Brett Fishburne (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Alvira: The Heroine of Vesuvius
by Rev. A. J. O’Reilly, D.D.
The Penitent Saints
The interesting and instructive character of this sensational narrative, which we cull from the traditions of a past generation, must cover the shortcomings of the pen that has labored to present it in an English dress.
We are aware that the propriety of drawing from the oblivion of forgotten literature such a story will be questioned. The decay of the chivalrous spirit of the middle ages, and the prudish, puritanical code of morality that has superseded the simple manners of our forefathers, render it hazardous to cast into the hands of the present generation the thrilling records of sin and repentance such as they were seen and recorded in days gone by. Yet in the midst of a literature professedly false, and which paints in fascinating colors the various phases of unrepented vice and crime, without the redeeming shadows of honor and Christian morality, our little volume must fall a welcome sunbeam. The strange career of our heroine constitutes a sensational biography charming and beautiful in the moral it presents.
The evils of mixed marriages, of secret societies, of intemperance, and the indulgence of self-love in ardent and enthusiastic youth, find here the record of their fatal influence on social life, reflected through the medium of historical facts. Therefore we present to the young a chapter of warning–a tale of the past with a deep moral for the present.
The circumstances of our tale are extraordinary. A young girl dresses in male attire, murders her father, becmes an officer in the army, goes through the horrors of battle, and dies a SAINT.
Truly we have here matter sensational enough for the most exacting novelist; but we disclaim all effort to play upon the passions, or add another work of fiction to the mass of irreligious trash so powerful in the employ of the evil one for the seduction of youth. In the varied scenes of life there are many actions influenced by secret motives known only to the heart that harbors them. Not all are dishonorable. It takes a great deal of guilt to make a person as black as he is painted by his enemies. Many a brave heart has, under the garb of an impropriety, accomplished heroic acts of self-denial.
History is teeming with instances where the love of creatures, and even the holier and more sublime love of the Creator, have, in moments of enthusiasm, induced tender females to forget the weakness of their sex and successfully fulfil the spheres of manhood. These scenes, so censurable, are extraordinary more from the rarity of their occurence than from the motives that inspire them, and thus our tale draws much of its thrilling interest from the unique character of its details.
“But what a saint!” we fancy we hear whispered by the fastidious and scrupulous into whose hand our little work may fall.
Inadvertently the thought will find a similar expression from the superficial reader; but if we consider a little, our heroine presents a career not more extraordinary than those that excite our surprise in the lives of the penitent saints venerated on the alters of the Church. Sanctity is not to be judged by antecedents. The soul crimsoned with guilt may, in the crucible of repentance, become white like the crystal snow before it touches the earth. This consoling thought is not a mere assertion, but a matter of faith confirmed by fact. There are as great names among the penitent saints of the Church as amongst the few brilliant stars whose baptismal innocence was never dimmed by any cloud.
Advance the rule that the early excesses of the penitent stains must debar them from the esteem their heroic repentance has won; then we must tear to pieces the consoling volumes of hagiology, we must drag down Paul, Peter, Augustine, Jerome, Magdalen, and a host of illustrious penitents from their thrones amongst the galaxy of the elect, and cast the thrilling records of their repentance into the oblivion their early career would seem to merit. If we are to have no saints but those of whom it is testified they never did a wrong act, then the catalogue of sanctity will be reduced to baptized infants who died before coming to the use of reason, and a few favored adults who could be counted on the fingers.
Is it not rather the spirit and practice of the Church to propose to her erring children the heroic example of souls who passed through the storms and trials of life, who had the same weaknesses to contend with, the same enemies to combat, as they have, whose triumph is her glory and her crown? The Catholic Church, which has so successfully promoted the civilization of society and the moral regeneration of nations, achieved her triumph by the conversion of those she first drew from darkness. Placed as lights on the rocks of eternity, and shining on us who are yet tossed about on the stormy seas of time, the penitent saints serve us as saving beacons to guide our course during the tempest. Many a feeble soul would have suffered shipwreck had it not taken refuge near those tutelary towers where are suspended the memorial deeds of the sainted heroes whose armor was sackcloth, whose watchword the sigh of repentance poured out in the lonely midnight.
While Augustine was struggling with the attractions of the world which had seduced his warm African heart, whose gilded chains seemed once so light, he animated himself to Christian courage by the examples of virtue which he had seen crowned in the Church triumphant.
“Canst thou not do,” he said to himself, “what these have done? Timid youths and tender maidens have abandoned the deceitful joys of time for the imperishable goods of eternity; canst thou not do likewise? Were these lions, and art thou a timid deer?” Thus this illustrious penitent, who was one of the brightest lights of Christianity, has made known to us the triumph he gained in his internal struggles by the examples of his predecessors in the brave band of penitents who shed a luminous ray on the pitchy darkness of his path.
The life of St. Anthony, written by St. Athanasius, produced such a sensation in the Christian world that the desolate caverns of Thebias were not able to receive all who wished to imitate that holy solitary. Roman matrons were then seen to create for themselves a solitude in the heart of their luxurious capital; offices of the palace, bedizened in purple and gold, deserted the court, amid the rejoicings of a festival, for the date-tree and the brackish rivulets of Upper Egypt!
Where, then, our error in drawing from the archives of the past another beautiful and thrilling tale of repentance which may fall with cheerful rays of encouragement on the soul engaged in the fierce combat with self?
To us the simple, touching story of Alvira has brought a charm and a balm. Seeking to impart to others its interest, its amusement, and its moral, we cast it afloat on the sea of literature, to meet, probably, a premature grave in this age of irreligion and presumptuous denial of the necessities of penance.
Chapter I. Page
Paris One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago . . . . . . 5
The Usurer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
A Mixed Marriage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
A Youth Trained in the Way he should Walk . . . . 18
Our Heroines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
A Secret Revealed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Tears on Earth, Joy in Heaven . . . . . . . . . . 42
Madeleine’s Happy Death . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
One Abyss Invokes Another . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
On the Trail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
The Flight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
Geneva . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
The Secret Societies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
The Freemason’s Home . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
Tragedy in the Mountains . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
A Funeral in the Snow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
An Unwritten Page . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
In Uniform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
Remorse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Naples . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Engagement with Brigands . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
The Morning After the Battle . . . . . . . . . . 156
Return–A Triumph . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
Alvira’s Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
Honor Saved . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
Repentance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190
The Privileges of Holy Souls . . . . . . . . . . 199
A Vision of Purgatory–A Dear One Saved . . . . . 202
Unexpected Meeting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 214
Paris One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago.
“Paris is on fire!” “The Tuileries burnt!” “The Hotel de Ville in ashes!” There are few who do not remember how the world was electrified with the telegrams that a few years ago announced the destruction of the French capital. It was the tragic finale of a disastrous war between rival nations; yet the flames were not sent on high to the neutral heavens to be the beacon of triumph and revenge of a conquering army, but set on fire by its own people, who, in a fanaticism unequalled in the history of nations would see their beautiful city a heap of ashes rather than a flourishing capital in the power of its rightful rulers. Fast were the devouring elements leaping through the palaces and superb public buildings of the city; the petroleum flames were ascending from basement to roof; streets were in sheets of fire; the charred beams were breaking; the walls fell with thundering crash–the empress city was indeed on fire. Like the winds unchained by the storm-god, the passions of men marked their accursed sweep over the fairest city of Europe in torrents of human blood and the wreck of material grandeur.
Those who have visited the superb queen of cities as she once flourished in our days could not, even in imagination, grasp the contrast between Paris of the present and the Paris of two hundred years ago. With a power more destructive than the petroleum of the Commune, we must, in though, sweep away the Tuileries, the boulevards, the Opera-House and superb buildings that surround the Champs Elysees; on their sites we must build old, tottering, ill-shaped houses, six and seven stories high, confining narrow and dirty streets that wind in lanes and alleys into serpentine labyrinths, reeking with filthy odors and noxious vapors. Fill those narrow streets with a lazy, ill-clad people–men in short skirts and clogs, squatting on the steps of antiquated cafes, smoking canes steeped in opium, awaiting the beck of some political firebrand to tear each other to pieces–and in this description you place before the mind’s eye the city some writers have painted as the Paris of two hundred years ago.
But the old city has passed away. Like the fabulous creations we have read of in the tales of childhood, palaces, temples, boulevards, and theatres have sprung up on the site of the antiquated and labyrinthine city. Under the dynasty of the Napoleons the capital was rebuilt with lavish magnificence. Accustomed to gaze on the splendor of the sun, we seldom advert to its real magnificence in our universe; but pour its golden flood on the sightless eyeball, and all language would fail to tell the impression upon the paralyzed soul. Thus, in a minor degree, the emigrant from the southern seas who has been for years amongst the cabins on the outskirts of uncultivated plains, where cities were built of huts, where spireless churches of thatched roof served for the basilicas of divine worship, and where public justice was administered under canvas, is startled and delighted with the refinement and civilization of his more favored fellow-mortal who lives in the French capital.
Paris has been rudely disfigured in the fury of her Communist storm; yet, in the invincible energy of the French character, the people who paid to the conquering nation in fifteen months nine milliards of francs will restore the broken ornaments of the empress city. From the smoking walls and unsightly ruins of bureaux and palaces that wring a tear from the patriot, France will see life restored to the emblem of her greatness, the phoenix-like, will rise on the horizon of time to claim for the future generation her position among the first-rate powers of Europe.
To the old city we must wend our way in thought. Crossing the venerable bridge at Notre Dame, we enter at once the Rue de Seine, where we pause before the bank and residence of Cassier.
At a desk in the office we observe a lowsized, whiskered man. Intelligence beams from a lofty brow; sharp features an aquiline nose tell of Jewish character; his eye glistens and dulls as the heaving heart throbs with its tides of joy and sorrow. Speculation, that glides at times into golden dreams, brightens his whole features with a sunbeam of joy; but suddenly it is clouded. Some unseen intruder casts a baneful shadow on the ungrasped prize; the features of the usurer contract, the hand is clenched, the brow is wrinkled, and woe betide the luckless debtor whose misfortunes would lead him to the banker’s bureau during the eclipse of his good-humor!
Cassier was a banker by name, but in reality dealt in usurious loans, Shylock-like wringing the pound of flesh from the victims of his avarice. He was known and dreaded by all the honest tradesmen of the city; the curse of the orphan and the widow, whom he unfeelingly drove into the streets, followed in his path; the children stopped their games and hid until he passed. That repulsive character which haunts the evil-doers of society marked the aged banker as an object of dread and scorn to his immediate neighbors.
In religion Cassier at first strongly advocated the principles of Lutheranism; but, as is ever the case with those set adrift on the sea of doubt, freed from the anchor of faith, the definite character of his belief was shipwrecked in a confusion of ideas. At length he lapsed into the negative deism of the French infidels, just then commencing to gain ground in France. He joined them, too, in open blasphemies against God and plotting against the stability of the Government. The blood chills at reading some of the awful oaths administered to the partisans of those secret societies. They proposed to war against God, to sweep away all salutary checks against the indulgence of passion, to level the alter and the throne, and advocated the claims of those impious theories that in modern times have found their fullest development in Mormonism and Communism.
Further on we shall find this noxious weed, that flourishes in the vineyards whose hedges are broken down, producing its poisonous fruit. But it was at this period of our history that he became a frequent attendant at their reunions, returning at midnight, half intoxicated, to pour into the horrified ears of his wife and children the issue of the last blasphemous and revolutionary debate that marked the progress and development of their impious tendencies.
No wonder Heaven sent on the Cassier family the curse that forms the thrill of our tragic memoir.
A Mixed Marriage.
The Catholic Church has placed restrictions on unions that are not blessed by Heaven. Benedict XIV. has called them DETESTABLE. A sad experience has proved the wisdom of the warning. When the love that has existed in the blinding fervor of passion has subsided into the realities of every-day life, the bond of nuptial duty will be religion. But the conflict of religious sentiment produces a divided camp.
The offspring must of necessity be of negative faith. When intelligence dawns on the young soul, its first reasoning powers are caught in a dilemma. Reverential and filial awe chains the child to the father and chains it to the mother; but the father may sternly command the Methodist chapel for Sunday service; the mother will wish to see her little one worship before the alters of the Church. Fear or love wins the trusting child, but neither gains a sincere believer.
See that young mother, silent and fretful; the rouge that grief gives the moistened eye tells its own tale of secret weeping.
Trusting, confiding in the power of young love, attracted by the wealth, the family, or the manners of her suitor, she allows the indissoluble tie to bind her in unholy wedlock. Soon the faith she has trifled with assumes its mastery in her repentant heart, but liberty is gone; for the dream of conjugal bliss which dazzled when making her choice, she finds herself plunged for life into the most galling and irremediable of human sorrows–secret domestic persecution. Few brave the trial; the largest number go with the current to the greater evil of apostasy.
Cassier loved a beautiful Catholic girl named Madeleine. Blinded by the stronger passion, he waived religious prejudice. He wooed, he promised, he won. The timid Madeleine, beneath her rich suitor in position, dazzled by wealth, and decoyed by the fair promises that so often deceive the confiding character of girlhood, gave her hand and her heart to a destiny she soon learned to lament.
Fancy had built castles of future enjoyment; dress, ornament, and society waved their fascinating wings over her path. Unacquainted with their shadowy pleasures, her preparations for her nuptials were a dream of joy, too soon to be blasted with the realities of suffering that characterize the union not blessed by Heaven. Amid the music and flowers, amid the congratulations of a thousand admiring friends, with heart and step as light as childhood, Madeleine, like victims, dressed in flowers and gold, led to the alter of Jupiter in the Capitol of old, was conducted from the bridal alter to the sacrifice of her future joy. Story oft told in the vicissitudes of betrayed innocence and in the fate of those who build their happiness in the castles of fancy: like the brilliancy of sunset her moment of pleasure faded; the novelty and tinsel of her gilded home lost their charm, and the virtue of her childhood was wrecked on golden rocks. She no longer went to daily Mass; her visits to the convent became less frequent, her dress lighter; her conversation, toned by the ideas of pride and self-love reflected from the society she moved in, was profane and irreligious; and soon the roses of Christian virtue that bloom in the cheek of innocent maidenhood became sick and withered in the heated, feverish air of perverse influences that tainted her gilded home.
Sixteen years of sorrow and repentance had passed over Madeleine, and found her, at the commencement of our narrative, the victim of consumption and internal anguish, the more keen because the more secret. The outward world believed her happy; many silly maidens, in moments of vanity, deemed they could have gained heaven if they were possessed of Madeleine’s wealth, her jewels, her carriages, her dresses; but were the veils that shroud the hypocrisy of human joy raised for the warning of the uninitiated, many a noble heart like Madeleine’s would show the blight of disappointment, with the thorns thick and sharp under the flowers that are strewn on their path. The sympathy of manhood, ever flung over the couch of suffering beauty, must hover in sighs of regret over the ill-fated Madeleine, whose discolored eye and attenuated form, whose pallid cheek, furrowed by incessant tears, told the wreck of a beautiful girl sinking to an early tomb.
Her children–three in number–cause her deepest anxiety; they are the heroes of our tale, and must at once be introduced to the reader.
A Youth Trained in the Way He Should Walk.
‘Tis a period nowhere to be found
In all the hoary registers of time, Unless, perchance, in the fool’s calendar. Wisdom disdains the word, nor holds society With those who own it.
‘Tis Fancy’s child, and Folly is its father; Wrought of such stuff as dreams are, and as baseless As the fantastic visions of the evening. –Coulton.
Like one of those rare and beautiful flowers found on the mountain- side in fellowship with plants of inferior beauty, the heir of the Cassier family is a strange exception of heroic virtue in the midst of a school of seduction. The saints were never exotics in their own circle. Their early histories are filled with sad records confirming the prophecy of our blessed Lord: “The world will hate you because it loves not me.”
The student of hagiology recalls with a sight the touching fate of a Dympna who was the martyred victim of a father’s impiety; of a Stanislaus pursued by brothers who thirsted for his blood; of a Damian who nearly starved under his stepfather’s cruelty; of martyrs led to the criminal stone for decapitation by inhuman parents.
Louis Marie, the eldest of Cassier’s children, was of a naturally good disposition. Through the solicitations of his mother and the guidance of an unseen Providence that watched over his youth, he was early sent to the care of the Jesuits. Under the direction of the holy and sainted members of this order he soon gave hope of a religious and virtuous manhood. Away from the scoffs of an unbelieving father and the weakening seductions of pleasure, he opened his generous soul to those salutary impressions of virtue which draw the soul to God and enable it to despise the frivolities of life.
The vacation, to other youths a time of pleasure, to Louis was tedious. Though passionately attached to his mother, yet the impious and often blasphemous remarks of his father chilled his heart; the levity with which his sisters ridiculed his piety was very disagreeable; hence, under the guidance of a supernatural call to grace, he longed to be back with the kind fathers, where the quiet joys of study and solitude far outweighed the short-lived excitement called pleasure by his worldly sisters. This religious tendency found at last its consummation in an act of heroic self-denial which leads us to scenes of touching interest on the threshold of this extraordinary historical drama.
At the time our narrative commences Louis was seriously meditating his flight from home and the world to bury himself in some cloister of religion. His studies of philosophy and history had convinced him of the immortality of the soul and the vanity of all human greatness. In his frequent meditations he became more and more attracted towards the only lasting, imperishable Good which the soul will one day find in its possession. “Made for God!” he would say to himself, “my soul is borne with an impetuous impulse towards him; like the dove sent from the ark, it floats over the vast waters, and seeks in vain a resting place for its wearied wing; it must return again to the ark.”
The history of the great ones of the world produced a deep impression on Louis’ mind. Emblazoned on the annals of the past he read the names of great men who played their part for a brief hour on the stage of life. They grasped for a moment the gilded bubble of wealth, of glory, and power; but scarcely had they raised the cup of joy to their lips when it was dashed from them by some stroke of misfortune or death. The pageant of pride, the tinsel of glory, were not more lasting than the fantastic castles that are built in the luminous clouds that hang around the sunset.
At college Louis was called on with his companions to write a thesis on the downfall of Marius. Nothing more congenial to his convictions or more encouraging to the deep resolution growing in his heart could be selected. The picture he drew from the sad history of the conqueror of the Cimbri was long remembered among his school companions.
Marius was seven times Consul of Rome; in the hapless day of his ascendancy he threatened to stain three-fourths of the empire with human blood. Blasted in his golden dream of ambition, driven into exile by victorious enemies, he was cast by a storm on the shores of Africa, homeless and friendless; in cold and hunger he sought shelter amidst the ruins of Carthage. Carthage, whose fallen towers lay in crumbling masses around him, was once the rival city of imperial Rome herself, and, under the able leadership of Hannibal, threatened to wrest from the queen of the Seven Hills the rule of the world. Now its streets are covered with grass; the wild scream of the bird of solitude and the moanings of the night-owl mingle with the sobs of a fallen demigod who once made the earth shake under his tyranny.
Louis read of the facts and sayings that doled out the sad tale of disappointment felt by those who seemed to possess all that the wildest ambition could dream of.
“Yesterday the world was not large enough for him,” said a sage on the death of Alexander the Great; “to-day he is content with six feet of earth.”
“What a miserable tomb is erected to the man that once had temples erected to his honor!” sighed a philosopher on viewing a mean monument on the sea-shore erected to the great Pompey, who could raise armies by stamping his feet.
“This is all the great Saladin brings to the grave,” was announced by a courier who carried the great ruler’s winding-sheet before him to the grave.
“Would I had been a poor lay brother,” cried out the dying Philip II. of Spain, “washing the plates in some obscure monastery, rather than have borne the crown of Spain!”
That which took most effect on the mind of Louis was the eloquence of Ignatius when he met the young Xavier in the streets of Paris. “And then?” asked by another saint of an ambitious youth, did not lose its force with the holy youth who found himself, by some freak of blind fortune heir to one of the millionaires of the French Capital.
Louis, like St. Ignatius, would often stray to a shady corner of the garden, and there, with eyes fixed on the blue vault of heaven, he would sigh: “Oh! quam sordet tellus dum coelum aspicio”–“How vile is earth whilst I look on heaven!”
One evening Louis had wandered into the garden to give full vent to a flood of thought that urged him on to give immediate answer to the calls of grace. God was pleased to pour additional light on his soul; and grace urged the immediate execution of his generous resolutions. That very morning the angry temper of his father and the bitter sarcasms against the faith Louis loved had embittered everything around his home. In tears, but with the fearless ABANDON of the true call, he resolved to quit his father’s home that very night, and to break his purpose to his mother. She was the only one he really loved, and in wounding her tender heart was the hardest part of the sacrifice. In filial deference he prepared his mind to break the matter to his kind-hearted mother as gently as he could. He would submit the resolution to our Blessed Lord in the most Holy Sacrament.
Whilst going out to the venerable church of Notre Dame, a beautiful caleche is at the door, and two young girls, dressed in extravagant richness, are hurrying off to the fashionable rendezvous of the city; mildly refusing the invitation to accompany them, he hastens to accomplish the vows he has just taken before the altar.
Leaving Louis to his devotions, we pause to catch a glimpse of the lovely girls who see happiness in another but less successful manner. The reader must know those interesting children bursting like fragrant flowers into the bloom of their maidenhood; they are the sisters of Louis, Alvira and Aloysia. Read those traits of innocence, of character, of future promise; treasure the beautiful picture for future reference; they are the heroines of our story.
Alvira was tall for her age; she had a graceful, majestic carriage, and, although eminently handsome, there was a something in the tone of her voice and in the impression of her features that reflected a masculine firmness. Accomplished and intelligent, gay in society, and affable to all, she was a general favorite amongst her school companions. Yet she was at times of violent temper, and deep in the recesses of her heart there lurked the germs of the strongest passions. These passions, like lentils, grew with time and crept around that heart, until they concealed the noble trunk they clung to and made it their own. Alvira was often crimsoned with the blush of passion; a gentle rebuke or a contradiction was sufficient to fire the hidden mine and send to the countenance the flash of haughty indignation. Whilst yet in her maidenhood she longed for distinction. Fame leaped before her ardent imagination as a gilded bubble she loved to grasp. Tales of knight-errantry and chivalry were always in her hands, and bore their noxious fruit in the wild dreams of ambition they fired in the girl’s mind. Often, when alone with her sister, with book closed in her hand and eye fixed on some article of furniture, her thoughts would be away winning crowns of fame on battle-fields of her own creation, urging on gallant knights to deeds of bravery, or arranging with humbled foes the terms of peace. She would start from her reverie with a sigh that told of the imprisonment of a bold, ambitious spirit that felt itself destined to wield a needle rather than a sword.
Aloysia is a sweet, blooming girl of fourteen. It often happens that fruits borne on the same stem are different in color and taste; so these two sisters were different in personal appearance and character. Nature seems to have presided in a special manner over the moulding of Aloysia’s exquisite frame. The symmetry of her person, hand and foot of charming delicacy, azure eye and rosy cheek, garlanded with nature’s golden tresses, and the sweet expression of innocence in her features, would suggest her at once as a model for one of Raphael’s Madonnas. Her disposition, too, comported with the beauty of her person. She loved retirement, and read only books of the noblest sentiment. The poets were familiar to her; she copied and committed to memory the passages of exquisite beauty. There was one feature in her character which bore a marked influence on her future destinies: it was her love for her sister.
We do not believe at all times in the genuineness of brotherly or sisterly love. Perhaps familiarity has deadened its keenness. Like the appreciation of the sunlight which rushes with thrilling force on the victim of blindness, separation or misfortune may rouse the dormant affection and prove its nobility and its power; but in our experience manifest fraternal charity is one of those things even the wise man knew to be rare under the sun. Where we have been privileged to look in behind the veil of the family circle, we are more convinced than ever that fraternal affection an all the boasted nobility of sisterly love dwindle down to a series of petty quarrels and jealousies as painful as they are unchristian and unbecoming. The reserve, or rather the hypocrisy of politeness, put on before strangers, is no criterion of the inward domestic life. Some one has said of ladies, “A point yielded or a pardon begged in public means so many hair-pullings behind the scenes.” But this is too sweeping; there are noble, glorious exceptions in families where religion reigns, where fraternal charity finds a congenial soil; for it blooms in the fragrance of the other virtues, and is the first characteristic of a pious family. The world around are told to look for this as a sign by which they are to recognize the disciples of Him who loved so much.
Aloysia, in a true, genuine feeling of love, was bound in adamantine chains to her sister. Time and fortune, that shatter all human institutions and prove human feelings, consolidated the union of their hearts and their destinies. A stranger on stronger proof of the influence of sisterly affection could not be adduced; it dragged the beautiful, blushing Aloysia from the sphere of girlhood, to follow in the track of hypocrisy and of bloodshed so desperately trodden by her brave sister.
Our tale opens when the two girls had finished their education and were living in luxury and enjoyment. The days and hours passed merrily by. They would read in the shade, play and sing on the harp, would paint or work at wool, and in the afternoon, when the burning sun had left the world to the shade of evening, they would drive out in a magnificent attelage to the fashionable rendezvous of Paris.
Dream too bright to last! On the horizon is gathering the dark cloud that will dim the sunlight of their bliss, and cause them, in the dark and trying hour of trouble, to look back with the sigh of regret over the brilliant hours of youthful enjoyment.
A Secret Revealed.
I thought to pass away before, and yet alive I am; And in the fields all round I hear the bleating of the lamb. How sadly, I remember, rose the morning of the year! To die before the snow-drop came, and now the violet’s here.
Oh! sweet is the new violet that comes beneath the skies And sweeter is the young lamb’s voice to me that cannot rise; And sweet is all the land about, and all the flowers that blow; And sweeter far is death than life to me that long to go.
It was a bright, cheerful morning in June. The sinking, feeble Madeleine had requested her domestics to carry her to the conservatory, that she might gaze again on the flowers that were soon to blossom on her grave. Death had lingered in his approach. The gay, the ambitious, and healthy he had taken all too soon; but for Madeleine, WHO LONGED TO GO, he tarried. Her little violets had already given their first fragrant kiss to breezes that passed with no mournful cadence through the cypresses of the lonely cemetery. Crumbling in her hand a faded rose, she breathed the thought so beautifully versified in after-times by the immortal bard of Erin:
So soon may I follow
When friendships decay,
And from love’s shining circle The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie withered
And fond ones are flown,
Oh! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone?
The sentiment was prophetic: other flowers of affection will be withered by the vicissitudes of destiny; fond ones will flee, leaving the world a wilderness for her last hours!
It often happens in the course of life that we are driven by some inexplicable fatality to suffer those very afflictions we dread the most. We are told of persons who trembled for a lifetime at the horrid anticipation of being one day mad; it was the shadow of the judgement that was creeping on them, which cast them finally amongst the victims of the lunatic asylum. The suicide is the prophet of his own doom; the presentiment of death by drowning has but too often ended in a watery grave. Perhaps where the fibres of the heart are weakest, the strain brought on them by excited fancy snaps them in the misfortune that is dreaded; or perhaps some unseen spirit, charged with the decree of our individual sorrow, casts the dark shadow of his wing over our thoughts, and communicates the gloomy foreboding of a presentiment. They dying mother had one of these heart-tearing presentiments, so frequent and so mysterious in the history of human suffering.
She was guilty of a species of maternal idolatry; centered in her child Louis Marie as rays gathered up into a focus, were all her hopes, her aspirations, her ideas of the future. If she could be assured she would live to see her son leading the armies of the empire, ruling in the cabinets of state or worshipped in the circles of the great and learned, Heaven itself could not build up a greater joy in the limited horizon of her hopes; but an awful conviction crept over her that some misfortune would tear from her the object of her love like the fruit torn from the stem, like the young branch from the oak. In dreams she saw him struggling in the torrent which bore him away, or dragged to the hills at the feet of a wild horse. More than once she saw him on board a Government vessel, sailing with the hapless children of guilt to the convict settlements of southern seas–not as a felon, but an angel of light amongst the condemned.’
Whilst Madeleine was sitting in the conservatory, musing over the gloomy anticipations her dreams had cast over her thoughts, Louis Marie came towards her. A beam of joy lit up her hectic cheek; she impressed a kiss on the forehead of her darling son, and playfully reproved him for the dreams that gave her so much trouble.
“Mother,” we fancy we hear Louis reply, “you would not surely give much credence to the imaginary evils of a dream. You know nothing can happen to us except by the arrangement of God; not even a hair can fall to the ground without his permission. I remember in college I was very much delighted with a thesis one of the fathers gave us on the Providence of God; it was so strange and so consoling to think that great Being who created so many millions of worlds, and keeps them flying around him with immense velocity, could occupy himself with us human beings, who are no more than insects moving on this world, which is but a speck in the immensity of the universe. But I know how it is–our souls are immortal, and hence we must soar higher than the countless worlds, were they ten times as great. Our blessed Lord, by coming amongst us and dying to save those souls, showed us that he thought more of us than of the bird of the air or the lily of the field, clothed in such charming magnificence. Is it unreasonable that, since he has given to each star a course, to each lily and each bird a time and a clime, he should also determine for us the course we should follow for his greater glory? And what, mother, if some unseen, invisible destiny should really call me away; if it were for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, would you not rejoice?
Madeleine paused for a moment before venturing a reply. She trembled; a struggle between affection and duty passed within. Pleased with the rich flow of virtuous sentiment that made her still more proud of her child, she had caught the end of a golden thread and wished to unravel it further, but feared it would be snapped by some unpleasant discovery. Full of excitement, and her eyes filled with a penetrating, enquiring gaze upon Louis, she answered:
“Louis, I should be false to the lessons I have endeavored to teach you in these last fleeting hours of my ill-spent life, were I not to rejoice in any destiny that would wrap up your future career in the glory of God; but I fear the enthusiasm of your young heart will misguide you. I know, from the serious tone of your voice and look in asking that question, you have been feeling your way to make some crushing disclosure. I saw you crying in the garden this afternoon, and for some time past I have noticed a cloud of anxiety hanging over you. I had determined the first moment we were alone to know the cause of this trouble; and I now conjure you, by the affection and duty which you owe me as your mother, to let me share in your anxieties and in your councils.”
Louis had really come to broach the terrible secret to his mother, but he had not yet courage; he struggled manfully to suppress internal motions that might at any moment, like sullen rivers, overflow and betray their existence in a flood of tears. Fearing to venture suddenly on the subject that was fullest in his heart, he partly evaded his mother’s energetic appeal, and made such a reply as would elicit from her quick perception the declaration that trembled on his lips.
“If war were declared with our frontier foes, and our beloved King commanded the youth of the country to gird on the sword for our national defence, you, mother, would help me to buckle on mine?”
“Yes, Louis, I would give you proudly to the cause of France,” continued Madeleine, feigning a patriotism she scarcely felt. “But, thanks be to God, I am not called on now to claim an honor that is at best a sacrifice and a calamity.”
“But, mother, the war is declared, and I am to be a soldier in a sacred cause.”
“How!” cried Madeleine excitedly. “Are the followers of the Black Prince again attacking us? The Turks seeking revenge for the defeat of Lepanto? or Christian Spain still intoxicated with its own dream of ambition? Whence come the sound of arms, Louis, to fire thy young ambition? If I judge rightly, thy disposition leads thee more to the cloister than to the battle-field.”
“‘Tis so,” replied Louis, who had adroitly brought the conversation to the subject that occupied his thoughts, and to the announcement that would ring with such thrill on his mother’s ears. “And I am going to join a religious community immediately, to become a soldier in the great war of right against wrong–of this world against the next. To this war the trumpet-calls of grace have summoned me, and I come to ask the mother who would give me to the cause of my country to do the same for Almighty God.”
A step was heard outside. Louis glided into the garden, and Madeleine was again found by her husband buried in tears.
Tears on Earth, Joy in Heaven.
Madeleine, with all the keenness of her maternal heart, had caught the dift of Louis’ mind, and felt the disclosure before it was made. A rough, rude remark from Cassier, and he left her to the silence and reflection she then vehemently desired. Reflection, in bringing before her a beautiful but sad picture, crumbled before her mental vision the castles that her affection and her hopes had built on the shadowy basis of Louis’ future temporal glory. She felt, however, from the inspiration of faith a feeling of spiritual joy that he was called to the higher destiny of a favorite of Heaven. Had the fire of divine love glowed more fervently in her heart, she would feel the joy of ecstasy, such as consoled the death-bled of the mothers of the saints when the revelation of the sanctity of their children was the last crown of earthly joy. Anticipating the privilege the fond maternal heart would fain claim even in the kingdom free from all care, Madeleine often found herself contemplating her son fighting the brave fight, winning crown upon crown, and virtue flinging around him a shield more impenetrable than the fabulous Aegis of pagan mythology.
In the flippant boastings of Christian mothers there are many who pretend they have the fire of faith and divine love like the brave Machabean woman; but when the sore hour of real separation comes, the soft, loving heart bends and weeps. Nature, corrupt nature, resists the arrangements of God, and nature triumphs in the maternal tie. The spirit of Madeleine had made the sacrifice of her son, but the rude hand of nature swept the fibres of her heart and tore them asunder.
Night has gathered around the house of Cassier. Sleep has brought the silence of the tomb on the inmates. One alone is awake; gentle sobs tell of a heart struggling with its own desires, but a faint ray of moonlight shows him seeking strength on his knees before a crucifix.
Guide him, ye angels, in the sublime destiny to which Heaven calls! Treasure up those tears of affection; they are pearls for a crown in eternity! A long, farewell look at the old homestead, and Louis has fled.
In the night, when all were asleep, he stole down-stairs and into the silent street. The moon brightened the tears of his farewell; only his guardian angel saw to register for his eternal crown, the inward struggle in which he had trampled on every tie of affection and pleasure. Disappearing in the narrow streets, he disappears also from the pages of our narrative until, in the extraordinary vicissitudes of time, he makes his appearance again in a scene both touching and edifying.
The morning dawn revealed the broken circle, the vacant chair in the family. Cassier was confused. Whilst others wept he moved about in deep thought. Stoic in his feelings and hardened in sympathies, he still felt all the tender anxieties of an affectionate parent. There are moments in the career of even the greatest sinners when sleeping conscience is roused to remorse. The shock the old man received in the loss of his amiable child opened his eyes to the unhappy state of his own soul; every act of ridicule he cast on the religious tendencies of Louis became arrows of memory to sting him with regret.
But these were transient moments of a better light. As meteors, darting across the sky, illumine for a few seconds the dark vault of heaven, and in the sudden exit of their brilliant flash seem to leave greater darkness in the night, thus the impulses of grace shot across the soul of Cassier; he struggled in the grasp of an unseen power, but suddenly lapsed into the awful callousness which characterizes the relapses of confirmed guilt; he pretended to smile at his weakness, and found a sorry relief in cursing and scoffing at everything the virtuous love.
Yet he offered immense rewards for information that would bring him in presence of the boy whose form he loved, but whose virtue he despised. Like the pagan persecutors of old, he vainly hoped, by fear or the tinsel of gold, to win back to the world and sin the magnanimous youth who had broken through the stronger argument of a mother’s tears. Messengers were dispatched in every direction; the police scoured the roads for miles outside the city; friends and acquaintances were warned not to harbor the truant.
A week passed, and no cheerful tidings came to lessen the gloom of bereavement. That Providence which made Louis a vessel of election had covered him with its protective shield, and bore him like a vessel under propitious winds to the port of his destination.
In all the soft tenderness of girlhood the two sisters lamented their absconding brother. They, too, had been unkind to him. The sweet, patient smile that ever met their taunts, the mild reproof when they concealed his beads or prayer-book, his willingness to oblige on all occasions, were remembered with tears. When sitting by the mother’s bed, the conversation invariably turned on Louis. In cruel fancy they deepened the real sorrow of separation by casting imaginary misfortunes on the track of the absent boy. One would sigh with the ominous PERHAPS.
“Poor Louis is now hungry!”
“Perhaps he is now lying sick and footsore on the side of some highway, without a friend, without money.”
“Perhaps he has fallen in with robbers and is stripped of the few articles of dress he took with him.”
“Perhaps he is now sorry for leaving us,” sighed the tender-hearted Aloysia, “and would give the world to kiss again his poor sick mamma!”
But futile tears flowed with each surmise. No welcome messenger returned to bring tidings of the missing youth.
‘Tis thus we love virtue; we sigh over departed worth when its brilliancy has faded from our sight.
Madeleine’s Happy Death.
Troubles, like migratory birds, never travel alone. As heavier billows cling together and roll in rapid succession and in thundering force on the rock-built barriers of nature, so the waves of trial and misfortune break on frail humanity in crushing proximity. The second and third billows of misfortune are fast undulating on the tide of time, and will sweep over the home of Cassier, leaving it a miserable wreck, a theme for the sympathy and the moral of a historian’s pen.
The weakened, consumptive frame of Madeleine did not long survive the blow that Louis had prepared for her–not, indeed, in the sense of a guilty and blood-stained hand, but with the merit of an Abraham who, at the command of Heaven, prepared a funeral pyre for his child. Madeleine could scarcely weep; the grief of nature was calmed by the impulses of grace, and she felt in her heart a holy joy in the sublime destinies of her son. Could we, in the face of the holy teachings of the Church, institute a comparison between the mother of the soldier and the mother of a priest? Amidst sighs that were but the convulsive throes of a heart’s emotion, she breathed often and aloud the “Deo gratias” of the faithful soul.
But like certain forces in nature that require but the slightest shock to give them irresistible power, by which they burst through their confining cells and set themselves free, the immortal spirit of Madeleine burst its prison cell and soared to its home beyond the skies.
We need not tarry over the painful, touching scene oft-told, and felt sooner or later in every home. Like snow disappearing under the sunshine, the life of Madeleine was fast melting away. At length, as if she knew when the absorbing heat would melt the last crystal of the vital principle, she summoned her family around her to wish them that last thrilling farewell which is never erased from the tablet of memory. In the farewell of the emigrant, torn by cruel fate from country and friends, hope smiles in his tears; the fortune that drives away can bring back; but the farewell of death leaves no fissure in its cloud for the gleam of hope–it is final, terrible, and, on this side the grave, irrevocable.
With faltering voice she doled out the last terrible warning that speaks so eloquently from the bed of death.
Whilst the aged priest recited the Litanies she raised her last, dying looks towards heaven, and whispered loud enough to be heard, “O Mary! pray for my children.”
Madeleine was no more. Her last sigh was a prayer that went like lightning to the throne of God from a repentant, reconciled spirit; at the same moment her liberated soul had travelled the vast gulf between time and eternity, and there, in the books held by the guardian angels of her children, she saw registered the answer to her prayer.
Madeleine was laid in a marble tomb amongst the first occupants of Pere la Chaise. A small but artistic monument, still extant, and not far from the famous tomb of Abelard and Eloise, would point out to the curious or interested where sleeps among the great of the past the much-loved Madeleine Cassier.
“God’s peace be with her!” they did say, And laughed at their next breath.
O busy world! how poor is thy display Of sympathy with death.
One Abyss Invokes Another.
In times gone by, in the so-called darkness of the Middle Ages, there were certain countries in Europe that believed in the existence of a fiend or ghoul that inhabited lonely places and unfrequented woods, and tore to pieces the imprudent traveller that ventured on its path. This fiend of the desert and lonely wood was at best but a fabrication of an excited fancy; it has long since passed away with the myths of the past, and exists only in the nursery rhymes of our literature. Yet in its place a malignant spirit of evil revels in the ruin of the human race; it delights in the crowd; it loves the gaslight, the lascivious song and wanton dance; it presides over our convivial banquets with brow crowned with ivy and faded roses; whilst all the unholy delights of earth sacrifice to it, in return it scatters amongst its adorers all the ills and sorrows that flow from the curse of Eden, making a libation to the infernal gods of the honor, the fortune, and the lives of men. The ghoul or fiend of modern society is the demon of alcohol.
History records a remarkable victim in the ill fated Cassier. When grief falls on the irreligious soul, it seeks relief in crime. The shadow of death that fell on his family circle, and the flight of his son in daring forgetfulness of his parental authority, which he had overrated, broke the last link of Christian forbearance in his unbelieving heart; when wearied of blaspheming the providence of God, he quaffed the fatal cup which hell gives as a balm to its sorrow- stricken votaries.
A cloud of oblivion must hide from the tender gaze of the young and the innocent the harrowing scenes that brought misery on his home, ruin on his financial condition, and a deeper hue to the moral depravity of his blighted character.
One look of sympathy at our young heroines, and we will pass on to the thrilling course of events.
Like beautiful yachts on a stormy lake, without pilot, without hands to steady the white sail to catch the favorable wind, Alvira and Aloysia were tossed on a sea of trial which cast a baneful shadow over their future destinies. Tears had cast the halo of their own peculiar beauty over their delicate features; mourning and sombre costume wrapt around them the gravity of sorrow and the adulation of a universal sympathy, pretended or real, supplied the attentions that flattered and pleased when they led the giddy world of fashion. The silence of grief hung around the magnificent saloons, once so gay; the wardrobe that contained the costly apparel, the casket that treasured the pearls of Ceylon and gems of Golconda, were all closed and neglected. The treatment of their father was an agony of domestic trouble, in which they were tried as in a furnace.
A few weeks, however, and the darkest hour of the storm had passed. Moments of relaxation brought beams of sunlight through the dissolving beams of sunlight through the dissolving clouds; drives, walks, and even visits were gradually resumed.
A fit of illness brought Cassier to his senses. A forced abstinence for a few weeks saved him from the last and most terrible lot of confirmed drunkenness; but ruin was written with his own hand on the firm that made him wealthy. Quick-footed rumor, that hates the well- being of man, was abroad at its deadly work; public confidence in the bank began to wane, and each depositor lent the weight of his individual interest to accelerate the financial crash. The stone set in motion down the mountain assumes a force that no power could stay; on it will go until it rests in the plain From the eminence of his boasted wealth the usurer found this turn come to whirl around on the wheel of fortune and yield to some other mortal, who is the toy of fortune, to grasp for a moment the golden key of avarice and ambition.
At length the crash has come. One of the largest depositors sends notice that in a week he will withdraw his funds.
Cassier saw ruin staring him in the face; when this sum was paid he would be a pauper. He would not dig, and in the pride of his heart he would not beg. Conscience, long seared in the path of impiety, has no voice to warn, no staff to strike. Cassier, wise in his generation of dishonesty, knows what he will do, and nerves himself for a desperate undertaking which leads us deeper and deeper into the history of crime, into the abysses of iniquity which invoke each other.
In a few days Paris is startled. Cassier has fled, and robbed his creditors of a million francs.
On the Trail.
Evening has fallen over the city, and the busy turmoil of the streets had ceased; the laborer had repaired to his family, the wealthy had gone to their suburban villas, and licentious youth had sought the amusements over which darkness draws its veil. Politicians, newsmongers, and travellers made the cafe salons ring with their animated discussions. The policy of the Prime Minister, the probabilities of war, the royal sports of Versailles, and daring deeds of crime gathered from the police reports were inexhaustive topics for debate.
In one of the popular cafes there was a small gathering of men threatening vengeance on the delinquent Cassier; they had more or less suffered from his robbery, and they listened with avidity to every rumor that might lead to the probability of his capture. Amongst them there was an aged man of grayish beard, who was particularly loud and zealous in his condemnation of the dishonest banker. He railed against the Government, which, he said, was priest-ridden under the whip of Mazarin; the imbecility of the police; and the apathy of the citizens, who bore so peaceably such glaring acts of injustice and imposition. He poured out a volume of calumny against the priesthood, and blasphemed so as to cast a chill of terror through his less impious hearers.
He was suddenly stopped in his harangue by the entrance of a stranger in the coffee-room. He was a tall, thin man, wrapped in an over-cloak; he paced majestically across the room, and took a seat opposite the old man, who had suddenly become silent and was busily occupied reading the criminal bulletin. Over the edges of his paper the old man took a furtive glance at the stranger; their eyes met; a recognition followed, but as silent and as deep as with the criminal and the Masonic judge.
The old man rang the bell, and called for writing materials. He hastily scribbled a few words, closed, sealed the letter, then bade the waiter take it to his eldest son, who had retired to his apartments. He immediately took his hat and went out.
“Who is that old man?” asked the tall stranger, rising and advancing excitedly towards the waiter.
“That’s Senor Pereira from Cadiz,” retorted the waiter.
“Senor Pereira from Cadiz!” repeated the stranger. “No,” he continued emphatically; “he is Senor Cassier from Paris.”
“Cassier!” was muttered by the astounded debaters who had listened to the vituperative philippics of the Portuguese merchant.
“Cassier!” was echoed from the furthest end of the salon, where some quiet and peaceful citizens were sipping their coffee and rum apart from the stormy politics of the centre-table.
Whilst an animated conversation was carried on two young lads came running down-stairs and rushed into the street through the front door.
“Who are those young men?” asked again the stranger of the waiter.
“They are the sons of Senor Pereira,” was the answer.
“The sons of Pereira! They are the daughters of Cassier!” said the stranger in a loud voice, who had now become the hero of the room and had penetrated a deep and clever plot.
He ran to the street, but the fugitives had disappeared in the darkness; their gentle tread was not heard on the pavement, and no observer was near to indicate the course they had taken. The whole scheme of Cassier’s bold disguise flashed with unerring conviction on the stranger’s mind–the voice, the eye, the gait were Cassier’s. He was familiar with the family, and in the hurried glance he got of the youths rushing by the saloon door he thought he recognized the contour of Alvira’s beautiful face. He hastened to communicate his startling discovery to the Superintendent of the Police, and the city was once more in a state of excitement.
The sensation caused by the startling failure and embezzlement of the wealthy banker had scarcely subsided when the city rang with the news of his clever disguise and daring escape. Angry Justice, foiled in her revenge, lashed herself to rage, and moaned her defeat like the forest queen robbed of her young. The Government feared the popular cry, and proved its zeal by offering immense rewards for the arrest of the delinquent banker. The country around the city was guarded, every suspicious vehicle examined, and strangers ran the risk of being mobbed before they could prove their identity. False rumors now and then ran through the city, raising and quelling the passions like a tide. At one time the culprit is caught and safely lodged in the Bastile; at another he is as free as the deer on the plains. Cassier did escape, but some incidents of the chase were perilous and exciting.
Travelling in those days was slow and difficult. The giant steam- engines that now sweep over hills and torrents with a speed that rivals the swoop of the sea-bird were unknown. The rickety old diligence or stage-coach was only found on the principal thoroughfares between the large cities.
Cassier knew these roads would be the first taken in pursuit, and carefully avoided them. Seeking a destination where the chances of detection would be lessened, he was attracted towards Geneva, already famous as the hot-bed of secret societies and the rallying-point of infidelity. He would reach it by a circuitous route. From Paris to the historic old capital of Switzerland, in the centre of mountains and the heart of Europe, was a herculean journey for the fugitives.
On they went for two and three days’ journey, stopping at humble inns on the roadside where the news of the capital had not reached. Time inured them to danger and calmed the fever of anxiety consequent upon their hurried and hazardous flight.
But the avenging law had followed in close pursuit. The officers of the Government were directed from village to village; they found themselves on the track of an old man and two beardless youths in naval cadet costume. The chase became exciting. Wealth and fame awaited their capture.
One evening, in the glow of a magnificent sunset, Cassier and his daughters were wending their way along one of the picturesque roads of the Cote d’Or. They were on the slope of a shady mountain, and through a vista of green foliage they could see the road they had passed for miles in the distance. The silence of the mountainside was unbroken, save by the music of wild birds and the roar of a torrent that leaped through the moss-covered rocks towards the valley. The wild flowers gave aromatic sweetness to the mountain-breeze, and the orb of day, slowly sinking in a bank of luminous crimson clouds in the distant horizon, made the scene all that could be painted by the most brilliant fancy. Our young heroines gave frequent expression to their delight, but their aged sire was silent and watchful. He frequently took long and piercing looks on the road he had passed. Anxiety mantled on his wrinkled brow; a foreboding of danger cast its prophetic gloom over his spirits.
Suddenly he turned from a long, fixed look through the trees, and with a thrill of alarm cried out: “They are coming!”
For a moment he gave the jaded horses the whip. He refused any further information to the terrified girls; he bit his lip, drew his sword close to him, and prepared for a struggle; for he had resolved to die rather than go back a prisoner to Paris.
The pursuers were each moment gaining ground; the costume of the gendarmes was discernible as they galloped in a cloud of dust along the plain. The hill was long and heavy before the wearied horses of Cassier. He saw flight was vain; stratagem must come to his aid in the emergency.
At this moment he came to a turn in the mountain road where the trees were thicker and the shade more dense. Like a skilful general in the critical moment when victory and defeat hang, as it were, on the cast of a die, he conceived instantaneously the plan of a desperate expedient. He drew up his horses and bade his trembling children await his return.
Returning a few paces he secreted himself behind an oak-tree and calmly awaited the arrival of the Government officers.
Soon the clatter of the galloping horses was heard in the distance. The wild scream of startled birds resounded through the groves; the sun seemed to glow in a deeper crimson, the breezes sighed a mournful cadence through the waving foliage. On the troopers came up the side of the hill. Cassier had counted them–they are but two; despair has lent courage to his heart, and will give a giant stroke to his aged arm.
At the sight of the suspected caleche drawn up in the shady road, one of the pursuing officers gave spurs to his horse, and flew out before his companion to seize the prey–to be the first captor of the delinquent fugitive. Fatal indiscretion! Plunging along at desperate speed, and dreaming of gold and renown, the burnished sword of Cassier took his horse on the flank. Its rider fell to the earth; before he had seen his enemy, the sword of Cassier had pierced his heart.
A scream from the carriage announced that the scene had been witnessed by tender girls who had not been accustomed to deeds of violence and bloodshed. But the combat has now but commenced. The battle of the Horatii and Curatii, on which an empire depended, was not more fierce.
The second gendarme saw the fate of his companion; he reined his horse, dismounted, and came with drawn sword to meet the Parisian banker, who had now become a mountain bandit.
When Greek met Greek in the days of old, the earth trembled. Never was more equal or deadly fight. Cassier had learned the sword exercise in his youth as a useful art; the police officer was a swordsman from profession. For a moment sparks flew from the whirling, burnished blades. The silence of deep resolve wrapt the features of the combatant in fierce rigidity. Again and again they struck and parried, struck and parried, until wearied nature gave feeble response to the maddened soul. The aged Cassier felt, from his age and fatigue, about to succumb; gathering all his strength for a desperate effort, he threw his weight into a well-measured shoulder stroke, when, lo! his antagonist’s sword flew in pieces–the brave gendarme fell weltering in the blood of his murdered companion.
All is still again. The sun has gone down in murky splendor, the birds are silent, and the solitude of the wild mountain-pass is like the night, that is darker after the flash of the meteor. The hapless but brave soldiers of justice lie in their armor on the field of battle; the fresh blood gurgles from the gaping wounds, and the madness of defeat is fiercely stamped on their bronzed features; one holds in death-grasp the unsheathed sword he had not time to wield, the other sill stares with open eye on the broken blade that proved his ruin.
A heavy splash and a crimson streak in the foam announce that the torrent has become the grave of the fallen police; the road, steeped with blood, is covered with fresh earth; the scene that witnessed the tragedy is fair and beautiful as before. Cassier, reassured, with bold step and pulse of pride, turns towards his conveyance to resume his journey.
Aloysia was just recovering from a fainting fit, and her sister had labored to restore her during the exciting moments of the deadly strife that had just been concluded. Neither of them saw the perilous situation of their father, and were thus saved the shock the extremity of his peril was calculated to have produced.
A few days found them safely across the frontiers of France, threading the passes of the Alps, and away from the grasp of justice, that pursued them in vain.
As the wearied stag that has eluded the chasing dogs rests in safety in the covert of its native mountains, our fugitives at length breathed freely in the beautiful city of Geneva. Wild and grand as had been the scenery they passed through, the excitement of the flight and the fear of seizure had, to them, robbed nature of her charms. Ever and anon, indeed, they had looked around with searching eyes, but not to gaze in rapture on the snow-capped mountains, the green valleys, and crystal streams; it was rather to peer along the road they had passed, to see if any speck on the horizon would indicate the pursuing horses of the gendarmes. But now for the first time the magnificence of the Alpine scenery and the charm of the lovely queen of the Swiss valleys burst on their view. Mont Blanc, already seen from the north, seemed to lift its snowy drapery higher into the blue sky, and stood out more majestic in its crystallized peaks when seen from the bridges of the Rhone. Another firmament was seen through the clear azure water of the beautiful lake; and although the air was cold and fresh in the icy chill of the mountains, and nature stripped of her green, yet our young heroines were charmed with their first view of the city, and rejoiced in the prospect of a long sojourn.
There are few spots in the world where the lovers of the sublimities of nature can drink in such visual feasts as at Geneva. Since railways have shortened distance and cut through mountains, there is no more fashionable rendezvous for the world of art than the suburbs of the Swiss capital. During the summer months every little nook on the surrounding mountain-sides is occupied by artists of every sex and of every nation. What juvenile album is complete without a sketch of Mont Blanc? The old mountain stands out in its eternal majesty as a vision of awful beauty for old and young; and many a noble soul has been borne from the contemplation of the grandeur of nature to study in awe the greatness of Him “who makes mountains his footstools.” The artificial beauties of the modern Geneva far surpass the old; yet those mountains, those peaks and snows and lakes, were always there. It was known to Constantine, and crept into importance and worth in proportion as science and art were developed in the civilization of Europe.
At the time we write the beautiful Swiss capital was one of the principal seats of learning in Europe. But, alas! its literature was blasted by the false principles of the Reformation. Like marble cenotaphs that have corruption within, Geneva, clothed with all the beauties of nature and art, was rotten to the core in her moral and religious character. She became the mother of heresiarchs, the theatre of infidelity, and by her press and preaching scattered far and wide the wildest theories of deism and unbelief. All the secret societies of the world were represented in her lodges, and within her walls, were gathered men of desparate and socialistic politics who had sworn to overturn as far as they could the authority of society, to despise the rights of property, and to trample on the laws of order. There was no city in the world guilty of more blasphemy than this beautiful Geneva; and even to this day, as the sins of fathers descend to their children, the teachings of Calvin, of Bayle, and of Servetus hang like a chronic curse over the city to warp every noble feeling of Christian virtue.
Amongst the leaders of the secret societies, amongst the socialists who plot the ruin of their fellow-citizens, and amongst the infidels who blasphemously ridicule the mysteries of Christianity, we must now seek the unfortunate Cassier, who has arrived in Geneva.
The Secret Societies.
To outsiders Masonry is a mystery. When Masons speak or write of themselves they give the world to understand the are but a harmless union for mutual benefit, and for the promotion of works of benevolence. That such is the belief of many individuals in the lower grades of Masonry, and even of some lodges amongst the thousands scattered over the face of the earth, we have no doubt; but that charity in its varied branches has been either the teaching or the fact amongst the great bulk of Freemasons during the last two hundred years we unhesitatingly deny.
In the ceremony of making a master-mason, and in a dark room, with a coffin in the centre covered with a pall, the brethren standing around in attitudes denoting grief and sorrow, the mysterious official who has the privilege of three stars before his name gives the aspirant this interesting history of the origin and aim of his office.
“Over the workmen who were building the temple erected by Solomon’s orders there presided Adoniram. There were about 3,000 workmen. That each one might receive his due, Adoniram divided them into three classes–apprentices, fellow-craftsmen, and masters. He entrusted each class with a word, signs, and a grip by which they might be recognized. Each class was to preserve the greatest secrecy as to these signs and words. Three of the fellow-crafts, wishing to know the word of the master, and by that means obtain his salary, hid themselves in the temple, and each posted himself at a different gate. At the usual time when Adoniram came to shut the gates of the temple, the first of the three fellow-crafts met him, and demanded the word of the masters. Adoniram refused to give it, and received a violent blow with a stick on the head. He flies to another gate, is met, challenged, and treated in a similar manner by the second. Flying to the third door, he is killed by the fellow-craft posted there on his refusing to betray the word. His assassins bury him under a heap of ruins, and mark the spot with a branch of acacia.
“Adoniram’s absence gives great uneasiness to Solomon and the masters. He is sought for everywhere; at length one of the masters discovers a corpse, ad, taking it by the finger, the finger parts from the hand; he takes it by the wrist, and it parts from the arm; when the master in astonishment, cries out ‘Mac Benac,’ which the craft interprets by the words, ‘The flesh parts from the bones.'”
The history finished, the adept is informed that the object of the degree which he has just received is to recover the word lost by the death of Adoniram, and to revenge this martyr of the Masonic secrecy.
Thousands of years have rolled over since the alleged death of the clerk of works at Solomon’s temple, and if the streams of human blood that his would-be avengers have caused to flow have not satiated this blood-thirsty shade, those that Masons, Communists, Internationals, and other secret societies will yet cause to flow in the cities of Europe will surely avenge the ill fated Adoniram.
It is also asserted by some Masons of strong powers of imagination that they take their origin from the Eleusinian Mysteries. These were pagan orgies attached to some Grecian temples. Surrounded by mysterious ceremonies and symbols, and supported by every mythical and allegorical illusion that could inspire awe or confidence, these mysteries were very popular amongst the Greeks.
“The mysteries of Eleusis,” says the profound German mythologist, Creuzer, “did not only teach resignation, but, as we see by the verses of Homer to Ceres sung on those occasions, they afforded consoling promises of a better futurity. ‘Happy is the mortal,’ it is said there, ‘who hath been able to contemplate these grand scenes! But he who hath not taken part in these holy ceremonies is fore ever deprived of a like lot, even when death has drawn him down into its gloomy abodes.'”
Harmless and absurd as these mysteries were in the commencement, they afterwards lapsed into all the immoralities of pagan worship. But to give such a remote, and even such a noble, origin to the frivolous deism of modern Masonry is about as absurd as to say that men were at one time all monkeys.
The truth is, Freemasonry was never heard of until the latter part of the Middle Ages. It found its infancy among the works of the great cathedral of Strasburg. Erwin of Steinbach, the leading architect employed in the erection of this beautiful and stupendous work of architectural beauty, called around him other noted men from the different cities of Germany, Switzerland, and France; he formed the first lodge. The members became deputies for the formation of lodges in other cities, and thus in 1459 the heads of these lodges assembled at Ratisbon, and drew up their Act of Incorporation, which instituted in perpetuity the lodge of Strasburg as the chief lodge, and its president as the Grand Master of the Freemasons of Germany.
The masters, journeymen, and apprentices formed a corporation having special jurisdiction in different localities. In order not to be confounded with the vulgar mechanics who could only use the hammer and the trowel, the Freemasons invented signs of mutual recognition and certain ceremonies of initiation. A traditionary secret was handed down, revealed to the initiated, and that only according to the degrees they had attained. they adopted for symbols the square, the level, the compass, and the hammer. In some lodges and in higher grades (for they differ almost in every nation) we find the Bible, compass, and square only. But the Bible given to the aspirant he is to understand he is to acknowledge no other law but that of Adam–the law which Almighty god had engraved on his heart, and which is called the law of nature (thereby rejecting the laws of the Church and society). The compass recalls to his mind that God is the central point of everything, from which everything is equally distant, and to which everything is equally near. By the square he is to learn that God made everything equal. The drift of these symbolic explanations is obvious.
In the ceremonies of initiation into the various degrees everything was devised that could strike the imagination, awaken curiosity, or excite terror. The awful oath that has been administered in some Continental lodges would send a thrill of horror through every right- minded person, whilst the lugubrious ceremonies the aspirant has to pass elicit a smile–such, for instance, of leading the young Mason with bandaged eyes around the inner temple, and in the higher grades presenting him with a dagger, which he is to plunge into a manikin stuffed with bladders full of blood, and declare that thus he will be avenged of the death of Adoniram! Then he is instructed in the code of secret signals by which he can recognize a brother on the street, on the bench, or on the field of battle. Carousing till midnight is a befitting finale to the proceedings of the lodge.
The doctrines or religious code of the Masons are, as their symbols indicate, deistic and anti-Christian. They openly shake off the control of all religion, and pretend to be in possession of a secret to make men better and happier than Christ, his apostles, and his Church have made them or can make them. “The pretension,” says Professor Robertson, “is monstrous!”
How is this exoteric teaching consistent with the full and final revelation of divine truths? If in the deep midnight of heathenism the sage had been justified in seeking in the mysteries of Eleusis for a keener apprehension of the truths of primitive religion, how does this justify the Mason, in the midday effulgence of Christianity, in telling mankind he has a wonderful secret for advancing them in virtue and happiness–a secret unknown to the incarnate God, and to the Church with which he has promised the Paraclete should abide for ever? And even the Protestant, who rejects the teaching of that unerring Church, if he admits Christianity to be a final revelation, must scout the pretensions of a society that claims the possession of moral truths unknown to the Christian religion.
Whatever may have been the original cast of the religious views of the Masonic order, it is certain in its development it has become impious and blaspheming. In the latter part of the seventeenth century the Masonic lodges were the hot-beds of sedition and revolution; and long before the popes from their high watch-tower of the Vatican had hurled on these secret gatherings the anathema of condemnation, they were interdicted in England by the Government of Queen Elizabeth; they were checked in France by Louis XV. (1729); they were prescribed in Holland in 1735, and successively in Flanders, in Sweden, in Poland, in Spain, in Portugal, in Hungary, and in Switzerland. In Vienna, in 1743, a lodge was burst into by soldiers. The Freemasons had to give up their swords and were conducted to prison; but as there were personages of high rank among them, they were let free on parole and their assemblies finally prohibited. These facts prove there was something more than mutual benefit associations in Masonry. “When we consider,” says M. Picot, “that Freemasonry was born with irreligion; that it grew up with it; that it has kept pace with its progress; that it has never pleased any men but those who were impious or indifferent about religion; and that it has always been regarded with disfavor by zealous Catholics, we can only regard it as an institution bad in itself and dangerous in its effects.”
Robinson of Edinburgh, who was a Protestant and at on time a Mason himself, says: “I believe no ordinary brother will say that the occupations of the lodges are anything better than frivolous, very frivolous indeed. The distribution of charity needs to be no secret, and it is but a small part of the employment of the meeting. Mere frivolity can never occupy men come to age, and accordingly we see in every part of Europe where Freemasonry has been established the lodges have become seed-beds of public mischief.”
This was particularly true of the lodges of the central cities of Europe in the latter part of the seventeenth century. They were not only politically obnoxious to governments, but they became the agents and supporters of all the heretical theories of the day, and their evil effects were felt in the domestic circle. Like animals that hate the light and crawl out from their hiding-places when the world is abandoned by man, the members of those impious gatherings passed their nights in mysterious conclave. Fancy can paint the scene: weak-minded men of every shade of unbelief, men of dishonest and immoral sentiments, men who, if justice had her due, should have swung on the gallows or eked out a miserable existence in some criminal’s cell, joined in league to trample on the laws and constitution of order, and, in the awful callousness of intoxication, uttering every blasphemous and improper thought the evil one could suggest. What must have been the character of the homes that received such men after their midnight revels? Many a happy household has been turned into grief through their demoralizing influence; mothers, wives, and daughters have often, in the lonely hours of midnight, sat up with a scanty light and a dying fire awaiting the late return of a son, a husband, or a brother; with many a sigh they would trace the ruin of their domestic felicity and the wreck of their family to some lodge of the secret societies.
Before appealing to facts and bringing the reader to a scene of domestic misery caused by those societies, we will conclude these remarks by quoting one or two verses from a parody on a very popular American song. We believe the lines representing the poor little child calling in the middle of the night, in the cold and wet, at the Masonic lodge for its father, to be as truthful in the realities of domestic suffering as they are beautiful and touching in poetic sentiment:
“Father, dear father, stop home with us pray You never stop home with us now;
‘Tis always the ‘lodge’ or ‘lodge business,’ you say, That will not home pleasures allow.
Poor mother says benevolence is all very well, And your efforts would yield her delight, If they did not take up so much of your time, And keep you from home every night.
“Father, dear father, stop home with us pray! Poor mother’s deserted, she said,
And she wept o’er your absence one night, till away From our home to your lodge-room I sped. A man with a red collar came out and smiled, And patted my cheeks, cold and blue,
And I told him I was a good Templar’s child, And was waiting, dear father, for you.
“Father, dear father, come home with me now; You left us before half-past seven.
Don’t say you’ll come soon, with a frown on your brow; ‘Twill soon, father dear, be eleven.
Your supper is cold, for the fire is quite dead, And mother to bed has gone, too;
And these were the very last words that she said; ‘I hate those Freemasons, I do!'”
The Freemason’s Home.
Late on a dark night in the commencement of November, wind and rain blowing with violence from the mountains, and the streets of Geneva abandoned, we find our young heroines sitting in a comfortable room. They are lounging on easy-chairs before a warm fire; the eldest is reading, and the youngest, although dressed in the pretty uniform of a naval cadet, is working at embroidery with colored wools.
Alvira and Aloysia, at the command of their father, have still preserved their disguise, at first irksome to their habits and delicacy of maidenhood; but necessity and fear toned down their objection, and they gradually accustomed themselves to the change. In girlish simplicity they were pleased with the novelty of their position. They knew each other as Charles and Henry, and by these names we must now call them.
The old clock of the church on the hill sent the mournful tones of the eleventh hour over the silent city. Charles counted the solemn booms of the church bell, and then, as if resuming the conversation with Henry: “Eleven o’clock, and father not come home yet! I am sure I don’t know what keeps father out every night so late; if poor mother were alive, she would never stand this.”
“But perhaps pa may have important business and can’t come home,” we hear the amiable Henry suggesting.
“Business! Nothing of the kind. He has got in amongst some old fools who pretend to have more knowledge than their grandfathers, and are deceiving old women of both sexes to such a degree that they actually fancy they are inspired to make new Bibles, new commandments, and new churches.”
“But father might be trying to put them right,” replied Henry softly, “and perhaps feels as you do. How sad to see them going astray!”
“No,” answered the other with greater animation, “he is as bad as any of them. You remember long ago how he used to make poor mother cry when speaking of the great mystery of Redemption; he called it the greatest swindle the world ever saw. You remember what blasphemous and insulting language he addressed to the Sisters of St. Vincent when they asked for alms in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and you know how he is always reading the most impious works.
“He is now shut up in one of those mysterious rooms called Freemason lodges, where, if report be true, the enemies of the Church and state plot the ruin of mankind. Henry, he is not only an infidel and a Freemason, but he is unkind to us.”
Saying these last words, Charles rose and paced up and down the room, as if full of passion.
Faith, like anemones that flourish in the depths of the ocean when the surface is tossed with storm, was concealed in the heart of Charles, and inspired those feelings of holy indignation which live in secret in the heart even when passion rages in triumph without.
Henry ventured a reply, but the excited manner of her sister checked her, and, burying her face in her hands, she remained in silence. Well she knew Charles was right, and in the deep sympathy of her innocent, loving heart her feelings crept into prayer for her erring parent, and silent tears suffused her eyes.
Whilst the two girls were thus engaged–the one pacing the room and biting her lips with annoyance, the other wrapt in prayer and tears– the step of Cassier was heard on the stairs.
It was unfortunate for Charles. He had given loose rein to his passion, and it was at this moment beyond control. The scene reminds us of a poor wife, the hapless victim of a drunkard’s home, drawing on herself brutal treatment, when, in the lonely hours of midnight and in the pent-up feelings of a breaking heart, she would incautiously reprove the maddened retch who is reeling home to her under the fumes of intoxication; thus Charles gave vent to feelings she had long nursed in her bosom, and spoke in disrespectful language of reproof to her intoxicated father.
Cassier had come from the carousals of the lodge. The fumes of the old wines had reached his brain; the fearless and unexpected reproof of Charles startled him. In an instant the demon of intemperance reigned in his heart; without waiting to answer, he approached the girl, gave her a severe slap on the face, and ordered her to her apartments.
Charles and Henry retired to a sleepless couch, and their pillow was moistened with many bitter tears before the dawn of the morning.
In a small spark commences the conflagration that destroys cities; the broad river that flows with irresistible majesty through our plains commences in a rivulet leaping and sparkling on the green hill-side; the almighty avalanche that sweeps with the roar of thunder through the Alpine ravines commences in a handful of loosened snow. Thus to a thought, a guilty desire uncontrolled, may be traced the greatest moral catastrophes.
A cloud passed over the thoughts of Charles. From the momentous evening she received the rebuke of her father, her heart became the battle-field of contending emotions. She brooded in silence over imaginary wrongs, and thus gave to a latent passion the first impulse that led to disastrous consequences. Diseased fancy lent a charm to thoughts long forgotten, and recalled the pictures of pride and ambition that had so often gilded the horizon of her young hopes. To be free and have wealth, she thought, was worth swimming across a river of blood to gain.
A temptation seized the thoughts of Charles. It clung to her like the bloodsucker drawing fresh streams from young veins. Notwithstanding her efforts to shake off the terrible temptation, and because she did not seek aid in the sacraments of the Church, it lived and haunted her in spite of her will. We tremble to write it–’twas to murder her father.
Tragedy in the Mountains.
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe topful Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between The effect and it. Come to my woman’s breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night, And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, To cry, “Hold!, hold!”
Poor Alvira! Her morning dawned after a restless, sleepless night. Phantoms of terror haunted her couch. The agonies of anticipated remorse had cast a withering shadow on her thoughts. She could not believe her own depravity in entertaining for a moment such a thrilling temptation.
Was it a dream? Was it the hallucination of a spirit of evil that revels in the human passions? “I, who love my father notwithstanding his faults, who would tremble at the gaze of my mother looking down from heaven on my awful impiety, and would hear from her tomb her scream of terror, her curse of vengeance on my parricidal guilt–could I be the foolish wretch that would consent to a deed of crime which would make me a fugitive from the face of men, and haunt my rest with the ghost of a murdered father?”
Thus Alvira mused. But a demon laughed at her tender conscience; deep in hell they had forged a terrible temptation. They knew the walls of the citadel of morality, built alone on natural virtue and unaided by divine grace, would soon crumble before their powerful machinations. In moments of sober reflection our resolutions are like prisms of basalt, that will not be riven by the lightning, but which in the hour of real trial prove to be ice-crystals that a sunbeam can dissolve. The powers that wage war with frail humanity have hung on the portals of the infernal kingdom, as trophies of triumph over man and insult to God, the resolutions of mortals made in moments of fervor and broken in weakness.
Days roll on; they bring their sunshine and clouds, but no change in the unhappy family; a change there was for the worse in the appalling development of the infidel and socialistic tendencies of their impious father. His language, less guarded, seemed to teem with new insults against religion and God, and contributed to confirm the chill of horror with which he was met by hapless children that sighed over the loss of filial love. His late returns from the lodge, and occasionally those sad ebullitions of intemperance, continued to be their deep affliction.
In proportion as love twines itself around the heart it absorbs all other feelings, it draws the passions like lentils around itself; so the contrary feeling of hatred, when permitted to enter the sanctuary of the heart, assumes at once a tyrannical sway, whose wicked demands of gratification become more and more imperious and exacting day by day, and rears a throne that becomes impregnable in proportion as the sun is allowed to set on its possessions. Even filial love has withered under the shadow of Cassier’s worthlessness.
In lonely walks along the lake, in conversations, and in tears the two girls lamented their fate. The beauty of virtue withered within their bosoms. The resembled two beautiful flowers torn from their bed, and cast with the weeds of the garden to taint in their decay the breezes they would sweeten if left on their stem. They longed for the pleasures that pleased in the day of prosperity; the dance, the banquet, and those visits that won the momentary gratification of flattery and admiration were sighed for. So irksome was the monotony and so uncongenial the role forced upon them by disguise, they hailed with joy the least circumstance that might be the harbinger of a change.
It is at hand. Once more the excitement of chase! The vigilance of their astute father has placed them again in the caleche, and spirited horses are galloping from the Swiss capital.
News from Paris has arrived; the failure, the flight, the reward, are passed around in a sensational romance, and the disappearance of two police officers lends the charms of mystery to the embellished rumor. Cassier–the hero of the tale, the unsuspected guilty one–went around and told the news with all the sanctimonious whining and eye-uplifting of a ranting preacher. In the meantime he matured his plans, and before suspicion could point her finger at him he fled to another retreat to elude for a while the justice of man to meet his awful doom from the hands of God.
During the night Cassier and his children ascend the terrific pass of the Tete Noir; he proposes to hide from the threatened storm in the cloister of Martigny. This is a venerable Benedictine monastery, erected in the eleventh century by a Catholic prince, under the sanction of Urban II., possessing, besides many other privileges, that of sanctuary for fugitive prisoners.
The dangers of the road and the fear of pursuit lent additional terror to the wild mountain scenery; at one moment they are dizzy looking into awful chasms formed by huge perpendicular rocks; then the overhanging cliffs would seem every moment to break from their frail support and rush down the steep mountain in an avalanche of stone. In cold that penetrated to the very bones, amidst the roar of torrents leaping through caverns of ice, and in dangers unseen and therefore more dreadful, they passed a restless journey through the mountains, and arrived at the charming village of Martigny, over which the monastery presided like the fortress of a mediaeval castle protecting the feudal territory of the petty ruler. Wearied, but pleased at the novel situation into which chance had cast them, Charles and Henry approached the venerable pile with feelings of reverence they had never felt. The silence of the tomb reigned around, and the old gate was closed. Whilst wondering how men could come voluntarily to live in such a solitude, and how they got the necessaries of life, a bell tolled solemnly from one of the towers; its soft, mellow tones rolled in sweet echoes across the mountains. Immediately the place became thronged with men in the habit of the Benedictine Order, hastening to and fro to commence their daily work. An aged porter bowed the strangers into a neat apartment, and summoned the Superior. No questions were asked, but comfortable rooms were appointed to them, and they were conducted in silence to the refectory, where a plain but substantial meal was placed before them. Thus commenced a visit the most extraordinary in the records of this venerable mountain cloister.
Charles and Henry were charmed with everything, although they found themselves in strange contrast with desires of worldly pleasure they had recently entertained. The wild, rugged scenery, the solemn silence of the house, and the sanctity of the mortified monks made a deep and solemn impression on the tender hearts of the young visitors, who felt the delicacy of their position in enjoying a forbidden hospitality. The example of the evangelical perfection practised by these holy servants of God insensibly drew Charles and Henry to love the sublime virtues they practised. Nothing impressed them more than the solemn chant of the Office at midnight. The slow, solemn enunciation of each word by a choir of hoary anchorets rolled in majestic cadence through the precipices of the mountains, and died away in the distant ravines in echoes of heavenly harmony.
An aged father was appointed to entertain the strangers. He led them to points on the mountain where the view was most enchanting; skilled in ancient monastic lore, he entertained them with anecdotes and histories from which he drew the most instructive morals. One cheerful afternoon, when seated on the rocks viewing a magnificent sunset, the aged monk told them his own history. He had been a soldier of fortune. In youth his ambition was as boundless as the horizon; he worshipped his sword and loved the terrors of battle. Fortune smiled on his hopes, and he moved on from grade to grade, until he became commander of a division.
He was present at the fatal field of Salzbach, where the great General Turenne fell in the commencement of the battle. The aged warrior, forgetting the gravity of his years and his habit, would speak in the fire of other days, suiting his action to the word.
He told his listeners the touching tale of his conversion. The death of the beloved Turenne, and at the same time the demise of his mother, made him enter seriously into self, repeating the farewell words of a celebrated courtier who left the French court to don the habit: “Some time of preparation should pass between the life of a solider and his grave.” He heard the great St. Vincent de Paul preaching on the vanities of life; his resolutions were confirmed, and tears started to his eyes as he recounted how happy he was in his home in the cliffs and the clouds.
Charles loved to hear the aged man’s reminiscences of his military career. Fired with chivalrous aspirations, she could spend a lifetime in the regions of fancy so fervidly depicted from their Alpine retreat. Poor Aloysia was attracted to the higher and more real glories of the virtuous lives of these holy men. She felt she could stay with them for ever; and there, in the secrecy of her own heart, and before the alter of our Holy Mother, she made promises that shared in the merits of vows. When free, she would give herself to the love of God and the preparation for eternity in some secluded retreat of religion and virginity.
But the nearer the alter, the further from God. Reverse the picture, and another must be contemplated. Is it the venerable cloister buried in the snow, buffeted by the storm, and threatened by the avalanche? is i the awful death of starvation hanging in all its gloomy anticipations over the community isolated by the snow-storm from the civilized world around? Or will it be the just indignation of the holy monks in finding the true character of the refugees whom they have sheltered in ignorance, contrary to the canons of the Church? Or will the still more devastating and ruthless storm of religious persecution seek the sanctuary in the clouds to desecrate it, to scatter its inmates and wreck its cloisters?