“When thy last breath, ere Nature sank to rest,
Thy meek submission to thy God express’d;
When thy last look, ere thought and feeling fled,
A mingled gleam of hope and triumph shed;
What to thy soul its glad assurance gave —
Its hope in death, its triumph o’er the grave?
The sweet remembrance of unblemish’d youth,
Th’inspiring voice of innocence and truth!”
The good Sister Frances, though she had scarcely recovered from the shock of the preceding night, accompanied Victoire to the Château de Fleury. The gates were opened for them by the old steward and his son Basile, who welcomed them with all the eagerness with which people welcome friends in time of adversity. The old man showed them the place; and through every apartment of the castle went on, talking of former times, and with narrative fondness told anecdotes of his dear master and mistress. Here his lady used to sit and read — here was the table at which she wrote — this was the sofa on which she and the ladies sat the very last day she was at the castle, at the open windows of the hall, whilst all the tenants and people of the village were dancing on the green.
“Ay, those were happy times,” said the old man; “but they will never return.”
“Never! Oh, do not say so,” cried Victoire.
“Never during my life, at least,” said the nun in a low voice, and with a look of resignation.
Basile, as he wiped the tears from his eyes, happened to strike his arm against the chord of Mad. de Fleury’s harp, and the sound echoed through the room.
“Before this year is at an end,” cried Victoire, “perhaps that harp will be struck again in this château by Mad. de Fleury herself. Last night we could hardly have hoped to see these walls standing this morning, and yet it is safe — not a stone touched! Oh, we shall all live, I hope, to see better times!”
Sister Frances smiled, for she would not depress Victoire’s enthusiastic hope: to please her, the good nun added, that she felt better this morning than she had felt for months, and Victoire was happier than she had been since Mad. de Fleury left France. But, alas! it was only a transient gleam. Sister Frances relapsed, and declined so rapidly, that even Victoire, whose mind was almost always disposed to hope, despaired of her recovery. With placid resignation, or rather with mild confidence, this innocent and benevolent creature met the approach of death. She seemed attached to earth only by affection for those whom she was to leave in this world. Two of the youngest of the children which had formerly been placed under her care, and who were not yet able to earn their own subsistence, she kept with her, and in the last days of her life she continued her instructions to them with the fond solicitude of a parent. Her father confessor, an excellent man, who never even in these dangerous times shrunk from his duty, came to attend Sister Frances in her last moments, and relieved her mind from all anxiety, by promising to place the two little children with the lady who had been abbess of her convent, who would to the utmost of her power protect and provide for them suitably. Satisfied by this promise, the good Sister Frances smiled upon Victoire, who stood beside her bed, and with that smile upon her countenance expired. — It was some time before the little children seemed to comprehend, or to believe, that Sister Frances was dead: they had never before seen any one die; they had no idea what it was to die, and their first feeling was astonishment: they did not seem to understand why Victoire wept. But the next day when no Sister Frances spoke to them, when every hour they missed some accustomed kindness from her — when presently they saw the preparations for her funeral — when they heard that she was to be buried in the earth, and that they should never see her more — they could neither play nor eat, but sat in a corner holding each other’s hands, and watching every thing that was done for the dead by Victoire.
In those times, the funeral of a nun, with a priest attending, would not have been permitted by the populace. It was therefore performed as secretly as possible: in the middle of the night the coffin was carried to the burial-place of the Fleury family; the old steward, his son Basile, Victoire, and the good father confessor, were the only persons present. It is necessary to mention this, because the facts were afterwards misrepresented.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50