father over the precipice; she was his
murderer. In their conversation the old man, more, perhaps, through
impiety than conviction, misrepresented the good monks. We will not
reproduce the sterotyped calumnies that even nowadays unbelievers love
to heap upon the religious communities of the Catholic Church. The
madness of passion took control in the breast of Charles. Scarcely
knowing what she did, she pushed her aged father towards the precipice;
he slipped, fell over into the chasm, and passed into eternity with
blasphemy on his guilty lips.
The two sisters wept together for hours. Innocence, guilt, and
retribution blended together in a scene of awful tragedy amid the
glaciers of Mt. Blanc.
Seldom in the deeds of brigandage, in crimes committed in dark caves
and lonely mountain paths, was there perpetrated a fouler murder;
seldom in the sensational records of human depravity do we find the
desperado of parricidal guilt under the delicate frame of girlhood.
Yet was she rather an instrument in the hands of avenging Heaven
than a monster of moral iniquity. At that moment the cup of iniquity
was full for the wretch who had long tested the mercy of God. That
Providence which blinded the Jews in judgement for ingratitude, and
made them the instruments for the fulfilment of eternal decrees of
redemption, withdrew from Alvira the protection that made her, whilst
she accepted the guilt, the instrument of judgment.
Rising to her feet with a sense of her desperate condition, making a
few hurried explanations how her father slipped and lost his balance,
she approached tremblingly the fatal edge. Leaning over, she saw the
corpse of her father lying in a pool of blood in the deep chasm below.
The scene of that sad moment was indelibly impressed on her memory,
and in after-hours of remorse haunted her with its horrors.
With nerve and courage, called forth by the awful circumstances of
the moment, they descended the mountain to the foot of the ravine
where the body lay in the snow.
The descent was steep and treacherous, and guilty conscience made
Charles tremble lest at any moment she would lose footing and be
precipitated down the dark and gaping chasms formed by glaciers and
rocks. After hours of toil, and with imminent peril, they found the
body of Cassier. A dark pallor had clouded his features, a ghastly
stare, closed teeth, and clenched hand bespoke the last sentiment
of human passion. Alvira trembled and stood powerless for a few
moments. Still, necessity nerved her to action. She removed the
money and valuables from the body of her father, and, in the midst
of wailings that echoed mournfully through the lonely mountain, they
made a grave in the snow. Wrapping him in his cloak, they laid him
in a bank of soft crystals through which the blood had trickled in
Thrilling and sad for Aloysia and Alvira the last moments of this
funeral ceremony. Gently they placed the cold snow on the remains of
their father. The wild eagle swooped around in anger, and the wind
swept with ominous sighs through deep ravines of the rugged mountain.
The gigantic cliff over which Cassier had been hurled by his maddened
child frowned over them in awful majesty. It would be in centuries
to come the cenotaph of a dishonored tomb. The winter would come again
with fresh snow to cover this valley of death; the sun would pour its
cold rays on the frozen mound that marked the grave of Cassier. No
tear of affection would moisten the icy shroud, but, in sympathy for
the hapless child stained with his blood, whose crime was condoned in
the provocation caused, the world has cast its abhorrent curse on the
grave of the reprobate.
"There let every noxious thing
Trail its filth and fix its sting;
In his ears and eyeballs tingling,
With his blood their poison mingling,
Till beneath the solar fires.
Rankling all, the curse expires."
An Unwritten Page.
The noise of life can ne'er so dull our ear,
Nor passion's waves, though in their wildest mood,
That oft above their surge we should not hear
The solemn voices of the great and good.
As oft in icicles a flower remaineth
Unwithered until spring its buds unchain,
The young heart through lifes change a good retaineth,
And will exhume its summer leaves again.
When Charles and Henry had breathed their last sigh over the snowy
mound that covered the earthly remains of the hapless Cassier, they
continued their descent down the mountain. They dared not go back
to the cloister; they fled when no one pursued, for outraged
conscience is its own avenger. Each stir in the brushwood, a loosened
stone rolling quickly by, or the fluttering and scream of startled
birds of the solitude, made them tremble.
Night was fast coming on; the sharp peaks of the Tete Noir were dimmed
with clouds, and frowned with ominous terror on the path of the
terrified fugitives. Through dangers of every kind, with bruises and
wounds all over their delicate frames, they reached in the night the
beautiful village of Chamounix. Refreshed with sleep and food, they
prepared themselves for their future course, which for a while will
be perilous, sensational, and extraordinary.
Free from the control of an intemperate and tyrannical father,
possessing immense wealth, they cast themselves into a whirlpool of
deceitful pleasure, and for a while, in yielding to the longings of
misguided youth, hushed the qualms of conscience, which can only rest
in the bosom of virtue.
Once more free, the thought naturally came of returning to the dress
that became their sex. Aloysia, whose sense of delicacy was still as
tender as the sensitive plant yielding to human touch, pleaded in
tears for a return to the simple ways of girlhood, to the life and
society more congenial to their habits and more in keeping with the
laws of God and nature. Alvira had yielded for a moment. But the love
of travel, which in those days could not be gratified in their true
condition of young and handsome girls without guardians, whilst in
their male disguise not a shadow of suspicion or impropriety would
interfere with them; the novelty of their condition, assuming each
day some new attractions; the curiosity innate in the feminine breast
to hear and see things outside her own circle; above all the
hallucinations flung on the path of disguise by the fiend of evil,
who thus intrigued for the final ruin of his unsuspecting victims,
made them agree mutually to pass a short time in travelling around as
naval cadets; then, tired and surfeited with their triumph over nature,
they hoped to retire into the sphere of utility destined for them by
But, to our own and to our readers' regret, we must pause in our
biography. The sources from which we cull these interesting details
have cast historic silence over our heroines' ramblings of three years.
What a volume of sensation they suggest! Were we given to the doubtful
utility of fictional biography, were we weak enough to enrich ourselves
by pandering to the morbid and often depraved longings of modern
literary taste, we might fill a couple of volumes with scenes of
excitement, of "hair-breadth 'scapes," and with heart-palpitating
suspenses of misplaced love. We could not draw a picture more
interesting or strange than those two sweet maidens in their disguise.
We see them in the salons of the wealthy, in the clubs of the
politicians, and at the billiard-tables of giddy youth who little dream
of the intrusion, which, if they understood, would make them more happy.
We fancy we see those youths, so polished, so gay, and withal so
handsome, the idols of the society they move in; we hear compliments
about those delicate hands, those small feet, those charming eyes.
Our sympathy would chronicle the end fate of many an unsuspecting
maiden who loved and pined in the dream of secret love towards the
young officers that had crossed their path, whilst they revelled in
cruel delight in their triumph over their own frail, tender-hearted
sex. Our tale might unravel the plottings of hopeful mothers who
vainly plied the utmost worldly ingenuity to gain for their daughters
already passed the meridian of youth such promising and charming
husbands. What skill it would demand to describe the chagrin of those
old and young ladies, if they discovered the fraud which so heartlessly
trifled with the sacred feeling of love!
We will not tarry over imaginary incidents whilst terrible and
thrilling scenes are before us. The record of those extraordinary
maidens is only now commending in all its romantic attraction. It is
not the vicissitudes of an erring life that inspire our pen in this
brief sketch, but the merciful designs of Providence in following and
wresting from perdition a noble soul, endeared to heaven by the
prayers of a repentant mother, by the sighs of a saintly religious,
and by its own love for the immaculate Queen of Heaven.
Alvira opens her soul to the impulses of grace, but in dangerous and
guilty procrastination she passes through some startling vicissitudes
before the Almighty, impatient as it were for her love, draws her to
him by one of the most touching miracles recorded in the wonders of
hagiology. We will hurry on to those events, which will warm our
hearts with love towards God, and make us look up with a deep feeling
of awe towards that "mercy which is above all his works."
Three years of strange vicissitude rolled over the career of our
heroines. Some thousands of pounds gilded the path they passed over.
With all the recklessness of youth, they squandered their ill-gotten
money. Many a poor ruined family eked out a miserable existence,
whilst their gold, entrusted to the wretched banker who had gone to
his account, was flung recklessly on the tables of chance by the
children he had nursed in the school of iniquity. Like sand passing
through the fingers, like corn through perforated sack, their thousands
dwindled away, giving place to the bitter hour of retaliation, of
punishment, which will yet come for those hapless children of folly.
It did not please Almighty God to hurry them to a dreadful judgement
by sudden or awful death. He has other and even keener pangs than
those of death, but they come rather from the hand of mercy than of
justice. They are the pangs of remorse, which tear the heart of their
victims with agonizing stings that are known only in the deep secrets
of the soul. A dark and secret hour of retribution is at hand for
Charles; the heavy but merciful hand of God will touch her, although
she will still follow the mad career of her hypocrisy and the wild
dreams of her ambition.
Alvira, still in her disguise of Charles, endeavored to forget the
crimes she committed in the dissipation in which she indulged. Whilst
wealth and friends were around she feigned a gay heart and flattered
herself she was not so bad. She involuntarily blushed at rude remarks
made by gentlemen amongst whom she passed as a companion, and in the
unsullied innocence of her sister she found a guardian for herself.
They invariably shunned low society, and thus they won the esteem of
all; they passed as young men of virtue as well as of beauty and of
grace. The immorality that dishonored the manhood around them, the
indecency of the conversations they heard, and the open and blasphemous
impiety that often thrilled their dove-like hearts, made them form
a pleasing contrast with themselves and the corrupted society they
had now known to the core; yet, "Say not I have sinned, and what
evil hath befallen me." Who can flee from the eye of God? There's a
sting in the conviction of guilt that will follow its victim through
the ballroom, the mountain cave, or the cloister, to the very side
of the bed of death.
It was when Charles and Henry found their money nearly gone, and the
prospect of poverty before them, they felt in all its painful
anticipations the prospect of a gloomy and unknown future. There is
no pang, perhaps, in nature so keen as that which pierces the rich
and ambitious when certain poverty stares them in the face; perhaps
'tis shame, perhaps 'tis pride, perhaps 'tis the despair that arises
from the shock of blasted hopes--or all together--that weight on the
sinking heart, and make each vital throb like the last heavy thud of
death. Then suicide has a charm and self-destruction a temptation.
Many a turbulent wave has closed the career of a the beggared
spendthrift and the thwarted man of ambition.
Charles commenced now to suffer in anticipation all the pangs of coming
shame, poverty, and humiliation. With remorse returned the virtuous
impressions of childhood, instilled into her tender mind by her
penitent mother. She longed to return to the circle nature had
destined for her, but which seemed more difficult now than to commence
a new disguise. Although she yielded in all virtuous impulses to that
"procrastination which is the thief of time," yet in her after-career
there was a wonderful combination of events, extraordinary and
interesting, which prove a loving and forgiving Providence hearing the
prayer of a penitent mother. But we must raise the curtain and proceed
with the drama of sacred romance whose first cats have given so much
interest and sympathy.
It was a bright morning in November, in the year 1684. The people of
Milan were all flocking to the cathedral. It was the feast of the
great St. Charles. The magnificent Duomo which now covers the shrine
of this great saint was not in existence then; nevertheless, the
devotion of the people towards their apostle and patron was deep and
sincere. Perhaps in no city in Italy is there greater pomp thrown
around the patron's festival than at Milan. From morning to night
thousands gather around that venerated shrine. The prince with his
liveried servants, and the poor peasant with the snow-white handkerchief
tied on her head, kneel there side by side. From the first anniversary
of the great saint's death to the present day the musical services of
the great cathedral have been rendered by the greatest talent in Italy,
Professionals and amateurs flocked from every side to do honor to
the man who did so much honor to the city of Milan. Nowadays, since
science has shortened distance, it is one of the autumnal amusements
of the wealthy Englishman to be present at the Feast of St. Charles
at Milan. The gorgeous Duomo, hewn, as it were, out of Carrara
marble, covered with five thousand statues and pinnacles, illumined
with hundreds of thousands of lights swinging in the lofty aisles in
chandeliers of sparkling crystal; the majestic organs, accompanied
in musical harmony by hundreds of the best of human voices, rolling
in soul-stirring majesty over the heads of tens of thousands of the
kneeling children of the saint--all leave an impression never to be
forgotten. Although in modern days the city of Milan has nurtured in
her bosom some of the firebrands of Italian revolution, yet the city
honored with the names and relics of Ambrose, Augustine, and Charles
has yet thousands of pious and holy souls, who still gather with filial
devotion around the tombs of the sainted dead.
On the morning of the festival of St. Charles our heroine awoke with
a heavy heart. She knew the city was astir and repairing to the
cathedral. How strange she should have chosen the name of Charles!
How great, how holy everything connected with that name! Could the
man of God who made it so venerable to his people meet the wretch who
had assumed it to dishonor it? Could even the pious people who flocked
to the cathedral know there was amongst them a Charles whose hands were
stained with parricidal guilt? Like the wicked man who fleeth when
no man pursueth, Charles trembled lest the indignation of the people,
of the saint, and of God should crush her in punishment of her sins.
With thoughts like these she entered the cathedral. Henry was by her
side. The Pontifical High Mass had commenced, and the organ rolled
its majestic tones through the aisles of the old church. Immense
crowds had already gathered around the tomb, and Charles and Henry
repaired to a quiet and obscure portion of the building, where they
could observe without being observed.
Some years had now passed since Charles had breathed a prayer. There
was something in everything around her that softened her heart; she
buried her face in her hands and wept. An eloquent panegyric was
preached by a Dominican Father. The peroration was an appeal to the
assembled thousands to kneel and implore the blessing of the saint
on the city and on themselves. Few sent a more fervent appeal than
the poor, sinful girls who shunned the gaze of the crowd. The prayer
of Charles was heard, and God, who works wonders in the least of his
works, brought about the conversion of this child of predestination
in a manner as strange as it is interesting.
The crowd have left the cathedral. The lights are extinguished. The
service is over. Charles and Henry are amongst the last to leave.
On coming into the great square before the church they were surprised
to see large groups of men in deep conversation. Their excited and
animated manner showed at once something strange had happened. Men
of strange dress appeared also in the crowd. Charles enquired what
was the matter, and was informed that word had just come that
Charles II. of Spain had declared war with Naples, and, as the state
of Milan was subsidiary to the kingdom of the latter, he had sent
officers to cause an enrolment of troops. Large inducements were
offered to all who would join, and numbers of the youth of the city
had already given their names.
Charles scarcely hesitated in coming to a conclusion. The reduced
state of their circumstances, the perfection of her disguise, and
the still unconquered ambition of her heart made the circumstance
a change of golden hope in the sinking prospects of her career. One
thought alone deterred her. Could the delicate frame and soul of
her little sister bear the hardships of a soldier's life? She breathed
her thoughts to Henry. The latter cried and trembled. The one and
only scene of blood she had witnessed still haunted her soul with
horror--'twas in the ravine near Chamounix. But Charles still urged
on the necessity of some desperate movement, and persuaded her, if
they succeeded in joining this new service as officers, their position
would be much the same as that they had passed through during the last
two years. Poor Henry had but one tie to live for in the world; she
preferred death to separation from her sister, and in the bravery of
sisterly affection, she told Charles she would swim by her side in
the river of blood she might cause to flow.
The next morning found them enrolled as officers in the army of the
King of Naples.
They call'd her cold and proud,
Because her lip and brow
Amid the mirthful crowd
No kindred mirth avowed;
Alas! nor look nor language e'er reveal
How much the sad can love, the lonely feel.
The peopled earth appears
A dreary desert wide;
Her gloominess and tears
The stern and gay deride.
O God! life's heartless mockeries who can bear
When grief is dumb and deep thought brings despair?
During the terrible storm that passed over the Church at the
commencement of the third century, we have a thrilling incident which
shows the terror and remorse of the pagan emperors when they returned
to their golden house after witnessing the execution of their martyred
Diocletian, being enraged with Adrian, the governor of Aninoe--who,
from being an ardent persecutor of the Church, had become a fervent
follower of Christ--caused him to be dragged to Nicomedia, where,
seized with implacable rage a the sight of the constancy of the martyr,
who had once been his friend and confidant, he ordered him to be thrown
chained hand and foot, at the decline of day, into a deep pit, which
was filled with earth and stones before the emperor's eyes. When
the last cry of the victim had been stifled under the accumulated earth,
the emperor stamped on it with his feet and cried out in a tone of
defiance: "Now, Adrian, if thy Christ loves thee, let him show it."
He then quitted the field of punishment, but felt himself so overpowered
by such an extraordinary feeling that he knew not whether it was the
termination of his passion or the commencement of his remorse. His
Thessalian courtiers bore him rapidly away from the accursed spot.
Night fell; Diocletian, agitated and restless, prepared to retire to
rest, for his head was burning. He entered his chamber, which was
hung around with purple, but the walls of which now seemed to distil
blood. He advanced a few steps, when, lo! a corpse appeared to rise
slowly on his golden couch; his bed was occupied by a spectre, and
near the costly lamp, which shed a pale light round the chamber, the
chains of the martyr seemed to descend from the ceiling. Diocletian
uttered a cry that might have penetrated the grave. His guards ran
in, but instantly grew pale, drew back, and, pointing to the object
which caused an icy sweat to cover the imperial brow, they said with
horror to each other: "It is the Christian."
Thus a guilty conscience summons imaginary terrors around it. Cain
fled when no one pursued. Nero heard invisible trumpets ringing his
death-knell around the tomb of his mother. How often has the mountain
bandit, whose hand trembled not at murder, shuddered with fear, as
he hastened through the forest, at the sound of a branch waving in
the wind, or felt his hair stand erect with terror on beholding a
distant bush fantastically enlightened by the moon! Conscience has
made cowards of the most sanguinary freebooters and the most shameless
oppressors. The dreadful "worm that dieth not," and banishes every
cheerful thought from the guilty soul, is not inaptly compared to the
wretch we read of in the annals of Eastern crime, condemned to carry
about with him the dead and decomposing body of his murdered victim.
It is not to be expected that Charles escaped the agonies of a guilty
conscience. From the moment she left the church in Milan the usual
and dreadful struggle between shame and grace, humility and pride,
commenced in her heart. Although now and then forgotten in the
excitement of the extraordinary disguise she had assumed, nevertheless
the feeling of remorse dampened every pleasure, and added to the
disguise of her person another disguise of false joy to her countenance.
This reaction caused an important feature in the life of Alvira during
her stay in the beautiful town of Messina, whither we must ask our
reader to follow our heroines to commence in their military career
the most interesting part of his historical romance.
The Milanese recruits were busily engaged in going through military
instruction, when orders were received that the division should
sail immediately for Messina. There are few acquainted with the
military life who do not know how disagreeable are orders to move.
The bustle, the packing, the breaking up of associations, and the
inevitable want of comfort in the military march try the courage of
the brave man more than the din of battle, and robs the military
career of much of its boasted enthusiasm. The stalwart son of Mars,
who forgets there are such things as danger and fatigue in the exciting
hour of battle, will grumble his discontent at the inconveniences of
the hour of peace. We will leave it to the imagination of the reader
to conceive the feelings, the regrets and misgivings, of our young
heroines as their little vessel set sail from the town of Spezzia for
the fortress of Messina. Although their biographers say nothing of
their voyage, we cannot but imagine it was an unpleasant one.
Although the blue headlands of the Italian coast, and the snow-capped
Apennines in the distance, supplied the place of the compass, and their
calls at the different ports deprived their journey of the painful
monotony of a long sea-voyage, yet the associations, the cloud that
hung over their thoughts, embittered every source of pleasure.
Arrived at Messina, Charles and Henry were quartered in the old
fortress. It was an antiquated, quadrangular edifice, perched high
up on the side of the hill, looking down on beautiful white houses
built one over the other, and descending in terraces to the sea.
Its old walls were dilapidated and discovered by the touch of time,
and threatened every minute, as it afterwards did in the earthquake
of 1769, to commence the awful avalanche of destruction that swept
this fair city into the sea.
The first glimpse of their barracks did not rouse in Henry any
ejaculations of gladness. The old Castello, as the people called it,
ill-agreed with the noble edifices she was wont to call castles in
her earlier days--no lofty battlements crested with clouds; no
drawbridges swung on ponderous chains; no mysterious keeps haunted
with traditionary horrors; no myriads of archers in gold and blue to
rend the heavens with a mighty shout of welcome. Alvira's dream of
military glory was a veritable castle in the air in the presence of
the ruinous, ill-kept, and dilapidated fortress they had come to
Everything around seemed to increase the gloom that hung over Charles's
heart. The ill-clad and poverty-stricken people, squatting in idleness
and dirt in the streets; the miserable shops; the doce far niente so
conspicuously characteristic of Italian towns, were contrasted with
the beautiful and busy capitals Charles and Henry had come from. But
nowhere was this contrast so keen as in their domestic arrangements.
The bleak apartments, the campbed, the iron washstand, and the rough
cuisine contrasted sadly with the magnificence of their father's
splendid mansion in Paris. No wonder our young heroines wept when
alone over the memories of the past.
Charles and Henry kept together; they avoided all society; they loved
to ramble along the beautiful beach that ran for some miles on the
north side of the town, and there, in floods of tears, seek relief
for their broken hearts. Oh! how memory will on these occasions
wake up the happy past lost and gone, and the wicked past yet to be
atoned for. What heart weighted with the agony of remorse will not
feel the sting of guilt more keen in the rememberance of the blissful
days of innocence and childhood? Many a blue wave has wrapt in its
icy shroud the child of misfortune who was unable to bear the shame
and reproof of her own conscience. It was in the recollection of
virtuous childhood that Charles and Henry felt their greatest sorrows.
Every tender admonition of their dying mother; the instruction of the
aged abbe who prepared them for their first confession and communiun;
and the piety and noble example of their little brother, Louis Marie,
who had fled in his childhood from the world they now hated, were
subjects often brought up in their lonely rambles.
At night Charles would often awake with frightful dreams. The cold,
bloodstained face of her murdered father would come in awful proximity
to her. Her screams would bring her fellow-officers to her assistance,
but they knew not the cause of her terror. The young officers had
the sympathy of the whole garrison; even the people who saw them
return from their evening walk remarked them to be lonely and sad,
and their eyes often red from crying.
Three long and miserable months were thus passed by our heroines at
Messina. They were now as skilful in their military exercises as
they were in their disguise. But wearied of the military life, and
longing to return to the society of their sex, they had determined
to leave, to declare who they were, and endeavor, by some means, to
get back to France. Whilst deliberating on this movement an incident
occurred which changed their plans and cast them again into an
extraordinary circle of vicissitudes.
Whilst Charles and Henry were one evening walking along the beautiful
beach they saw a ship nearing the land. A strong breeze was blowing
at the time, and whilst they paused to admire the noble bark, all
sails set, ploughing the crested billows, and floating over them like
an enormous sea-gull, she came nearer and nearer to the young officers.
Another minute the sails were lowered and anchor was cast. A small
boat was dispatched from the ship, and made for the beach just where
Charles and Henry were standing. They formed a thousand conjectures
of the meaning of this movement. When the boat came near the land,
a tall young man, dressed in the uniform of the Neapolitan service,
leaped on shore and advanced towards the young officers.
A few words of recognition passed. He was a lieutenant in the
Neopolitan army, sent with despatches for the commandant of the garrison
of Messina to send two or three companies of the newly-enrolled troops
to the capital.
On the way to the garrison he informed Charles and Henry that the war
was nearly at an end, but there was a great deal of disturbance and
sedition in the city of Naples, and that the garrison there had to be
doubled. The object in anchoring the ship on the coast was for fear
the garrison of Messina might have been surprised and taken by the
Carlists. Having assured himself all was safe, he entered the citadel
with the young officers, and was presented to the captain, to whom he
handed his despatches from headquarters.
The next evening found Henry and Charles, with two hundred men, on
board the ship that had anchored on the coast the day before. The
The excitement and bustle of departure had silenced for a while all
feelings of remorse, and the old passions that reigned in the soul of
Charles rose again from their dormant state. Her eye flashed with
life and her lips quivered with joy; there was still within her grasp
the chance of fame. Ambition fanned the dying embers of decaying
hope, and every pious resolve was thrown aside until the course of
events would realize or blast her new dream of greatness.
A few days brought them in sight of the beautiful capital of the
south of Italy. The modern aphorism, "See Naples and then die," was
said in other words in old times, when the Caesars and Senators of
the empire enriched its beautiful shores with superb villas. There
is not in Europe a bluer sky and, true in its refection of the azure
firmament, a bluer sea than around Naples. The coast undulates to
the sea in verdant slopes, which in autumn have a rich golden hue
from the yellow tinge of the vine-leaf. Its classic fame casts a halo
around its charms; its history in the far past, its terrible mountain
and periodical convulsions from the burning womb of the earth, render
it an object of attraction to all classes.
Charles and Henry were quite alive to the impressions felt by tourists
when, whirled along by the panting steam-horse through the luxuriant
Campo Flice, they see for the first time the column of murky smoke
that rises to the clouds over the terrible Vesuvius. The old mountain
was then, as it is now, the terror and the attraction of tourists.
The catastrophes it has caused, the cities it has swallowed up in molten
ashes, the thunder of its roar when roused from its sleep, and the
unhealthy, sulphurous vapors ever vomited from its cone, render it a
veritable giant that the human race loves to see at a distance.
Our heroines were already acquainted with the "Light-house of the
Mediterranean," and from afar the lofty and ever-blazing, active Etna;
hence Vesuvius was not so attractive as a volcano as in the halo of
classic lore that hung around it. At a distance the mountain seems
to be harmless, the blue outline of the lofty cone terminating in a
dense bank of smoke, like stormclouds gathering around the snowy peaks
of the distant Apennines; but when the adventurous tourist wishes to
approach nearer to its blazing crater, and toils up its torn and
blackened sides, he will see in the immense chasms and rents traces
of might convulsions. Deep rivers of molten lava that take twenty
and thirty years to cool; the quantity of ashes and cinders that could
change the whole face of a country and bury five cities in a few hours,
must tell of the enormous furnace raging in the bowels of the earth,
of which Vesuvius is but its chimney.
Strange, Charles longed to see Vesuvius when but a tender girl in Paris.
She little thought the extraordinary course of human events would
bring her, not only under the shadow of the terrible mountain itself,
but send her through a most thrilling scene on its barren slopes.
Let us hasten on to the course of events that rendered the extraordinary
life of this girl so romantic.
Engagement with Brigands.
Arrived in Naples, our heroines were quartered in the Molo. This is
an old fortress still used as a barrack in Naples. Its massive,
quadrangular walls were erected in the middle ages, and have withstood
many a desperate siege in the civil wars of Italy.
The detachment from the Messina garrison found the city in a state of
disturbance and confusion. Armed troops paraded the streets, houses
were burning on every side, and bands of revolutionists were running
frantically to and fro through the streets, yelling in the most
unearthly tones their whoops of political antagonism to the Government;
yet it was evident the Government had the upper hand, and the mob
was gradually dispersing; they fled from the city, and order was
restored. In the meantime word was received in Naples that a large
body of these ruffians had settled themselves on the sides of Vesuvius,
and supported themselves by the wholesale plunder and pillage of the
farms and villages on the slopes of the hill. An order was immediately
given that two hundred men should march to the mountain to destroy
this band of brigands. The company selected was that belonging to
Charles and Henry.
The next day found our young heroines on the road to the field of
battle. We can fancy the position and thoughts of those tender,
delicate girls, marching side by side with the rough, bearded soldiers
of Italy--the one rejoicing in the wild dream of her foolish ambition;
the other trembling in her timid heart, and dragged into scenes she
loathed by the irresistible chain of affection which bound her to her
No wonder the tender frame of girlhood yielded to the severity of the
march--for amongst those who were first to fail was the amiable Henry;
yet there were amongst the troops men whose consititutions were
shattered by the excesses of their youth, and Henry became less
remarkable as a young officer when stalwart men who had felt ere then
the fatigues of war were falling at her side. Charles hired a loose
horse in one of the villages they passed through, and thus arrived
fresh and strong at the place of encampment, a few miles from the
stronghold of the brigands. Henry came up in the afternoon, accompanied
by about thirty men who, like herself, failed under the fatigues of
Rest under the circumstances was impossible. The brigands were all
around and no one could tell the moment of attack. Some men were sent
on as scouts to explore the hillside; they never returned. This was
sufficient indication of an ambuscade and the captain bravely determined
to march his whole force at once into their hiding-place, knowing,
when they were once surprised, they had no shelter afterwards.
Those who have been to Mount Vesuvius, and who have had the hardihood
to seek the exquisite Lacryma produced on the southwester slopes of
the hill, will remember a peculiar ravine running for nearly a mile
from the sandy part of the cone, and covered with a stunted green
bush of fern-like leaves. It is the nearest green spot to the calcined
cone. It assumes a gentle declivity towards the sea, and is then lost
in the beautiful vineyards and gardens that cover the slopes of the
mountain down to the houses of Torre del Greco. The view from this
spot is magnificent. On the left is the beautiful town of Sorento,
with houses as white as snow, running in detached villas along the
sea-shore up to the smoky and roofless walls of Pompeii, whose unsightly
ruins lend contrast to the scene around. The azure bay seems to borrow
more of the blue of heaven as it stretches far away to the horizon;
the little steamers and innumerable yachts that ply between the islands
give the scene animation and variety. Around to the right we have the
classic hills of Baia, the Campo Santo in its fantastic architecture,
and then the green and leafy plains of the Campo Felice; beneath, the
great city with its four hundred thousand souls, its red tiles and
irregular masses of brick-work, contrasting with the gilded domes of
the superb churches; and above, the terrible cone, vomiting forth its
sulfurous smoke and darkening the sky with clouds of its own creation.
The view that can be had from this place, and the interesting history
of every inch of the country around, render it one of the most romantic
spots in the world. But, alas! it is now, as it was two hundred years
ago, the home and retreat of those desperate Italian robbers known
as brigands. Woe betide the incautious traveller whom curiosity leads
through the vineyards of that lonely scene! The deeds of its outlawed
and daring inhabitants would fill volumes. It was here, too, as far
as we can learn, our heroines found their field of battle.
The troops had scarcely entered this ravine when a sharp, shrill whistle
rang from one side of the mountain to the other. Immediately human
voices were heard on all sides, repeating in every pitch of tone, from
bass to soprano, the word "Rione." For several minutes the mountain
echoed with the weird sound of the brigand war-cry; the troops were
ordered to stand in readiness, and timid hearts like Henry's quailed
at the awful moment.
The earth rumbled under their feet, and dark, bluish columns of smoke
curled in the air from the terrible cone; the sun was setting over the
beautiful Bay of Naples in the color of blood, and the air was
impregnated with the fumes of sulphur. The wilderness of the spot,
and nature's terrors convulsing the elements around, made, indeed,
the moment before battle a dreadful moment for the delicate children
of the French banker.
A few minutes, and the battle was at its height. A long and dreadful
contest ensued. The numbers were about equal on both sides.
Fortunately, the brigands had not time to muster all at once, and the
royalist troops met them in small but desperate bands. No sooner was
one defeated than another and another poured down from the sides of
the mountain and disputed every inch of the way. The brigands fought
bravely, but were outnumbered, and towards midnight the bloodshed
ceased. All sounds had died away save the groans of the wounded and
dying, and now and then a solitary whoop of a brigand chief from the
distant hills, calling together the few straggling and scattered bands
The moment the heat of the combat was over the first thought that struck
Charles was to look for Henry. They were separated in the confusion
of the fight. She ran through the men, but could not find her. Here
and there she could discern in the pale light of a clouded moon some
knot of soldiers binding up their wounds and recounting their escapes
and their triumphs. She hurriedly ran through them, enquiring for her
brother-officer, but none knew anything of her. She scanned every
feature, she called her in every group, but in vain--no Henry was
there. The awful thought struck her--and her heart nearly broke under
its pang--perhaps she is killed! She flew across the bloody path they
had passed; her mournful and shrill cry of "Enrico!" rolled over the
bodies of the slain, and was echoed again and again with plaintive
intensity from the surrounding hills. Sometimes she even fancied the
dying echo of her own shrill cry was the feeble answer of her wounded
sister; and when she would pause to listen again, the valley around
was wrapt in the stillness of death. At length she came to the spot
where the battle first commenced, and there, with a shriek that was
heard in the distant encampment, she found among the first victims of
that bloody night the lifeless corpse of her sister.
The Morning After the Battle.
The morning sun rose dimly in a bank of clouds. It found Charles
still clinging to the remains of poor Aloysia, and bathing with kisses
and tears the stiffened features of her beloved sister. With a silken
kerchief she had bandaged the fatal gash on her neck, believing she
might be only in a swoon and might recover. Hope, which is the last
comfort to abandon man in his most desperate condition, scarcely
retarded for Charles the awful reality of her bereavement.
The pale moon that has rolled over so many generations, and lent its
dim, silvery light to so many thrilling vicissitudes, never looked
down on a sadder scene. Death has no pang equal to the blow it give
true affection. No language could describe what the heart feels on
occasions like this. There sat the delicate French girl, alone in the
dark night, on the side of Vesuvius, in the midst of the bleeding
victims of the bloody fight, and clasping to her heart the cold,
lifeless body of her ill-fated sister.
Her sudden and awful end, swept, perhaps, into eternity without a
moment's notice, to be buried in the ashes of the volcano, amidst the
dishonored remains of outlaws and murderers--does not the thought
strike ust that this sad fate was more the due of Alvira than the
innocent and harmless Aloysia?
Alvira felt it, and her repentant heart was almost broke.
"O Aloysia!" hear her moan over the angelic form, "you innocent and I
guilty; you slain, judged, and I free to heap greater ingratitude on
the Being who has saved me. Aloysia, forgive! Thou wert dragged up
unwillingly to these desperate scenes of bloodshed by my infatuation.
O God! strike me. I am the wretch; let this angel live to honor thee
in the angelic simplicity of innocence!"
Never was a fairer flower blasted by the lightning of Heaven. Neither
Charles nor Henry knew what was before them in their march to Vesuvius.
To surround and capture a few runaways was perhaps the most they
expected; and Henry, in the confiding affection of her heart, clung
to Charles, determined to bear fatigue and hardship rather than be
separated from her.
It must be a painful picture that fancy will paint of the last hour
of this lovely child. The anguish of her heart must have been keener
than the deep wound that sent the life-streams to mingle with the lava
of the mountain: no one to minister a drop of water to her parched
lips; no friendly voice to console her; the moans and imprecations of
the wounded brigands grating on her ears; the thought that her sister,
too, was perhaps lying in pain, and sinking from her wounds; and, above
all--that which, perhaps, sent the last blush to her cheek--the fear
of the discovery of her sex, and the rough gaze of a brutal soldiery.
But Heaven's sympathizing spirits were gathered around this child of
misfortune, and doubtless with her last sigh he breathed her pure
soul into their hands, and the last wish was answered--for she was
good and innocent before God.
When the sun had fully risen, Charles was approached by a sergeant
of the troops, who announced to her that the captain had died during
the night from his wounds, and, as she was the senior officer, they
waited her orders. Dissembling her grief, Charles rose to her feet
and gave directions that the bodies of the captain and her brother
should be buried in their clothes and wrapped in the flag of the
country. The hardy veterans raised the delicate frame of Henry, and
carried it on a rude bier to the hut where the remains of the captain
were prepared for interment. Silent and solemn was the funeral cortege.
No drum, not a funeral note, was heard. Every eye was wet, and the
breast of Charles was not the only one that heaved the farewell sigh
over the young and beautiful officer.
Charles stood by to see the last of her sister. The dark, black sand
was poured down on her lovely face, and silently and quickly her
mountain grave was filled by the blood-stained hands of her companions
Charles had dreamt a golden dream. Ambition's cup is full, but its
draught is bitter. On the march to Naples, in triumph, commanding
the royal troops, who had completely beaten the brigands, were glories
Charles never thought she was one day to obtain. With her return to
the city the war was ended, and the people were rejoicing in the
restoration of peace. The young captain who had returned so victorious
from Vesuvius was the lion of the day. The city gave her an ovation
far beyond her most sanguine hopes. Illuminations were instituted in
her honor, her name was shouted in the streets, and the nobles and
great ones of the state gathered around her as if the safety of the
kingdom had depended on her own personal efforts. For some time crowds
of lazzaroli gathered around the entrance of the Molo to see the young
and beautiful captain who had achieved such wonders; and we can fancy
how sweetly would ring on the ears of our ambitious heroine the shout
of the enthusiastic crowd sending far and wide the "Erira Carlo
Pimontel!" The King confirmed her position of captain, and sent her
the iron and golden crosses of honor, only given to the bravest of the
brave in those days of strife and warfare.
But vanity of vanities, and all is vanity! Let us raise the veil of
deception that shrouds the emptiness of human joy. Alvira has now
gratified her heart's desires in everything she could have under the
sun. She had beauty, wealth, and fame, but she was like the pretty
moth that hovers around the flame of the candle, and finds its ruin
in the touch of the splendor it loves. Poor Alvira was another child
of Solomon that sighed over the emptiness of human joy; for bitter
disappointment is the sad tale ever told in the realization of misguided
hope. Often, at midnight, when the unknown captain would return from
the theatre or some festive entertainment given in her honor, she would
sit at her table, wearied and disgusted, and weep bitterly. The
unnatural restraint necessary to preserve her disguise, the separation
from all the comforts and sympathies common to her sex, and the painful
reminiscences of the past wrung tears of misery from her aching heart.
The dreams of Messina haunted her still, but increased in anguish
and terror, as her thoughts could now fly from the lonely cave on the
Alps to the battle-field on the side of Vesuvius. Again the pangs
of remorse poisoned every joy; again the angry countenance and clenched
hand of her murdered father would bend over her restless couch; and
again the scream of terror in the dark, silent midnight would summon
her friends around her. Deep and fervent the prayer that was poured
forth from that sad and breaking heart that some providential
circumstance would enable her to make the change she had no long
premeditated. That change is at hand. Her mother's prayer is still
pleading for her before the throne of God; he who cast an eye of mercy
on the erring Magdalen had already written the name of Alvira in the
book of life, and destined her to be one of the noblest models of
repentance that adorn the latter history of the Church. Let us come
to the sequel of this extraordinary history; but first we must introduce
our readers to a new character--a great and holy man, destined by
Providence to save Alvira, and give the most interesting and most
remarkable chapter in this romance of real life.
Tremble, thou wretch,
Though hast within thee undivulged crimes,
Unwhipped of justice: hide thee, thou bloody hand;
Thou perjured, and thou simular man of virtue,
Thou art incestuous: caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practised on man's life: close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents, and cry
These dreadful summoners grace.
It was a beautiful morning in the Lent of 1678. The sun had risen
over the Apennines, and flung its magnificence over the Bay of Naples.
The smoke of Vesuvius cast its shadow like a monstrous pine over the
vineyards and villas that adorned the mountain-side to the sea-shore.
The morning was such as Byron gazed on in fancy through the sorrowful
eyes of the eloquent heroine of one of his tragedies:
"So bright, so rolling back the clouds into
Vapors more lovely than the unclouded sky,
With golden pinnacles and snowy mountains,
And billows purpler than the ocean's, making
In heaven a glorious mockery of the earth,
So like we almost deem it permanent,
So fleeting we can scarcely call it aught
Beyond a vision, 'tis so transiently
Scattered along the eternal vault!"
Whilst the eight hour was chiming from the tower of the old Gesu there
issued from the monastery attacked to the church a priest accompanied
by an acolyte bearing a large, plain cross and ringing a small bell.
They moved in the direction of the mole or old fortress of the city.
Soon a crowd followed--some bare-headed; others, especially the females,
told their beads in silence.
The traveller in Italy is aware of the pious custom practised by some
of the religious communities of preaching in the open air to the people
during the season of Lent. Extraordinary things are related of these
harangues. The lives of the sainted missionaries ring with tales of
the marvellous and miraculous powers given to God's servants when, in
moments of fire and zeal, they went from their cloisters like beings
of another world to awaken sinners to a sense of future terrors. At
one time we read of the saint's voice carried miraculously to a distance
of several miles; the peasant working in the fields would hear the
sweet sounds without seeing the speaker. At another the funeral
procession was arrested and the dead called from the bier to testify
to the truth of their teaching. Curing the cripple and restoring health
to the sick were of ordinary occurrence. Our blessed Lord told the
messengers who came to enquire about him to report his miracles as
a proof of his divinity: the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are
restored to health; but greater than all his reversions of the natural
laws were the humility and the mysterious arrangement of his providence
which he prophetically announced when he told his disciples that those
who should come after him would perform greater miracles than he.
There are few of the Thaumaturgi more celebrated than the humble father
who has just issued from the Gesu to thunder forth with superhuman
eloquence the truths of God and religion.
No sooner had the people heard the little bell of the attendant and
seen the venerable priest leave the college than they gathered from
various quarters, and seemed to vie with each other in getting nearest
He was a tall, thin man, his hair gray, shading a majestic forehead,
and but slightly wrinkled with the summers of over sixty years; his
eyes were partly closed, but when preaching they glowed with animation,
and were brightened by the tears that dimmed them; his long, wiry
fingers were interlocked and raised towards his breast in the attitude
of deep contemplation. The rough soutane and leather belt, the beads
and missionary cross partly hid in his breast, declared him to be a
follower of St. Ignatius. In the hallowed austerity of his whole
appearance, in the sweetness blended with religious gravity, and in
the respect and love manifested in the ever increasing crowd, one
easily learned he was more than an ordinary man. The people of Naples
knew him by the endearing name of Brother Francis; history has since
written his name in letters of gold on the alters of the Catholic
Church as St. Francis of Jerome.
It must have been a treat to the people who heard such saints as Francis
of Jerome preach. Natural eloquences is a rare and powerful gift;
when guided by education and study, the talent exercises a marvellous
influence on man; but add to these two a zeal and fervor of spirit
such as burned in the mortified spirit of the man of God, and we have
a power that is nothing short of supernatural and irresistible.
From a heart all aglow with divine love he soon enkindled in his hearers
that fire his divine Master came to kindle on earth. His sermons were
miracles. So great was the crowd around him at times that it would
be impossible for any human voice to reach his furthest hearers. Yet
every word of the great preacher went with silvery tone and moving
power, as if wafted on angel breathings, to the ears of sinners whom
chance or grace had brought to join the immense crowd that surrounded
his rude platform. Each sermon brought hundreds to repentance. Eyes
that were long dry melted into tears, and hearts that were strangers
to every sweet and holy influence throbbed with emotion. Efforts to
check the pent-up feelings were expressed by louder and convulsive
sobs; some knelt and prayed, others beat their breasts in the agony
of contrition. The immense concourse of people, simple and religious
minded, at all times impressionable, were, under the appeals of Francis,
moved as in times of public calamity, and the whole crowd swayed to
and fro as the deep moved by the storm--now trembling in terror, now
ashamed of sin and ingratitude, and again encouraged with hope, whose
cheerful beams the orator would cause to dart through the dark clouds
he himself had gathered over their mental vision.
On one occasion a courtesan ridiculed from her bed-room window the
words of the saint. She fell dead immediately. When he heard of the
awful judgement passed on this hapless woman, he ordered her body to
be brought to him. Then, amidst a death-like silence, he cried out
in a voice of thunder that penetrated the regions of the damned:
"Catherine, where art thou now?"
The soul answered with a shriek that sent a thrill through the assembled
thousands: "In hell!"
Although in scenes of terror like these Francis thundered forth the
awful destinies of the judged, yet the mercy of God towards the sinner
was his favorite theme. He looked on himself as called in a special
manner to seek out the lost sheep, to soften down the roughness found
on the path of repentance, to aid in the struggles willing souls find
in their efforts at reformation. Francis knew, as all masters of the
spiritual life have learned, there is more power in the eloquence of
forgiving love than in the terrors of retribution; hence, with tears
and burning sentiments of sympathy for the erring children of men,
he led his hearers as it were by the hand to the Father of the
prodigal--to that Jesus who forgave and loved the penitent Magdalen.
Francis has now ascended his platform. The crowd are swelling around.
He raises the sign of redemption over their heads; in a few majestic
sentences he commences his subject; the fire is kindling in his eye,
and the thunder is deepening in his splendid voice. The listeners
are wrapt in breathless attention.
On the outskirts of the crowd there is a young officer, slender,
graceful, tidy to a fault. It is Alvira.
She was passing down the Toledo, and had already heard the saint before
she had seen him. She had heard of the great preacher, but was afraid
to meet him. Grace had followed her in all her wanderings, and the
prayers of her mother were still heard at the throne of God. The crowd
is so great Alvira cannot pass to the Molo, where she was quartered
with her regiment. She must listen.
Strange, consoling ways of divine grace! It was thee, O Lord! who
drew they servant from his convent on that auspicious morning; thou
did'st gather the crowd around him, and inspire him with the words
and theme of his moving discourse! It was thy mercy, smiling with
compassion on a noble but erring soul, which brought her to listen
to those words that would bring thy grace to her heart!
Like one whose eye has caught a brilliant meteor flying through the
heavens, and remains gazing on it until it has disappeared, Alvira
could not remove her eyes from Francis. When she saw his saintly
figure standing on the rude platform, holding in his outstretched
hand the saving sign of redemption, she was seized with an unaccountable
feeling of awe. Although every word of the sermon was heard and
weighed, it seemed as if the pent-up memories of her soul took
precedence of her thoughts, and rushed on her with over whelming force,
like the winds let loose by the storm-god of old. Everything strange
or sad in her past career lent its quota of color to the dark picture
remorse, with cruel and masterly hand, delineated before her troubled
spirit. The struggle, the agony she had learned to brave in the Duomo
at Milan and the fortress of Messina, rose again with hydra fangs
from the tomb of oblivion in which recent excitements had buried it.
None but her guardian angel knew her soul was once more the battle-field
of contending feelings. At length a crimson blush passed over her
marble features; a crystal tear-drop dimmed her eye; another sprang
from the resevoirs of the heart and stole down the blushing cheek.
Tears have a language of their own deep and powerful; they tell of the
weakness of the human heart, not its triumphs; for passion has a throne
that tears may wash in vain. It is easier to drive the mighty river
from its long-loved bed than the soul from the normal state of its
"The heart," says St. Liguori, "where passion reigns, has become a
crystal vase filled with earth no longer penetrated by the rays of
the sun." The iron pedestal of passion's throne was not yet shivered
in the heart of Alvira, nor were tears a sign that the sun of grace
had pierced the crystal vase of the worldly heart. Great will be
the grace that will draw Alvira from the zenith of a golden dream in
which a triumphant ambition has placed her above her sex, and great
amongst the heroes of the manly sex she feigned. Her conversion will
be a miracle--a miracle of sweet violence, such as drew the Magdalens,
the Augustines, and the Cortonas from the trammels of vice to the holy
and happy path of repentance.
The sermon is over. The crowd is still between Alvira and the Molo;
she must wait.
The people are gradually dispersing. Some go to the church to follow
up the holy inspirations given, to throw themselves at the feet of a
confessor, to break the chains of sin; others hasten to their homes
or daily avocations, wondering, pleased, and sanctified in good desires
and resolutions that came gushing from their hearts.
Alvira is standing to one side alone and wrapt in thought. Suddenly
she looks up. Something catches her eye. She starts; a tremble passes
from head to foot. She looks again; her worst terrors are realized.
It is--Father Francis is coming towards her!
"But he can't be coming to me," she thought to herself. She looked
around to see if there were any other object to bring the father in
that direction; but there was no poor creature to ask his charity, no
poor cripple to seek his sympathy; she was almost alone. She could
have fled, but felt herself fixed to the ground, and with desperate
efforts endeavored to conceal her excitement. He approaches nearer;
with glistening eye she watches and hopes some fortuitous circumstances
may call him aside. Their glance meets; she blushes and trembles,
Father Francis is before her.
For a moment he gazed on the young captain with a kind, penetrating
look; and a smile on his features seemed to express a friendly
recognition. Calling her by her assumed name, he said to her, almost
in a whisper: "Charles, go to confession; God wishes thee well."
Alvira was relieved. The kind, gentle manner of the father calmed
the storm of conflicting fears. Rejecting the inward calls of grace,
and hoping she was not discovered, she replied with some hesitation:
"But, father, I don't require to go to confession. I have not done
Her voice faltered, and the blush of conscious falsehood grew deeper
and deeper on her glowing features.
Father Francis drew himself up with majesty; his eye beamed with the
glow of inspiration, and in a solemn reproof he addressed the trembling
"You have done nothing wrong, nothing to merit the judgments of a
terrible God--you, who murdered your father in the snows of the Alps,
robbed him of ill-gotten wealth, spent it in gaming, and dragged your
innocent sister in the path or your own shameless adventure!"
"Father! father!" cried Alvira, bursting into convulsive sobs.
"Maria Alvira Cassier," continued the man of God in a milder tone,
"go and change those garments; cease this tale of guilty hypocrisy.
Advancing towards her, he took her hand, and, resuming the paternal
smile that relaxed his solemn features and banished her fears, said
in a low tone: "But come with me to the Gesu."
Alvira obeyed. She was thunderstruck. The revelation of the great
secrets of her life summoned up paralyzing fears; but, accustomed
to brave the succumbing weakness of the feminine character, and
encouraged by the paternal manner of the father, she did not faint,
but buried her face in her hands and wept.
In silence she followed Father Francis. She skilfully concealed her
emotions; the tears were brushed away as rapidly as they overflowed.
In passing the squares that separated them from the church, Alvira
had resolved to unbosom herself to the good father. Like the angel
that led Peter from his prison, she knew this sainted man was destined
to lead her from the prison of her hypocrisy. Where grace has not
conquered, consequences are weighed, the future becomes too dark and
unknown for the cowardly heart, and temporal evils assume the weight
of eternal woes; the blinded self-love yields, and the moment of grace
is abandoned. But Alvira's conversion was complete, and, without one
doubt or fear for the future, she handed herself to the guidance of
the venerable father, who had learned by inspiration from heaven the
spiritual maladies of her soul.
The whole of that day was spent in the church. She crouched into an
agnle behind one of the large pillars. Like the dew that freshens
and vivifies the vegetation that has been dried up by the parching
sun, the exhilarating breathings of the divine Spirit spread over
her soul that peace which surpasseth all understanding. In the fervor
of her first real moments of prayer, the hours passed as seconds;
unmindful of food, of the duties incumbent on her military profession,
and of the busy world around, she was not roused from her reverie
until the golden floods of the setting sunlight fell in tinted splendor
through the stained-glass windows of the old Gothic church.
As the church bells were merrily chiming the Ave Maria, a gentle tap
on her shoulder called her attention. It was Father Francis. He had
watched her all the day with a secret joy; he knew the value of moments
like these in maturing the resolutions of the converted soul, and, as
he had not yet completed his arrangements, he was afraid his penitent
might slip from him in the crowd and be exposed to temptations that
might discourage her; the cold blast of the world might shake to the
ground the fabric he had commenced to build. He bent his venerable
countenance to her ear, whispered a word of consolation, and bade her
not leave till he came for her.
The father moved silently and thoughtfully through the sombre aisles;
now and then he would stop to converse with some child of grace, for
he had many awaiting his spiritual aid. With smiles of holy joy, he
imparted consolation to each, and sent them to their homes accompanied
by those spirits that rejoice in the conversion of the sinner.
A few moments, and the lights were extinguished, the crowd is gone.
The cough and suppressed sigh are no longer heard from the deep aisles,
and the footsteps of the ever-changing crowd have ceased to clatter
on the marble pavement. The solitary lamp in the sanctuary cast a
fitful shadow through the silent and abandoned church, and was the
only indication of the presence of Him who rules in the vast spheres
of the heavens. Alvira felt happier in this lonely moment before the
Most Holy Sacrament. The fruit of years of penance, and the conquest
of turbulent, rebellious passions, have often been gained in moments
of fervor before the alter. Like sand, changed to transparent crystal
glass under the blow-pipe, the heart is melted and purified under the
fire of love that darts in invisible streams from the loving Victim
of the tabernacle.
The closing of the church door and the rattling of carriage wheels in
the direction of the Chaja close an eventful day, recorded in golden
letter in heaven's history of repentant humanity.
A series of surprises followed this memorable conversion. Alvira's
absence from the garrison was the subject of serious comment. Rumor
was busy, and disposed of the young captain by every imaginable
violent death. One report seemed the most probable and gained ground.
It was thought the partisans of the defeated party, remembering the
victory of Vesuvius, and galled at the popularity of the young captain,
had waylaid and murdered him. At the same time the mangled body of
a young man was found washed into the river by the tide; it was
mutilated and disfigured beyond recognition; the populace claimed
it to be the body of their favorite, and loud and still rang the
indignant cry for vengeance. The city was in commotion. The
authorities were induced to believe the report, and large rewards were
offered for the apprehension of the murderers. 'Tis but a spark that
may set the wood on fire; and popular feeling, fired by a random rumor,
now blazed in all the fury of a political conflagration.
In the midst of the commotion the commandant of the forces received
a polite note requesting his presence at the residence of the
Marchioness de Stefano. Puzzled at the strange summons, but polite
to a fault, he appeared in grand tenu at the appointed hour in the
salons of the Marchioness. A young lady was ushered in to the
apartment. She was dressed in black, wore no jewelry, and seemed a
little confused; a majestic mien set off some natural charms, but her
features had an expression of care and sadness such as is read on the
countenance of the loving fair one who has been widowed in her bloom.
Her eyes were red, for many tears had dimmed them; her voice was weak,
for shame had choked the utterances in their birth; her whole demeanor
expressed deep anxiety and trouble.
The commandant was kind-hearted, but a stern ruler in those days of
trouble; he had seen in the revolutions of many years the miseries
and sorrows of life; though insensible to the horrors of the battle-
field, he felt a deep, touching sympathy with its real victims who
survive and suffer for years in silent woe, in affections that have
been ruthlessly blasted by cruel war. The feeling of compassion
towards the strange lady introduced to him were deeply enhanced by
the remarks by which she opened the conversation.
"I sent for you, sir," commenced the lady in a subdued tone, "to speak
to you about Captain Charles Pimontel."
The veteran soldier, believing she was his betrothed, that she was
torn by cruel destiny from the object of her affections, endeavored
to soothe her troubled spirit by the balm of kindness and consolation.
"Ah! madame," he replied in his blandest manner, "if report be true,
a cruel fate has removed him for a while from thy embrace. Young,
brave, and amiable, he was the darling of our troops, and fortune
seemed to lead our gallant young captain to a brilliant career; but
some foul assassin's hand has cut the flower ere it bloomed; destiny,
as cruel as it has been mysterious, has darkened his sun ere yet it
shone in the zenith of day!"
"Oh! sir, it may not yet be true that he has met such a sad fate,"
retorted the lady.
"Alas!" replied the commandant, "yesterday evening the youth's body
was washed up on our beach; the wounds of twenty stilettos gaped on
his mangled corpse, and the lampreys of our bay fed on his noble flesh
as they would on the vile slaves cast to them by the monster Nero.
These eyes have seen the horrid sight; though we could not recognize
the brave youth, we wept as if our own son had fallen by cowardly
The old commandant was somewhat excited; before the warm tear had welled
from the fountains of sympathy, the young lady spoke in an animated
and excited manner:
"But, sir, there is surely some mistake. It cannot be said Charles
Pimontel was murdered; does it follow because the unrecognized body
of some hapless victim of a street brawl has been washed on the beach
that it must necessarily be the body of the captain? Do you not think
his murderers would pay dearly for this attack on him? Have any
witnesses come forward to swear to his assassination? I will not
believe in his death until stronger proofs have been given; and I may
be intruding on the precious time of our commandant, but I have sought
this interview with you have found the murdered remains of Charles
"Love, madame," rejoined the commandant sentimentally, "clings to
forlorn hopes, and in its sea of trouble will grasp at straws. The
whole city has proclaimed the murder of the captain; our military
chapel is draped in gloom, and I have given orders that all the garrison
be in attendance on the morrow at the obsequies."
The lady, who at first intended a strange surprise for the commanding
officer, began to fear things were going too far, and that no time
was to be lost in declaring the real fate of the captain. She arose
quickly, and, approaching near to him, spoke with strong emphasis:
"I beseech you, sir, to stay these proceedings; I tell you on my word
of honor the captain is not dead."
"Then you know something of him?" interrupted the commandant. "I
command you, madame, in the name of the King, to tell me of his
whereabouts. If he has, without sufficient cause, absented himself
from military duty, by my sword the rash youth shall be punished.
Besides playing the fool with the people, the inviolable sanctity of
the military constitutions has been violated. Madame, your lover,
perhaps, has forgotten himself over his cups. If secreted within these
walls, produce him, that he may know, for thy sake, and in consideration
of his first fault, the leniency of his sentence for violation of
our military rule."
"Sir," replied the young woman, drawing herself up majestically, and
fearlessly confronting the aged officer, whose inviolable fidelity
to military honor made him warm in his indignation at the supposed
delinquency of his subaltern--"sir, the secret of the captain's absence
and his present abode is committed to me; but I shall not divulge the
information you ask until you promise me that, having shown you
reasonable cause for his seeming fault, you will not only acquit him
of his supposed crime of dereliction of duty, but that his honor shall
be preserved unstained before his fellow-officers and men."
The proposition seemed honorable to the commandant, and he immediately
"I swear by my sword it shall be so."
"Then, sir, see before you the offender. I am Charles Pimontel!"
On the road that led the traveller to the ancient village of Torre
del Greco, and about a mile from the populous parts of the city, there
stood a neat little cottage. In the front there was a flower garden,
small but charmingly pretty; the doors and windows were surrounded
with a woodbine creeper that gave an air of comfort to the little
dwelling. The door was ever closed. Few were seen to pass in and
out, and no noise ever betrayed the presence of its inmates.
Here for many years our young penitent Alvira passed a holy and solitary
life. After the stirring scenes of the preceding chapters, Father
Francis procured from the military authorities for his Magdalen, as
he was wont to call her, the full pay of a captain as a retiring
pension. This remarkable circumstance may be authenticated by reference
to the military books still preserved in the archives of the Molo at
Naples. Her rank and pension were confirmed by the king.
Under the able direction of the man of God, Alvira gave herself to
full correspondence with the extraordinary graces offered by our blessed
Lord. Her austerities and fervor increased until they reached the
degrees of heroic sanctity. She knelt and wept for hours before her
crucifix; she slept on hard boards and only allowed herself sufficient
to meet the demands of nature. She lived on herbs, and the fast of
Lent was so severe that Father Francis saw a miraculous preservation.
Long before daylight she knelt on the steps of the Gesu waiting for
the opening of the doors, and this austerity she never failed to
practice in the midst of rain or cold, until her last illness chained
her involuntarily to her couch, where her submission to the will of
God was equally meritorious.
Several terrible scenes of judgement, sent by Almighty God on
unrepentant sinners, had, in the very commencement of her conversion,
a most salutary influence on the feeble struggles of Alvira. Her
confidence in the Blessed Virgin was much enhanced by a severe act
of St. Francis towards one of the members of the Congregation of the
Most Holy Mother.
A young man of this congregation got suddenly rich, and, with wealth,
self-conceit and pride entered his heart. He considered it necessary,
to preserve his respectability, to separate himself from the humble
society he hitherto frequented, and cease to be a member of the
Congregation of the Madonna, composed of industrious and virtuous
youths who labored honestly for their livelihood. St. Francis, on
hearing of this slight on the congregation and insult to Mary, was
fired with a holy indignation. He sought the young man, and rang in
his ears the prophetic warnings which, in the case of this great saint,
were never uttered in vain to the unheeding. Again and again
St. Francis warned, but pride was still triumphant. One Sunday
afternoon, after the usual meeting of the confraternity, the saint
went to the alter of sodality; it was the altar of the Dolors. Seven
daggers seemed to pierce the Virgin's heart. Ascending the altar,
he cast a sorrowful glance on the weeping countenance of the Queen
of Sorrows, and said: "Most Holy Virgin, this young man has been for
you a most acute sword, piercing your heart; behold, I will relieve
you of it." So saying, he took one of the poniards from the statue,
and at the same time announced to the members that the proud young
man was expelled from the congregation.
Let those who fancy that such reprobations have not a corresponding
echo in the judgements of God tremble in reading the effects of this
simple but terrible excommunication.
Like sand through the perforated vessel, the young man's wealth passed
away; one month found him a cringing debtor, another found him a
beggar, a third found him dying in a public institution, abandoned
by God and man.
On another occasion Alvira was present when a terrible judgement of
God upon a hardened sinner thrilled the whole city with awe.
St. Francis was preaching in one of the streets during Lent. He
happened to pause and address a crowd near the house of an impious,
ill conducted woman, who came immediately to her window to laugh and
mock at the man of God. Having gratified herself tot he disgust of
the crowd, she finally slammed to the window violently, uttering at
the same time some filthy and unbecoming remark. St. Francis stood
immovable fro a moment; his eye was fixed on heaven; and the, in a
voice head half over the city, he cried out: "My God, how terrible
are thy judgments! That unfortunate woman has dropped dead."
The groans and confusion of the inmates soon convinced the crowd of
the awful fact, for the corpse of the hapless wretch was brought into
the street where it was exposed to the terrified people.
These and similar instances of the judgement of God witnessed by Alvira
had a salutary effect on her trembling soul. The fear of God, which
is the beginning of wisdom, erected its watch-tower around the citadel
of her heart; the virtues, once entered, were not permitted to flee,
and soon won for this penitent soul the sweets of the illuminative
degree of sanctity.
St. Francis, a master in the science of the saints, soon recognized
the extraordinary graces destined for this chosen soul. Full of
gratitude and love for God, he spared no effort to correspond with
the sublime destiny entrusted to him; hence in the after-history of
those two holy souls the marvels of virtue and sanctity intermingled,
so that at times it would seem doubtful whether the miracles recorded
were given to the exalted sanctity and zeal of the holy priest or to
the weeping virgin penitent, so privileged and so loved in the forgiving
memory of God.
On one occasion a young mother lost her infant. Death had stricken
the little flower ere it had blossomed. The mother was poor and unable
to bury the child. With an unbounded confidence in the charity and
zeal of St. Francis, the bright thought struck her: If she could only
get this good man interested in her behalf, all would be accomplished.
Accordingly, she made for the church of the Gesu by daylight. Only
one individual was before her waiting for the church to be opened.
It was Magdalen. Even from Magdalen she concealed the object of her
early visit, and pressed closer to her heart the dead treasure she
intended as a present for Father Francis. The church opened; she stole
around the dark aisles, whence the daylight had not yet banished the
shades of night, and noiselessly approached the confessional of the
holy man. She placed the dead child on the seat, and hurried to some
recess of the great church, where she could watch the happy issue of
this ingenious mode of disposing of her child. The early morning
hours wore away, and at length the wished for moment came. The vestry
door is opened. The tall, mortified form of St. Francis appeared at
the foot of the altar. He prayed awhile, and rose to go to his
confessional. But the young mother watched with her heart leaping to
her mouth. He did not go to his tribunal; he moved majestically down
the church, and came to Magdalen's corner where Alvira was wrapt in
prayer. He whispered something to her. They prayed for a moment,
then Alvira flitted like a shadow through the dark aisles towards
the confessional of Father Francis. She entered and took the infant
child in her arms. The child was alive. The mother came rushing
from her hiding-place to claim the infant, and when she received it
into her embrace the man of God raised his index finger in the act
of warning, and with a sweet, forgiving smile on his countenance,
said to the young mother: "My child, don't put any more dead babies
in my confessional."
Alvira had to undergo a severe trial in the absence of Father Francis.
He was directed by his superiors to commence his missions in the country
districts, and was virtually removed from Naples for some years. Before
leaving, he fortified his chosen children with salutary admonitions,
but for Alvira he had special words of encouragement and consolation.
It pleased God to let him know in her behalf that, in return for her
sincere repentance and deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, before
her death three extraordinary favors would be conferred on her, which
would also be the warning of the setting sun of her career in life.
Alvira treasured his words in her heart, and in deep humility wondered
at the goodness of God.
The Privileges of Holy Souls.
An extraordinary miracle is said, in the life of St. Francis, to have
taken place in the house where Alvira was present. St. Francis had
an aged brother living in the city--a man of eminent sanctity, but
suffering much from his infirmities. St. Francis prevailed on Alvira
to attend him and nurse him in his illness. He could not have been
trusted to more tender or willing hands.
Virtue and affection lent their powerful aids to render Alvira a
charming nurse. But her labor of love was not very protracted, for
it pleased God to cast the last and fatal fever on Cataldus, the invalid
brother of the saint. At the time the malady was increasing and death
imminent, St. Francis was absent from the city on a mission to Recale,
a place about sixteen miles from Naples. Cataldus prayed to be
permitted to see his brother before death but the malady seemed to
increase so rapidly there was very slight probability of his return
Alvira had retired to an adjoining apartment to seek relief in prayer.
She suddenly heard some strange sounds in the room of her patient.
She flew towards the chamber, and there, to her astonishment, she
beheld St. Francis embracing his brother.
"Go," said the saintly man to the invalid--"go with courage and
confidence whither God thy father calls thee, and where the saints
await thee. Remember God is a good master, and know that in a short
time I will follow thee."
Then drawing Alvira aside, he whispered to her: "My child, know that
Cataldus is going with rapid strides to eternity. You must still
assist him with love and patience. To-night at four he will die.
I must be away now, but I hope to see him again before he dies."
Having thus spoken, alone and, contrary to his custom, without any
one to accompany him, he left the house. Cataldus, Alvira, and a
servant in the house testified to having seen him in Naples in their
house; the servant even testified that he entered through closed
doors; whilst two fathers who were with him at Recale gave sworn
testimony that St. Francis was with them at the very time he was
seen and spoken to at Naples.
And when the hour foreseen by this great saint, in which death was to
place his cold hand on the brow of Cataldus, was at hand, the couch
of the dying was again blessed by his spirit; but Alvira did not on
this occasion see him, but she saw the recognition that cast a beam
of joy over the face of the dying man, and she heard the sweet accents
of consolation the saint was permitted to impart.
A Vision of Purgatory--A Dear One Saved.
Like lengthening shadows of evening creeping over the silent ruin, death
was fast drawing the shades of its final night over the austerities
and the virtues of Alvira. The promises of St. Francis filled her
heart with a cup of joy that rarely falls to the lot of mortals this
side of the grave.
Vespers are finished at the Gesu; the organ is silent, the crowd have
departed, and, in the mellow twilight of an autumn eve, we discern
only a few pious souls crouched behind the pillars, or pouring forth
their last fervent aspirations before some favorite altar or saintly
shrine. Soon all have left, and the silence of the abandoned sanctuary
shrouds the fabric in greater solemnity. The aromatic incense still
floats in nebulous veils around the tabernacle.
A loud breathing, an expression of joy from a dark recess, announced
the presence of some one still in the church. The sounds came from
the quarter known to the pious frequenters of the church as Magdalen's
corner, so named because there was near to it an altar dedicated to
the great penitent St. Magdalen, and because here St. Francis' Magdalen
spent long hours in tears and prayer. On the evening in question
Alvira had remained longer than usual to commune with Almighty God.
It was a festival day, and her soul felt all the glow of fervor and
spiritual joy which at times wraps the pious spirit into foretastes
of celestial happiness. The hours passed swiftly by, for fervent
prayer is not tedious to the loving.
She pondered in her mind what could be the graces or favors promised
her in the last interview with her spiritual director. Her humility
had not dared to seek favors; she was still overwhelmed with the
thought of the bitter past; more time for repentance would be the
signal favor she would venture to solicit from the God she had so
Yet the mercy and goodness of God are more mysterious to us mortals
when we consider them lavished in extraordinary munificence on the
souls of poor sinners. When we feel crushed to the earth in our
unworthiness, the forgiving spirit of God lifts us up and pours around
us consolations which are the privilege of the innocent. Thus the
humble Alvira little dreamt what might be the grand consolations
destined for her; but the time of their fulfilment has come, and we
find her startled from an ecstasy in the church in which one of the
promised favors was bestowed on this child of grace. She described
to Father Francis what happened with many tears of joy.
Whilst wrapt in prayer in the lonely moments that followed the
Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament and the closing of the church
doors, she suddenly saw the altar and sanctuary disappear, and in their
stead a luminous bank of moving clouds; they were white as the
snow-drift, and crystallized in a flood of light like Alpine peaks
in the winter sunshine.
These clouds moved rapidly before her astonished gaze, occasionally
she saw through their rents a tinge of red flame that glowed in the
fleecy mist like the crimson linings of sunset. The brighter clouds
gradually faded; the flames became fiercer and more distinct; they
seemed to leap in fury around the altar and sanctuary. Alvira
struggled in doubt for a moment. Perhaps a real conflagration was
consuming the tabernacle. A scream of agony was already on her lips,
when the scene glided into a still more vivid reality, leaving no
doubt as to its character. In the burning element human beings
appeared writhing in pain; angels of dazzling brightness floated over
the fire, and every moment caught the outstretched arms of some
fortunate soul whose purgatorial probation had terminated; the angel
would carry the soul to a distant sphere of brightness whither
Alvira's weak mortal gaze could not follow.
Suddenly there darted from the far light an angel clothed with the
brilliancy of the sun. With the speed of lightning he plunged far
down the purgatory fire; his brightness was so great that Alvira
could follow him even through the flames. There the angel found a
young, beautiful soul, deep in agony, clothed with crimson fire. A
smile of ineffable joy lit up the countenance of the sufferer--the
message from heaven was understood. The angel lifted this soul from
the fire, and, pausing for a moment on the peak of a lambent flame,
the angelic deliverer and the liberated soul, now became angelic
in brilliancy, paused to look and smile on Alvira.
Her heart leaped, her soul trembled. She recognized the features.
In a convulsive effort to utter the loved name of Aloysia, the vision
passed away, and she found herself in the dark church and on the cold
flags, weeping away the overflow of a heart too full of joy.
Late on a cold night in the winter of 1706 a sick-call came to the
Jesuit college attached to the Gesu. Alvira Cassier was ill, and
requested the attendance of one of the fathers.
Some months had passed since the consoling vision in which she saw
the purified soul of Aloysia carried to a crown of immortal bliss.
Since then the great St. Francis had passed to his crown. His holy
spirit hovered in protecting love over Alvira. She recurred to him
in her troubles, and always with remarkable success. Miracles of
cures and conversion, effected through the humble prayers of the
penitent and the powerful intercession of the deceased apostle, are
registered in the great book of life, to be read on the great
Alvira sighed over the prolongation of her exile. Her heart longed
to be with Christ; she soared in spirit over the abyss that separated
her from the object she loved.
Yet two more signs were to announce the happy moment of her freedom.
She knew the fate of Aloysia, raised from the searching flame and
introduced to the saints, was the first of these favors promised
by St. Francis. The other was equally extraordinary.
The illness of Alvira caused a sigh of regret at the Jesuit College.
Every one whose heart was interested in the glory of God would have
reason to sigh over her lost example, her influence over sinners, and
the edification of her exalted virtues.
A priest is wrapped in his cloak; he carries the most Holy Sacrament
and the holy oils. A levite accompanies him, carrying a lamp and
ringing a bell. Unmindful of the inclemency of the weather, they
move on through the abandoned streets, now filled by crowds of unseen
angels, who take the place of man and honor the Holy of Holies.
The priest is a young Frenchman who has just come to Naples. To
confer a favor on Alvira, the superior sent him to St. Francis's
penitent that she might have the consolation of her own language
at the trying hour of her death. He is a tall, thin figure on the
decline of manhood; in the graceful outline of features sweet and
attractive we read the marks of much mortification. A halo of religion
and sanctity envelopes him with that reverential awe we give to true
He has entered the room. Alvira starts.
She has seen that face before; that noble brow; that lofty mien;
that irresistible sweetness of look. He is some acquaintance, perhaps
met casually in the rambles of youthful folly. Reverence for the
Blessed Sacrament banished further curiosity, and Alvira, with
closed eyes and hands folded on her crucifix, joined in the solemn
prayers recited on such occasions.
When all the prescribed ceremonies were completed, the good priest
drew near the couch of the suffering invalid, and, allowing a moment
for a relaxation of thought and for conversation, mildly enquired if
she suffered much pain.
So they tell me you have come from Paris, my child," we fancy we hear
the good father commencing a conversation that leads to a strange
"Yes, father, 'tis my native city."
"And what was your family name?"
"Cassier!" replied the priest, with a thrill of surprise. "Did he
live in Rue de Seine?"
"You had a sister?"
"Yes; but she is now in heaven. She was killed on Mount Vesuvius."
A startling suspicion had crept over the good priest. Was it possible
that the invalid sinking into eternity in a sunset of sanctity and of
heroic penance, formerly the chivalrous captain of Vesuvian fame,
was no other than his own sister?
"And what became of your brother?" asked the Jesuit after a pause,
and looking anxiously into Alvira's emaciated countenance.
"Ah! father," she replied, "I would give worlds to know. About thirty
years ago, when our home was comfortable, he suddenly disappeared
from us; no one could tell what became of him; we knew he was called
by God to a holier life, and it was our impression at the time he
fled to join some strict religious order. Poor dear Aloysia and
myself used to pain him by turning his pious intentions to ridicule.
His disappearance broke my poor mother's heart, for she died very
A long, deep silence ensued. Pere Augustin--for that was his name
in religion--held his hands clasped up at his lips whilst Alvira was
speaking. He remained motionless; his eyes were fixed on a spot on
the floor. It was evident a struggle was going on within him. There
could be no longer any doubt, and he was puzzled whether he should
declare himself at once to be the lost Louis Marie, or bide his time
and break it gently to her. As if seeking more time for deliberation,
he asked her another question "And, my child, what became of your
Ah! how little did he dream of the wound he was tearing open. His
enquiry was the signal for a new burst of grief from the broken-hearted
Alvira. She buried her face in the pillow and wept violently. She
remained so for several minutes. This made Pere Augustin determine
his course of action. As he had caused her so much pain, he must now
console her by letting her know who he is. Drawing nearer to her, he
bade her be consoled, for he had some good news to give her; and
Alvira, after a great effort, raised her head and said:
"It is kind of you father, very kind of you indeed, to take interest
in my affairs; but perhaps, as you are acquainted with Paris and
belong to the Society of Jesus, you many know something of my brother.
Poor Louis Marie! I should like to know if he is well, and happy,
and good. Do tell me, father, if you know anything of him."
"Yes, I do," answered the father quickly.
"Is he alive?"
"Where is he?"
"Here!" cried Louis Marie, bursting into tears--"here, within the grasp
of your hand."
Could joy be greater? Those two holy souls blended into one. Like
Benedict and Scholastica, they wept and smiled together in alternate
raptures of joy and grief.
Now reft of all, faint, feeble, prest with age,
We mark her feelings in the last great stage;
The feverish hopes, the fears, the cares of life,
No more oppress her with torturing strife;
The chivalrous spirit of her early day
Has passed with beauty and with youth away.
As oft the traveller who beholds the sun
Sinking before him ere yet his journey's done,
Regrets in vain to lose its noontide power,
Yet hails the coolness of the evening hour,
She feels a holy and divine repose
Rest on her spirit in the twilight close;
Although her passions ruled in their might,
Now vanquished, brighter burns the inward light,
Guiding the spirit by its sacred ray
To cast its mortal oil and cares away,
And list its summons to eternal day.
Tossed on a restless ocean, and surviving a long and stormy voyage,
how the sight of the verdant hills and spires of the nearing port
must cheer the wearied mariner! Joy has its sunbeams to light up
every countenance. Merry the song that keeps tune with the revolving
capstan. Old memories are awakened and dormant affections roused;
the husband, the father, the exile, each has a train of though laden
with bright anticipations. Fancy and hope hasten to wave their magic
wings over the elated heart, and contribute the balm of ideal charms
to make even one moment of mortal life a happiness without alloy.
The wearied mariner returning home, quaffing a cup of joy, is a faint
but truthful simile to represent the pious soul in sight of the port
of eternal bliss, where loved ones are hailing from afar their welcome
to the successful mariner from the troubled sea of time. Life has
its storms and its calms, its casualties and dangers; it also has the
bright twilight in the shadow of those eternal hills where existence
is immortal and joy beatific and unclouded.
Alvira, the heroine of our sketch, is now the faithful soul standing
on the bark in view of her eternal home.
The consolations promised by her sainted guardian have twice tolled
the death knell; once more some great joy will strike the last fibre
of her heart long tuned to spiritual happiness, and will break the
last chain that imprisons a spirit longing to soar on high.
In the deceptive phases of the consumptive malady she rallied at times;
she felt stronger--would venture out to the homes of the poor, and
faint at the alter of Jesus. In her weakness she did not moderate
her austerities, save where the express command of her spiritual
director manifested to her the will of God. Her little cottage was
surrounded daily by the poor and sick, who were her friends, and many
and sincere were the blessings invoked over their benefactress.
Long and interesting were her conversations with her brother Louis.
Her history as known to herself must have been replete with many
striking events besides those we have caught up from a scanty tradition
and a brief pamphlet biography. How the secrets of her rambles in
disguise must have brought the smile and the blush to the countenance
of her simple-minded and sainted brother!
In deep and natural fraternal affection, which is more powerful when
mellowed by virtue, Pere Augustin saw the hand of death making each
day new traces on the frame of Alvira. The hectic flush, the frequent
faintings, and the cold, icy grasp of her hand told the energy of
the poison that gnawed at the vital cords. Sweet and gentle words
of encouragement ever flowed from his lips. With eye and finger ever
turning towards heaven, whither his own soul yearned, he calmed the
anxious and penitent spirit of Alvira, who still feared her repentance
She received Holy Communion every day from the hands of her brother.
What ecstasies of grateful love filled her breast when preparing for
those blissful moments of union with our Blessed Lord! Deep and
eloquent the mysterious breathings of the pure, loving heart. It has
a language known and understood ony by angels. As the sun melts the
rocky iceberg, the coldest heart melts under the loving, burning
Sun of the most Holy Eucharist.
At length the bark is anchored in the port of rest; Alvira is summoned
to her crown.
The midnight of July 16, 1717, finds her in her agony; the blest candle
is lighted; the faithful brother priest is kneeling by her bed; the
solemn wail of the privileged few of the grateful poor is carried in
mournful cadence from the chamber of death.
Yet the bell has not tolled the third stroke of consolation. Could
she have misunderstood the prophetic voice of her sainted Father
Francis, who knew the secrets of God in her behalf? But no; the favor
will come--the last crowning, ineffable favor will come; it is at
Avira has opened her eyes. She calls her brother near; with a smile,
the sweetest that ever lit up those expressive features, she told him
what the favor would be. Father Francis and the Blessed Virgin would
see her before she should die.
Pere Augustin believes the shock of approaching dissolution has weakened
her reasoning faculty; he gently chides her, whispers some sweet
thought of humility, and breathes the holy name that banishes
But, lo! Alvria's features have changed; a glow of exstatic beauty
has suffused around her; the light of another land is shed on her
couch. Recognition is read on her looks.
Pere Augustin, whose innocence and virtue entitled him to understand
the privileges of the saints, saw the splendor of a heavenly light
that filled the room, and heard from Alvira's lips expressions that
left no doubt on his mind of the promised visit of celestial beings.
The light faded, and from the feeble glare of the candle of death he
saw the holy spirit of his sister had fled; the sweetness of heavenly
joy still played on her marble features, and the smile that greeted
the heavenly visitors still rested on her lips.
Pere Augustin stood over the couch he had bedewed with tears, and
taking a long and affectionate glance at the hollowed form of his
repentant sister, turned towards the weeping people; he raised his
hand towards heaven, and solemnly announced the event that gave a
festival to the angels. His voice faltered; he pronounced a short
and eloquent panegyric--"A saint is dead!"
The tableau is worth remembering; 'tis the last beautiful scene in
the eventful career of Maria Alvira Cassier!