Theodore then played a short symphony; After which, stretching his voice to its utmost extent to facilitate its reaching the ear of Agnes, He sang the following Stanzas.
A DANISH BALLAD
With gentle murmur flowed the Tide,
While by the fragrant flowery side
The lovely Maid with carols gay
To Mary's Church pursued her way.
The Water-Fiend's malignant eye
Along the Banks beheld her hie;
Straight to his Mother-witch He sped,
And thus in suppliant accents said:
'Oh! Mother! Mother! now advise,
How I may yonder Maid surprize:
Oh! Mother! Mother! Now explain,
How I may yonder Maid obtain.'
The Witch She gave him armour white;
She formed him like a gallant Knight;
Of water clear next made her hand
A Steed, whose housings were of sand.
The Water-King then swift He went;
To Mary's Church his steps He bent:
He bound his Courser to the Door,
And paced the Church-yard three times four.
His Courser to the door bound He,
And paced the Church-yard four time three:
Then hastened up the Aisle, where all
The People flocked, both great and small.
The Priest said, as the Knight drew near,
'And wherefore comes the white Chief here?'
The lovely Maid She smiled aside;
'Oh! would I were the white Chief's Bride!'
He stept o'er Benches one and two;
'Oh! lovely Maid, I die for You!'
He stept o'er Benches two and three;
'Oh! lovely Maiden, go with me!'
Then sweet She smiled, the lovely Maid,
And while She gave her hand, She said,
'Betide me joy, betide me woe,
O'er Hill, o'er dale, with thee I go.'
The Priest their hands together joins:
They dance, while clear the moon-beam shines;
And little thinks the Maiden bright,
Her Partner is the Water-spright.
Oh! had some spirit deigned to sing,
'Your Partner is the Water-King!'
The Maid had fear and hate confest,
And cursed the hand which then She prest.
But nothing giving cause to think,
How near She strayed to danger's brink,
Still on She went, and hand in hand
The Lovers reached the yellow sand.
'Ascend this Steed with me, my Dear;
We needs must cross the streamlet here;
Ride boldly in; It is not deep;
The winds are hushed, the billows sleep.'
Thus spoke the Water-King. The Maid
Her Traitor-Bride-groom's wish obeyed:
And soon She saw the Courser lave
Delighted in his parent wave.
'Stop! Stop! my Love! The waters blue
E'en now my shrinking foot bedew!'
'Oh! lay aside your fears, sweet Heart!
We now have reached the deepest part.'
'Stop! Stop! my Love! For now I see
The waters rise above my knee.'
'Oh! lay aside your fears, sweet Heart!
We now have reached the deepest part.'
'Stop! Stop! for God's sake, stop! For Oh!
The waters o'er my bosom flow!'—
Scarce was the word pronounced, when Knight
And Courser vanished from her sight.
She shrieks, but shrieks in vain; for high
The wild winds rising dull the cry;
The Fiend exults; The Billows dash,
And o'er their hapless Victim wash.
Three times while struggling with the stream,
The lovely Maid was heard to scream;
But when the Tempest's rage was o'er,
The lovely Maid was seen no more.
Warned by this Tale, ye Damsels fair,
To whom you give your love beware!
Believe not every handsome Knight,
And dance not with the Water-Spright!
The Youth ceased to sing. The Nuns were delighted with the sweetness of his voice and masterly manner of touching the Instrument: But however acceptable this applause would have been at any other time, at present it was insipid to Theodore. His artifice had not succeeded. He paused in vain between the Stanzas: No voice replied to his, and He abandoned the hope of equalling Blondel.
The Convent Bell now warned the Nuns that it was time to assemble in the Refectory. They were obliged to quit the Grate; They thanked the Youth for the entertainment which his Music had afforded them, and charged him to return the next day. This He promised: The Nuns, to give him the greater inclination to keep his word, told him that He might always depend upon the Convent for his meals, and each of them made him some little present. One gave him a box of sweetmeats; Another, an Agnus Dei; Some brought reliques of Saints, waxen Images, and consecrated Crosses; and Others presented him with pieces of those works in which the Religious excel, such as embroidery, artificial flowers, lace, and needlework. All these He was advised to sell, in order to put himself into better case; and He was assured that it would be easy to dispose of them, since the Spaniards hold the performances of the Nuns in high estimation. Having received these gifts with seeming respect and gratitude, He remarked that, having no Basket, He knew not how to convey them away. Several of the Nuns were hastening in search of one, when they were stopped by the return of an elderly Woman, whom Theodore had not till then observed: Her mild countenance, and respectable air prejudiced him immediately in her favour.
'Hah!' said the Porteress; 'Here comes the Mother St. Ursula with a Basket.'
The Nun approached the Grate, and presented the Basket to Theodore: It was of willow, lined with blue satin, and upon the four sides were painted scenes from the legend of St. Genevieve.
'Here is my gift,' said She, as She gave it into his hand; 'Good Youth, despise it not; Though its value seems insignificant, it has many hidden virtues.'
She accompanied these words with an expressive look. It was not lost upon Theodore; In receiving the present, He drew as near the Grate as possible.
'Agnes!' She whispered in a voice scarcely intelligible. Theodore, however, caught the sound: He concluded that some mystery was concealed in the Basket, and his heart beat with impatience and joy. At this moment the Domina returned. Her air was gloomy and frowning, and She looked if possible more stern than ever.
'Mother St. Ursula, I would speak with you in private.'
The Nun changed colour, and was evidently disconcerted.
'With me?' She replied in a faltering voice.
The Domina motioned that She must follow her, and retired. The Mother St. Ursula obeyed her; Soon after, the Refectory Bell ringing a second time, the Nuns quitted the Grate, and Theodore was left at liberty to carry off his prize. Delighted that at length He had obtained some intelligence for the Marquis, He flew rather than ran, till He reached the Hotel de las Cisternas. In a few minutes He stood by his Master's Bed with the Basket in his hand. Lorenzo was in the chamber, endeavouring to reconcile his Friend to a misfortune which He felt himself but too severely. Theodore related his adventure, and the hopes which had been created by the Mother St. Ursula's gift. The Marquis started from his pillow: That fire which since the death of Agnes had been extinguished, now revived in his bosom, and his eyes sparkled with the eagerness of expectation. The emotions which Lorenzo's countenance betrayed, were scarcely weaker, and He waited with inexpressible impatience for the solution of this mystery. Raymond caught the basket from the hands of his Page: He emptied the contents upon the bed, and examined them with minute attention. He hoped that a letter would be found at the bottom; Nothing of the kind appeared. The search was resumed, and still with no better success. At length Don Raymond observed that one corner of the blue satin lining was unripped; He tore it open hastily, and drew forth a small scrap of paper neither folded or sealed. It was addressed to the Marquis de las Cisternas, and the contents were as follows.
Having recognised your Page, I venture to send these few lines. Procure an order from the Cardinal-Duke for seizing my Person, and that of the Domina; But let it not be executed till Friday at midnight. It is the Festival of St. Clare: There will be a procession of Nuns by torch-light, and I shall be among them. Beware not to let your intention be known: Should a syllable be dropt to excite the Domina's suspicions, you will never hear of me more. Be cautious, if you prize the memory of Agnes, and wish to punish her Assassins. I have that to tell, will freeze your blood with horror. St. Ursula.
No sooner had the Marquis read the note than He fell back upon his pillow deprived of sense or motion. The hope failed him which till now had supported his existence; and these lines convinced him but too positively that Agnes was indeed no more. Lorenzo felt this circumstance less forcibly, since it had always been his idea that his Sister had perished by unfair means. When He found by the Mother St. Ursula's letter how true were his suspicions, the confirmation excited no other sentiment in his bosom than a wish to punish the Murderers as they deserved. It was no easy task to recall the Marquis to himself. As soon as He recovered his speech, He broke out into execrations against the Assassins of his Beloved, and vowed to take upon them a signal vengeance. He continued to rave and torment himself with impotent passion till his constitution, enfeebled by grief and illness, could support itself no longer, and He relapsed into insensibility. His melancholy situation sincerely affected Lorenzo, who would willingly have remained in the apartment of his Friend; But other cares now demanded his presence. It was necessary to procure the order for seizing the Prioress of St. Clare. For this purpose, having committed Raymond to the care of the best Physicians in Madrid, He quitted the Hotel de las Cisternas, and bent his course towards the Palace of the Cardinal-Duke.
His disappointment was excessive, when He found that affairs of State had obliged the Cardinal to set out for a distant Province.
It wanted but five to Friday: Yet by travelling day and night, He hoped to return in time for the Pilgrimage of St. Clare. In this He succeeded. He found the Cardinal-Duke; and represented to him the supposed culpability of the Prioress, as also the violent effects which it had produced upon Don Raymond. He could have used no argument so forcible as this last. Of all his Nephews, the Marquis was the only one to whom the Cardinal-Duke was sincerely attached: He perfectly doated upon him, and the Prioress could have committed no greater crime in his eyes than to have endangered the life of the Marquis. Consequently, He granted the order of arrest without difficulty: He also gave Lorenzo a letter to a principal Officer of the Inquisition, desiring him to see his mandate executed. Furnished with these papers, Medina hastened back to Madrid, which He reached on the Friday a few hours before dark. He found the Marquis somewhat easier, but so weak and exhausted that without great exertion He could neither speak or more. Having past an hour by his Bedside, Lorenzo left him to communicate his design to his Uncle, as also to give Don Ramirez de Mello the Cardinal's letter. The First was petrified with horror when He learnt the fate of his unhappy Niece: He encouraged Lorenzo to punish her Assassins, and engaged to accompany him at night to St. Clare's Convent. Don Ramirez promised his firmest support, and selected a band of trusty Archers to prevent opposition on the part of the Populace.
But while Lorenzo was anxious to unmask one religious Hypocrite, He was unconscious of the sorrows prepared for him by Another. Aided by Matilda's infernal Agents, Ambrosio had resolved upon the innocent Antonia's ruin. The moment destined to be so fatal to her arrived. She had taken leave of her Mother for the night.
As She kissed her, She felt an unusual despondency infuse itself into her bosom. She left her, and returned to her instantly, threw herself into her maternal arms, and bathed her cheek with tears: She felt uneasy at quitting her, and a secret presentiment assured her that never must they meet again. Elvira observed, and tried to laugh her out of this childish prejudice: She chid her mildly for encouraging such ungrounded sadness, and warned her how dangerous it was to encourage such ideas.
To all her remonstrances She received no other answer than,
'Mother! Dear Mother! Oh! would to God, it were Morning!'
Elvira, whose inquietude respecting her Daughter was a great obstacle to her perfect reestablishment, was still labouring under the effects of her late severe illness. She was this Evening more than usually indisposed, and retired to bed before her accustomed hour. Antonia withdrew from her Mother's chamber with regret, and till the Door closed, kept her eyes fixed upon her with melancholy expression. She retired to her own apartment; Her heart was filled with bitterness: It seemed to her that all her prospects were blasted, and the world contained nothing for which it was worth existing. She sank into a Chair, reclined her head upon her arm, and gazed upon the floor with a vacant stare, while the most gloomy images floated before her fancy. She was still in this state of insensibility when She was disturbed by hearing a strain of soft Music breathed beneath her window. She rose, drew near the Casement, and opened it to hear it more distinctly. Having thrown her veil over her face, She ventured to look out. By the light of the Moon She perceived several Men below with Guitars and Lutes in their hands; and at a little distance from them stood Another wrapped in his cloak, whose stature and appearance bore a strong resemblance to Lorenzo's. She was not deceived in this conjecture. It was indeed Lorenzo himself, who bound by his word not to present himself to Antonia without his Uncle's consent, endeavoured by occasional Serenades, to convince his Mistress that his attachment still existed. His stratagem had not the desired effect. Antonia was far from supposing that this nightly music was intended as a compliment to her: She was too modest to think herself worthy such attentions; and concluding them to be addressed to some neighbouring Lady, She grieved to find that they were offered by Lorenzo.
The air which was played, was plaintive and melodious. It accorded with the state of Antonia's mind, and She listened with pleasure. After a symphony of some length, it was succeeded by the sound of voices, and Antonia distinguished the following words.
Oh! Breathe in gentle strain, my Lyre!
'Tis here that Beauty loves to rest:
Describe the pangs of fond desire,
Which rend a faithful Lover's breast.
In every heart to find a Slave,
In every Soul to fix his reign,
In bonds to lead the wise and brave,
And make the Captives kiss his chain,
Such is the power of Love, and Oh!
I grieve so well Love's power to know.
In sighs to pass the live-long day,
To taste a short and broken sleep,
For one dear Object far away,
All others scorned, to watch and weep,
Such are the pains of Love, and Oh!
I grieve so well Love's pains to know!
To read consent in virgin eyes,
To press the lip ne'er prest till then
To hear the sigh of transport rise,
And kiss, and kiss, and kiss again,
Such are thy pleasures, Love, But Oh!
When shall my heart thy pleasures know?
Now hush, my Lyre! My voice be still!
Sleep, gentle Maid! May fond desire
With amorous thoughts thy visions fill,
Though still my voice, and hushed my Lyre.
The Music ceased: The Performers dispersed, and silence prevailed through the Street. Antonia quitted the window with regret: She as usual recommended herself to the protection of St. Rosolia, said her accustomed prayers, and retired to bed. Sleep was not long absent, and his presence relieved her from her terrors and inquietude.
It was almost two o'clock before the lustful Monk ventured to bend his steps towards Antonia's dwelling. It has been already mentioned that the Abbey was at no great distance from the Strada di San Iago. He reached the House unobserved. Here He stopped, and hesitated for a moment. He reflected on the enormity of the crime, the consequences of a discovery, and the probability, after what had passed, of Elvira's suspecting him to be her Daughter's Ravisher: On the other hand it was suggested that She could do no more than suspect; that no proofs of his guilt could be produced; that it would seem impossible for the rape to have been committed without Antonia's knowing when, where, or by whom; and finally, He believed that his fame was too firmly established to be shaken by the unsupported accusations of two unknown Women. This latter argument was perfectly false: He knew not how uncertain is the air of popular applause, and that a moment suffices to make him today the detestation of the world, who yesterday was its Idol. The result of the Monk's deliberations was that He should proceed in his enterprize. He ascended the steps leading to the House. No sooner did He touch the door with the silver Myrtle, than it flew open, and presented him with a free passage. He entered, and the door closed after him of its own accord.
Guided by the moonbeams, He proceeded up the Staircase with slow and cautious steps. He looked round him every moment with apprehension and anxiety. He saw a Spy in every shadow, and heard a voice in every murmur of the night breeze. Consciousness of the guilty business on which He was employed appalled his heart, and rendered it more timid than a Woman's. Yet still He proceeded. He reached the door of Antonia's chamber. He stopped, and listened. All was hushed within. The total silence persuaded him that his intended Victim was retired to rest, and He ventured to lift up the Latch. The door was fastened, and resisted his efforts: But no sooner was it touched by the Talisman, than the Bolt flew back. The Ravisher stept on, and found himself in the chamber, where slept the innocent Girl, unconscious how dangerous a Visitor was drawing near her Couch. The door closed after him, and the Bolt shot again into its fastening.
Ambrosio advanced with precaution. He took care that not a board should creak under his foot, and held in his breath as He approached the Bed. His first attention was to perform the magic ceremony, as Matilda had charged him: He breathed thrice upon the silver Myrtle, pronounced over it Antonia's name, and laid it upon her pillow. The effects which it had already produced permitted not his doubting its success in prolonging the slumbers of his devoted Mistress. No sooner was the enchantment performed than He considered her to be absolutely in his power, and his eyes flamed with lust and impatience. He now ventured to cast a glance upon the sleeping Beauty. A single Lamp, burning before the Statue of St. Rosolia, shed a faint light through the room, and permitted him to examine all the charms of the lovely Object before him. The heat of the weather had obliged her to throw off part of the Bed-cloathes: Those which still covered her, Ambrosio's insolent hand hastened to remove. She lay with her cheek reclining upon one ivory arm; The Other rested on the side of the Bed with graceful indolence. A few tresses of her hair had escaped from beneath the Muslin which confined the rest, and fell carelessly over her bosom, as it heaved with slow and regular suspiration. The warm air had spread her cheek with higher colour than usual. A smile inexpressibly sweet played round her ripe and coral lips, from which every now and then escaped a gentle sigh or an half-pronounced sentence. An air of enchanting innocence and candour pervaded her whole form; and there was a sort of modesty in her very nakedness which added fresh stings to the desires of the lustful Monk.
He remained for some moments devouring those charms with his eyes which soon were to be subjected to his ill-regulated passions. Her mouth half-opened seemed to solicit a kiss: He bent over her; he joined his lips to hers, and drew in the fragrance of her breath with rapture. This momentary pleasure increased his longing for still greater. His desires were raised to that frantic height by which Brutes are agitated. He resolved not to delay for one instant longer the accomplishment of his wishes, and hastily proceeded to tear off those garments which impeded the gratification of his lust.
'Gracious God!' exclaimed a voice behind him; 'Am I not deceived?
Is not this an illusion?'
Terror, confusion, and disappointment accompanied these words, as they struck Ambrosio's hearing. He started, and turned towards it. Elvira stood at the door of the chamber, and regarded the Monk with looks of surprize and detestation.
A frightful dream had represented to her Antonia on the verge of a precipice. She saw her trembling on the brink: Every moment seemed to threaten her fall, and She heard her exclaim with shrieks, 'Save me, Mother! Save me!—Yet a moment, and it will be too late!' Elvira woke in terror. The vision had made too strong an impression upon her mind, to permit her resting till assured of her Daughter's safety. She hastily started from her Bed, threw on a loose night-gown, and passing through the Closet in which slept the Waiting-woman, She reached Antonia's chamber just in time to rescue her from the grasp of the Ravisher.
His shame and her amazement seemed to have petrified into Statues both Elvira and the Monk: They remained gazing upon each other in silence. The Lady was the first to recover herself.
'It is no dream!' She cried; 'It is really Ambrosio, who stands before me! It is the Man whom Madrid esteems a Saint, that I find at this late hour near the Couch of my unhappy Child! Monster of Hypocrisy! I already suspected your designs, but forbore your accusation in pity to human frailty. Silence would now be criminal: The whole City shall be informed of your incontinence. I will unmask you, Villain, and convince the Church what a Viper She cherishes in her bosom.'
Pale and confused the baffled Culprit stood trembling before her.
He would fain have extenuated his offence, but could find no apology for his conduct: He could produce nothing but broken sentences, and excuses which contradicted each other. Elvira was too justly incensed to grant the pardon which He requested. She protested that She would raise the neighbourhood, and make him an example to all future Hypocrites. Then hastening to the Bed, She called to Antonia to wake; and finding that her voice had no effect, She took her arm, and raised her forcibly from the pillow. The charm operated too powerfully. Antonia remained insensible, and on being released by her Mother, sank back upon the pillow.
'This slumber cannot be natural!' cried the amazed Elvira, whose indignation increased with every moment. 'Some mystery is concealed in it; But tremble, Hypocrite; all your villainy shall soon be unravelled! Help! Help!' She exclaimed aloud; 'Within there! Flora! Flora!'
'Hear me for one moment, Lady!' cried the Monk, restored to himself by the urgency of the danger; 'By all that is sacred and holy, I swear that your Daughter's honour is still unviolated. Forgive my transgression! Spare me the shame of a discovery, and permit me to regain the Abbey undisturbed. Grant me this request in mercy! I promise not only that Antonia shall be secure from me in future, but that the rest of my life shall prove .....'
Elvira interrupted him abruptly.
'Antonia secure from you? I will secure her! You shall betray no longer the confidence of Parents! Your iniquity shall be unveiled to the public eye: All Madrid shall shudder at your perfidy, your hypocrisy and incontinence. What Ho! there! Flora! Flora, I say!'
While She spoke thus, the remembrance of Agnes struck upon his mind. Thus had She sued to him for mercy, and thus had He refused her prayer! It was now his turn to suffer, and He could not but acknowledge that his punishment was just. In the meanwhile Elvira continued to call Flora to her assistance; but her voice was so choaked with passion that the Servant, who was buried in profound slumber, was insensible to all her cries: Elvira dared not go towards the Closet in which Flora slept, lest the Monk should take that opportunity to escape. Such indeed was his intention: He trusted that could He reach the Abbey unobserved by any other than Elvira, her single testimony would not suffice to ruin a reputation so well established as his was in Madrid. With this idea He gathered up such garments as He had already thrown off, and hastened towards the Door. Elvira was aware of his design; She followed him, and ere He could draw back the bolt, seized him by the arm, and detained him.
'Attempt not to fly!' said She; 'You quit not this room without Witnesses of your guilt.'
Ambrosio struggled in vain to disengage himself. Elvira quitted not her hold, but redoubled her cries for succour. The Friar's danger grew more urgent. He expected every moment to hear people assembling at her voice; And worked up to madness by the approach of ruin, He adopted a resolution equally desperate and savage. Turning round suddenly, with one hand He grasped Elvira's throat so as to prevent her continuing her clamour, and with the other, dashing her violently upon the ground, He dragged her towards the Bed. Confused by this unexpected attack, She scarcely had power to strive at forcing herself from his grasp: While the Monk, snatching the pillow from beneath her Daughter's head, covering with it Elvira's face, and pressing his knee upon her stomach with all his strength, endeavoured to put an end to her existence. He succeeded but too well. Her natural strength increased by the excess of anguish, long did the Sufferer struggle to disengage herself, but in vain. The Monk continued to kneel upon her breast, witnessed without mercy the convulsive trembling of her limbs beneath him, and sustained with inhuman firmness the spectacle of her agonies, when soul and body were on the point of separating. Those agonies at length were over. She ceased to struggle for life. The Monk took off the pillow, and gazed upon her. Her face was covered with a frightful blackness:
Her limbs moved no more; The blood was chilled in her veins; Her heart had forgotten to beat, and her hands were stiff and frozen.
Ambrosio beheld before him that once noble and majestic form, now become a Corse, cold, senseless and disgusting.
This horrible act was no sooner perpetrated, than the Friar beheld the enormity of his crime. A cold dew flowed over his limbs; his eyes closed; He staggered to a chair, and sank into it almost as lifeless as the Unfortunate who lay extended at his feet. From this state He was rouzed by the necessity of flight, and the danger of being found in Antonia's apartment. He had no desire to profit by the execution of his crime. Antonia now appeared to him an object of disgust. A deadly cold had usurped the place of that warmth which glowed in his bosom: No ideas offered themselves to his mind but those of death and guilt, of present shame and future punishment. Agitated by remorse and fear He prepared for flight: Yet his terrors did not so compleatly master his recollection, as to prevent his taking the precautions necessary for his safety. He replaced the pillow upon the bed, gathered up his garments, and with the fatal Talisman in his hand, bent his unsteady steps towards the door. Bewildered by fear, He fancied that his flight was opposed by Legions of Phantoms; Whereever He turned, the disfigured Corse seemed to lie in his passage, and it was long before He succeeded in reaching the door. The enchanted Myrtle produced its former effect. The door opened, and He hastened down the staircase. He entered the Abbey unobserved, and having shut himself into his Cell, He abandoned his soul to the tortures of unavailing remorse, and terrors of impending detection.
Tell us, ye Dead, will none of you in pity
To those you left behind disclose the secret?
O! That some courteous Ghost would blab it out,
What 'tis you are, and we must shortly be.
I've heard that Souls departed have sometimes
Fore-warned Men of their deaths:
'Twas kindly done
To knock, and give the alarum.
Ambrosio shuddered at himself, when He reflected on his rapid advances in iniquity. The enormous crime which He had just committed filled him with real horror. The murdered Elvira was continually before his eyes, and his guilt was already punished by the agonies of his conscience. Time, however, considerably weakened these impressions: One day passed away, another followed it, and still not the least suspicion was thrown upon him. Impunity reconciled him to his guilt: He began to resume his spirits; and as his fears of detection died away, He paid less attention to the reproaches of remorse. Matilda exerted herself to quiet his alarms. At the first intelligence of Elvira's death, She seemed greatly affected, and joined the Monk in deploring the unhappy catastrophe of his adventure: But when She found his agitation to be somewhat calmed, and himself better disposed to listen to her arguments, She proceeded to mention his offence in milder terms, and convince him that He was not so highly culpable as He appeared to consider himself. She represented that He had only availed himself of the rights which Nature allows to every one, those of self-preservation: That either Elvira or himself must have perished, and that her inflexibility and resolution to ruin him had deservedly marked her out for the Victim. She next stated, that as He had before rendered himself suspected to Elvira, it was a fortunate event for him that her lips were closed by death; since without this last adventure, her suspicions if made public might have produced very disagreeable consequences. He had therefore freed himself from an Enemy, to whom the errors of his conduct were sufficiently known to make her dangerous, and who was the greatest obstacle to his designs upon Antonia. Those designs She encouraged him not to abandon. She assured him that, no longer protected by her Mother's watchful eye, the Daughter would fall an easy conquest; and by praising and enumerating Antonia's charms, She strove to rekindle the desires of the Monk. In this endeavour She succeeded but too well.
As if the crimes into which his passion had seduced him had only increased its violence, He longed more eagerly than ever to enjoy Antonia. The same success in concealing his present guilt, He trusted would attend his future. He was deaf to the murmurs of conscience, and resolved to satisfy his desires at any price. He waited only for an opportunity of repeating his former enterprize; But to procure that opportunity by the same means was now impracticable. In the first transports of despair He had dashed the enchanted Myrtle into a thousand pieces: Matilda told him plainly that He must expect no further assistance from the infernal Powers unless He was willing to subscribe to their established conditions. This Ambrosio was determined not to do: He persuaded himself that however great might be his iniquity, so long as he preserved his claim to salvation, He need not despair of pardon. He therefore resolutely refused to enter into any bond or compact with the Fiends; and Matilda finding him obstinate upon this point, forbore to press him further. She exerted her invention to discover some means of putting Antonia into the Abbot's power: Nor was it long before that means presented itself.
While her ruin was thus meditating, the unhappy Girl herself suffered severely from the loss of her Mother. Every morning on waking, it was her first care to hasten to Elvira's chamber. On that which followed Ambrosio's fatal visit, She woke later than was her usual custom: Of this She was convinced by the Abbey Chimes. She started from her bed, threw on a few loose garments hastily, and was speeding to enquire how her Mother had passed the night, when her foot struck against something which lay in her passage. She looked down. What was her horror at recognizing Elvira's livid Corse! She uttered a loud shriek, and threw herself upon the floor. She clasped the inanimate form to her bosom, felt that it was dead-cold, and with a movement of disgust, of which She was not the Mistress, let it fall again from her arms. The cry had alarmed Flora, who hastened to her assistance. The sight which She beheld penetrated her with horror; but her alarm was more audible than Antonia's. She made the House ring with her lamentations, while her Mistress, almost suffocated with grief, could only mark her distress by sobs and groans. Flora's shrieks soon reached the ears of the Hostess, whose terror and surprize were excessive on learning the cause of this disturbance. A Physician was immediately sent for: But on the first moment of beholding the Corse, He declared that Elvira's recovery was beyond the power of art. He proceeded therefore to give his assistance to Antonia, who by this time was truly in need of it. She was conveyed to bed, while the Landlady busied herself in giving orders for Elvira's Burial. Dame Jacintha was a plain good kind of Woman, charitable, generous, and devout: But her intellects were weak, and She was a Miserable Slave to fear and superstition. She shuddered at the idea of passing the night in the same House with a dead Body: She was persuaded that Elvira's Ghost would appear to her, and no less certain that such a visit would kill her with fright. From this persuasion, She resolved to pass the night at a Neighbour's, and insisted that the Funeral should take place the next day. St. Clare's Cemetery being the nearest, it was determined that Elvira should be buried there. Dame Jacintha engaged to defray every expence attending the burial. She knew not in what circumstances Antonia was left, but from the sparing manner in which the Family had lived, She concluded them to be indifferent.
Consequently, She entertained very little hope of ever being recompensed; But this consideration prevented her not from taking care that the Interment was performed with decency, and from showing the unfortunate Antonia all possible respect.
Nobody dies of mere grief; Of this Antonia was an instance. Aided by her youth and healthy constitution, She shook off the malady which her Mother's death had occasioned; But it was not so easy to remove the disease of her mind. Her eyes were constantly filled with tears: Every trifle affected her, and She evidently nourished in her bosom a profound and rooted melancholy. The slightest mention of Elvira, the most trivial circumstance recalling that beloved Parent to her memory, was sufficient to throw her into serious agitation. How much would her grief have been increased, had She known the agonies which terminated her Mother's existence! But of this no one entertained the least suspicion. Elvira was subject to strong convulsions: It was supposed that, aware of their approach, She had dragged herself to her Daughter's chamber in hopes of assistance; that a sudden access of her fits had seized her, too violent to be resisted by her already enfeebled state of health; and that She had expired ere She had time to reach the medicine which generally relieved her, and which stood upon a shelf in Antonia's room. This idea was firmly credited by the few people, who interested themselves about Elvira: Her Death was esteemed a natural event, and soon forgotten by all save by her, who had but too much reason to deplore her loss.
In truth Antonia's situation was sufficiently embarrassing and unpleasant. She was alone in the midst of a dissipated and expensive City; She was ill provided with money, and worse with Friends. Her aunt Leonella was still at Cordova, and She knew not her direction. Of the Marquis de las Cisternas She heard no news: As to Lorenzo, She had long given up the idea of possessing any interest in his bosom. She knew not to whom She could address herself in her present dilemma. She wished to consult Ambrosio; But She remembered her Mother's injunctions to shun him as much as possible, and the last conversation which Elvira had held with her upon the subject had given her sufficient lights respecting his designs to put her upon her guard against him in future. Still all her Mother's warnings could not make her change her good opinion of the Friar. She continued to feel that his friendship and society were requisite to her happiness: She looked upon his failings with a partial eye, and could not persuade herself that He really had intended her ruin. However, Elvira had positively commanded her to drop his acquaintance, and She had too much respect for her orders to disobey them.
At length She resolved to address herself for advice and protection to the Marquis de las Cisternas, as being her nearest Relation. She wrote to him, briefly stating her desolate situation; She besought him to compassionate his Brother's Child, to continue to her Elvira's pension, and to authorise her retiring to his old Castle in Murcia, which till now had been her retreat. Having sealed her letter, She gave it to the trusty Flora, who immediately set out to execute her commission. But Antonia was born under an unlucky Star. Had She made her application to the Marquis but one day sooner, received as his Niece and placed at the head of his Family, She would have escaped all the misfortunes with which She was now threatened. Raymond had always intended to execute this plan: But first, his hopes of making the proposal to Elvira through the lips of Agnes, and afterwards, his disappointment at losing his intended Bride, as well as the severe illness which for some time had confined him to his Bed, made him defer from day to day the giving an Asylum in his House to his Brother's Widow. He had commissioned Lorenzo to supply her liberally with money: But Elvira, unwilling to receive obligations from that Nobleman, had assured him that She needed no immediate pecuniary assistance. Consequently, the Marquis did not imagine that a trifling delay on his part could create any embarrassment; and the distress and agitation of his mind might well excuse his negligence.
Had He been informed that Elvira's death had left her Daughter Friendless and unprotected, He would doubtless have taken such measures, as would have ensured her from every danger: But Antonia was not destined to be so fortunate. The day on which She sent her letter to the Palace de las Cisternas was that following Lorenzo's departure from Madrid. The Marquis was in the first paroxysms of despair at the conviction that Agnes was indeed no more: He was delirious, and his life being in danger, no one was suffered to approach him. Flora was informed that He was incapable of attending to Letters, and that probably a few hours would decide his fate. With this unsatisfactory answer She was obliged to return to her Mistress, who now found herself plunged into greater difficulties than ever.
Flora and Dame Jacintha exerted themselves to console her. The Latter begged her to make herself easy, for that as long as She chose to stay with her, She would treat her like her own Child. Antonia, finding that the good Woman had taken a real affection for her, was somewhat comforted by thinking that She had at least one Friend in the World. A Letter was now brought to her, directed to Elvira. She recognized Leonella's writing, and opening it with joy, found a detailed account of her Aunt's adventures at Cordova. She informed her Sister that She had recovered her Legacy, had lost her heart, and had received in exchange that of the most amiable of Apothecaries, past, present, and to come. She added that She should be at Madrid on the Tuesday night, and meant to have the pleasure of presenting her Caro Sposo in form. Though her nuptials were far from pleasing Antonia, Leonella's speedy return gave her Niece much delight. She rejoiced in thinking that She should once more be under a Relation's care. She could not but judge it to be highly improper, for a young Woman to be living among absolute Strangers, with no one to regulate her conduct, or protect her from the insults to which, in her defenceless situation, She was exposed. She therefore looked forward with impatience to the Tuesday night.
It arrived. Antonia listened anxiously to the Carriages, as they rolled along the Street. None of them stopped, and it grew late without Leonella's appearing. Still, Antonia resolved to sit up till her Aunt's arrival, and in spite of all her remonstrances, Dame Jacintha and Flora insisted upon doing the same. The hours passed on slow and tediously. Lorenzo's departure from Madrid had put a stop to the nightly Serenades: She hoped in vain to hear the usual sound of Guitars beneath her window. She took up her own, and struck a few chords: But Music that evening had lost its charms for her, and She soon replaced the Instrument in its case. She seated herself at her embroidery frame, but nothing went right: The silks were missing, the thread snapped every moment, and the needles were so expert at falling that they seemed to be animated. At length a flake of wax fell from the Taper which stood near her upon a favourite wreath of Violets: This compleatly discomposed her; She threw down her needle, and quitted the frame. It was decreed that for that night nothing should have the power of amusing her. She was the prey of Ennui, and employed herself in making fruitless wishes for the arrival of her Aunt.
As She walked with a listless air up and down the chamber, the Door caught her eye conducting to that which had been her Mother's. She remembered that Elvira's little Library was arranged there, and thought that She might possibly find in it some Book to amuse her till Leonella should arrive. Accordingly She took her Taper from the table, passed through the little Closet, and entered the adjoining apartment. As She looked around her, the sight of this room brought to her recollection a thousand painful ideas. It was the first time of her entering it since her Mother's death. The total silence prevailing through the chamber, the Bed despoiled of its furniture, the cheerless hearth where stood an extinguished Lamp, and a few dying Plants in the window which, since Elvira's loss, had been neglected, inspired Antonia with a melancholy awe. The gloom of night gave strength to this sensation. She placed her light upon the Table, and sank into a large chair, in which She had seen her Mother seated a thousand and a thousand times. She was never to see her seated there again! Tears unbidden streamed down her cheek, and She abandoned herself to the sadness which grew deeper with every moment.
Ashamed of her weakness, She at length rose from her seat: She proceeded to seek for what had brought her to this melancholy scene. The small collection of Books was arranged upon several shelves in order. Antonia examined them without finding any thing likely to interest her, till She put her hand upon a volume of old Spanish Ballads. She read a few Stanzas of one of them: They excited her curiosity. She took down the Book, and seated herself to peruse it with more ease. She trimmed the Taper, which now drew towards its end, and then read the following Ballad.
ALONZO THE BRAVE, AND FAIR IMOGINE
A Warrior so bold, and a Virgin so bright
Conversed, as They sat on the green:
They gazed on each other with tender delight;
Alonzo the Brave was the name of the Knight,
The Maid's was the Fair Imogine.
'And Oh!' said the Youth, 'since to-morrow I go
To fight in a far distant land,
Your tears for my absence soon leaving to flow,
Some Other will court you, and you will bestow
On a wealthier Suitor your hand.'
'Oh! hush these suspicions,' Fair Imogine said,
'Offensive to Love and to me!
For if ye be living, or if ye be dead,
I swear by the Virgin, that none in your stead
Shall Husband of Imogine be.
'If e'er I by lust or by wealth led aside
Forget my Alonzo the Brave,
God grant, that to punish my falsehood and pride
Your Ghost at the Marriage may sit by my side,
May tax me with perjury, claim me as Bride,
And bear me away to the Grave!'
To Palestine hastened the Hero so bold;
His Love, She lamented him sore:
But scarce had a twelve-month elapsed, when behold,
A Baron all covered with jewels and gold
Arrived at Fair Imogine's door.
His treasure, his presents, his spacious domain
Soon made her untrue to her vows:
He dazzled her eyes; He bewildered her brain;
He caught her affections so light and so vain,
And carried her home as his Spouse.
And now had the Marriage been blest by the Priest;
The revelry now was begun:
The Tables, they groaned with the weight of the Feast;
Nor yet had the laughter and merriment ceased,
When the Bell of the Castle told,—'One!'
Then first with amazement Fair Imogine found
That a Stranger was placed by her side: His air was terrific;
He uttered no sound; He spoke not, He moved not,
He looked not around,
But earnestly gazed on the Bride.
His vizor was closed, and gigantic his height;
His armour was sable to view:
All pleasure and laughter were hushed at his sight;
The Dogs as They eyed him drew back in affright,
The Lights in the chamber burned blue!
His presence all bosoms appeared to dismay;
The Guests sat in silence and fear.
At length spoke the Bride, while She trembled;
'I pray, Sir Knight, that your Helmet aside you would lay,
And deign to partake of our chear.'
The Lady is silent: The Stranger complies.
His vizor lie slowly unclosed:
Oh! God! what a sight met Fair Imogine's eyes!
What words can express her dismay and surprize,
When a Skeleton's head was exposed.
All present then uttered a terrified shout;
All turned with disgust from the scene.
The worms, They crept in, and the worms, They crept out,
And sported his eyes and his temples about,
While the Spectre addressed Imogine.
'Behold me, Thou false one! Behold me!' He cried;
'Remember Alonzo the Brave!
God grants, that to punish thy falsehood and pride
My Ghost at thy marriage should sit by thy side,
Should tax thee with perjury, claim thee as Bride
And bear thee away to the Grave!'
Thus saying, his arms round the Lady He wound,
While loudly She shrieked in dismay;
Then sank with his prey through the wide-yawning ground:
Nor ever again was Fair Imogine found,
Or the Spectre who bore her away.
Not long lived the Baron; and none since that time
To inhabit the Castle presume:
For Chronicles tell, that by order sublime
There Imogine suffers the pain of her crime,
And mourns her deplorable doom.
At midnight four times in each year does her Spright
When Mortals in slumber are bound,
Arrayed in her bridal apparel of white,
Appear in the Hall with the Skeleton-Knight,
And shriek, as He whirls her around.
While They drink out of skulls newly torn from the grave,
Dancing round them the Spectres are seen:
Their liquor is blood, and this horrible Stave
They howl.—'To the health of Alonzo the Brave,
And his Consort, the False Imogine!'
The perusal of this story was ill-calculated to dispel Antonia's melancholy. She had naturally a strong inclination to the marvellous; and her Nurse, who believed firmly in Apparitions, had related to her when an Infant so many horrible adventures of this kind, that all Elvira's attempts had failed to eradicate their impressions from her Daughter's mind. Antonia still nourished a superstitious prejudice in her bosom: She was often susceptible of terrors which, when She discovered their natural and insignificant cause, made her blush at her own weakness. With such a turn of mind, the adventure which She had just been reading sufficed to give her apprehensions the alarm. The hour and the scene combined to authorize them. It was the dead of night: She was alone, and in the chamber once occupied by her deceased Mother. The weather was comfortless and stormy: The wind howled around the House, the doors rattled in their frames, and the heavy rain pattered against the windows. No other sound was heard. The Taper, now burnt down to the socket, sometimes flaring upwards shot a gleam of light through the room, then sinking again seemed upon the point of expiring. Antonia's heart throbbed with agitation: Her eyes wandered fearfully over the objects around her, as the trembling flame illuminated them at intervals. She attempted to rise from her seat; But her limbs trembled so violently that She was unable to proceed. She then called Flora, who was in a room at no great distance: But agitation choaked her voice, and her cries died away in hollow murmurs.
She passed some minutes in this situation, after which her terrors began to diminish. She strove to recover herself, and acquire strength enough to quit the room: Suddenly She fancied, that She heard a low sigh drawn near her. This idea brought back her former weakness. She had already raised herself from her seat, and was on the point of taking the Lamp from the Table. The imaginary noise stopped her: She drew back her hand, and supported herself upon the back of a Chair. She listened anxiously, but nothing more was heard.
'Gracious God!' She said to herself; 'What could be that sound? Was I deceived, or did I really hear it?'
Her reflections were interrupted by a noise at the door scarcely audible: It seemed as if somebody was whispering. Antonia's alarm increased: Yet the Bolt She knew to be fastened, and this idea in some degree reassured her. Presently the Latch was lifted up softly, and the Door moved with caution backwards and forwards. Excess of terror now supplied Antonia with that strength, of which She had till then been deprived. She started from her place and made towards the Closet door, whence She might soon have reached the chamber where She expected to find Flora and Dame Jacintha. Scarcely had She reached the middle of the room when the Latch was lifted up a second time. An involuntary movement obliged her to turn her head. Slowly and gradually the Door turned upon its hinges, and standing upon the Threshold She beheld a tall thin Figure, wrapped in a white shroud which covered it from head to foot.
This vision arrested her feet: She remained as if petrified in the middle of the apartment. The Stranger with measured and solemn steps drew near the Table. The dying Taper darted a blue and melancholy flame as the Figure advanced towards it. Over the Table was fixed a small Clock; The hand of it was upon the stroke of three. The Figure stopped opposite to the Clock: It raised its right arm, and pointed to the hour, at the same time looking earnestly upon Antonia, who waited for the conclusion of this scene, motionless and silent.
The figure remained in this posture for some moments. The clock struck. When the sound had ceased, the Stranger advanced yet a few steps nearer Antonia.
'Yet three days,' said a voice faint, hollow, and sepulchral; 'Yet three days, and we meet again!'
Antonia shuddered at the words.
'We meet again?' She pronounced at length with difficulty: 'Where shall we meet? Whom shall I meet?'
The figure pointed to the ground with one hand, and with the other raised the Linen which covered its face.
'Almighty God! My Mother!'
Antonia shrieked, and fell lifeless upon the floor.
Dame Jacintha who was at work in a neighbouring chamber, was alarmed by the cry: Flora was just gone down stairs to fetch fresh oil for the Lamp, by which they had been sitting. Jacintha therefore hastened alone to Antonia's assistance, and great was her amazement to find her extended upon the floor. She raised her in her arms, conveyed her to her apartment, and placed her upon the Bed still senseless. She then proceeded to bathe her temples, chafe her hands, and use all possible means of bringing her to herself. With some difficulty She succeeded. Antonia opened her eyes, and looked round her wildly.
'Where is She?' She cried in a trembling voice; 'Is She gone? Am I safe? Speak to me! Comfort me! Oh! speak to me for God's sake!'
'Safe from whom, my Child?' replied the astonished Jacintha; 'What alarms you? Of whom are you afraid?'
'In three days! She told me that we should meet in three days! I heard her say it! I saw her, Jacintha, I saw her but this moment!'
She threw herself upon Jacintha's bosom.
'You saw her? Saw whom?'
'My Mother's Ghost!'
'Christ Jesus!' cried Jacintha, and starting from the Bed, let fall Antonia upon the pillow, and fled in consternation out of the room.
As She hastened down stairs, She met Flora ascending them.
'Go to your Mistress, Flora,' said She; 'Here are rare doings! Oh! I am the most unfortunate Woman alive! My House is filled with Ghosts and dead Bodies, and the Lord knows what besides; Yet I am sure, nobody likes such company less than I do. But go your way to Donna Antonia, Flora, and let me go mine.'
Thus saying, She continued her course to the Street door, which She opened, and without allowing herself time to throw on her veil, She made the best of her way to the Capuchin Abbey. In the meanwhile, Flora hastened to her Lady's chamber, equally surprized and alarmed at Jacintha's consternation. She found Antonia lying upon the bed insensible. She used the same means for her recovery that Jacintha had already employed; But finding that her Mistress only recovered from one fit to fall into another, She sent in all haste for a Physician. While expecting his arrival, She undrest Antonia, and conveyed her to Bed.
Heedless of the storm, terrified almost out of her senses, Jacintha ran through the Streets, and stopped not till She reached the Gate of the Abbey. She rang loudly at the bell, and as soon as the Porter appeared, She desired permission to speak to the Superior. Ambrosio was then conferring with Matilda upon the means of procuring access to Antonia. The cause of Elvira's death remaining unknown, He was convinced that crimes were not so swiftly followed by punishment, as his Instructors the Monks had taught him, and as till then He had himself believed. This persuasion made him resolve upon Antonia's ruin, for the enjoyment of whose person dangers and difficulties only seemed to have increased his passion. The Monk had already made one attempt to gain admission to her presence; But Flora had refused him in such a manner as to convince him that all future endeavours must be vain. Elvira had confided her suspicions to that trusty Servant: She had desired her never to leave Ambrosio alone with her Daughter, and if possible to prevent their meeting altogether. Flora promised to obey her, and had executed her orders to the very letter. Ambrosio's visit had been rejected that morning, though Antonia was ignorant of it. He saw that to obtain a sight of his Mistress by open means was out of the question; and both Himself and Matilda had consumed the night, in endeavouring to invent some plan, whose event might be more successful. Such was their employment, when a Lay-Brother entered the Abbot's Cell, and informed him that a Woman calling herself Jacintha Zuniga requested audience for a few minutes.
Ambrosio was by no means disposed to grant the petition of his Visitor. He refused it positively, and bad the Lay-Brother tell the Stranger to return the next day. Matilda interrupted him.
'See this Woman,' said She in a low voice; 'I have my reasons.'
The Abbot obeyed her, and signified that He would go to the Parlour immediately. With this answer the Lay-Brother withdrew. As soon as they were alone Ambrosio enquired why Matilda wished him to see this Jacintha.
'She is Antonia's Hostess,' replied Matilda; 'She may possibly be of use to you: but let us examine her, and learn what brings her hither.'
They proceeded together to the Parlour, where Jacintha was already waiting for the Abbot. She had conceived a great opinion of his piety and virtue; and supposing him to have much influence over the Devil, thought that it must be an easy matter for him to lay Elvira's Ghost in the Red Sea. Filled with this persuasion She had hastened to the Abbey. As soon as She saw the Monk enter the Parlour, She dropped upon her knees, and began her story as follows.
'Oh! Reverend Father! Such an accident! Such an adventure! I know not what course to take, and unless you can help me, I shall certainly go distracted. Well, to be sure, never was Woman so unfortunate, as myself! All in my power to keep clear of such abomination have I done, and yet that all is too little. What signifies my telling my beads four times a day, and observing every fast prescribed by the Calendar? What signifies my having made three Pilgrimages to St. James of Compostella, and purchased as many pardons from the Pope as would buy off Cain's punishment? Nothing prospers with me! All goes wrong, and God only knows, whether any thing will ever go right again! Why now, be your Holiness the Judge. My Lodger dies in convulsions; Out of pure kindness I bury her at my own expence; (Not that she is any relation of mine, or that I shall be benefited a single pistole by her death: I got nothing by it, and therefore you know, reverend Father, that her living or dying was just the same to me. But that is nothing to the purpose; To return to what I was saying,) I took care of her funeral, had every thing performed decently and properly, and put myself to expence enough, God knows! And how do you think the Lady repays me for my kindness? Why truly by refusing to sleep quietly in her comfortable deal Coffin, as a peaceable well-disposed Spirit ought to do, and coming to plague me, who never wish to set eyes on her again. Forsooth, it well becomes her to go racketing about my House at midnight, popping into her Daughter's room through the Keyhole, and frightening the poor Child out of her wits! Though She be a Ghost, She might be more civil than to bolt into a Person's House, who likes her company so little. But as for me, reverend Father, the plain state of the case is this: If She walks into my House, I must walk out of it, for I cannot abide such Visitors, not I! Thus you see, your Sanctity, that without your assistance I am ruined and undone for ever. I shall be obliged to quit my House; Nobody will take it, when 'tis known that She haunts it, and then I shall find myself in a fine situation! Miserable Woman that I am! What shall I do! What will become of me!'
Here She wept bitterly, wrung her hands, and begged to know the Abbot's opinion of her case.
'In truth, good Woman,' replied He, 'It will be difficult for me to relieve you without knowing what is the matter with you. You have forgotten to tell me what has happened, and what it is you want.'
'Let me die' cried Jacintha, 'but your Sanctity is in the right! This then is the fact stated briefly. A lodger of mine is lately dead, a very good sort of Woman that I must needs say for her as far as my knowledge of her went, though that was not a great way:
She kept me too much at a distance; for indeed She was given to be upon the high ropes, and whenever I ventured to speak to her, She had a look with her which always made me feel a little queerish, God forgive me for saying so. However, though She was more stately than needful, and affected to look down upon me (Though if I am well informed, I come of as good Parents as She could do for her ears, for her Father was a Shoe-maker at Cordova, and Mine was an Hatter at Madrid, aye, and a very creditable Hatter too, let me tell you,) Yet for all her pride, She was a quiet well-behaved Body, and I never wish to have a better Lodger. This makes me wonder the more at her not sleeping quietly in her Grave: But there is no trusting to people in this world! For my part, I never saw her do amiss, except on the Friday before her death. To be sure, I was then much scandalized by seeing her eat the wing of a Chicken! "How, Madona Flora!" quoth I; (Flora, may it please your Reverence, is the name of the waiting Maid)—"How, Madona Flora!" quoth I; "Does your Mistress eat flesh upon Fridays? Well! Well! See the event, and then remember that Dame Jacintha warned you of it!" These were my very words, but Alas! I might as well have held my tongue! Nobody minded me; and Flora, who is somewhat pert and snappish, (More is the pity, say I) told me that there was no more harm in eating a Chicken than the egg from which it came. Nay, She even declared that if her Lady added a slice of bacon, She would not be an inch nearer Damnation, God protect us! A poor ignorant sinful soul! I protest to your Holiness, I trembled to hear her utter such blasphemies, and expected every moment to see the ground open and swallow her up, Chicken and all! For you must know, worshipful Father, that while She talked thus, She held the plate in her hand, on which lay the identical roast Fowl. And a fine Bird it was, that I must say for it! Done to a turn, for I superintended the cooking of it myself: It was a little Gallician of my own raising, may it please your Holiness, and the flesh was as white as an egg-shell, as indeed Donna Elvira told me herself. "Dame Jacintha," said She, very good-humouredly, though to say the truth, She was always very polite to me .....'
Here Ambrosio's patience failed him. Eager to know Jacintha's business in which Antonia seemed to be concerned, He was almost distracted while listening to the rambling of this prosing old Woman. He interrupted her, and protested that if She did not immediately tell her story and have done with it, He should quit the Parlour, and leave her to get out of her difficulties by herself. This threat had the desired effect. Jacintha related her business in as few words as She could manage; But her account was still so prolix that Ambrosio had need of his patience to bear him to the conclusion.
'And so, your Reverence,' said She, after relating Elvira's death and burial, with all their circumstances; 'And so, your Reverence, upon hearing the shriek, I put away my work, and away posted I to Donna Antonia's chamber. Finding nobody there, I past on to the next; But I must own, I was a little timorous at going in, for this was the very room where Donna Elvira used to sleep. However, in I went, and sure enough, there lay the young Lady at full length upon the floor, as cold as a stone, and as white as a sheet. I was surprized at this, as your Holiness may well suppose; But Oh me! how I shook when I saw a great tall figure at my elbow whose head touched the ceiling! The face was Donna Elvira's, I must confess; But out of its mouth came clouds of fire, its arms were loaded with heavy chains which it rattled piteously, and every hair on its head was a Serpent as big as my arm! At this I was frightened enough, and began to say my Ave-Maria: But the Ghost interrupting me uttered three loud groans, and roared out in a terrible voice, "Oh! That Chicken's wing! My poor soul suffers for it!" As soon as She had said this, the Ground opened, the Spectre sank down, I heard a clap of thunder, and the room was filled with a smell of brimstone. When I recovered from my fright, and had brought Donna Antonia to herself, who told me that She had cried out upon seeing her Mother's Ghost, (And well might She cry, poor Soul! Had I been in her place, I should have cried ten times louder) it directly came into my head, that if any one had power to quiet this Spectre, it must be your Reverence. So hither I came in all diligence, to beg that you will sprinkle my House with holy water, and lay the Apparition in the Red Sea.'
Ambrosio stared at this strange story, which He could not credit.
'Did Donna Antonia also see the Ghost?' said He.
'As plain as I see you, Reverend Father!'
Ambrosio paused for a moment. Here was an opportunity offered him of gaining access to Antonia, but He hesitated to employ it. The reputation which He enjoyed in Madrid was still dear to him; and since He had lost the reality of virtue, it appeared as if its semblance was become more valuable. He was conscious that publicly to break through the rule never to quit the Abbey precincts, would derogate much from his supposed austerity. In visiting Elvira, He had always taken care to keep his features concealed from the Domestics. Except by the Lady, her Daughter, and the faithful Flora, He was known in the Family by no other name than that of Father Jerome. Should He comply with Jacintha's request, and accompany her to her House, He knew that the violation of his rule could not be kept a secret. However, his eagerness to see Antonia obtained the victory: He even hoped, that the singularity of this adventure would justify him in the eyes of Madrid: But whatever might be the consequences, He resolved to profit by the opportunity which chance had presented to him. An expressive look from Matilda confirmed him in this resolution.
'Good Woman,' said He to Jacintha, 'what you tell me is so extraordinary that I can scarcely credit your assertions. However, I will comply with your request. Tomorrow after Matins you may expect me at your House: I will then examine into what I can do for you, and if it is in my power, will free you from this unwelcome Visitor. Now then go home, and peace be with you!'
'Home?' exclaimed Jacintha; 'I go home? Not I by my troth! except under your protection, I set no foot of mine within the threshold. God help me, the Ghost may meet me upon the Stairs, and whisk me away with her to the devil! Oh! That I had accepted young Melchior Basco's offer! Then I should have had somebody to protect me; But now I am a lone Woman, and meet with nothing but crosses and misfortunes! Thank Heaven, it is not yet too late to repent! There is Simon Gonzalez will have me any day of the week, and if I live till daybreak, I will marry him out of hand: An Husband I will have, that is determined, for now this Ghost is once in my House, I shall be frightened out of my wits to sleep alone. But for God's sake, reverend Father, come with me now. I shall have no rest till the House is purified, or the poor young Lady either. The dear Girl! She is in a piteous taking: I left her in strong convulsions, and I doubt, She will not easily recover her fright.'
The Friar started, and interrupted her hastily.
'In convulsions, say you? Antonia in convulsions? Lead on, good Woman! I follow you this moment!'
Jacintha insisted upon his stopping to furnish himself with the vessel of holy water: With this request He complied. Thinking herself safe under his protection should a Legion of Ghosts attack her, the old Woman returned the Monk a profusion of thanks, and they departed together for the Strada di San Iago.
So strong an impression had the Spectre made upon Antonia, that for the first two or three hours the Physician declared her life to be in danger. The fits at length becoming less frequent induced him to alter his opinion. He said that to keep her quiet was all that was necessary; and He ordered a medicine to be prepared which would tranquillize her nerves, and procure her that repose which at present She much wanted. The sight of Ambrosio, who now appeared with Jacintha at her Bedside, contributed essentially to compose her ruffled spirits. Elvira had not sufficiently explained herself upon the nature of his designs, to make a Girl so ignorant of the world as her Daughter aware how dangerous was his acquaintance. At this moment, when penetrated with horror at the scene which had just past, and dreading to contemplate the Ghost's prediction, her mind had need of all the succours of friendship and religion, Antonia regarded the Abbot with an eye doubly partial. That strong prepossession in his favour still existed which She had felt for him at first sight: She fancied, yet knew not wherefore, that his presence was a safeguard to her from every danger, insult, or misfortune.
She thanked him gratefully for his visit, and related to him the adventure, which had alarmed her so seriously.
The Abbot strove to reassure her, and convince her that the whole had been a deception of her overheated fancy. The solitude in which She had passed the Evening, the gloom of night, the Book which She had been reading, and the Room in which She sat, were all calculated to place before her such a vision. He treated the idea of Ghosts with ridicule, and produced strong arguments to prove the fallacy of such a system. His conversation tranquillized and comforted her, but did not convince her. She could not believe that the Spectre had been a mere creature of her imagination; Every circumstance was impressed upon her mind too forcibly, to permit her flattering herself with such an idea. She persisted in asserting that She had really seen her Mother's Ghost, had heard the period of her dissolution announced and declared that She never should quit her bed alive. Ambrosio advised her against encouraging these sentiments, and then quitted her chamber, having promised to repeat his visit on the morrow. Antonia received this assurance with every mark of joy: But the Monk easily perceived that He was not equally acceptable to her Attendant. Flora obeyed Elvira's injunctions with the most scrupulous observance. She examined every circumstance with an anxious eye likely in the least to prejudice her young Mistress, to whom She had been attached for many years. She was a Native of Cuba, had followed Elvira to Spain, and loved the young Antonia with a Mother's affection. Flora quitted not the room for a moment while the Abbot remained there: She watched his every word, his every look, his every action. He saw that her suspicious eye was always fixed upon him, and conscious that his designs would not bear inspection so minute, He felt frequently confused and disconcerted. He was aware that She doubted the purity of his intentions; that She would never leave him alone with Antonia, and his Mistress defended by the presence of this vigilant Observer, He despaired of finding the means to gratify his passion.
As He quitted the House, Jacintha met him, and begged that some Masses might be sung for the repose of Elvira's soul, which She doubted not was suffering in Purgatory. He promised not to forget her request; But He perfectly gained the old Woman's heart by engaging to watch during the whole of the approaching night in the haunted chamber. Jacintha could find no terms sufficiently strong to express her gratitude, and the Monk departed loaded with her benedictions.
It was broad day when He returned to the Abbey. His first care was to communicate what had past to his Confident. He felt too sincere a passion for Antonia to have heard unmoved the prediction of her speedy death, and He shuddered at the idea of losing an object so dear to him. Upon this head Matilda reassured him. She confirmed the arguments which Himself had already used: She declared Antonia to have been deceived by the wandering of her brain, by the Spleen which opprest her at the moment, and by the natural turn of her mind to superstition, and the marvellous. As to Jacintha's account, the absurdity refuted itself; The Abbot hesitated not to believe that She had fabricated the whole story, either confused by terror, or hoping to make him comply more readily with her request. Having overruled the Monk's apprehensions, Matilda continued thus.
'The prediction and the Ghost are equally false; But it must be your care, Ambrosio, to verify the first. Antonia within three days must indeed be dead to the world; But She must live for you.
Her present illness, and this fancy which She has taken into her head, will colour a plan which I have long meditated, but which was impracticable without your procuring access to Antonia. She shall be yours, not for a single night, but for ever. All the vigilance of her Duenna shall not avail her: You shall riot unrestrained in the charms of your Mistress. This very day must the scheme be put in execution, for you have no time to lose. The Nephew of the Duke of Medina Celi prepares to demand Antonia for his Bride: In a few days She will be removed to the Palace of her Relation, the Marquis de las Cisternas, and there She will be secure from your attempts. Thus during your absence have I been informed by my Spies, who are ever employed in bringing me intelligence for your service. Now then listen to me. There is a juice extracted from certain herbs, known but to few, which brings on the Person who drinks it the exact image of Death. Let this be administered to Antonia: You may easily find means to pour a few drops into her medicine. The effect will be throwing her into strong convulsions for an hour: After which her blood will gradually cease to flow, and heart to beat; A mortal paleness will spread itself over her features, and She will appear a Corse to every eye. She has no Friends about her: You may charge yourself unsuspected with the superintendence of her funeral, and cause her to be buried in the Vaults of St. Clare. Their solitude and easy access render these Caverns favourable to your designs. Give Antonia the soporific draught this Evening: Eight and forty hours after She has drank it, Life will revive to her bosom. She will then be absolutely in your power: She will find all resistance unavailing, and necessity will compel her to receive you in her arms.'