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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Meeting in the Convent
By Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850)
 
From ‘The Duchess of Langeais’

I
IN a Spanish town on an island of the Mediterranean there is a convent of the Barefooted Carmelites, where the rule of the Order instituted by Saint Theresa is still kept with the primitive rigor of the reformation brought about by that illustrious woman. Extraordinary as this fact may seem, it is true. Though the monasteries of the Peninsula and those of the Continent were nearly all destroyed or broken up by the outburst of the French Revolution and the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, yet on this island, protected by the British fleets, the wealthy convent and its peaceful inmates were sheltered from the dangers of change and general spoliation. The storms from all quarters which shook the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century subsided ere they reached this lonely rock near the coast of Andalusia. If the name of the great Emperor echoed fitfully upon its shores, it may be doubted whether the fantastic march of his glory or the flaming majesty of his meteoric life ever reached the comprehension of those saintly women kneeling in their distant cloister.
  1
  A conventual rigor, which was never relaxed, gave to this haven a special place in the thoughts and history of the Catholic world. The purity of its rule drew to its shelter from different parts of Europe sad women, whose souls, deprived of human ties, longed for the death in life which they found here in the bosom of God. No other convent was so fitted to wean the heart and teach it that aloofness from the things of this world which the religious life imperatively demands. On the Continent may be found a number of such Houses, nobly planned to meet the wants of their sacred purpose. Some are buried in the depths of solitary valleys; others hang, as it were, in mid-air above the hills, clinging to the mountain slopes or projecting from the verge of precipices. On all sides man has sought out the poesy of the infinite, the solemnity of silence: he has sought God; and on the mountain-tops, in the abysmal depths, among the caverned cliffs he has found Him. Yet nowhere as on this European islet, half African though it be, can he find such differing harmonies all blending to lift the soul and quell its springs of anguish; to cool its fevers, and give to the sorrows of life a bed of rest.  2
  The monastery is built at the extremity of the island at its highest part, where the rock by some convulsion of Nature has been rent sharply down to the sea, and presents at all points keen angles and edges, slightly eaten away at the water-line by the action of the waves, but insurmountable to all approach. The rock is also protected from assault by dangerous reefs running far out from its base, over which frolic the blue waters of the Mediterranean. It is only from the sea that the visitor can perceive the four principal parts of the square structure, which adheres minutely as to shape, height, and the piercing of its windows to the prescribed laws of monastic architecture. On the side towards the town the church hides the massive lines of the cloister, whose roof is covered with large tiles to protect it from winds and storms, and also from the fierce heat of the sun. The church, the gift of a Spanish family, looks down upon the town and crowns it. Its bold yet elegant façade gives a noble aspect to the little maritime city. Is it not a picture of terrestrial sublimity? See the tiny town with clustering roofs, rising like an amphitheatre from the picturesque port upward to the noble Gothic frontal of the church, from which spring the slender shafts of the bell-towers with their pointed finials: religion dominating life: offering to man the end and the way of living,—image of a thought altogether Spanish. Place this scene upon the bosom of the Mediterranean beneath an ardent sky; plant it with palms whose waving fronds mingle their green life with the sculptured leafage of the immutable architecture; look at the white fringes of the sea as it runs up the reef and they sparkle upon the sapphire of its wave; see the galleries and the terraces built upon the roofs of houses, where the inhabitants come at eve to breathe the flower-scented air as it rises through the tree-tops from their little gardens. Below, in the harbor, are the white sails. The serenity of night is coming on; listen to the notes of the organ, the chant of evening orisons, the echoing bells of the ships at sea: on all sides sound and peace,—oftenest peace.  3
  Within the church are three naves, dark and mysterious. The fury of the winds evidently forbade the architect to build out lateral buttresses, such as adorn all other cathedrals, and between which little chapels are usually constructed. Thus the strong walls which flank the lesser naves shed no light into the building. Outside, their gray masses are shored up from point to point by enormous beams. The great nave and its two small lateral galleries are lighted solely by the rose-window of stained glass, which pierces with miraculous art the wall above the great portal, whose fortunate exposure permits a wealth of tracery and dentellated stone-work belonging to that order of architecture miscalled Gothic.  4
  The greater part of the three naves is given up to the inhabitants of the town who come to hear Mass and the Offices of the Church. In front of the choir is a latticed screen, within which brown curtains hang in ample folds, slightly parted in the middle to give a limited view of the altar and the officiating priest. The screen is divided at intervals by pillars that hold up a gallery within the choir which contains the organ. This construction, in harmony with the rest of the building, continues, in sculptured wood, the little columns of the lateral galleries which are supported by the pillars of the great nave. Thus it is impossible for the boldest curiosity, if any such should dare to mount the narrow balustrade of these galleries, to see farther into the choir than the octagonal stained windows which pierce the apse behind the high altar.  5
  At the time of the French expedition into Spain for the purpose of re-establishing the authority of Ferdinand VII., and after the fall of Cadiz, a French general who was sent to the island to obtain its recognition of the royal government prolonged his stay upon it that he might reconnoitre the convent and gain, if possible, admittance there. The enterprise was a delicate one. But a man of passion,—a man whose life had been, so to speak, a series of poems in action, who had lived romances instead of writing them; above all a man of deeds,—might well be tempted by a project apparently so impossible. To open for himself legally the gates of a convent of women! The Pope and the Metropolitan Archbishop would scarcely sanction it. Should he use force or artifice? In case of failure was he not certain to lose his station and his military future, besides missing his aim? The Duc d’Angoulême was still in Spain; and of all the indiscretions which an officer in favor with the commander-in-chief could commit, this alone would be punished without pity. The general had solicited his present mission for the purpose of following up a secret hope, albeit no hope was ever so despairing. This last effort, however, was a matter of conscience. The house of these Barefooted Carmelites was the only Spanish convent which had escaped his search. While crossing from the mainland, a voyage which took less than an hour, a strong presentiment of success had seized his heart. Since then, although he had seen nothing of the convent but its walls, nothing of the nuns, not so much as their brown habit; though he had heard only the echoes of their chanted liturgies,—he had gathered from those walls and from these chants faint indications that seemed to justify his fragile hope. Slight as the auguries thus capriciously awakened might be, no human passion was ever more violently roused than the curiosity of this French general. To the heart there are no insignificant events; it magnifies all things; it puts in the same balance the fall of an empire and the fall of a woman’s glove,—and oftentimes the glove outweighs the empire. But let us give the facts in their actual simplicity: after the facts will come the feelings.  6
  An hour after the expedition had landed on the island the royal authority was re-established. A few Spaniards who had taken refuge there after the fall of Cadiz embarked on a vessel which the general allowed them to charter for their voyage to London. There was thus neither resistance nor reaction. This little insular restoration could not, however, be accomplished without a Mass, at which both companies of the troops were ordered to be present. Not knowing the rigor of the Carmelite rule, the general hoped to gain in the church some information about the nuns who were immured in the convent, one of whom might be a being dearer to him than life, more precious even than honor. His hopes were at first cruelly disappointed. Mass was celebrated with the utmost pomp. In honor of this solemn occasion the curtains which habitually hid the choir were drawn aside, and gave to view the rich ornaments, the priceless pictures, and the shrines incrusted with jewels whose brilliancy surpassed that of the votive offerings fastened by the mariners of the port to the pillars of the great nave. The nuns, however, had retired to the seclusion of the organ gallery.  7
  Yet in spite of this check, and while the Mass of thanksgiving was being sung, suddenly and secretly the drama widened into an interest as profound as any that ever moved the heart of man. The Sister who played the organ roused an enthusiasm so vivid that not one soldier present regretted the order which had brought him to the church. The men listened to the music with pleasure; the officers were carried away by it. As for the general, he remained to all appearance calm and cold: the feelings with which he heard the notes given forth by the nun are among the small number of earthly things whose expression is withheld from impotent human speech, but which—like death, like God, like eternity—can be perceived only at their slender point of contact with the heart of man. By a strange chance the music of the organ seemed to be that of Rossini,—a composer who more than any other has carried human passion into the art of music, and whose works by their number and extent will some day inspire an Homeric respect. From among the scores of this fine genius the nun seemed to have chiefly studied that of Moses in Egypt; doubtless because the feelings of sacred music are there carried to the highest pitch. Perhaps these two souls—one so gloriously European, the other unknown—had met together in some intuitive perception of the same poetic thought. This idea occurred to two officers now present, true dilettanti, who no doubt keenly regretted the Théatre Favart in their Spanish exile. At last, at the Te Deum, it was impossible not to recognize a French soul in the character which the music suddenly took on. The triumph of his Most Christian Majesty evidently roused to joy the heart of that cloistered nun. Surely she was a Frenchwoman. Presently the patriotic spirit burst forth, sparkling like a jet of light through the antiphonals of the organ, as the Sister recalled melodies breathing the delicacy of Parisian taste, and blended them with vague memories of our national anthems. Spanish hands could not have put into this graceful homage paid to victorious arms the fire that thus betrayed the origin of the musician.  8
  “France is everywhere!” said a soldier.  9
  The general left the church during the Te Deum; it was impossible for him to listen to it. The notes of the musician revealed to him a woman loved to madness; who had buried herself so deeply in the heart of religion, hid herself so carefully away from the sight of the world, that up to this time she had escaped the keen search of men armed not only with immense power, but with great sagacity and intelligence. The hopes which had wakened in the general’s heart seemed justified as he listened to the vague echo of a tender and melancholy air, ‘La Fleuve du Tage,’—a ballad whose prelude he had often heard in Paris in the boudoir of the woman he loved, and which this nun now used to express, amid the joys of the conquerors, the suffering of an exiled heart. Terrible moment! to long for the resurrection of a lost love; to find that love—still lost; to meet it mysteriously after five years in which passion, exasperated by the void, had been intensified by the useless efforts made to satisfy it.  10
  Who is there that has not, once at least in his life, upturned everything about him, his papers and his receptacles, taxing his memory impatiently as he seeks some precious lost object; and then felt the ineffable pleasure of finding it after days consumed in the search, after hoping and despairing of its recovery,—spending upon some trifle an excitement of mind almost amounting to a passion? Well, stretch this fury of search through five long years; put a woman, a heart, a love in the place of the insignificant trifle; lift the passion into the highest realms of feeling; and then picture to yourself an ardent man, a man with the heart of lion and the front of Jove, one of those men who command, and communicate to those about them, respectful terror,—you will then understand the abrupt departure of the general during the Te Deum, at the moment when the prelude of an air, once heard in Paris with delight under gilded ceilings, vibrated through the dark naves of the church by the sea.  11
  He went down the hilly street which led up to the convent, without pausing until the sonorous echoes of the organ could no longer reach his ear. Unable to think of anything but of the love that like a volcanic eruption rent his heart, the French general only perceived that the Te Deum was ended when the Spanish contingent poured from the church. He felt that his conduct and appearance were open to ridicule, and he hastily resumed his place at the head of the cavalcade, explaining to the alcalde and to the governor of the town that a sudden indisposition had obliged him to come out into the air. Then it suddenly occurred to him to use the pretext thus hastily given, as a means of prolonging his stay on the island. Excusing himself on the score of increased illness, he declined to preside at the banquet given by the authorities of the island to the French officers, and took to his bed, after writing to the major-general that a passing illness compelled him to turn over his command to the colonel. This commonplace artifice, natural as it was, left him free from all duties and able to seek the fulfilment of his hopes. Like a man essentially Catholic and monarchical, he inquired the hours of the various services, and showed the utmost interest in the duties of religion,—a piety which in Spain excited no surprise.  12
 
II
THE FOLLOWING day, while the soldiers were embarking, the general went up to the convent to be present at vespers. He found the church deserted by the townspeople, who in spite of their natural devotion were attracted to the port by the embarkation of the troops. The Frenchman, glad to find himself alone in the church, took pains to make the clink of his spurs resound through the vaulted roof; he walked noisily, and coughed, and spoke aloud to himself, hoping to inform the nuns, but especially the Sister at the organ, that if the French soldiers were departing, one at least remained behind. Was this singular method of communication heard and understood? The general believed it was. In the Magnificat the organ seemed to give an answer which came to him in the vibrations of the air. The soul of the nun floated towards him on the wings of the notes she touched, quivering with the movements of the sound. The music burst forth with power; it glorified the church. This hymn of joy, consecrated by the sublime liturgy of Roman Christianity to the uplifting of the soul in presence of the splendors of the ever-living God, became the utterance of a heart terrified at its own happiness in presence of the splendors of a perishable love, which still lived, and came to move it once more beyond the tomb where this woman had buried herself, to rise again the bride of Christ.
  13
  The organ is beyond all question the finest, the most daring, the most magnificent of the instruments created by human genius. It is an orchestra in itself, from which a practiced hand may demand all things; for it expresses all things. Is it not, as it were, a coign of vantage, where the soul may poise itself ere it springs into space, bearing, as it flies, the listening mind through a thousand scenes of life towards the infinite which parts earth from heaven? The longer a poet listens to its gigantic harmonies, the more fully will he comprehend that between kneeling humanity and the God hidden by the dazzling rays of the Holy of Holies, the hundred voices of terrestrial choirs can alone bridge the vast distance and interpret to Heaven the prayers of men in all the omnipotence of their desires, in the diversities of their woe, with the tints of their meditations and their ecstasies, with the impetuous spring of their repentance, and the thousand imaginations of their manifold beliefs. Yes! beneath these soaring vaults the harmonies born of the genius of sacred things find a yet unheard-of grandeur, which adorns and strengthens them. Here the dim light, the deep silence, the voices alternating with the solemn tones of the organ, seem like a veil through which the luminous attributes of God himself pierce and radiate.  14
  Yet all these sacred riches now seem flung like a grain of incense on the frail altar of an earthly love, in presence of the eternal throne of a jealous and avenging Deity. The joy of the nun had not the gravity which properly belongs to the solemnity of the Magnificat. She gave to the music rich and graceful modulations, whose rhythms breathed of human gayety; her measures ran into the brilliant cadences of a great singer striving to express her love, and the notes rose buoyantly like the carol of a bird by the side of its mate. At moments she darted back into the past, as if to sport there or to weep there for an instant. Her changing moods had something discomposed about them, like the agitations of a happy woman rejoicing at the return of her lover. Then, as these supple strains of passionate emotion ceased, the soul that spoke returned upon itself; the musician passed from the major to the minor key, and told her hearer the story of her present. She revealed to him her long melancholy, the slow malady of her moral being,—every day a feeling crushed, every night a thought subdued, hour by hour a heart burning down to ashes. After soft modulations the music took on slowly, tint by tint, the hue of deepest sadness. Soon it poured forth in echoing torrents the well-springs of grief, till suddenly the higher notes struck clear like the voice of angels, as if to tell to her lost love—lost, but not forgotten—that the reunion of their souls must be in heaven, and only there: hope most precious! Then came the Amen. In that no joy, no tears, nor sadness, nor regrets, but a return to God. The last chord that sounded was grave, solemn, terrible. The musician revealed the nun in the garb of her vocation; and as the thunder of the basses rolled away, causing the hearer to shudder through his whole being, she seemed to sink into the tomb from which for a brief moment she had risen. As the echoes slowly ceased to vibrate along the vaulted roofs, the church, made luminous by the music, fell suddenly into profound obscurity.  15
  The general, carried away by the course of this powerful genius, had followed her, step by step, along her way. He comprehended in their full meaning the pictures that gleamed through that burning symphony; for him those chords told all. For him, as for the Sister, this poem of sound was the future, the past, the present. Music, even the music of an opera, is it not to tender and poetic souls, to wounded and suffering hearts, a text which they interpret as their memories need? If the heart of a poet must be given to a musician, must not poetry and love be listeners ere the great musical works of art are understood? Religion, love, and music: are they not the triple expression of one fact, the need of expansion, the need of touching with their own infinite the infinite beyond them, which is in the fibre of all noble souls? These three forms of poesy end in God, who alone can unwind the knot of earthly emotion. Thus this holy human trinity joins itself to the holiness of God, of whom we make to ourselves no conception unless we surround him by the fires of love and the golden cymbals of music and light and harmony.  16
  The French general divined that on this desert rock, surrounded by the surging seas, the nun had cherished music to free her soul of the excess of passion that consumed it. Did she offer her love as a homage to God? Did the love triumph over the vows she had made to Him? Questions difficult to answer. But, beyond all doubt, the lover had found in a heart dead to the world a love as passionate as that which burned within his own.  17
  When vespers ended he returned to the house of the alcalde, where he was quartered. Giving himself over, a willing prey, to the delights of a success long expected, laboriously sought, his mind at first could dwell on nothing else,—he was still loved. Solitude had nourished the love of that heart, just as his own had thriven on the barriers, successively surmounted, which this woman had placed between herself and him. This ecstasy of the spirit had its natural duration; then came the desire to see this woman, to withdraw her from God, to win her back to himself,—a bold project, welcome to a bold man. After the evening repast, he retired to his room to escape questions and think in peace, and remained plunged in deep meditation throughout the night. He rose early and went to Mass. He placed himself close to the latticed screen, his brow touching the brown curtain. He longed to rend it away; but he was not alone, his host had accompanied him, and the least imprudence might compromise the future of his love and ruin his new-found hopes. The organ was played, but not by the same hand; the musician of the last two days was absent from its key-board. All was chill and pale to the general. Was his mistress worn out by the emotions which had wellnigh broken down his own vigorous heart? Had she so truly shared and comprehended his faithful and eager love that she now lay exhausted and dying in her cell? At the moment when such thoughts as these rose in the general’s mind, he heard beside him the voice beloved; he knew the clear ring of its tones. The voice, slightly changed by a tremor which gave it the timid grace and modesty of a young girl, detached itself from the volume of song, like the voice of a prima donna in the harmonies of her final notes. It gave to the ear an impression like the effect to the eye of a fillet of silver or gold threading a dark frieze. It was indeed she! Still Parisian, she had not lost her gracious charm, though she had forsaken the coronet and adornments of the world for the frontlet and serge of a Carmelite. Having revealed her love the night before in the praises addressed to the Lord of all, she seemed now to say to her lover:—“Yes, it is I: I am here. I love forever; yet I am aloof from love. Thou shalt hear me; my soul shall enfold thee; but I must stay beneath the brown shroud of this choir, from which no power can tear me. Thou canst not see me.”  18
  “It is she!” whispered the general to himself, as he raised his head and withdrew his hands from his face; for he had not been able to bear erect the storm of feeling that shook his heart as the voice vibrated through the arches and blended with the murmur of the waves. A storm raged without, yet peace was within the sanctuary. The rich voice still caressed the ear, and fell like balm upon the parched heart of the lover; it flowered in the air about him, from which he breathed the emanations of her spirit exhaling her love through the aspirations of its prayer.  19
  The alcalde came to rejoin his guest, and found him bathed in tears at the elevation of the Host which was chanted by the nun. Surprised to find such devotion in a French officer, he invited the confessor of the convent to join them at supper, and informed the general, to whom no news had ever given such pleasure, of what he had done. During the supper the general made the confessor the object of much attention, and thus confirmed the Spaniards in the high opinion they had formed of his piety. He inquired with grave interest the number of the nuns, and asked details about the revenues of the convent and its wealth, with the air of a man who politely wished to choose topics which occupied the mind of the good old priest. Then he inquired about the life led by the sisters. Could they go out? Could they see friends?  20
  “Senhor,” said the venerable priest, “the rule is severe. If the permission of our Holy Father must be obtained before a woman can enter a house of Saint Bruno [the Chartreux] the like rule exists here. It is impossible for any man to enter a convent of the Bare-footed Carmelites, unless he is a priest delegated by the archbishop for duty in the House. No nun can go out. It is true, however, that the Great Saint, Mother Theresa, did frequently leave her cell. A Mother-superior can alone, under authority of the archbishop, permit a nun to see her friends, especially in case of illness. As this convent is one of the chief Houses of the Order, it has a Mother-superior residing in it. We have several foreigners,—among them a Frenchwoman, Sister Theresa, the one who directs the music in the chapel.”  21
  “Ah!” said the general, feigning surprise: “she must have been gratified by the triumph of the House of Bourbon?”  22
  “I told them the object of the Mass; they are always rather curious.”  23
  “Perhaps Sister Theresa has some interests in France; she might be glad to receive some news, or ask some questions?”  24
  “I think not; or she would have spoken to me.”  25
  “As a compatriot,” said the general, “I should be curious to see—that is, if it were possible, if the superior would consent, if—”  26
  “At the grating, even in the presence of the reverend Mother, an interview would be absolutely impossible for any ordinary man, no matter who he was; but in favor of a liberator of a Catholic throne and our holy religion, possibly, in spite of the rigid rule of our Mother Theresa, the rule might be relaxed,” said the confessor. “I will speak about it.”  27
  “How old is Sister Theresa?” asked the lover, who dared not question the priest about the beauty of the nun.  28
  “She is no longer of any age,” said the good old man, with a simplicity which made the general shudder.  29
 
III
THE NEXT day, before the siesta, the confessor came to tell the general that Sister Theresa and the Mother-superior consented to receive him at the grating that evening before the hour of vespers. After the siesta, during which the Frenchman had whiled away the time by walking round the port in the fierce heat of the sun, the priest came to show him the way into the convent.
  30
  He was guided through a gallery which ran the length of the cemetery, where fountains and trees and numerous arcades gave a cool freshness in keeping with that still and silent spot. When they reached the end of this long gallery, the priest led his companion into a parlor, divided in the middle by a grating covered with a brown curtain. On the side which we must call public, and where the confessor left the general, there was a wooden bench along one side of the wall; some chairs, also of wood, were near the grating. The ceiling was of wood, crossed by heavy beams of the evergreen oak, without ornament. Daylight came from two windows in the division set apart for the nuns, and was absorbed by the brown tones of the room; so that it barely showed the picture of the great black Christ, and those of Saint Theresa and the Blessed Virgin, which hung on the dark panels of the walls.  31
  The feelings of the general turned, in spite of their violence, to a tone of melancholy. He grew calm in these calm precincts. Something mighty as the grave seized him beneath these chilling rafters. Was it not the eternal silence, the deep peace, the near presence of the infinite? Through the stillness came the fixed thought of the cloister,—that thought which glides through the air in the half-lights, and is in all things,—the thought unchangeable; nowhere seen, which yet grows vast to the imagination; the all-comprising phrase, the peace of God. It enters there, with living power, into the least religious heart. Convents of men are not easily conceivable; man seems feeble and unmanly in them. He is born to act, to fulfil a life of toil; and he escapes it in his cell. But in a monastery of women what strength to endure, and yet what touching weakness! A man may be pushed by a thousand sentiments into the depths of an abbey; he flings himself into them as from a precipice. But the woman is drawn only by one feeling; she does not unsex herself,—she espouses holiness. You may say to the man, Why did you not struggle? but to the cloistered woman life is a struggle still.  32
  The general found in this mute parlor of the seagirt convent memories of himself. Love seldom reaches upward to solemnity; but love in the bosom of God,—is there nothing solemn there? Yes, more than a man has the right to hope for in this nineteenth century, with our manners and our customs what they are.  33
  The general’s soul was one on which such impressions act. His nature was noble enough to forget self-interest, honors, Spain, the world, or Paris, and rise to the heights of feeling roused by this unspeakable termination of his long pursuit. What could be more tragic? How many emotions held these lovers, reunited at last on this granite ledge far out at sea, yet separated by an idea, an impassable barrier. Look at this man, saying to himself, “Can I triumph over God in that heart?”  34
  A slight noise made him quiver. The brown curtain was drawn back; he saw in the half-light a woman standing, but her face was hidden from him by the projection of a veil, which lay in many folds upon her head. According to the rule of the Order she was clothed in the brown garb whose color has become proverbial. The general could not see the naked feet, which would have told him the frightful emaciation of her body; yet through the thick folds of the coarse robe that swathed her, his heart divined that tears and prayers and passion and solitude had wasted her away.  35
  The chill hand of a woman, doubtless the Mother-superior, held back the curtain, and the general, examining this unwelcome witness of the interview, encountered the deep grave eyes of an old nun, very aged, whose clear, even youthful, glance belied the wrinkles that furrowed her pale face.  36
  “Madame la duchesse,” he said, in a voice shaken by emotion, to the Sister, who bowed her head, “does your companion understand French?”  37
  “There is no duchess here,” replied the nun. “You are in presence of Sister Theresa. The woman whom you call my companion is my Mother in God, my superior here below.”  38
  These words, humbly uttered by a voice that once harmonized with the luxury and elegance in which this woman had lived queen of the world of Paris, that fell from lips whose language had been of old so gay, so mocking, struck the general as if with an electric shock.  39
  “My holy Mother speaks only Latin and Spanish,” she added.  40
  “I understand neither. Dear Antoinette, make her my excuses.”  41
  As she heard her name softly uttered by a man once so hard to her, the nun was shaken by emotion, betrayed only by the light quivering of her veil, on which the light now fully fell.  42
  “My brother,” she said, passing her sleeve beneath her veil, perhaps to wipe her eyes, “my name is Sister Theresa.”  43
  Then she turned to the Mother, and said to her in Spanish a few words which the general plainly heard. He knew enough of the language to understand it, perhaps to speak it. “My dear Mother, this gentleman presents to you his respects, and begs you to excuse him for not laying them himself at your feet; but he knows neither of the languages which you speak.”  44
  The old woman slowly bowed her head; her countenance took an expression of angelic sweetness, tempered, nevertheless, by the consciousness of her power and dignity.  45
  “You know this gentleman?” she asked, with a piercing glance at the Sister.  46
  “Yes, my Mother.”  47
  “Retire to your cell, my daughter,” said the Superior in a tone of authority.  48
  The general hastily withdrew to the shelter of the curtain, lest his face should betray the anguish these words cost him; but he fancied that the penetrating eyes of the Superior followed him even into the shadow. This woman, arbiter of the frail and fleeting joy he had won at such cost, made him afraid; he trembled, he whom a triple range of cannon could not shake.  49
  The duchess walked to the door, but there she turned. “My Mother,” she said, in a voice horribly calm, “this Frenchman is one of my brothers.”  50
  “Remain, therefore, my daughter,” said the old woman, after a pause.  51
  The jesuitism of this answer revealed such love and such regret, that a man of less firmness than the general would have betrayed his joy in the midst of a peril so novel to him. But what value could there be in the words, looks, gestures of a love that must be hidden from the eyes of a lynx, the claws of a tiger? The Sister came back.  52
  “You see, my brother,” she said, “what I have dared to do that I might for one moment speak to you of your salvation, and tell you of the prayers which day by day my soul offers to heaven on your behalf. I have committed a mortal sin,—I have lied. How many days of penitence to wash out that lie! But I shall suffer for you. You know not, my brother, the joy of loving in heaven, of daring to avow affections that religion has purified, that have risen to the highest regions, that at last we know and feel with the soul alone. If the doctrines—if the spirit of the saint to whom we owe this refuge had not lifted me above the anguish of earth to a world, not indeed where she is, but far above my lower life, I could not have seen you now. But I can see you, I can hear you, and remain calm.”  53
  “Antoinette,” said the general, interrupting these words, “suffer me to see you—you, whom I love passionately, to madness, as you once would have had me love you.”  54
  “Do not call me Antoinette, I implore you: memories of the past do me harm. See in me only the Sister Theresa, a creature trusting all to the divine pity. And,” she added, after a pause, “subdue yourself, my brother. Our Mother would separate us instantly if your face betrayed earthly passions, or your eyes shed tears.”  55
  The general bowed his head, as if to collect himself; when he again lifted his eyes to the grating he saw between two bars the pale, emaciated, but still ardent face of the nun. Her complexion, where once had bloomed the loveliness of youth,—where once there shone the happy contrast of a pure, clear whiteness with the colors of a Bengal rose,—now had the tints of a porcelain cup through which a feeble light showed faintly. The beautiful hair of which this woman was once so proud was shaven; a white band bound her brows and was wrapped around her face. Her eyes, circled with dark shadows due to the austerities of her life, glanced at moments with a feverish light, of which their habitual calm was but the mask. In a word, of this woman nothing remained but her soul.  56
  “Ah! you will leave this tomb—you, who are my life! You belonged to me; you were not free to give yourself—not even to God. Did you not promise to sacrifice all to the least of my commands? Will you now think me worthy to claim that promise, if I tell you what I have done for your sake? I have sought you through the whole world. For five years you have been the thought of every instant, the occupation of every hour, of my life. My friends—friends all-powerful as you know—have helped me to search the convents of France, Spain, Italy, Sicily, America. My love has deepened with every fruitless search. Many a long journey I have taken on a false hope. I have spent my life and the strong beatings of my heart about the walls of cloisters. I will not speak to you of a fidelity unlimited. What is it?—nothing compared to the infinitude of my love! If in other days your remorse was real, you cannot hesitate to follow me now.”  57
  “You forget that I am not free.”  58
  “The duke is dead,” he said hastily.  59
  Sister Theresa colored. “May Heaven receive him!” she said, with quick emotion: “he was generous to me. But I did not speak of those ties: one of my faults was my willingness to break them without scruple for you.”  60
  “You speak of your vows,” cried the general, frowning. “I little thought that anything would weigh in your heart against our love. But do not fear, Antoinette; I will obtain a brief from the Holy Father which will absolve your vows. I will go to Rome; I will petition every earthly power; if God himself came down from heaven I—”  61
  “Do not blaspheme!”  62
  “Do not fear how God would see it! Ah! I wish I were as sure that you will leave these walls with me; that to-night—to-night, you would embark at the feet of these rocks. Let us go to find happiness! I know not where—at the ends of the earth! With me you will come back to life, to health—in the shelter of my love!”  63
  “Do not say these things,” replied the Sister; “you do not know what you now are to me. I love you better than I once loved you. I pray to God for you daily. I see you no longer with the eyes of my body. If you but knew, Armand, the joy of being able, without shame, to spend myself upon a pure love which God protects! You do not know the joy I have in calling down the blessings of heaven upon your head. I never pray for myself: God will do with me according to his will. But you—at the price of my eternity I would win the assurance that you are happy in this world, that you will be happy in another throughout the ages. My life eternal is all that misfortunes have left me to give you. I have grown old in grief; I am no longer young or beautiful. Ah! you would despise a nun who returned to be a woman; no sentiment, not even maternal love, could absolve her. What could you say to me that would shake the unnumbered reflections my heart has made in five long years,—and which have changed it, hollowed it, withered it? Ah! I should have given something less sad to God!”  64
  “What can I say to you, dear Antoinette? I will say that I love you; that affection, love, true love, the joy of living in a heart all ours,—wholly ours, without one reservation,—is so rare, so difficult to find, that I once doubted you; I put you to cruel tests. But to-day I love and trust you with all the powers of my soul. If you will follow me I will listen throughout life to no voice but thine. I will look on no face—”  65
  “Silence, Armand! you shorten the sole moments which are given to us to see each other here below.”  66
  “Antoinette! will you follow me?”  67
  “I never leave you. I live in your heart—but with another power than that of earthly pleasure, or vanity, or selfish joy. I live here for you, pale and faded, in the bosom of God. If God is just, you will be happy.”  68
  “Phrases! you give me phrases! But if I will to have you pale and faded,—if I cannot be happy unless you are with me? What! will you forever place duties before my love? Shall I never be above all things else in your heart? In the past you put the world, or self—I know not what—above me; to-day it is God, it is my salvation. In this Sister Theresa I recognize the duchess; ignorant of the joys of love, unfeeling beneath a pretense of tenderness! You do not love me! you never loved me!—”  69
  “Oh, my brother!—”  70
  “You will not leave this tomb. You love my soul, you say: well! you shall destroy it forever and ever. I will kill myself—”  71
  “My Mother!” cried the nun, “I have lied to you; this man is my lover.”  72
  The curtain fell. The general, stunned, heard the doors close with violence.  73
  “She loves me still!” he cried, comprehending all that was revealed in the cry of the nun. “I will find means to carry her away!”  74
  He left the island immediately, and returned to France.  75
 
 
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