'I am unwilling' said He, 'that my breaking through a rule imposed by necessity should be generally known. Had I not resolved never to quit my Convent, except upon circumstances as urgent as that which has conducted me to your door, I should be frequently summoned upon insignificant occasions: That time would be engrossed by the Curious, the Unoccupied, and the fanciful, which I now pass at the Bedside of the Sick, in comforting the expiring Penitent, and clearing the passage to Eternity from Thorns.'
Elvira commended equally his prudence and compassion, promising to conceal carefully the honour of his visits. The Monk then gave her his benediction, and retired from the chamber.
In the Antiroom He found Antonia: He could not refuse himself the pleasure of passing a few moments in her society. He bad her take comfort, for that her Mother seemed composed and tranquil, and He hoped that She might yet do well. He enquired who attended her, and engaged to send the Physician of his Convent to see her, one of the most skilful in Madrid. He then launched out in Elvira's commendation, praised her purity and fortitude of mind, and declared that She had inspired him with the highest esteem and reverence. Antonia's innocent heart swelled with gratitude: Joy danced in her eyes, where a tear still sparkled. The hopes which He gave her of her Mother's recovery, the lively interest which He seemed to feel for her, and the flattering way in which She was mentioned by him, added to the report of his judgment and virtue, and to the impression made upon her by his eloquence, confirmed the favourable opinion with which his first appearance had inspired Antonia. She replied with diffidence, but without restraint: She feared not to relate to him all her little sorrows, all her little fears and anxieties; and She thanked him for his goodness with all the genuine warmth which favours kindle in a young and innocent heart. Such alone know how to estimate benefits at their full value. They who are conscious of Mankind's perfidy and selfishness, ever receive an obligation with apprehension and distrust: They suspect that some secret motive must lurk behind it: They express their thanks with restraint and caution, and fear to praise a kind action to its full extent, aware that some future day a return may be required. Not so Antonia; She thought the world was composed only of those who resembled her, and that vice existed, was to her still a secret. The Monk had been of service to her; He said that He wished her well; She was grateful for his kindness, and thought that no terms were strong enough to be the vehicle of her thanks. With what delight did Ambrosio listen to the declaration of her artless gratitude! The natural grace of her manners, the unequalled sweetness of her voice, her modest vivacity, her unstudied elegance, her expressive countenance, and intelligent eyes united to inspire him with pleasure and admiration, While the solidity and correctness of her remarks received additional beauty from the unaffected simplicity of the language in which they were conveyed.
Ambrosio was at length obliged to tear himself from this conversation which possessed for him but too many charms. He repeated to Antonia his wishes that his visits should not be made known, which desire She promised to observe. He then quitted the House, while his Enchantress hastened to her Mother, ignorant of the mischief which her Beauty had caused. She was eager to know Elvira's opinion of the Man whom She had praised in such enthusiastic terms, and was delighted to find it equally favourable, if not even more so, than her own.
'Even before He spoke,' said Elvira, 'I was prejudiced in his favour: The fervour of his exhortations, dignity of his manner, and closeness of his reasoning, were very far from inducing me to alter my opinion. His fine and full-toned voice struck me particularly; But surely, Antonia, I have heard it before. It seemed perfectly familiar to my ear. Either I must have known the Abbot in former times, or his voice bears a wonderful resemblance to that of some other, to whom I have often listened.
There were certain tones which touched my very heart, and made me feel sensations so singular, that I strive in vain to account for them.'
'My dearest Mother, it produced the same effect upon me: Yet certainly neither of us ever heard his voice till we came to Madrid. I suspect that what we attribute to his voice, really proceeds from his pleasant manners, which forbid our considering him as a Stranger. I know not why, but I feel more at my ease while conversing with him than I usually do with people who are unknown to me. I feared not to repeat to him all my childish thoughts; and somehow I felt confident that He would hear my folly with indulgence. Oh! I was not deceived in him! He listened to me with such an air of kindness and attention! He answered me with such gentleness, such condescension! He did not call me an Infant, and treat me with contempt, as our cross old Confessor at the Castle used to do. I verily believe that if I had lived in Murcia a thousand years, I never should have liked that fat old Father Dominic!'
'I confess that Father Dominic had not the most pleasing manners in the world; But He was honest, friendly, and well-meaning.'
'Ah! my dear Mother, those qualities are so common!'
'God grant, my Child, that Experience may not teach you to think them rare and precious: I have found them but too much so! But tell me, Antonia; Why is it impossible for me to have seen the Abbot before?'
'Because since the moment when He entered the Abbey, He has never been on the outside of its walls. He told me just now, that from his ignorance of the Streets, He had some difficulty to find the Strada di San Iago, though so near the Abbey.'
'All this is possible, and still I may have seen him BEFORE He entered the Abbey: In order to come out, it was rather necessary that He should first go in.'
'Holy Virgin! As you say, that is very true.—Oh! But might He not have been born in the Abbey?'
'Why, not very easily.'
'Stay, Stay! Now I recollect how it was. He was put into the Abbey quite a Child; The common People say that He fell from heaven, and was sent as a present to the Capuchins by the Virgin.'
'That was very kind of her. And so He fell from heaven, Antonia?
He must have had a terrible tumble.'
'Many do not credit this, and I fancy, my dear Mother, that I must number you among the Unbelievers. Indeed, as our Landlady told my Aunt, the general idea is that his Parents, being poor and unable to maintain him, left him just born at the Abbey door. The late Superior from pure charity had him educated in the Convent, and He proved to be a model of virtue, and piety, and learning, and I know not what else besides: In consequence, He was first received as a Brother of the order, and not long ago was chosen Abbot. However, whether this account or the other is the true one, at least all agree that when the Monks took him under their care, He could not speak: Therefore, you could not have heard his voice before He entered the Monastery, because at that time He had no voice at all.'
'Upon my word, Antonia, you argue very closely! Your conclusions are infallible! I did not suspect you of being so able a Logician.'
'Ah! You are mocking me! But so much the better. It delights me to see you in spirits: Besides you seem tranquil and easy, and I hope that you will have no more convulsions. Oh! I was sure the Abbot's visit would do you good!'
'It has indeed done me good, my Child. He has quieted my mind upon some points which agitated me, and I already feel the effects of his attention. My eyes grow heavy, and I think I can sleep a little. Draw the curtains, my Antonia: But if I should not wake before midnight, do not sit up with me, I charge you.'
Antonia promised to obey her, and having received her blessing drew the curtains of the Bed. She then seated herself in silence at her embroidery frame, and beguiled the hours with building Castles in the air. Her spirits were enlivened by the evident change for the better in Elvira, and her fancy presented her with visions bright and pleasing. In these dreams Ambrosio made no despicable figure. She thought of him with joy and gratitude; But for every idea which fell to the Friar's share, at least two were unconsciously bestowed upon Lorenzo. Thus passed the time, till the Bell in the neighbouring Steeple of the Capuchin Cathedral announced the hour of midnight: Antonia remembered her Mother's injunctions, and obeyed them, though with reluctance. She undrew the curtains with caution. Elvira was enjoying a profound and quiet slumber; Her cheek glowed with health's returning colours: A smile declared that her dreams were pleasant, and as Antonia bent over her, She fancied that She heard her name pronounced. She kissed her Mother's forehead softly, and retired to her chamber. There She knelt before a Statue of St. Rosolia, her Patroness; She recommended herself to the protection of heaven, and as had been her custom from infancy, concluded her devotions by chaunting the following Stanzas.
Now all is hushed; The solemn chime
No longer swells the nightly gale:
Thy awful presence, Hour sublime,
With spotless heart once more I hail.
'Tis now the moment still and dread,
When Sorcerers use their baleful power;
When Graves give up their buried dead
To profit by the sanctioned hour:
From guilt and guilty thoughts secure,
To duty and devotion true,
With bosom light and conscience pure,
Repose, thy gentle aid I woo.
Good Angels, take my thanks, that still
The snares of vice I view with scorn;
Thanks, that to-night as free from ill
I sleep, as when I woke at morn.
Yet may not my unconscious breast
Harbour some guilt to me unknown?
Some wish impure, which unreprest
You blush to see, and I to own?
If such there be, in gentle dream
Instruct my feet to shun the snare;
Bid truth upon my errors beam,
And deign to make me still your care.
Chase from my peaceful bed away
The witching Spell, a foe to rest,
The nightly Goblin, wanton Fay,
The Ghost in pain, and Fiend unblest:
Let not the Tempter in mine ear
Pour lessons of unhallowed joy;
Let not the Night-mare, wandering near
My Couch, the calm of sleep destroy;
Let not some horrid dream affright
With strange fantastic forms mine eyes;
But rather bid some vision bright
Display the bliss of yonder skies.
Show me the crystal Domes of Heaven,
The worlds of light where Angels lie;
Shew me the lot to Mortals given,
Who guiltless live, who guiltless die.
Then show me how a seat to gain
Amidst those blissful realms of
Air; Teach me to shun each guilty stain,
And guide me to the good and fair.
So every morn and night, my Voice
To heaven the grateful strain shall raise;
In You as Guardian Powers rejoice,
Good Angels, and exalt your praise:
So will I strive with zealous fire
Each vice to shun, each fault correct;
Will love the lessons you inspire,
And Prize the virtues you protect.
Then when at length by high command
My body seeks the Grave's repose,
When Death draws nigh with friendly hand
My failing Pilgrim eyes to close;
Pleased that my soul has 'scaped the wreck,
Sighless will I my life resign,
And yield to God my Spirit back,
As pure as when it first was mine.
Having finished her usual devotions, Antonia retired to bed. Sleep soon stole over her senses; and for several hours She enjoyed that calm repose which innocence alone can know, and for which many a Monarch with pleasure would exchange his Crown.
Table of Contents
——Ah! how dark
These long-extended realms and rueful wastes;
Where nought but silence reigns, and night, dark night,
Dark as was Chaos ere the Infant Sun
Was rolled together, or had tried its beams
Athwart the gloom profound!
The sickly Taper
By glimmering through thy low-browed misty vaults,
Furred round with mouldy damps, and ropy slime,
Lets fall a supernumerary horror,
And only serves to make
Thy night more irksome!
Returned undiscovered to the Abbey, Ambrosio's mind was filled with the most pleasing images. He was wilfully blind to the danger of exposing himself to Antonia's charms: He only remembered the pleasure which her society had afforded him, and rejoiced in the prospect of that pleasure being repeated. He failed not to profit by Elvira's indisposition to obtain a sight of her Daughter every day. At first He bounded his wishes to inspire Antonia with friendship: But no sooner was He convinced that She felt that sentiment in its fullest extent, than his aim became more decided, and his attentions assumed a warmer colour. The innocent familiarity with which She treated him, encouraged his desires: Grown used to her modesty, it no longer commanded the same respect and awe: He still admired it, but it only made him more anxious to deprive her of that quality which formed her principal charm. Warmth of passion, and natural penetration, of which latter unfortunately both for himself and Antonia He possessed an ample share, supplied a knowledge of the arts of seduction. He easily distinguished the emotions which were favourable to his designs, and seized every means with avidity of infusing corruption into Antonia's bosom. This He found no easy matter. Extreme simplicity prevented her from perceiving the aim to which the Monk's insinuations tended; But the excellent morals which She owed to Elvira's care, the solidity and correctness of her understanding, and a strong sense of what was right implanted in her heart by Nature, made her feel that his precepts must be faulty. By a few simple words She frequently overthrew the whole bulk of his sophistical arguments, and made him conscious how weak they were when opposed to Virtue and Truth. On such occasion He took refuge in his eloquence; He overpowered her with a torrent of Philosophical paradoxes, to which, not understanding them, it was impossible for her to reply; And thus though He did not convince her that his reasoning was just, He at least prevented her from discovering it to be false. He perceived that her respect for his judgment augmented daily, and doubted not with time to bring her to the point desired.
He was not unconscious that his attempts were highly criminal: He saw clearly the baseness of seducing the innocent Girl: But his passion was too violent to permit his abandoning his design. He resolved to pursue it, let the consequences be what they might. He depended upon finding Antonia in some unguarded moment; And seeing no other Man admitted into her society, nor hearing any mentioned either by her or by Elvira, He imagined that her young heart was still unoccupied. While He waited for the opportunity of satisfying his unwarrantable lust, every day increased his coldness for Matilda. Not a little was this occasioned by the consciousness of his faults to her. To hide them from her He was not sufficiently master of himself: Yet He dreaded lest, in a transport of jealous rage, She should betray the secret on which his character and even his life depended. Matilda could not but remark his indifference: He was conscious that She remarked it, and fearing her reproaches, shunned her studiously. Yet when He could not avoid her, her mildness might have convinced him that He had nothing to dread from her resentment. She had resumed the character of the gentle interesting Rosario: She taxed him not with ingratitude; But her eyes filled with involuntary tears, and the soft melancholy of her countenance and voice uttered complaints far more touching than words could have conveyed. Ambrosio was not unmoved by her sorrow; But unable to remove its cause, He forbore to show that it affected him. As her conduct convinced him that He needed not fear her vengeance, He continued to neglect her, and avoided her company with care. Matilda saw that She in vain attempted to regain his affections: Yet She stifled the impulse of resentment, and continued to treat her inconstant Lover with her former fondness and attention.
By degrees Elvira's constitution recovered itself. She was no longer troubled with convulsions, and Antonia ceased to tremble for her Mother. Ambrosio beheld this reestablishment with displeasure. He saw that Elvira's knowledge of the world would not be the Dupe of his sanctified demeanour, and that She would easily perceive his views upon her Daughter. He resolved therefore, before She quitted her chamber, to try the extent of his influence over the innocent Antonia.
One evening, when He had found Elvira almost perfectly restored to health, He quitted her earlier than was his usual custom. Not finding Antonia in the Antichamber, He ventured to follow her to her own. It was only separated from her Mother's by a Closet, in which Flora, the Waiting-Woman, generally slept. Antonia sat upon a Sopha with her back towards the door, and read attentively. She heard not his approach, till He had seated himself by her. She started, and welcomed him with a look of pleasure: Then rising, She would have conducted him to the sitting-room; But Ambrosio taking her hand, obliged her by gentle violence to resume her place. She complied without difficulty: She knew not that there was more impropriety in conversing with him in one room than another. She thought herself equally secure of his principles and her own, and having replaced herself upon the Sopha, She began to prattle to him with her usual ease and vivacity.
He examined the Book which She had been reading, and had now placed upon the Table. It was the Bible.
'How!' said the Friar to himself; 'Antonia reads the Bible, and is still so ignorant?'
But, upon a further inspection, He found that Elvira had made exactly the same remark. That prudent Mother, while She admired the beauties of the sacred writings, was convinced that, unrestricted, no reading more improper could be permitted a young Woman. Many of the narratives can only tend to excite ideas the worst calculated for a female breast: Every thing is called plainly and roundly by its name; and the annals of a Brothel would scarcely furnish a greater choice of indecent expressions. Yet this is the Book which young Women are recommended to study; which is put into the hands of Children, able to comprehend little more than those passages of which they had better remain ignorant; and which but too frequently inculcates the first rudiments of vice, and gives the first alarm to the still sleeping passions. Of this was Elvira so fully convinced, that She would have preferred putting into her Daughter's hands 'Amadis de Gaul,' or 'The Valiant Champion, Tirante the White;' and would sooner have authorised her studying the lewd exploits of 'Don Galaor,' or the lascivious jokes of the 'Damsel Plazer di mi vida.' She had in consequence made two resolutions respecting the Bible. The first was that Antonia should not read it till She was of an age to feel its beauties, and profit by its morality: The second, that it should be copied out with her own hand, and all improper passages either altered or omitted. She had adhered to this determination, and such was the Bible which Antonia was reading: It had been lately delivered to her, and She perused it with an avidity, with a delight that was inexpressible. Ambrosio perceived his mistake, and replaced the Book upon the Table.
Antonia spoke of her Mother's health with all the enthusiastic joy of a youthful heart.
'I admire your filial affection,' said the Abbot; 'It proves the excellence and sensibility of your character; It promises a treasure to him whom Heaven has destined to possess your affections. The Breast, so capable of fondness for a Parent, what will it feel for a Lover? Nay, perhaps, what feels it for one even now? Tell me, my lovely Daughter; Have you known what it is to love? Answer me with sincerity: Forget my habit, and consider me only as a Friend.'
'What it is to love?' said She, repeating his question; 'Oh! yes, undoubtedly; I have loved many, many People.'
'That is not what I mean. The love of which I speak can be felt only for one. Have you never seen the Man whom you wished to be your Husband?'
'Oh! No, indeed!'
This was an untruth, but She was unconscious of its falsehood: She knew not the nature of her sentiments for Lorenzo; and never having seen him since his first visit to Elvira, with every day his Image grew less feebly impressed upon her bosom. Besides, She thought of an Husband with all a Virgin's terror, and negatived the Friar's demand without a moment's hesitation.
'And do you not long to see that Man, Antonia? Do you feel no void in your heart which you fain would have filled up? Do you heave no sighs for the absence of some one dear to you, but who that some one is, you know not? Perceive you not that what formerly could please, has charms for you no longer? That a thousand new wishes, new ideas, new sensations, have sprang in your bosom, only to be felt, never to be described? Or while you fill every other heart with passion, is it possible that your own remains insensible and cold? It cannot be! That melting eye, that blushing cheek, that enchanting voluptuous melancholy which at times overspreads your features, all these marks belye your words. You love, Antonia, and in vain would hide it from me.'
'Father, you amaze me! What is this love of which you speak? I neither know its nature, nor if I felt it, why I should conceal the sentiment.'
'Have you seen no Man, Antonia, whom though never seen before, you seemed long to have sought? Whose form, though a Stranger's, was familiar to your eyes? The sound of whose voice soothed you, pleased you, penetrated to your very soul? In whose presence you rejoiced, for whose absence you lamented? With whom your heart seemed to expand, and in whose bosom with confidence unbounded you reposed the cares of your own? Have you not felt all this, Antonia?'
'Certainly I have: The first time that I saw you, I felt it.'
Ambrosio started. Scarcely dared He credit his hearing.
'Me, Antonia?' He cried, his eyes sparkling with delight and impatience, while He seized her hand, and pressed it rapturously to his lips. 'Me, Antonia? You felt these sentiments for me?'
'Even with more strength than you have described. The very moment that I beheld you, I felt so pleased, so interested! I waited so eagerly to catch the sound of your voice, and when I heard it, it seemed so sweet! It spoke to me a language till then so unknown! Methought, it told me a thousand things which I wished to hear! It seemed as if I had long known you; as if I had a right to your friendship, your advice, and your protection.
I wept when you departed, and longed for the time which should restore you to my sight.'
'Antonia! my charming Antonia!' exclaimed the Monk, and caught her to his bosom; 'Can I believe my senses? Repeat it to me, my sweet Girl! Tell me again that you love me, that you love me truly and tenderly!'
'Indeed, I do: Let my Mother be excepted, and the world holds no one more dear to me!'
At this frank avowal Ambrosio no longer possessed himself; Wild with desire, He clasped the blushing Trembler in his arms. He fastened his lips greedily upon hers, sucked in her pure delicious breath, violated with his bold hand the treasures of her bosom, and wound around him her soft and yielding limbs. Startled, alarmed, and confused at his action, surprize at first deprived her of the power of resistance. At length recovering herself, She strove to escape from his embrace.
'Father! .... Ambrosio!' She cried; 'Release me, for God's sake!'
But the licentious Monk heeded not her prayers: He persisted in his design, and proceeded to take still greater liberties. Antonia prayed, wept, and struggled: Terrified to the extreme, though at what She knew not, She exerted all her strength to repulse the Friar, and was on the point of shrieking for assistance when the chamber door was suddenly thrown open. Ambrosio had just sufficient presence of mind to be sensible of his danger. Reluctantly He quitted his prey, and started hastily from the Couch. Antonia uttered an exclamation of joy, flew towards the door, and found herself clasped in the arms of her Mother.
Alarmed at some of the Abbot's speeches, which Antonia had innocently repeated, Elvira resolved to ascertain the truth of her suspicions. She had known enough of Mankind not to be imposed upon by the Monk's reputed virtue. She reflected on several circumstances, which though trifling, on being put together seemed to authorize her fears. His frequent visits, which as far as She could see, were confined to her family; His evident emotion, whenever She spoke of Antonia; His being in the full prime and heat of Manhood; and above all, his pernicious philosophy communicated to her by Antonia, and which accorded but ill with his conversation in her presence, all these circumstances inspired her with doubts respecting the purity of Ambrosio's friendship. In consequence, She resolved, when He should next be alone with Antonia, to endeavour at surprizing him. Her plan had succeeded. 'Tis true, that when She entered the room, He had already abandoned his prey; But the disorder of her Daughter's dress, and the shame and confusion stamped upon the Friar's countenance, sufficed to prove that her suspicions were but too well-founded. However, She was too prudent to make those suspicions known. She judged that to unmask the Imposter would be no easy matter, the public being so much prejudiced in his favour: and having but few Friends, She thought it dangerous to make herself so powerful an Enemy. She affected therefore not to remark his agitation, seated herself tranquilly upon the Sopha, assigned some trifling reason for having quitted her room unexpectedly, and conversed on various subjects with seeming confidence and ease.
Reassured by her behaviour, the Monk began to recover himself. He strove to answer Elvira without appearing embarrassed: But He was still too great a novice in dissimulation, and He felt that He must look confused and awkward. He soon broke off the conversation, and rose to depart. What was his vexation, when on taking leave, Elvira told him in polite terms, that being now perfectly reestablished, She thought it an injustice to deprive Others of his company, who might be more in need of it! She assured him of her eternal gratitude, for the benefit which during her illness She had derived from his society and exhortations: And She lamented that her domestic affairs, as well as the multitude of business which his situation must of necessity impose upon him, would in future deprive her of the pleasure of his visits. Though delivered in the mildest language this hint was too plain to be mistaken. Still, He was preparing to put in a remonstrance when an expressive look from Elvira stopped him short. He dared not press her to receive him, for her manner convinced him that He was discovered: He submitted without reply, took an hasty leave, and retired to the Abbey, his heart filled with rage and shame, with bitterness and disappointment.
Antonia's mind felt relieved by his departure; Yet She could not help lamenting that She was never to see him more. Elvira also felt a secret sorrow; She had received too much pleasure from thinking him her Friend, not to regret the necessity of changing her opinion: But her mind was too much accustomed to the fallacy of worldly friendships to permit her present disappointment to weigh upon it long. She now endeavoured to make her Daughter aware of the risque which She had ran: But She was obliged to treat the subject with caution, lest in removing the bandage of ignorance, the veil of innocence should be rent away. She therefore contented herself with warning Antonia to be upon her guard, and ordering her, should the Abbot persist in his visits, never to receive them but in company. With this injunction Antonia promised to comply.
Ambrosio hastened to his Cell. He closed the door after him, and threw himself upon the bed in despair. The impulse of desire, the stings of disappointment, the shame of detection, and the fear of being publicly unmasked, rendered his bosom a scene of the most horrible confusion. He knew not what course to pursue. Debarred the presence of Antonia, He had no hopes of satisfying that passion which was now become a part of his existence. He reflected that his secret was in a Woman's power: He trembled with apprehension when He beheld the precipice before him, and with rage, when He thought that had it not been for Elvira, He should now have possessed the object of his desires. With the direct imprecations He vowed vengeance against her; He swore that, cost what it would, He still would possess Antonia. Starting from the Bed, He paced the chamber with disordered steps, howled with impotent fury, dashed himself violently against the walls, and indulged all the transports of rage and madness.
He was still under the influence of this storm of passions when He heard a gentle knock at the door of his Cell. Conscious that his voice must have been heard, He dared not refuse admittance to the Importuner: He strove to compose himself, and to hide his agitation. Having in some degree succeeded, He drew back the bolt: The door opened, and Matilda appeared.
At this precise moment there was no one with whose presence He could better have dispensed. He had not sufficient command over himself to conceal his vexation. He started back, and frowned.
'I am busy,' said He in a stern and hasty tone; 'Leave me!'