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"Such a high dignity is not made for me, holy mother."
"But the voices of your sisters call you to it."
"Permit me, holy mother, to make here on my knees a solemn confession; my sisters will see, and you also, holy mother, that the most humble condition is not humble enough for me."
"Your modesty misleads you my dear daughter," said the superior, with kindness, believing, in fact, that the unfortunate child was yielding to a feeling of exaggerated modesty; but I, I divined those confessions which Fleur-de-Marie was about to make. Dazed with horror, I cried out in a supplicating voice, "My child I conjure--"
At these words, to tell you, my friend all that I read in the profound look which Fleur-de Marie cast upon me, would be impossible. As you see directly, she had understood me--yes, she had understood that I should partake in the shame of this horrible revelation; she understood that, after such a revelation, I might be accused of falsehood, for I had a ways left it to be believed that Fleur-de-Marie had never left her mother.
At this thought the poor child believed herself guilty of the blackest ingrat.i.tude toward me. She had not strength to go on--she was silent, and held down her head from exhaustion.
"Yes once again, my dear daughter," resumed the abbess, "your modesty deceives you; the unanimity of your sisters' choice proves to you how worthy you are to take my place. If you have taken part in the pleasures of the world, your renouncing these pleasures is but the more meritorious. It is not her Royal Highness Princess Amelia who is chosen--it is _Sister Amelia_. For us, your life began when you entered this house of the Lord, and it is this example and holy life which we recompense. I say to you, moreover, my dear daughter, that if before entering this retreat your life had been as guilty as it has been, on the contrary, pure and praiseworthy, that the angelic virtues of which you have given us the example since your abode here would expiate and redeem, in the eyes of the Lord, any past life, however guilty it may have been. After this, my daughter, judge if your modesty ought not to be a.s.sured."
These words of the abbess were the more precious to Fleur-de-Marie, inasmuch as she believed the past ineffaceable. Unfortunately, this scene had deeply distressed her, and, though she affected calmness and firmness, it seemed to me that her countenance changed in an alarming manner. Twice she groaned as she pa.s.sed her poor emaciated hand over her forehead.
"I think I have convinced you, my dear daughter," resumed the Princess Juliana, "and you would not cause your sisters a severe pain by refusing this mark of their conndence and their affection."
"No, holy mother," said she, with an expression which struck me, and with a voice becoming weaker and weaker, "I _now_ think I may except it. But, as I feel greatly fatigued and somewhat ill, if you will permit it, holy mother, the ceremony of my consecration shall not take place for a few days."
"It shall be as you desire, my dear daughter; but while we wait till your office shall be blessed and consecrated, take this ring: come to your place; our dear sisters will render you their homage, according to the rules."
I saw at every moment her emotion increasing, her countenance changing more and more; finally, this scene was beyond her strength; she fainted before the procession of the sisters was finished. Judge of my terror; we carried her into the apartment of the abbess. David had not left the convent; he hastened and bestowed the first caress upon her. Oh, that he may not have deceived me: he a.s.sures me that this new accident was caused only by extreme weakness occasioned by the fastings, the fatigues, and the privation of sleep which my daughter has imposed upon herself during her novitiate. I believe him, because, in fact, her angelic features, though of a frightful paleness, did not betray any suffering; when she recovered her consciousness, I was even struck with the serenity which shone on her forehead. It seems to me that she was concealing the secret hope of an approaching deliverance. The superior having returned to the chapter to close the session, I remained alone with my daughter.
"My good father, can you forget my ingrat.i.tude? Can you forget that, at the moment I was about to make this painful confession, you asked me to spare you!"
"Oh! do not speak of it, I supplicate you."
"And I had not dreamed," continued she, with bitterness, "that in saying, in the face of all, from what an abyss of degradation you had drawn me, I was revealing a secret that you had kept out of tenderness to me; it was to accuse you publicly--you, my father--of a dissimulation to which you had resigned yourself only to secure to me a brilliant and honored existence.
Oh! can you pardon me?"
Instead of answering her, I pressed my lips upon her forehead; she felt my tears flow. After having kissed my hands several times, she said to me, "Now I feel better, my good father, now that I am, as our rules says, here, and dead to the world. I should wish to make some dispositions in favor of several persons; but as all I posses is yours, will you authorize me, my good father?"
"Can you doubt it? but I beseech you," said I to her, "do not indulge these sad thoughts; by and by you shall employ yourself in this duty: you have time enough."
"Undoubtedly, my good father, I have yet much time to live," added she, with an accent that, I know not why, made me shudder. I looked at her most attentively; but no change in her features justified my uneasiness. "Yes, I have yet much time to live," resumed she, "but I must not occupy myself longer with terrestrial things, for to-day I renounce all which attached me to the world. I beseech you, do not refuse me."
"Direct me: I will do anything you wish."
"I should wish that my tender mother would always keep in the little back parlor, where she usually sits, my embroidery frame, with the tapestry I have begun in it."
"Your wishes shall be fulfilled, my child; your room has remained exactly as it was the day you left the palace; for everything belonging to you is an object of religious worships to us. Clemence will be deeply touched at your remembrance of her."
"As to you, my good father, take, I beg you, my large ebony chair, in which I have thought and dreamed so much."
"It shall be placed by the side of mine in my working cabinet, and I shall see you in it every day, seated beside me, as you so often used to sit."
Could I tell her this, and restrain my tears?
"Now I should wish to leave some memorials of me to those who took so much interest in me when I was unfortunate. To Madame George I should like to give my writing-desk, of which I have lately made use. This gift will be appropriate," added she, with a sweet smile, "for it was she at the farm who began to teach me to write. As to the venerable curate of Bouqueval, who instructed me in religion, I destine for him the beautiful Christ in my oratory."
"Good, my child."
"I should like to send my bandeau of pearls to good little Rigolette. It is a simple ornament that she can wear on her beautiful black hair; and then, if it were possible, since you know where Martial and La Louve are, in Algiers, I should wish that the courageous woman, who once saved my life, should have my enameled cross. These different pledges of remembrance, my good father, I should wish to have sent to them _from Fleure-de Marie._"
"I will execute your wishes; have you forgotten none?"
"I believe not, my good father."
"Think carefully: among those who love you, is there not some one very unhappy--as unhappy as your mother and myself; some one finally who regrets as deeply as we do your entrance into the convent?"
The poor child understood me she pressed my hand; a slight blush colored for a moment her pale face.
Antic.i.p.ating a question which she feared, undoubtedly, to ask me, I said to her, "He is better; they no longer fear for his life."
"And his father?"
"He feels the improvement in the health of his son--he, too, is better. And to Henry, what will you give? A remembrance from you will be such a dear, such a precious consolation to him."
"My father, offer him my praying-desk. Alas! I have often watered it with my tears, in begging of Heaven strength to forget Henry, since I was not worthy of his love."
"How happy he will be to see that you had a thought for him!"
"The Asylum for Orphans and young women abandoned by their relations, I should desire, my good father--"
Here Rudolph's letter was interrupted by the following words which were almost illegible: "Clemence, Murphy will finish this letter: I have no longer any mind--I am distracted. Oh, the thirteenth of January!!!"
The conclusion of this letter is the handwriting of Murphy, was thus conceived:
YOUR HIGHNESS,--In obedience to the orders of his royal highness, I complete this sad recital. The two letters of my lord must have prepared your royal highness for the overwhelming news which it remains to me to acquaint you with. It was three o'clock; my lord was employed in writing to your royal highness; I was waiting in a neighboring apartment until he should give me the letter, to forward it immediately by a courier. Suddenly I saw the Princess Juliana enter with an air of consternation. "Where is his royal highness?" said she to me, with a voice filled with emotion.
"Princess, my lord is writing to the grand d.u.c.h.ess the news of the day."
"Sir Walter, you must inform my lord--a terrible event. You are his friend, be so kind as to inform him; from you the blow will be less terrible."
I understood everything; I thought it more prudent to take this sad revelation upon myself, the superior having added that the Princess Amelia was slowly sinking away, and that my lord must hasten to receive the last sighs of his daughter. I unfortunately had not time to take any precautions. I entered the saloon; his royal highness perceived my paleness. "You have come to acquaint me of some misfortune."
"An irreparable misfortune, my lord--courage."
"Ah, my presentiments!" cried he, and, without adding a word, he ran to the cloister. I followed him.
From the apartment of the superior, the Princess Amelia had been transported into her cell after her last interview with my lord. One of the sisters was watching by her; at the end of an hour she perceived that the voice of the Princess Amelia, who spoke to her at intervals, was becoming weaker, and that she was more distressed. The sister hastened to inform the superior; Dr. David was called; he hoped to remedy this new loss of strength by a cordial, but it was in vain; the pulse was scarcely perceptible; he saw, with despair, that reiterated emotions had probably exhausted the strength of the Princess Amelia; there remained no hope of saving her. It was then that my lord arrived. Princess Amelia had just received the last sacrament; a ray of intelligence still lingered about her; in one of her hands, crossed on her bosom, was the _remains of her little rose-bush._
My lord fell on his knees by her pillow: he sobbed. "My daughter, my beloved child," cried he in a heart-rending tone.
The Princess Amelia heard him, turned her head gently toward him, opened her eyes, endeavored to smile, and said, with a feeble voice:
"My good father, pardon--Henry also--my good mother--forgive."
Such were her last words! After an hour of silent agony, she gave up her spirit to G.o.d.