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A TALE OF CONSCIENCE.
"The retrospective glance
Of pensive memory fell, with the gleam
NINE years after the events recorded in our preceding volumes, in the opening spring of 183—, the bells were ringing merrily in a sea-port town of our western coast, a band of music played on the pier, and in the placid waters of the harbour, vessels were lying at anchor, while the chief object of interest appeared to be a steamer, which, for the first time, was destined to carry passengers and freight to the Sister Isle. Several of these passengers were parading the pier, together with the idle and curious of the town. "She ought, by rights, to have started to-day," said a sailor, in reply to the question of a stranger of noble and foreign appearance; "but it's all well as it is, for a large party of the passengers don't come into town till to-night."
"Do you chance to know at which of the hotels this party is expected?" said the stranger.
"No, sir," replied the sailor.
"Nor the number of the party?"
"There are four, I believe, sir, expected on board. Can you give something, sir, to a poor tar, that's been wounded in honourable service! Thank ye, sir. I'll be sure to find out the party for you, sir, whenever they may put up; but then where am I to find you sir?" The stranger wrote in pencil his temporary address on a visiting card, and throwing it to the sailor, turned from him and from the motley throng, fixing his eyes upon the steamer, in deep and apparently, melancholy thought; till, at length, roused by the national air, now played by the band, as they passed him in their march from the pier, he caught an object of engrossing interest in a travelling equipage, advancing with rapid pace from the north road, and traced its progress to the principal hotel of the place.
This rencontre, however, produced only disappointment, for the expected passengers of the Royal Victoria steam-packet were still far from the town of ***. Their travelling carriage had, on the preceding evening, stopped at a little inn near the convent gates of N-, and shortly after, one of the nuns had been summoned to the convent parlour, to welcome a long-absent friend. Nine years had seemingly made no change in the fair face of the nun; for the wrapping head dress, which had served to hide her more youthful charms, equally concealed the ravages of time. The hair, the brow, the throat, could tell no chronological tales. These nine years, also, had been passed, as though they had been nine months, in pious useful monotony, with peace of mind and heart; and the simplicity which pervaded thought, language, and manner, assisted in retaining the appearance of youth.
It was not thus with her whom she greeted. The interval from three-and-twenty, to two-and-thirty, passed in vivid thought and action, and feeling, with
joys and sorrows of this earth's emotion, had brought forth, in all its lights and shadows, each hidden quality of the mind and heart, and stamped its impress on the countenance of the guest. The lofty brow was still smooth, candid, and open, but there were hollows at the temple, and a depth in the eye, which belong not to youth, and something there was of an appeal to the sympathy of others, something of a softened, matured, and chastened expression, which more than atoned for the rich bloom which had passed forever!
After a long silent embrace, the nun spoke; "At length then, I see and speak to you once more!"
"Yes!" Angela," replied the widowed Geraldine De Grey, "I have at length returned, to make amends, if you be so willing, for the silent years. which followed my bereavement. I have in truth much to tell, and I have therefore resolved to crave a night's hospitality at your convent, and some hours alone with you, before I proceed on my journey."
"Ah! how willingly will both be granted," said Angela; "but are you alone?"
"I am not travelling alone," said Lady De Grey, "but my companions are at the little inn, until tomorrow. I arranged it thus, that I might give myself entirely to you for the remainder of this day, having to speak not only of the last two silent years; but in order to make you perfectly comprehend both my position and my feelings, I must give you a rapid sketch of those earlier years, and of that lost happiness, on which I dared not dwell when first a widow."
"And can you do so now?" said Angela, as she looked on the faded countenance of the once brilliant Geraldine."
"I can,” replied she, "for the past now causes
no strong emotion: I live only in the future; yet I scarcely know whether to tell you at once the step I contemplate, or to lead you to it gradually by a history of my life, from the time we last spoke confidentially to each other."
"Angela's heart said, "give me the truth at once, and afterwards the explanation," but she had long schooled that heart to bear denial, and refusing it the indulgence of its tender curiosity, she said,—. "I have no choice but for your greater consolation.”
"Then I will first give you an account of the principal events of my life, and of my mental history, that you may trace in all, the wonderful mercies of our God. Go, therefore, dear Angela, to obtain all necessary leave for remaining the whole evening a listener to your guest. Find at what hour to-morrow I can thank dear mother prioress for her hospitality, and then return to me,-for the evening draws on."
This was soon accomplished, and the two friends drew their chairs close together. The eventful history commenced, and, ere the hour for closing the convent door towards the out-quarters, it had terminated, and Angela possessed the confidence of her friend; but we cannot thus briefly dismiss the joys and sorrows of our heroine; and, while she again rests within the convent precincts, we will fill up the brief and rapid sketch.
The title of "Child of Prosperity" could never, perhaps, have been more truly applied to Geraldine Carrington, than when, in the autumn succeeding the events of her father's return to England, she accompanied him to the chosen land of Italy. Three months had she been a member of the holy Church she had chosen, or rather, to which she had been
chosen by the Divine Shepherd of the fold, and her conditional baptism, her confirmation, and the everadorable mysteries of the altar, had shed their strengthening and sanctifying graces on her soul. To this interior joy had been added General Carrington's open sanction of her conduct, which induced many of those cherished Protestant friends, who had previously upbraided or deserted her, to return with renewed affection: the Catholic body, to whom she had been but little personally known, now sought her; she became the object of kind interest to both parties, and had but one cause of sorrow, which was the constraint and gloom which still hung over her father. And from this, too, he aroused as from a spell, when again on the Continent; both heart and mind expanded, and Geraldine felt once more that she was his darling child.
While on this journey, he related to her much of the history of his concealed faith, the premature discovery of which had been so galling to him. "That good creature Goodwin," said he, " and the steward, were, after the death of your mother, the only persons entrusted with my secret, except, of course, my confessor; and he had my promise, that I would divulge the truth, and openly exercise my religion, as soon as you, Geraldine, should be of age. Would to God that I had done so; but military distinction engrossed my soul, I yielded to ambition; and Catholic emancipation, which was granted the year after my last promotion, sealed my lips, as I thought, for ever. Your own proud sense of honour, Geraldine," continued he, "would tell you how impossible it would be to divulge, in the prosperity of one's party, whether in creed or politics, that which in adversity one had been driven to conceal, and you may imagine what my feelings must have been, when this avowal was torn from me by treachery,