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MONTMORENCY.—A ROMAN CATHOLIC TALE.
We must now inform our readers that, after receiving the parting blessing from Father Adrian, Frances proceeded to her cousin's apartment, at the door of which she gently rapped. Clara instantly opened it, and welcoming in her treacherous friend, readily consented to accompany her to a remote part of the village, on a visit to a poor woman who was very ill. Frances beguiled the walk with animated conversation on various subjects, till they reached the borders of a wood; she then exclaimed she had lost the way, and inquired of a man dressed like a shepherd, if he could direct her. They followed him through various lonely and intricate roads, till Clara, becoming alarmed, refused to proceed; when a carriage suddenly stopped, and two men who wore masks, seizing Clara and Frances, placed them in the carriage, which again drove off at a rapid pace, with the windows closed and the curtains drawn.
Scarcely had Clara been seized, her screams prevented, and herself conveyed to the carriage, 'ere the warning given her by Clarice rushed to her mind, which opened to the belief of a scheme of deep-laid deception concerted by Frances.
It was then that the sincerity of Clara's principles was evinced, for she breathed a secret prayer amidst the thoughts and fears which passed her mind, that Frances might be pardoned and taught from above; yes, and grace so far triumphed over nature, that she fixed a mild eye of reproachful pity on Frances, which spoke louder than words, that she both saw and forgave her treachery.
They travelled thus during the whole of the night, and the following day, till they stopped at the Convent of F., when Frances and Clara were separated, without interchanging a word ; the former to be loaded with caresses, the latter to be terrified into submission.
We leave poor Frances to be initiated still further into the religion and morality of Rome, till she learns yet more to call evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness, cruelty zeal, and falsehood piety.
Arrived at the Convent, Clara was conducted to a chamber where every comfort was prepared; refreshments were brought her by a nun who waited in silence, and refused to reply to any inquiry. She was allowed to pass the night alone; not, however, without the door aud windows being barred. Clara was so exhausted that she soon sunk into a sleep that banished all recollection, on first awaking, with her mind and body both refreshed, she could scarcely believe the reality of what had happened, but imagined the past to have been a painful dream.
The sight of the apartment, so different from the one she occupied at Ardennes, together with a large crucifix and picture of the virgin hanging opposite her bed, aided memory in recalling the past, and Clara wept, long, bitterly wept, under a sense of loneliness, desolation, and dread. But as Clara wept these bitter tears, a voice of comfort sounded in her ears, "He has said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee;" "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me."
It was yet early, but, fearful that she might not long enjoy her solitude, Clara arose, and bending in lowly humility yet grateful confidence before the throne of grace, besought for strength and protection; long and earnest were her supplications, for her heart was heavy,—a sense, too, of past unfaithfulness made her distrust herself, and cling to the strong for strength. "She poured out her heart before the Lord, and showed him all her trouble," and thus she found He was faithful, who had said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in me ye shall have peace."
The morning had far advanced, and Clara felt exhausted from hunger, before her cell was visited; the nun whom she had seen on the preceding evening then entered, and beckoned her to follow; she led the way,—a way so long and intricate that Clara felt bewildered in following,—till they stopped at the door of a room into which the nun motioned for Clara to enter. And there, in stately splendour, sat the Abbess, and two dignitaries of the Church of Rome. Clara felt no terror as she met the stedfast look of the Abbess, nor the cold pitiless gaze of her cousin Frances, but a thrill of anguish shot through her bosom, when she saw in the distance Father Joachim, for at that moment she felt convinced it was no other than he who had grasped her with savage cruelty, and the bitter question arose, My parent, have you too consented? But the Bible she had loved and stored so well in her memory consoled her with the reflection, "When my father and mother forsake me, the Lord taketh me up."
"Come forward, daughter," said the Abbess mildly, "and listen to the voice of friendly admonition."
"Can I confide in the friendship of those who have thus snatched me from my home and friends to prove it?" said Clara, with something of her former spirit.
"Yes, daughter, assuredly; it is the mercy that the physician uses, when he applies the knife to cut off the mortified limb, lest the whole body should be diseased. It is the mercy that leads the Almighty to punish those in time whose souls shall be saved in the day of the Lord. This severe mercy has been shown to you, milder means have failed, parental, fraternal, priestly authority have vainly been exerted to eradicate the seeds of deadly error sown by the accursed heretic, Annette, and fostered, watered, and matured, by the heretical Pierre."
"May I ask," inquired Clara, "for what purpose I am summoned before you to-day?"
"Our purpose is one of pity and kindness; having heard with deep regret that you have a second time obtained possession of a book, the indiscriminate use of which is forbidden to the young, that you have also refused to resign it, after the affectionate intreaty of Father Adrian, we send for you in obedience to that Church which has Divine authority to reject a heretic after the first and second admonition. What can you say to these charges?"
"I have nothing to say," replied Clara, "but to plead guilty (if it be guilty) to the charges you have brought against me. My defence will only provoke your further indignation. I am in your hand, not to argue but to submit, to whatever punishment you inflict upon me, for refusing to act contrary to the will of God."
"Do you know what punishments they are, and to what extent they can be applied ?" inquired the Abbess, with a bitter smile.
"No," replied Clara firmly, "though I believe them to be such as flesh and blood would shrink from enduring; yet I know they can but kill the body."
"'Tis false," replied Father Joachim, "despise not our authority; we can kill both soul and body, for unto us are committed the keys of the kingdom, and 'whosesoever sins we retain, they are retained ;' and yours, with all their aggravations of despising a mother's dying warning, and breaking a fond and aged father's sorrowing heart, will fall with a crushing weight on your miserable soul."
At the mention of her father's name, Clara's trembling limbs could scarce support her, tears fell from her eyes, but again the colour rose to her cheek as she replied, in a voice in which faith struggled with fear, "No, blessed be God, you cannot shut my soul from heaven ; the keys of death and of hell are in the hands of Him who has loved me, of Him who is the only and all-sufficient Mediator. You have already striven, and still strive, to kill my soul; but you have not prevailed, and by God's grace you never shall prevail, for the snare is broken in which you sought to entangle my feet, and that Word of God which you persuaded me to resign, has again been sent me in mercy, to show me the things which belong to my peace, and to lead me to that Saviour 'whom truly to know is life everlasting.'"
The eyes of the Abbess flashed with indignation, as Clara uttered these words.
"Bold heretic," she exclaimed, "dare you thus address a priest of the Lord? we sent for you not to insult, but to repent, or be condemned."
"We sent for our unhappy daughter," said the younger priest, who had not yet spoken, "to endeavour, by mildness and the force of sound arguments, to convince her of her error, as becomes ministers of Him who has commanded us in meekness to instruct those who oppose themselves. Nor shall we prevail by threats and execrations, which ofttimes harden when they fail to convince. Tell me, therefore, daughter, what part of God's word, which you profess to venerate, sanctions your obstinate rebellion against ministerial authority?"
Clara, when thus addressed, turned towards him who addressed her, and was struck by his resemblance to Father Adrian, though considerably younger; the expression of his countenance was that of deepest melancholy, unmixed with anger, for he evidently viewed her with feelings of compassion, which not the stern discipline of Rome had yet subdued.
"Alas, Father," said Clara, "I stand here among those whom my replies will but the more exasperate; why, then, should I attempt to argue or to justify myself? My doom is sealed; I submit in silence.''
"Nay, daughter, I promise you a patient hearing, and sincerely hope to convince you of your error. Yours is no uncommon temptation; many far worse have been reclaimed, and I despair not of you. Answer, then, my question, and tell me if God's word says nothing respecting the obedience due to his ministers."
"I know," replied Clara, "it commands us to obey them that have the rule over us, and to esteem them very highly in love for their works' sake; but I fear still more to provoke your displeasure, when I add, I cannot believe the priests of the Romish Church to be the ministers of the Lord Jesus."
"Blasphemy, vile heretic," murmured the Abbess.
"What reasons have you for doubting them to be so?" >
"Because," replied Clara, "they teach not the truths which He taught."
"Wherein does the teaching of the Lord Jesus differ from that of the Church of Rome?"
"The Lord Jesus commanded the Jews, whom he was addressing, to search the Scriptures; and the Romish Church forbids her people to read them. The Lord Jesus said to the thief on the cross, ' To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.' And the Church of Rome teaches of a purgatory in which the souls of the faithful must suffer torture ere they can enter paradise. The Lord told his disciples, when they had done all, to say they were unprofitable servants. Yet the Romish Church teaches it is possible to go beyond what is commanded. The Bible teaches there is 'one Mediator between God and man.' The Romish Church teaches there are many. The Lord Jesus taught that God was a spirit, and required to be worshipped in spirit and truth. The Church of Rome, by multiplying unmeaning forms and ceremonies, overlooks the spirituality commanded, and places all the merit in the outward form of devotion."
"Are your accusations finished ?" interrupted the Abbess.
"There is one more reason," said Clara, with deeper feeling than she had yet spoken, " which would forbid me rendering obedience, had I no other. The Word of God forbids idolatry in the most solemn, explicit, and awful terms. It also sets forth the Eternal Son, the Lord Jesus, as the only all-sufficient Saviour, most able and willing to save. The Church of Rome, on the contrary, gives to the mother of the human nature of our Lord, and also to saints and angels, the homage due only to Deity, thus breaking the commands of God and making them of none effect by her traditions."
"You have, then," continued the younger priest, whom we call Father Leo, "formed this rash and fatal opinion, formed it after reading a version of the Scriptures not acknowledged as correct by the Church, but corrupted and circulated by the heretics; formed it, trusting to your own feeble, almost childish judgment, on this version, that the ancient Apostolic Church of Rome is a false one, her ministers, priests of Belial, and only objects for you to reproach. Alas, I shudder at the precipice on the brink of which you stand. Consider, I pray you, well, what will be your doom, both in this world and the next, if you separate yourself from a Church, which has such unlimited power, and is determined to use it."
"The Saviour of the world," replied Clara, "has declared, ' Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.' Having gone to him as a guilty sinner for pardon and salvation, I trust I have obtained it, since his word declares, 'He that hath the Son, 'not the Church,' hath life.'"
"How much longer," observed Father Joachim, impatiently, "are we to listen to impieties so bold and daring? of what avail are arguments with one who is clearly under the power of the Devil, so that her mind is darkened and her heart hardened? Hearken, Clara de Montmorency, your father, whose arm, as you well know, has aided, ere this, in cutting off the heretics, Annette and Philippe, has also consented that you, his only daughter, false to your religion and cruel to your friends, be given over to the power of the Church, he has sent me to aid in this enterprise, and now make your choice, either recant your errors, implore our forgiveness, submit to perform penance, and promise implicit obedience, or pine in the darkness of the loathsome dungeon, where no light of heaven, or ear of pity, shall ever reach you."
Clara made no reply, though as she pressed her trembling hand to her throbbing temples, every limb shook with agitation.
"Ha !" said the Abbess, "are the dungeons so dreadful in name? What, then, must they be in reality?"
"It was not the mention of dungeons, Madam," said Clara, sadly, "that made me tremble thus, but the thought that my idolized parent,—"
Clara paused; her fortitude was gone. From her childhood, guided by her feelings, what wonder that, overcome by them now, she sprung forward, and clasping imploringly the feet of Father Joachim, she thus addressed him :—
"If the remembrance of the early days of Clara's childhood, when fondly loved, kindly treated, happy, and, as you believe, innocent, she anticipated your every wish and delighted to obey you, if these recollections fail to awaken compassion, oh, think of, pity, my father; his life is bound up in mine. When you tell him his child has perished in the convent dungeon, his anger will cease, his love return, and broken hearted and desolate, he will sink to the grave. Oh, spare me for his sake, I ask it not for my own I"
Father Joachim had cased his soul in adamant ere he left the Castle of Montmorency, and Clara's supplication failed to reach his heart.
"Miserable, deluded girl," exclaimed he, as he spurned her from him, " pity thyself, and pity thy unhappy father, it is thy cruelty that plunges the spear in his aged heart, repent, submit, and he will then be happy."
Thus repulsed, Clara arose, and fearfully glancing on the flushed cheek of the Abbess, and the cold, statue-like aspect of her cousin, she said, in a voice of calm despair, "I see, too plainly see, there is not one who can pity the heretic."
"I pity you, daughter, from my heart. I pity you," exclaimed Father Leo, in a voice of compassion rarely heard within the convent walls, "not only because you are in dangerous error, but because