« PoprzedniaDalej »
cavalcade of youthful heroes, who were now entering in solid column the hall of beauty. A standard-bearer moved in front, directing the movements of the troop, with the obsolete word, constancy, in letters of gold upon his floating banner. The procession of the virgins was instantly dissolved, and each betook herself to her favourite retreat. The youthful cavalcade advanced to the centre of the garden. Night descended gently over the scene, and every individual repaired to his repose. Sweet and charming repose ! resting in the bosom of love and constancy.
Sacred your play and gladness,
THE BLACK PRIEST'S PROPHECY.
In the midst of the desert mountains that separate the kingdom of Valencia from the plains of New Castile, stands the monastery of Cienfuegos. Driven by the war of invasion far from its devastated cloisters, the monks no longer tenanted their peaceful cells. The grass grew in the chapel. The altar was stripped of all its sacred ornaments, and alone, amid the general ruin and desolation of the holy place, a large statue of our Saviour, in beautiful black marble, remained standing.
The regiment of hussars, commanded by the young Albert, was encamped around the convent. The young officer had established his bivouac before the ruined portal of the church.
It was night. The stars glittered in the darkened sky, as gilded spangles on the black velvet robe of a Sevillian belle, and the moon slowly moved along, showing her pale crescent curved like the bended bow of Sagittarius.
Albert stretched himself by the dying embers of the bivouac fire, enveloped in his large cloak; his weary head reposing on the saddle of his horse. Already be heard only the sbrill cry of the cricket, the loud neighing of the numerous steeds, and at long intervals, the watch cry of the sentinels.
Time was rapidly passing ; he thought of his beloved one, of the youthful Eleonora, promised to his constancy on his return from the wars—of that sweet image, whose memory had been ever present to his mind, and whose bright-blue eyes and soft sweet smile, neither the superb beauty of the Roman, nor the fascinating graces of the Granadian women, had taught him to forget.
Dreaming of love, he was just falling asleep, when the rising sea-breeze, driving before it large bodies of clouds charged with rain, brought down the tempest on the French camp. Albert rose and sought a shelter from the pouring storm. The church door being open, he hastily entered.
Gloomy and damp was the interior of the building ; and the lightning flash, as it gleamed through the stained glass of the windows, illumined for an instant the sculptured tombs of the departed, and shed a momentary brilliancy on the profaned altar of our Saviour. The young warrior, finding himself thus alone in a desolate hall, could not master his sensations of terror.
He advanced through the body of the church, whose deathlike silence was broken only by the noise of the steps and the clickering of bis spurs.
A bell tolled the hour. Albert listened. Twelve strokes slowly sounded on the silver-toned metal.
The door of the vestry-room silently opened. A priest, robed in black and decorated with a silver cross, entered the church, bearing in his hand the holy cup and consecrated host. He trod lightly, gliding over the flags of the pavement without awakening an echo.
After placing the cup on the altar, he turned to Albert, apparently desirous he should approach. The young officer, actuated by an unknown impulse, advanced and quietly knelt on the steps of the altar. A nod from the unknown minister of God seemed to approve the action of the young man, and he commenced reciting the service of the departed. This remembrance of his days of childhood, and the grave and impressive tone of the old man's voice, awakened the slumber. ing piety of Albert, who made the responses as would have been done by the usual assemblege of hearers. When the service was concluded, the priest repeated the usual farewell prayer, as though the church was graced with its numerous and magnificent olden assemblages. Then turning to the young officer :
• Young stranger," he said, in a voice melodiously soft, " the pious service you have this evening rendered me has obtained the salvation of my soul. During two centuries I have here atoned by this nocturnal penance for a fault committed in my youth. For two centuries I have awaited the aid of a human being to terminate my penance-night after night has passed, and for two long centuries no mortal ever appeared. This night you came, and on your knees before the altar of Almighty God you have prayed for me-you have aided my guardian angel in bursting the bonds that confined my soul, and prevented it from ascending to the regions of eternal bliss. Thy piety shall be rewarded. Ask me, my son, one question, and one only may I answer. Think then what thou most desirest to know. Ask me, and I will satisfy you."
Albert had trembled when the mysterious stranger first addressed him, but encouraged by the mildness of his voice and the benignity of his features, he soon recovered his equa. nimity, and when the latter had concluded, Albert, with deep motion, replied :
Father, tell me-how long have I to live ?"
My son !" and his face assumed a sadness it did not wear before, " what hast thou asked me? You desire me to answer : well, listen then. Three years from this day, when the sun sheds its first ray of light onthe earth thou wilt not
be alive to witness it. With the first scintillation of that ray thy soul will have deserted its earthly tenement."
He said and vanished, nor left a single trace by which the agonized Albert could discover whether he had descended one of the surrounding tombs, or mounted to the heavens.
Albert left the church, his heart bursting with insufferable despair. Henceforth his aspirations had bounds ; his hopes must be limited ; he might follow his companions to the field; he might distinguish himself by his intrepidity; he might be rewarded with honours; but he could not enjoy them. Life henceforth was to him a thing to scorn. Its end was fixed, and could not be prolonged.
A general peace enabled him to return to his country-his home-to that Eleonora he had so devotedly adored in his days of profound ignorance and unbounded hopes.
The father of his young betrothed reminded him of their relative situation. She too blushed to revive the recollection of his plighted faith. His old mother, who had ever hoped to rejoice her dying eyes with the sight of her son's felicity, recalled to his memory the existence of his love. But all was vain. Alike indifferent to the friendship of the father, the affections of the daughter, or even the tenderness of his mother, his whole thoughts seemed centered on the fatal hour, that every setting sun drew nigher.
Two years had now elapsed since the night of the prophecy, and Albert no longer able to resist the earnest solicitations of his mother, led his devoted Eleonora to the altar. There he vowed eternal fidelity to her. He vowed, and knew a year would annihilate these vows.
Then among men Albert was deemed happy. By his bravery, he had merited and received distinction ; the riches of his mother rendered him opulent and powerful ; he possessed the woman he had so long and passionately loved, and the world thought all this must insure felicity. Albert alone felt it would be otherwise.
That which is generally the climax of a husband's happiness, but added to his despair. His wife presented him with a smiling boy. It was another tie to be parted.
As the month with which his existence was to terminate approached, he could no longer support that appearance of deceitful security which he had thus far possessed strength sufficient to maintain. His wife and mother were not long in perceiving the change, and many were their earnest and anxious requests to kuow its cause; but he remained inexorable. The
fatal knowledge that destroyed his happiness, he was determined should not disturb them.
Another month yet remained to live and love. He now employed himself by endeavouring to provide for the welfare of his beloved ones after his approaching separation. He settled up all his worldly affairs, and awaited the fatal hour with determined resignation.
The month was passed. The morrow's sun would usher in the birth of its successor, and that morrow and that sun he was never to behold. Exerting all his strength, he now unfolded to his wife and parent the fatal knowledge of his destiny, and then prepared for death.
Long before the first dawn of .morn, Albert desired a couch to be placed on the steps of his mansion, and there, quietly seated between a mother about to lose her cherished son, and a wife about to be deprived of her staff and support, he alternately embraced them, and calmly bade them adieu.
How mournful were those adieus-and how time seemed to move, swiftly or slowly, as their minds were mastered by contending hopes and fears.
Albert saw descend in the heavens, the pale and melancholy crescent of the moon, that, three years before, when standing on the mountains of Valencia, he had so enthusiastically admired.
At length the horizon was fired by Aurora's light. The songs of birds and the sonorous crowing of the cock, announced to the unfortunate Albert the revival of nature. It was his hour of death,
The fatal moment arrived. A ray from the east shot through the heavens, and seemed then to trace a divine road for the poor soul about to abandon earth. His eyes closed with a convulsive movement-a slight shudder suddenly overrun his chilled frame—the sound of trumpets was heard—then a confused bustle---and the sound of a voice calling on Albert.
He opened his eyes. He was in the midst of a smiling country, illumined by the first rays of the morning sun. He was still stretched by the extinguished fires of the preceding night's bivouac. The trumpets of the regiment were stirring reveille, and the friendly voice of his young companion, Alfred, anxiously inquiring how he had passed the night.
The young officer arose with pain, still fatigued with the dreams of the night. He fervently pressed the hand of his friend in his icy fingers, and his heart was for some time full of joy and regret--for if he had regained the hope of a long and brilliant career-he had lost at his revival a cherished wife and child.