The Lining of the Patch-Work Screen, by Jane Barker

The Story of The Portugueze Nun.

This Young Lady was bred in a Convent, as are most in those Countries, the Convents being the general Places of Education for all Children of Distinction. When she came to Years of Maturity, her Parents took her home, in order to establish her in the World, by marrying her to some worthy Gentleman; of which there was one in the Neighbourhood, who greatly coveted this Espousal: But all the Persuasions of her Parents, joyn'd with the Gentleman's Courtship, availed nothing; she persisted in her Resolution of becoming a Religious Dame. Her Mother endeavour'd as much as possible, to extirpate these Thoughts, by carrying her into Company, buying her fine Cloaths, introduc'd her at Court, Comedies, Opera's, Balls, Masques, and all sorts of Diversion, which diverts the greatest Part of Human kind: But nothing moved this young Lady from her Religious Purpose. For all these kinds of Glories seemed to her as Folly and Vanity, a Dream without any solid Satisfaction: That in the end, her Parents consented to her Return into the Convent.

Here she performed all the Duties of her Novitiate with perfect Obedience, to the satisfaction of the Abbess and all the Religious, that she was receiv'd, and in due time, profess'd a Member of their Holy Society, with Joy and Content: In which she behaved her self with great Prudence, Vertue and Piety, for divers Years, till the great War between France and the Allies broke out. Then it was, that a certain military Officer came to visit a Relation of his in the Convent, and brought with him a French Chevalier, who was an Hugonot, and came out of curiosity with his Friend, to see the manner of making a Visit at the Grate. Now, as it is not permitted for any young Lady or Nun, to receive Visitors there, without some Companion, this our foresaid Nun was appointed to accompany the other. And, lo, this was the fatal Moment of our Nun's Ruin: For she no sooner saw the Beau Hugonot, but she felt an Emotion she had never been sensible of before.

When she came to know he was an Hugonot, she thought it was Compassion that had disturbed her Interiours, to think that so fine a Person should live in a wrong Religion. He, on the other side, was troubled, to see so beautiful a young Lady thus confined, out of a whimsical Conceit of devotion (as his Principles termed it.) Amongst these Thoughts, divers Glances shot each against other, and forbidden Sighs met in a sort of soft Union; whilst the other Couple of Friends talked of things indifferent, appertaining to the common Rode of Friendship. In this way they continued till the Bell called our Nuns to Choir and our Gentlemen to their respective Habitations.

We will not pretend to know or guess, by what steps of Fancy on Cogitation they climb'd up to an extream Passion, such as her printed Letters demonstrate, or how they first discover'd their amorous Sentiments each to other, things extreamly difficult in those Places: But so it was, that he desir'd to be inform'd of the Catholick Religion, pretending that no body gave him so rational an Account, and produced such cogent Arguments as this Lady. By this means he was permitted to have frequent access to the Grate, where she not only entertain'd him with many devout Discourses, and solid Arguments, but gave him Books to read, which he return'd in due time, giving an account of what he read, in those Books; what touch'd, and what displeas'd him. This manner of proceeding blinded the Understanding of those that accompanied her to the Grate and it is to be suppos'd, that by means of these Books lent and return'd, Letters were convey'd backward and forward to each other; not only those in Print, but divers others, by which means (no doubt) her Escape was contriv'd; which was accomplish'd in this odd manner: an Opportunity offering when one of those Religious Dames died and was interr'd, that Night, before the Vault was made up, she took the pains to lift out the Body and lay it in her own Bed, and then plac'd a Train of Fire, which she knew would catch and set fire of the Bed by such time as she could be got over the Wall, by Ladders of Ropes there provided by her Lover, (if one may so call the Devil's Engineer.) Thus she left the House to be burnt with all the holy Inhabitants, therein contain'd: But Providence so order'd it, that it was discover'd before 'twas too late, and extinguish'd before much hurt, only that Cell with its Moveables, was destroy'd, and the Body so disfigur'd, that it could not be known, but was much lamented by the good Dames, really supposing it to be this our Fugitive. They lamented their Loss in her as a Person of exemplary Prudence and Vertue, as one in whom shin'd Piety and Wisdom with their most refulgent Rays; a Person whose Aspect commanded the Youth, and her Actions taught obedience to all; In fine, much they lamented, much they regretted the Death of this Holy Associate. In the mean time, she got safe away with her Chevalier, he having provided for her all manner of rich Accoutrements, and took the first opportunity to get married. Thus she broke her solemn Religious Vow of Chastity, and the Laws of her Country, betray'd the Honour of her Family; and disgrac'd her Sex and Quality.

They liv'd together in this State, and had divers Children, till an unfortunate Shot in the Army finish'd his Days; but not on such a sudden, but that he had time to send word to her, by a particular Friend that he dy'd with great Remorse for what had pass'd between him and her; and griev'd to leave her and her Children in so distress'd and abandon'd a Condition. She receiv'd this Information with utmost Grief; she fell into Convulsions, which attended her Fit after Fit, all the Hours she liv'd, which were not many. But in one of her Intervals, she call'd some Friends about her, related to them all the Story of her criminal Marriage, greatly lamenting over her Children; for by this her Confession they must become miserable Vagabonds on the Face of the Earth, having no right to the Estate of their Father's Family, which is considerable in France, as is that of my Family (said she) here in Portugal: But I know, the Law in both Countries looks on them as Bastards, I being incapable of contracting Marriage, after a solemn Religious Vow. O wretch that I was, who with so much Importunity obtain'd of my Parents Leave to become a Religious; I, who lived Years in the same state, with satisfaction to my self, and the approbation of the whole Community. How was it posible, that for the Love of this one Man, a Stranger, of a different Country, a different Religion, different Language! How was it possible, I say, to break all Laws Divine and Human, and to become so great a Monster as to hazard the burning so stately an Edifice, and in so doing, murder so many excellent pious Persons! O miserable Wretch that I am, and so she fell into one of her Convulsions, of which she dyed. At the Conclusion of this Story, said the Gentlewoman, there was none in the Coach that did not shed Tears; some compassionating one part of the Story, some blaming another, every one pitying the Children, whose Cause was then depending in the Parliament of Paris (as the Lawyer in the Coach said) in which he was engaged; but feared he should be able to do no good on the Childrens behalf; for he was almost sure they would lose their Process; and withal lose that Charity they might hope for amongst their Friends, by humble Supplication; to which he said, he would advise 'em, that they might not fall under that unlucky Proverb,

All covet, all lose.

This sorrowful Story affected the Company with Compassion almost to Tears; which, to divert, my Lady Allgoodbegan to call for Cards; But Evening approaching, they were unwilling to stay, yet asked the Lady who had told the last melancholy Story, if she had not one that was less grievous, to entertain them a few Moments, till Night should call for their Departure. To which she replyed, that in the Coach between Dover and Home, there was an ancient Gentlewoman told 'em a kind of an odd Transaction, which hapned in the Neighbourhood where she liv'd heretofore; which is as follows.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51