ALONE WITH THE DEAD.
The priest removed the peas from my limbs, and led me to a tomb under the chapel, where he left me, with the consoling assurance that "THE DEAD WOULD RISE AND EAT ME!" This tomb was a large rectangular room, with shelves on three sides of it, on which were the coffins of priests and Superiors who had died in the nunnery. On the floor under the shelves, were large piles of human bones, dry and white, and some of them crumbling into dust. In the center of the room was a large tank of water, several feet in diameter, called St. Joseph's well. It occupied the whole center of the room leaving a very narrow pathway between that, and the shelves; so narrow, indeed, that I found it impossible to sit down, and exceedingly difficult to walk or even stand still. I was obliged to hold firmly by the shelves, to avoid slipping into the water which looked dark and deep. The priest said, when he left me, that if I fell in, I would drown, for no one could take me out.
O, how my heart thrilled with superstitious terror when I heard the key turn in the lock, and realized that I was alone with the dead! And that was not the worst of it. They would rise and eat me! For a few hours I stood as though paralyzed with fear. A cold perspiration covered my trembling limbs, as I watched those coffins with the most painful and serious apprehension. Every moment I expected the fearful catastrophe, and even wondered which part they would devour first—whether one would come alone and thus kill me by inches, or whether they would all rise at once, and quickly make an end of me. I even imagined I could see the coffins move—that I heard the dead groan and sigh and even the sound of my own chattering teeth, I fancied to be a movement among the dry bones that lay at my feet. In the extremity of terror I shrieked aloud. But this I knew was utterly useless. Who would hear me? Or who would care if they did hear? I was surrounded by walls that no sound could penetrate, and if it could, it would fall upon ears deaf to the agonizing cry for mercy,—upon hearts that feel no sympathy for human woe.
Some persons may be disposed to smile at this record of absurd and superstitions fear. But to me it was no laughing affair. Had not the priest said that the dead would rise and eat me? And did I not firmly believe that what he said was true? What! A priest tell a falsehood? Impossible. I thought it could not be; yet as hour after hour passed away, and no harm came to me, I began to exercise my reason a little, and very soon came to the conclusion that the priests are not the immaculate, infallible beings I had been taught to believe. Cruel and hard hearted, I knew them to be, but I did not suspect them of falsehood. Hitherto I had supposed it was impossible for them to do wrong, or to err in judgement; all their cruel acts being done for the benefit of the soul, which in some inexplicable way was to be benefited by the sufferings of the body. Now, however, I began to question the truth of many things I had seen and heard, and ere long I lost all faith in them, or in the terrible system of bigotry, cruelty and fraud, which they call religion.
As the hours passed by and my fears vanished before the calm light of reason, I gradually gained sufficient courage to enable me to examine the tomb, thinking that I might perchance discover the body of my old Superior. For this purpose I accordingly commenced the circuit of the room, holding on by the shelves, and making my way slowly onward. One coffin I succeeded in opening, but the sight of the corpse so frightened me, I did not dare to open another. The room being brilliantly lighted with two large spermaceti candles at one end, and a gas burner at the other, I was enabled to see every feature distinctly.
One of the nuns informed me that none but priests and Superiors are laid in that tomb. When these die in full communion with the church, the body is embalmed, and placed here, but it sometimes happens that a priest or Superior is found in the convent who does not believe all that is taught by the church of Rome. They desire to investigate the subject—to seek for more light—more knowledge of the way of salvation by Christ. This, with the Romanists is a great sin, and the poor hapless victim is at once placed under punishment. If they die in this condition, their bodies are cast out as heretics, but if they confess and receive absolution, they are placed in the tomb, but not embalmed. The flesh, of course, decays, and then the bones are thrown under the shelves. Never shall I forget how frightful those bones appeared to me, or the cold shudder that thrilled my frame at the sight of the numerous human skulls that lay scattered around.
Twenty-four hours I spent in this abode of the dead, without rest or sleep. The attempt to obtain either would have been sheer madness, for the least mis-step, the least unguarded motion, or a slight relaxation of the firm grasp by which I held on to the shelves, would have plunged me headlong into the dark water, from which escape would have been impossible. For thirty hours I had not tasted food, and my limbs, mangled and badly swollen, were so stiff with long standing, that, when allowed to leave the tomb, I could hardly step. When the priest came to let me out, he seemed to think it necessary to say something to cover his attempt to deceive and frighten me, but he only made a bad matter worse. He said that after he left me, he thought he would try me once more, and see if I would not do my duty better; he had, therefore, WILLED THE DEAD NOT TO EAT ME! AND THEY, OBEDIENT TO HIS WILL, WERE COMPELLED TO LET ME ALONE! I did not reply to this absurd declaration, lest I should say something I ought not, and again incur his displeasure. Indeed, I was not expected to say anything, unless I returned thanks for his unparalleled kindness, and I was not hypocrite enough for that. I suppose he thought I believed all he said, but he was greatly mistaken. If I began to doubt his word while in the tomb, this ridiculous pretence only served to add contempt to unbelief, and from that time I regarded him as a deceiver, and a vile, unscrupulous, hypocritical pretender.
It was with the greatest difficulty that I again made my way to the kitchen. I was never very strong, even when allowed my regular meals, for the quantity, was altogether insufficient, to satisfy the demands of nature; and now I had been so long without anything to eat, I was so weak, and my limbs so stiff and swollen, I could hardly stand. I managed, however, to reach the kitchen, when I was immediately seated at the table and presented with a bowl of gruel. O, what a luxury it seemed to me, and how eagerly did I partake of it! It was soon gone, and I looked around for a further supply. Another nun, who sat at the table with me, with a bowl of gruel before her, noticed my disappointment when I saw that I was to have no more. She was a stranger to me, and so pale and emaciated she looked more like a corpse than a living person. She had tasted a little of her gruel, but her stomach was too weak to retain it, and as soon as the Superior left us she took it up and poured the whole into my bowl, making at the same time a gesture that gave me to understand that it was of no use to her, and she wished me to eat it I did not wait for a second invitation, and she seemed pleased to see me accept it so readily. We dared not speak, but we had no difficulty in understanding each other.
I had but just finished my gruel when the Superior came back and desired me to go up stairs and help tie a mad nun. I think she did this simply for the purpose of giving me a quiet lesson in convent life, and showing me the consequences of resistance or disobedience. She must have known that I was altogether incapable of giving the assistance she pretended to ask. But I followed her as fast as possible, and when she saw how difficult it was for me to get up stairs, she walked slowly and gave me all the time I wished for. She led me into a small room and closed the door. There I beheld a scene that called forth my warmest sympathy, and at the same time excited feelings of indignation that will never be subdued while reason retains her throne. In the center of the room sat a young girl, who could not have been more than sixteen years old; and a face and form of such perfect symmetry, such surpassing beauty, I never saw. She was divested of all her clothing except one under-garment, and her hands and feet securely tied to the chair on which she sat. A priest stood beside her, and as we entered he bade us assist him in removing the beds from the bedstead. They then took the nun from her chair and laid her on the bedcord. They desired me to assist them, but my heart failed me. I could not do it, for I was sure they were about to kill her; and as I gazed upon those calm, expressive features, so pale and sad, yet so perfectly beautiful, I felt that it would be sacrilege for me to raise my hand against nature's holiest and most exquisite work. I therefore assured them that I was too weak to render the assistance they required. At first they attempted to compel me to do it; but, finding that I was really very weak, and unwilling to use what strength I had, they at length permitted me to stand aside. When they extended the poor girl on the cord, she said, very quietly, "I am not mad, and you know that I am not." To this no answer was given, but they calmly proceeded with their fiendish work. One of them tied her feet, while the other fastened a rope across her neck in such a way that if she attempted to raise her head it would strangle her. The rope was then fastened under the bedcord, and two or three times over her person. Her arms were extended, and fastened in the same way. As she lay thus, like a lamb bound for the sacrifice, she looked up at her tormentors and said, "Will the Lord permit me to die in this cruel way?" The priest immediately exclaimed, in an angry tone, "Stop your talk, you mad woman!" and turning to me, he bade me go back to the kitchen. It is probable he saw the impression on my mind was not just what they desired, therefore he hurried me away.
All this time the poor doomed nun submitted quietly to her fate. I suppose she thought it useless, yea, worse than useless, to resist; for any effort she might make to escape would only provoke them, and they would torment her the more. I presume she thought her last hour had come, and the sooner she was out of her misery the better. As for me, my heart was so filled with terror, anguish, and pity for her, I could hardly obey the command to leave the room.
I attempted to descend the stairs, but was obliged to go very slowly on account of the stiffness of my limbs, and before I reached the bottom of the first flight the priest and the Superior came out into the hall. I heard them whispering together, and I paused to listen. This, I know, was wrong; but I could not help it, and I was so excited I did not realize what I was doing. My anxiety for that girl overpowered every other feeling. At first I could only hear the sound of their voices; but soon they spoke more distinctly, and I heard the words. "What shall we do with her? she will never confess." In an audible tone of voice, the other replied, "We had better finish her." How those words thrilled my soul! I knew well enough that they designed "to finish her," but to hear the purpose announced so coolly, it was horrible. Was there no way that I could save her? Must I stand there, and know that a fellow-creature was being murdered, that a young girl like myself, in all the freshness of youth and the fullness of health, was to be cut off in the very prime of life and numbered with the dead; hurried out of existence and plunged, unwept, unlamented, into darkness and silence? She had friends, undoubtedly, but they would never be allowed to know her sad fate, never shed a tear upon her grave! I could not endure the thought. I felt that if I lingered there another moment I should be in danger of madness myself; for I could not help her. I could not prevent the consummation of their cruel purpose; I therefore hastened away, and this was the last I ever heard of that poor nun. I had never seen her before, and as I did not see her clothes, I could not even tell whether she belonged to our nunnery or not.
THE SICK NUN.
On my return to the kitchen I found the sick nun sitting as we left her. She asked me, by signs, if we were alone. I told her she need not fear to speak, for the Superior was two flights of stairs above, and no one else was near. "Are they all away?" she whispered. I assured her that we were quite alone, that she had nothing to fear. She then informed me that she had been nine days under punishment, that when taken from the cell she could not stand or speak, and she was still too weak to walk without assistance. "O!" said she, and the big tears rolled over her cheeks as she said it, "I have not a friend in the world. You do not know how my heart longs for love, for sympathy and kindness." I asked if she had not parents, or friends, in the world. She replied, "I was born in this convent, and know no world but this. You see," she continued, with a sad smile, "what kind of friends I have here. O, if I HAD A FRIEND, if I could feel that one human being cares for me, I should get better. But it is so long since I heard a kind word—" a sob choked her utterance. I told her I would be a friend to her as far as I could. She thanked me; said she was well aware of the difficulties that lay in my way, for every expression of sympathy or kind feeling between the nuns was strictly forbidden, and if caught in anything of the kind a severe correction would follow. "But," said she "if you will give me a kind look sometimes, whenever you can do so with safety, it will be worth a great deal to me. You do not know the value of a kind look to a breaking heart."
She wept so bitterly, I feared it would injure her health, and to divert her mind, I told her where I was born; spoke of my childhood, and of my life at the White Nunnery. She wiped away her tears, and replied, "I know all about it. I have heard the priests talk about you, and they say that your father is yet living, that your mother was a firm protestant, and that it will be hard for them to beat Catholicism into you. But I do not know how you came in that nunnery. Who put you there?" I told her that I was placed there by my father, when only six years old. "Is it possible?" she exclaimed, and then added passionately, "Curse your father for it." After a moments silence, she continued, "Yes, child; you have indeed cause to curse your father, and the day when you first entered the convent; but you do not suffer as much as you would if you had been born here, and were entirely dependent on them. They fear that your friends may sometime look after you; and, in case they are compelled to grant them an interview, they would wish them to find you in good health and contented; but if you had no influential friends outside the convent, you would find yourself much worse off than you are now."
She then said she wished she could get some of the brandy from the cellar. Her stomach was so weak from long fasting, it would retain neither food or drink, and she thought the brandy would give it strength. She asked if I could get it for her. The idea frightened me at first, for I knew that if caught in doing it, I should be most cruelly punished, yet my sympathy for her at length overcame my fears, and I resolved to try, whatever might be the result. I accordingly went up stairs, ostensibly, to see if the Superior wanted me, but really, to find out where she was, and whether she would be likely to come down, before I could have time to carry out my plan. I trembled a little, for I knew that I was guilty of a great misdemeanor in thus boldly presenting myself to ask if I was wanted; but I thought it no very great sin to pretend that I thought she called me, for I was sure my motives were good, whatever they might think of them. I had been taught that "the end sanctifies the means," and I thought I should not be too hardly judged by the great searcher of hearts, if, for once, I applied it in my own way.
I knocked gently at the door I had left but a few moments before. It was opened by the Superior, but she immediately stepped out, and closed it again, so that I had no opportunity to see what was passing within. She sternly bade me return to the kitchen, and stay there till she came down; a command I was quite ready to obey. In the kitchen there was a small cupboard, called the key cupboard, in which they kept keys of all sizes belonging to the establishment. They were hung on hooks, each one being marked with the name of the place to which it belonged. It was easy for me to find the key to the cellar, and having obtained it, I opened another cupboard filled with bottles and vials, where I selected one that held half a pint, placed it in a large pitcher, and hastened down stairs. I soon found a cask marked "brandy," turned the faucet, and filled the bottle. But my heart beat violently, and my hand trembled so that I could not hold it steady, and some of it ran over into the pitcher. It was well for me that I took this precaution, for if I had spilt it on the stone floor of the cellar, I should have been detected at once. I ran up stairs as quickly as possible, and made her drink what I had in the pitcher, though there was more of it than I should have given her under other circumstances; but I did not know what to do with it. If I put it in the fire, or in the sink, I thought they would certainly smell it, and, there was no other place, for I was not allowed to go out of doors. I then replaced the key, washed up my pitcher, and secreted the bottle of brandy in the waist of the nun's dress. This I could easily do, their dresses being made with a loose waist, and a large cape worn over them. I then began to devise some way to destroy the scent in the room. I could smell it very distinctly, and I knew that the Superior would notice it at once. After trying various expedients to no purpose, I at length remembered that I had once seen a dry rag set on fire for a similar purpose. I therefore took one of the cloths from the sink, and set it on fire, let it burn a moment, and threw it under the caldron.
I was just beginning to congratulate myself on my success, when I saw that the nun appeared insensible, and about to fall from her chair. I caught her in my arms, and leaned her back in the chair, but I did not dare to lay her on the bed, without permission, even if I had strength to do it. I could only draw her chair to the side of the room, put a stick of wood under it, and let her head rest against the wall. I was very much frightened, and for a moment, thought she was dead. She was pale as a corpse, her eyes closed, and her mouth wide open. Had I really killed her? What if the Superior should find her thus? I soon found that she was not dead, for her heart beat regularly, and I began to hope she would get over it before any one came in. But just as the thought passed my mind, the door opened and the Superior appeared. Her first words were, "What have you been burning? What smells so?" I told her there was a cloth about the sink that I thought unfit for use, and I put it under the caldron. She then turned towards the nun and asked if she had fainted. I told her that I did not know, but I thought she was asleep, and if she wished me to awaken, and assist her to bed, I would do so. To this she consented, and immediately went up stairs again. Glad as I was of this permission, I still doubted my ability to do it alone, for I had little, very little strength; yet I resolved to do my best. It was long, however, before I could arouse her, or make her comprehend what I said, so entirely were her senses stupified with the brandy. When at length I succeeded in getting her upon her feet, she said she was sure she could not walk; but I encouraged her to help herself as much as possible, told her that I wished to get her away before any one came in, or we would be certainly found out and punished. This suggestion awakened her fears, and I at length succeeded in assisting her to bed. She was soon in a sound sleep, and I thought my troubles for that time were over. But I was mistaken. In my fright, I had quite forgotten the brandy in her dress. Somehow the bottle was cracked, and while she slept, the brandy ran over her clothes. The Superior saw it, and asked how she obtained it. Too noble minded to expose me, she said she drew it herself. I heard the Superior talking to a priest about it, and I thought they were preparing to punish her. I did not know what she had told them, but I did not think she would expose me, and I feared, if they punished her again, she would die in their hands.
I therefore went to the Superior and told her the truth about it, for I thought a candid confession on my part might, perchance, procure forgiveness for the nun, if not for myself. But no; they punished us both; the nun for telling the lie, and me for getting the brandy. For two hours they made me stand with a crown of thorns on my head, while they alternately employed themselves in burning me with hot irons, pinching, and piercing me with needles, pulling my hair, and striking me with sticks. All this I bore very well, for I was hurt just enough to make me angry.
When I returned to the kitchen again, the nun was sitting there alone. She shook her head at me, and by her gestures gave me to understand that some one was listening. She afterwards informed me that the Superior was watching us, to see if we would speak to each other when we met. I do not know how they punished her, but I heard a priest say that she would die if she suffered much more. Perhaps they thought the loss of that precious bottle of brandy was punishment enough. But I was glad I got it for her, for she had one good dose of it, and it did her good; her stomach was stronger, her appetite better, and in a few weeks she regained her usual health.
One day, while at work as usual, I was called up stairs with the other nuns to see one die. She lay upon the bed, and looked pale and thin, but I could see no signs of immediate dissolution. Her voice was strong, and respiration perfectly natural, the nuns were all assembled in her room to see her die. Beside her stood a priest, earnestly exhorting her to confess her sins to him, and threatening her with eternal punishment if she refused. But she replied, "No, I will not confess to you. If, as you say, I am really dying, it is with my God I have to do; to him alone will I confess, for he alone can save." "If you do not confess to me," exclaimed the priest, "I will give you up to the devil." "Well," said she, "I stand in no fear of a worse devil than you are, and I am quite willing to leave you at any time, and try any other place; even hell itself cannot be worse. I cannot suffer more there than I have here." "Daughter," exclaimed the priest, with affected sympathy, "must I give you up? How can I see you go down to perdition? It is not yet too late. Confess your sins and repent." "I have already confessed my sins to God, and I shall confess to no one else. He alone can save me." Her manner of saying this was solemn but very decided. The priest saw that she would not yield to his wishes, and raising his voice, he exclaimed, "Then let the devil take you."
Immediately the door opened, and a figure representing the Roman Catholic idea of his Satanic Majesty entered the room. He was very black, and covered with long hair, probably the skin of some wild animal. He had two long white tusks, two horns on his head, a large cloven foot, and a long tail that he drew after him on the floor. He looked so frightful, and recalled to my mind so vividly the figure that I saw at the White Nunnery, that I was very much frightened; still I did not believe it was really a supernatural being. I suspected that it was one of the priests dressed up in that way to frighten us, and I now know that such was the fact. But what of that? We all feared the priests quite as much as we should the Evil One himself, even if he should come to us in bodily shape, as they pretended he had done. Most of the nuns were very much frightened when they saw that figure walk up to the bedside, taking good care, however, to avoid the priest, he being so very holy it was impossible for an evil spirit to go near or even look at him.
The priest then ordered us to return to the kitchen, for said he, "The devil has come for this nun's soul, and will take it with him," As we left the room I looked around on my companions and wondered if they believed this absurd story. I longed to ask them what they thought of it, but this was not allowed. All interchange of thought or feeling being strictly forbidden, we never ventured to speak without permission when so many of us were present, for some one was sure to tell of it if the least rule was broken.
I was somewhat surprised at first that we were all sent to the kitchen, as but few of us were employed there; but we were soon called back again to look at the corpse. I was inexpressibly shocked at this summons, for I had not supposed it possible for her to die so soon. But she was dead; and that was all we could ever know about it. As we stood around the bed, the priest said she was an example of those in the world called heretics; that her soul was in misery, and would remain so forever; no masses or prayers could avail her then, for she could never be prayed out of hell. Sins like hers could never be forgiven.
I continued to work in the kitchen as usual for many months after this occurrence, and for a few weeks the sick nun was there a great part of the time. Whenever we were alone, and sure that no one was near, we used to converse together, and a great comfort it was to us both. I felt that I had found in her one real friend, to sympathize with me in my grievous trials, and with whom I could sometimes hold communication without fear of betrayal. I had proved her, and found her faithful, therefore I did not fear to trust her. No one can imagine, unless they know by experience, how much pleasure we enjoyed in the few stolen moments that we spent together.
I shall never forget the last conversation I had with her. She came and sat down where I was assisting another nun to finish a mat. She asked us if we knew what was going on in the house. "As I came from my room," said she, "I saw the priests and Superiors running along the halls, and they appeared so much excited, I thought something must be wrong. As they passed me, they told me to go to the kitchen, and stay there. What does it all mean?" Of course we did not know, for we had neither seen or heard anything unusual. "Well," said she, "they are all so much engaged up stairs, we can talk a little and not be overheard. I want to know something about the people in the world. Are they really cruel and cold-hearted, as the priests say they are? When you was in the world were they unkind to you?" "On the contrary," I replied, "I would gladly return to them again if I could get away from the convent. I should not be treated any worse, at all events, and I shall embrace the-first opportunity to go back to the world." "That is what I have always thought since I was old enough to think at all," said she, "and I have resolved a great many times to get away if possible. I suppose they tell us about the cruelty in the world just to frighten us, and. prevent us from trying to escape. I am so weak now I do not suppose I could walk out of Montreal even if I should leave the convent. But if I ever get strong enough, I shall certainly try to escape from this horrible place. O, I could tell you things about this convent that would curdle the blood in your veins."
The other nun said that she had been once in the world, and every one was kind to her. "I shall try to get out again, some day," said she, "but we must keep our resolutions to ourselves, for there is no one here, that we can trust. Those whom we think our best friends will betray us, if we give them a chance. I do believe that some of them delight in getting us punished."
The sick nun said, "I have never exposed any one and I never will. I have the secrets of a great many hid in my breast, that nothing shall ever extort from me." Here she was interrupted, and soon left the room. I never saw her again. Whether she was under punishment, or was so fortunate as to make her escape, I do not know. As no questions could be asked, it was very little we could know of each other. If one of our number escaped, the fact was carefully concealed from the rest, and if she was caught and brought back, no one ever knew it, except those who had charge of her. The other nun who worked in the room with me, watched me very closely. Having heard me declare my intention to leave the first opportunity, she determined to go with me if possible.
THE JOY OF FREEDOM.
At length the long sought opportunity arrived, and with the most extatic joy we fled from the nunnery. The girl I have before mentioned, who wished to go with me, and another nun, with whom I had no acquaintance, were left in the kitchen to assist me, in taking charge of the cooking, while the rest of the people were at mass in the chapel. A chance presented for us to get away, and we all fled together, leaving the cooking to take care of itself. We were assisted to get out of the yard, but how, or by whom, I can never reveal. Death, in its most terrible form would be the punishment for such an act of kindness, and knowing this, it would be the basest ingratitude for me to name the individual who so kindly assisted us in our perilous undertaking.
How well do I remember the emotions that thrilled my soul when I found myself safely outside the walls of that fearful prison! The joy of freedom—the hope of ultimate success—the fear of being overtaken, and dragged back to misery or death, were considerations sufficiently exciting to agitate our spirits, and lend fleetness to our steps. With trembling limbs, and throbbing hearts we fled towards the St. Lawrence river. Following the tow-path, we hastened on for a few miles, when one of the nuns became exhausted, and said she could go no further. She was very weak when we started, and the excitement and fatigue produced serious illness. What should we do with her? We could not take her along with us, and if we stopped with her, we might all be taken and carried back. Must we leave her by the way-side? It was a fearful alternative, but what else could we do? With sad hearts we took her to a shed near by, and there we left her to her fate, whatever it might be; perchance to die there alone, or what was still worse, be carried back to the convent. It was indeed, a sorrowful parting, and we wept bitter tears together, as we bade her a last farewell. I never saw or heard from her again.
We pursued our way along the tow-path for a short distance, when the canal boat came along. We asked permission to go upon the boat, and the captain kindly granted it, but desired us to be very still. He carried us twelve miles, and then proposed to leave us, as he exposed himself to a heavy fine by carrying us without a pass, and unattended by a priest or Superior. We begged him to take us as far as he went with the boat, and frankly told him our situation. Having no money to offer, we could only cast ourselves on his mercy, and implore his pity and assistance. He consented to take us as far as the village of Beauharnois, and there he left us. He did not dare take us further, lest some one might be watching for us, and find us on his boat.
It was five o'clock in the morning when we left the boat, but it was a Roman Catholic village, and we did not dare to stop. All that day we pursued our way without food or drink, and at night we were tired and hungry. Arriving at a small village, we ventured to stop at the most respectable looking house, and asked the woman if she could keep us over night. She looked at us very attentively and said she could not. We did not dare to call again, for we knew that we were surrounded by those who would think they were doing a good work to deliver us up to the priests. Darkness came over the earth, but still weary and sleepy as we were, we pursued our lonely way. I will not repeat our bitter reflections upon a cold hearted world, but the reader will readily imagine what they were.
Late in the evening, we came to an old barn. I think it must have been four or five miles from the village. There was no house, or other building near it, and as no person was in sight, we ventured to enter. Here, to our great joy, we found a quantity of clean straw, with which we soon prepared a comfortable bed, where we could enjoy the luxury of repose. We slept quietly through the night, and at the early dawn awoke, refreshed and encouraged, but O, so hungry! Gladly would we have eaten anything in the shape of food, but nothing could we find.
The morning star was yet shining brightly above us, as we again started on our journey. At length our hearts were cheered by the sight of a village. The first house we came to stood at some distance from the other buildings, and we saw two women in a yard milking cows. We called at the door, and asked the lady for some milk. "O yes," said she, with a sweet smile, "come in, and rest awhile, and you shall have all you want." She thought we were Sisters of Charity, for they often go about visiting the sick, and praying with the people. It is considered a very meritorious act to render them assistance, and speed them on their way; but to help a runaway nun is to commit a crime of sufficient magnitude to draw down the anathema of the church. Therefore, while we carefully concealed our real character, we gratefully accepted the aid we so much needed, but which, we were sure, would have been withheld had she known to whom it was offered. After waiting till the cows were milked, and she had finished her own breakfast, she filled a large earthen pan with bread and milk, gave each of us a spoon, and we ate as much as we wished. As we arose to depart, she gave each of us a large piece of bread to carry with us, and asked us to pray with her. We accordingly knelt in prayer; implored heaven's blessing on her household, and then took our leave of this kind lady, never more to meet her on earth; but she will never be forgotten.
That day we traveled a long distance, at least, so it seemed to us. When nearly overcome with fatigue, we saw from the tow-path an island in the river, and upon it a small house. Near the shore a man stood beside a canoe. We made signs to him to come to us, and he immediately sprang into his canoe and came over. We asked him to take us to the island, and he cheerfully granted our request, but said we must sit very still, or we would find ourselves in the water. I did not wonder he thought so, for the canoe was very small, and the weight of three persons sank it almost even with the surface of the river, while the least motion would cause it to roll from side to side, so that we really felt that we were in danger of a very uncomfortable bath if nothing worse.
We landed safely, however, and were kindly welcomed by the Indian family in the house. Six squaws were sitting on the floor, some of them smoking, others making shoes and baskets. They were very gayly dressed, their skirts handsomely embroidered with beads and silk of various colors. One of the girls seemed very intelligent, and conversed fluently in the English language which she spoke correctly. But she did not look at all like an Indian, having red hair and a lighter skin than the others. She was the only one in the family that I could converse with, as the rest of them spoke only their native dialect; but the nun who was with me could speak both French and Indian.
They treated us with great kindness, gave us food, and invited in to stay and live with them; said we could be very happy there, and to induce us to remain, they informed us that the village we saw on the other side of the river, called St. Regis, was inhabited by Indians, but they were all Roman Catholics. They had a priest, and a church where we could go to Mass every Sabbath. Little did they imagine that we were fleeing for life from the Romish priests; that so far from being an inducement to remain with them, this information was the very thing to send us on our way with all possible speed. We did not dare to stay, for I knew full well that if any one who had seen us went to confession, they would be obliged to give information of our movements; and if one priest heard of us, he would immediately telegraph to all the priests in the United States and Canada, and we should be watched on every side. Escape would then be nearly impossible, therefore we gently, but firmly refused to accept the hospitality of these good people, and hastened to bid them farewell.
I asked the girl how far it was to the United States. She said it was two miles to Hogansburg, and that was in the States. We then asked the man to take us in his canoe to the village of St. Regis on the other side of the river. He consented, but, I thought, with some reluctance, and before he allowed us to land, he conversed some minutes with the Indians who met him on the shore. We could not hear what they said, but my fears were at once awakened. I thought they suspected us, and if so, we were lost. But the man came back at length, and, assisted us from the boat. If he had any suspicions he kept them to himself.
Soon after we reached the shore I met a man, of whom I enquired when a boat would start for Hogansburg. He gazed at us a moment, and then pointed to five boats out in the river, and said those were the last to go that day. They were then ready to start, and waited only for the tow-boat to take them along. But they were so far away we could not get to them, even if we dared risk ourselves among so many passengers. What could we do? To stay there over night, was not to be thought of for a moment. We were sure to be taken, and carried back, if we ventured to try it. Yet there was but one alternative; either remain there till the next day, or try to get a passage on the tow-boat. It did not take me a long time to decide for myself, and I told the nun that I should go on, if the captain would take me! "What! go on the tow-boat!" she exclaimed, "There are no ladies on that boat, and I do not like to go with so many men." "I am not afraid of the men," I replied, "if they are not Romanists, and I am resolved to go." "Do not leave me," she cried, with streaming tears. "I am sure we can get along better if we keep together, but I dare not go on the boat." "And I dare not stay here," said I, and so we parted. I to pursue my solitary way, she to go, I know not whither. I gave her the parting hand, and have never heard from her since, but I hope she succeeded better than I did, in her efforts to escape.
I went directly to the captain of the boat and asked him if he could carry me to the States. He said he should go as far as Ogdensburg, and would carry me there, if I wished; or he could set me off at some place where he stopped for wood and water. When I told him I had no money to pay him, he smiled, and asked if I was a run-a-way. I frankly confessed that I was, for I thought it was better for me to tell the truth than to try to deceive. "Well," said the captain, "I will not betray you; but you had better go to my state-room and stay there." I thanked him, but said I would rather stay where I was. He then gave me the key to his room, and advised me to go in and lock the door, "for," said he, "we are not accustomed to have ladies in this boat, and the men may annoy you. You will find it more pleasant and comfortable to stay there alone." Truly grateful for his kindness, and happy to escape from the gaze of the men, I followed his direction; nor did I leave the room again until I left the boat. The captain brought me my meals, but did not attempt to enter the room. There was a small window with a spring on the inside; he would come and tap on the window, and ask me to raise it, when he would hand me a waiter on which he had placed a variety of refreshments, and immediately retire.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.
That night and the next day I suffered all the horrors of sea-sickness; and those who have known by experience how completely it prostrates the energies of mind and body, can imagine how I felt on leaving the boat at night. The kind-hearted captain set me on shore at a place where he left coal and lumber, a short distance from the village of Ogdensburg. He gave me twelve and half cents, and expressed regret that he could do no more for me. He said he could not direct me to a lodging for the night, being a stranger in the place, and this the first time he had been on that route. Should this narrative chance to meet his eye, let him know that his kind and delicate attentions to a stranger in distress, are and ever will be remembered with the gratitude they so richly merit. It was with evident reluctance that he left me to make my way onward as I could.
And now, reader, imagine, if you can, my situation. A stranger in a strange land, and comparatively a stranger to the whole world—alone in the darkness of night, not knowing where to seek a shelter or a place to lay my head; exhausted with sea-sickness until I felt more dead than alive, it did seem as though it would be a luxury to lie down and die. My stockings and shoes were all worn out with so much walking, my feet sore, swollen, and bleeding, and my limbs so stiff and lame that it was only by the greatest effort that I could step at all. So extreme were my sufferings, that I stopped more than once before I reached the village, cast myself upon the cold ground, and thought I could go no further. Not even the idea of being run over in the darkness by some passing traveller, had power to keep me on my feet. Then I would rest awhile, and resolve to try again; and so I hobbled onward. It seemed an age of misery before I came to any house; but at length my spirits revived at the sight of brilliant lights through the windows, and the sound of cheerful voices that fell upon my ear.
And now I thought my troubles over for that night at least. But no, when I asked permission to stay over night, it was coldly refused. Again and again I called at houses where the people seemed to enjoy all the comforts and even the luxuries of life; but their comforts were for themselves and not for a toil-worn traveller like me. This I was made to understand in no gentle manner; and some of those I called upon were not very particular in the choice of language.
By this time my feet were dreadfully swollen, and O! so sore and stiff, that every step produced the most intense agony. Is it strange that I felt as though life was hardly worth preserving? I resolved to call at one house more, and if again refused, to lie down by the wayside and die. I accordingly entered the village hotel and asked for the landlady. The bar-tender gave me a suspicious glance that made me tremble, and asked my business. I told him my business was with the landlady and no other person. He left the room a moment, and then conducted me to her chamber.
As I entered a lady came forward to meet me, and the pleasant expression of her countenance at once won my confidence. She gave me a cordial welcome, saying, with a smile, as she led me to a seat, "I guess, my dear, you are a run-a-way, are you not?" I confessed that it was even so; that I had fled from priestly cruelty, had travelled as far as I could, and now, weary, sick, and faint from long fasting, I had ventured to cast myself upon her mercy. "Will you protect me?" I asked, "and are you a Roman Catholic?" "No," she replied, "I am not a Roman Catholic, and I will protect you. You seem to have suffered much, and are quite exhausted. But you will find a friend in me. I will not betray you, for I dislike the priests and the convents as much as you do."
She then called her little girl, and ordered a fire kindled in another chamber, saying she did not wish her servants to see me. The child soon returned, when the lady herself conducted me to a large, pleasant bed-room, handsomely furnished with every convenience, and a fire in the grate. She gave me a seat in a large easy-chair before the fire, and went out, locking the door after her. In a short time she returned with warm water for a bath, and with her own hands gave me all the assistance needed. As I related the incidents of the day, she expressed much sympathy for my sufferings, and said she was glad I had come to her. She gave, me a cordial, and then brought me a cup of tea and other refreshments, of which I made a hearty supper. She would not allow me to eat all I wished; but when I had taken as much as was good for me, she bathed my feet with a healing wash, and assisted me to bed. O, the luxury of that soft and comfortable bed! No one can realize with what a keen sense of enjoyment I laid my head upon those downy pillows, unless they have suffered as I did, and known by experience the sweetness of repose after excessive toil.
All that night this good lady sat beside my bed, and kept my feet wet in order to reduce the swelling. I was little inclined to sleep, and at her request related some of the events of my convent life. While doing this, I hardly knew what to make of this curious woman. Sometimes she would weep, and then she would swear like any pirate. I was surprised and somewhat afraid of her, she seemed so strange and used such peculiar language. She understood my feelings at once, and immediately said, "You need not be afraid of me, for I have a kind heart, if I do use wicked words. I cannot help swearing when I think about the priests, monsters of iniquity that they are; what fearful crimes they do commit under the cloak of religion! O, if the people of this land could but see their real character, they would rise en masse and drive them from the country, whose liberties they will, if possible, destroy. For myself I have good cause to hate them. Shall I tell you my story, dear?" I begged her to do so, which she did, as follows:
"I once had a sister, young, talented, beautiful, amiable and affectionate. She was the pride of all our family, the idol of our souls. She wished for an education, and we gladly granted her request. In our zeal to serve her, we resolved to give her the very best advantages, and so we sent her to a Romish school. It was a seminary for young ladies taught by nuns, and was the most popular one in that part of the country. My father, like many other parents who knew such establishments only by report, had not the least idea of its true character. But deluded by the supposed sanctity of the place, he was happy in the thought that he had left his darling where it was said that 'science and religion go hand in hand.' For a season, all went on well. She wrote to us that she was pleased with the school, and wished to remain. We thought her hand writing wonderfully improved, and eagerly looked forward to the time when she would return to us a finished scholar, as well as an accomplished lady. But those pleasant prospects were soon overcast. Too soon, our happy, bounding hearts were hushed by unspeakable grief, and our brilliant anticipations were dissipated in the chamber of death. In their place came those solemn realities, the shroud, the coffin, the hearse and the tomb."
"Did she die?" I asked. "Yes," replied the lady, as she wiped away the fast flowing tears; "Yes, she died. I believe she was poisoned, but we could do nothing; we had no proof. She had been long at school before we suspected the deception that was practised upon us. But at length I went with my other sister to see her, and the Superior informed us that she was ill, and could not see us. We proposed going to her room, but to our great surprise were assured that such a thing could not be allowed. We left with sad hearts, and soon called again. I cannot describe my feelings when we were coldly informed that she did not wish to see us. What could it mean? Surely something must be wrong; and we left with terrible presentiments of coming evil. It came. Yes, too soon were our worst fears realized. I called one day resolved to see her before I left the house. Conceive, if you can, my surprise and horror, when they told me that my beautiful, idolized sister had resolved to become a nun. That she had already renounced the world, and would hold no further communication with her relatives. "Why did I not know this before? I exclaimed." "You know it now," was the cold reply. I did not believe a word of it, and when I told my father what they said, he went to them, and resolutely demanded his child. At first they refused to give her up, but when they saw that his high spirit was aroused—that he would not be flattered or deceived, they reluctantly yielded to his demand."
LANDLADY'S STORY CONTINUED.
The poor girl was overjoyed to meet her friends again, but how great was our astonishment and indignation when she informed us that she had never received a single line from home after she entered the school, nor did she ever know that we had called to see her until we informed her of the fact. Whenever she expressed surprise that she did not hear from us, they told her that we had probably forgotten her, and strove to awaken in her mind feelings of indignation, suspicion and animosity. Not succeeding in this, however, they informed her that her father had called, and expressed a wish that she should become a nun; that he did not think it best for her to return home again, nor did he even ask for a parting interview.
Confounded and utterly heart-broken, she would have given herself up to uncontrollable grief had she been allowed to indulge her feelings. But even the luxury of tears was forbidden, and she was compelled to assume an appearance of cheerfulness, and to smile when her heart-strings were breaking. We brought forward the letters we had received from time to time which we believed she had written. She had never seen them, before, "and this," said she, "is not my hand-writing." Of this fact she soon convinced us, but she said she had written letter after letter hoping for an answer, but no answer came. She said she knew that the Superior examined all the letters written by the young ladies, but supposed they were always sent, after being read. But it was now plain to be seen that those letters were destroyed, and others substituted in their place.
[Footnote: Raffaele Ciocci, formerly a Benedictine Monk, in his "Narrative," published by the American and Foreign Christian Union, relates a similar experience of his own, when in the Papal College of San Bernardo.
Being urged to sign "a deed of humility," in which he was to renounce all his property and give it to the college, he says, "I knew not what to think of this "deed of humility." A thousand misgivings filled my mind, and hoping to receive from the notary an explanation that would assist me in fully comprehending its intention, I anxiously said, "I must request, sir, that you will inform me what is expected from me. Tell me what is this deed— whether it be really a mere form, as has been represented to me, or if"—Here the master arose, and in an imperious tone interrupted me, saying,—"Do not be obstinate and rebellions, but obey. I have already told you that when you assume the habit of the Order, the chapter 'de humititate' shall be explained to you. In this paper you have only to make a renunciation of all you possess on earth."
"Of all I possess! And if I renounce all, who, when I leave the college, will provide for me?" The notary now interposed. "That," said he, "is the point to which I wish to call your attention, in advising you to make some reservation. If you neglect to do so, you may find yourself in difficulties, losing, as you irrevocably will, every right of your own." At these words, so palpable, so glaring, the bandage fell from my eyes, and I saw the abyss these monsters were opening under my feet. "This is a deception, a horrible deception," I exclaimed. "I now understand the 'deed of humility,' but I protest I will not sign it, I will have nothing more to do with it." * * * After spending two or three hours in bitterness and woe, I resolved to have recourse to my family. For this purpose I wrote a long letter to my mother, in which I exposed all the miseries of my heart, related what had taken place with regard to the "deed of humility," and begged of her consolation and advice. I gave the letter into the hands of a servant, and on the following morning received a reply, in which I was told, in gentle, terms, to be tranquil,—not to resist the wishes of my directors, —sign unhesitatingly any paper that might be required, for, when my studies were completed, and I quitted the college, the validity of these forms would cease. This letter set all my doubts at rest, and restored peace to my mind. It was written by my mother, and she, I felt assured, would never deceive me. How could I for one moment imagine that this epistle was an invention of my enemies, who imitated the hand-writing and affectionate style of my mother? Some persons will say, you might have suspected it. * * * I reply, that in the uprightness of my heart, I could not conceive such atrocious wickedness; it appeared utterly irreconcilable with the sanctity of the place, and with the venerable hoariness of persons dedicated to God.
After perusing the letter, I hastened to the master, declaring my readiness to sign the "deed of humility." He smiled approvingly on finding how well his plan had succeeded. The notary and witnesses were again summoned, and my condemnation written. The good notary, however, pitying my situation, inserted an exceptional clause to the total relinquishment of my rights. * * * No sooner was this business concluded, than the master commanded me to write to my parents, to inform them that I had signed the deed of renunciation, and was willing, for the benefit of my soul, to assume the monkish habit. He was present when I wrote this letter; I was, therefore, obliged to adopt the phrases suggested by him,—phrases, breathing zeal and devotion; full of indifference to the world, and tranquil satisfaction at the choice I had made. My parents, thought I, will be astonished when they read this epistle, but they must perceive that the language is not mine, so little is it in accordance with my former style of writing.
Reader, in the course of thirteen months, only one, of from fifty to sixty letters which I addressed to my mother, was ever received by her, and that one was this very letter. The monks, instead of forwarding mine, had forged letters imitating the hand-writing, and adopting a style suited to their purpose; and instead of consigning to me the genuine replies, they artfully substituted answers of their own fabrication. My family, therefore, were not surprised at the tenor of this epistle, but rejoiced over it, and reputed me already a Saint. They probably pictured me to themselves, on some future day, with a mitre on my head—with the red cap—nay, perhaps, even wearing the triple crown. Oh, what a delusion! Poor deceived parents! You knew not that your son, in anguish and despair, was clashing his chains, and devouring his tears in secret; that a triple bandage was placed before his eyes, and that he was being dragged, an unwilling victim, to the sacrifice." Returning home soon after, Ciocci rushed to his mother, and asked if she had his letters. They, were produced; when he found that only one had been written by him. The rest were forgeries of the masters.]
"It follows then," said my father, "that these letters are forgeries, and the excuses they have so often made are base falsehoods. A teacher of the religion of Jesus Christ guilty of lying and forgery! 'O, my soul come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly mine honor be thou not united.'"
"But we have our darling home again," said I, "and now we shall keep her with us." Never shall I forget the sweet, sad smile that came over her pale face as I uttered these words. Perchance, even then she realized that she was soon to leave us, never more to return. However this may be, she gradually declined. Slowly, but surely she went down to the grave. Every remedy was tried—every measure resorted to, that seemed to promise relief, but all in vain. We had the best physicians, but they frankly confessed that they did not understand her disease. In a very few months after her return, we laid our lovely and beloved sister beneath the clods of the valley. Our good old physician wept as he gazed upon her cold remains. I believe he thought she was poisoned, but as he could not prove it, he would only have injured himself by saying so. As for myself, I always thought that she knew too many of their secrets to be allowed to live after leaving them. "And now, dear," she continued, "do you think it strange that I hate the Romanists? Do you wonder if I feel like swearing when I think of priests and convents?"
Truly, I did not wonder that she hated them, though I could not understand what benefit it could be to swear about it; but I did not doubt the truth of her story. How often, in the convent from which I fled, had I heard them exult over the success of some deep laid scheme to entrap the ignorant, the innocent and the unwary! If a girl was rich or handsome, as sure as she entered their school, so sure was she to become a nun, unless she had influential friends to look after her and resolutely prevent it. To effect this, no means were left untried. The grossest hypocricy, and the meanest deception were practised to prevent a girl from holding communication with any one out of the convent No matter how lonely, or how homesick she might feel, she was not allowed to see her friends, or even to be informed of their kind attentions. So far from this, she was made to believe, if possible, that her relatives had quite forsaken her, while these very relatives were boldly informed that she did not wish to see them. If they wrote to their friends, as they sometimes did, their letters were always destroyed, while those received at home were invariably written by the priest or Superior. These remarks, however, refer only to those who are rich, or beautiful in person. Many a girl can say with truth that she has attended the convent school, and no effort was ever made—no inducement ever presented to persuade her to become a nun. Consequently, she says that stories like the above are mere falsehoods, reported to injure the school. This may be true so far as she is concerned, but you may be sure she has neither riches nor beauty, or if possessed of these, there was some other strong reason why she should be an exception to the general rule. Could she know the private history of some of her school-mates, she would tell a different story.
I remember that while in the convent, I was one day sent up stairs to assist a Superior in a chamber remote from the kitchen, and in a part of the house where I had never been before. Returning alone to the kitchen, I passed a door that was partly open, and hearing a slight groan within, I pushed open the door and looked in, before I thought what I was doing. A young girl lay upon a bed, who looked more like a corpse than a living person. She saw me, and motioned to have me come to her.
As I drew near the bed, she burst into tears, and whispered, "Can't you get me a drink of cold water?" I told her I did not know, but I would try. I hastened to the kitchen, and as no one was present but a nun whom I did not fear, I procured a pitcher of water, and went back with it without meeting any one on the way. I was well aware that if seen, I should be punished, but I did not care. I was doing as I would wish others to do to me, and truly, I had my reward. Never shall I forget how grateful that poor sufferer was for a draught of cold water. She could not tell how many days she had been fasting, for some of the time she had been insensible; but it must have been several days, and she did not know how long she was to remain in that condition.
"How came you here?" I asked, in a whisper; "and what have you done to induce them to punish you so?" "O," said she, with a burst of tears, and grasping my hand with her pale, cold fingers, "I was in the school, and I thought it would be so nice to be a nun! Then my father died and left me all his property, and they persuaded me to stay here, and give it all to the church. I was so sad then I did not care for money, and I had no idea what a place it is. I really thought that the nuns were pure and holy—that their lives were devoted to heaven, their efforts consecrated to the cause of truth and righteousness. I thought that this was indeed the 'house of God,' the very 'gate of heaven.' But as soon as they were sure of me, they let me know—but you understand me; you know what I mean?" I nodded assent, and once more asked, "What did you do?" "O, I was in the school," said she, "and I knew that a friend of mine was coming here just as I did; and I could not bear to see her, in all her loveliness and unsuspecting innocence, become a victim to these vile priests. I found an opportunity to let her know what a hell she was coming to. 'Twas an unpardonable sin, you see. I had robbed the church—committed sacrilege, they said—and they have almost killed me for it. I wish they would QUITE, for I am sure death has no terrors for me now. God will never punish me for what I have done. But go; don't stay any longer; they'll kill you if they catch you here." I knew that she had spoken truly—they WOULD kill me, almost, if not quite, if they found me there; but I must know a little more. "Did you save your friend?" I asked, "or did you both have to suffer, to pay for your generous act?" "Did I save her? Yes, thank God, I did. She did not come, and she promised not to tell of me. I don't think she did; but they managed to find it out, I don't know how; and now—O God, let me die!" I was obliged to go, and I left her, with a promise to carry her some bread if I could. But I could not, and I never saw her again. Yet what a history her few words unfolded! It was so much like the landlady's story, I could not forbear relating it to her. She seemed much interested in all my convent adventures; and in this way we spent the night.
THE TWO SISTERS.
Next morning the lady informed me that I could not remain with her in safety, but she had a sister, who lived about half a mile distant, with whom I could stop until my feet were sufficiently healed to enable me to resume my journey. She then sent for her sister, who very kindly, as I then thought, acceded to her request, and said I was welcome to stay with her as long as I wished. Arrangements were therefore made at once for my removal. My kind hostess brought two large buffalo robes into my chamber, which she wrapped around my person in such a way as to shield me from the observation of the servants. She then called one whom she could trust, and bade him take up the bundle and carry it down to a large covered wagon that stood at the door. I have often wondered whether the man knew what was in that bundle or not. I do not think he did, for he threw me across his shoulder as he would any bale of merchandise, and laid me on the bottom of the carriage. The two ladies then entered, laughing heartily at the success of their ruse, and joking me about my novel mode of conveyance. In this manner we were driven to the sister's residence, and I was carried into the house by the servants, in the same way. The landlady stopped for a few moments, and when she left she gave me cloth for a new dress, a few other articles of clothing, and three dollars in money. She bade me stay there and make my dress, and on no account venture out again in my nun dress. She wished me success in my efforts to escape, commended me to the care of our heavenly Father, and bade me farewell. She returned in the wagon alone, and left me to make the acquaintance of my new hostess.
This lady was a very different woman from her sister, and I soon had reason to regret that I was in her power. It has been suggested to me that the two ladies acted in concert; that I was removed for the sole purpose of being betrayed into the hands of my enemies. But I am not willing to believe this. Dark as human nature appears to me—accustomed as I am to regard almost every one with suspicion—still I cannot for one moment cherish a thought so injurious to one who was so kind to me. Is it possible that she could be such a hypocrite? Treat me with so much tenderness, and I might say affection, and then give me up to what was worse than death? No; whatever the reader may think about it, I can never believe her guilty of such perfidy. I regret exceedingly my inability to give the name of this lady in connection with the history of her good deeds, but I did not learn the name of either sister. The one to whom I was now indebted for a shelter seemed altogether careless of my interests. I had been with her but a few hours when she asked me to do some washing for her. Of course I was glad to do it; but when she requested me to go into the yard and hang the clothes upon the line, I became somewhat alarmed. I did not like to do it, and told her so; but she laughed at my fears, overruled all my objections, said no one in that place would seek to harm or to betray me, and assured me there was not the least danger. I at last consented to go, though my reason, judgment, and inclination, had I followed their dictates, would have kept me in the house. But I did not like to appear ungrateful, or unwilling to repay the kindness I received, as far as I was able; still I could not help feeling that it was an ungenerous demand. She might at least have offered me a bonnet or a shawl, as a partial disguise; but she did nothing of the kind.
When I saw that I could not avoid the exposure I resolved to make the best of it and get through as quickly, as possible; but my dress attracted a good deal of attention, and I saw more than one suspicious glance directed towards me before my task was finished. When it was over I thought no more about it, but gave myself up to the bright anticipations of future happiness, which now began to take possession of my mind.
That night I retired to a comfortable bed, and was soon lost to all earthly cares in the glorious land of dreams. What unalloyed happiness I enjoyed that night! what impossible feats I performed! Truly, the vision was bright, but a sad awaking followed. Some time in the night I was aroused by the flashing of a bright light from a dark lantern suddenly opened. I attempted to rise, but before I could realize where I was, a strong hand seized me and a gag was thrust into my mouth. The man attempted to take me in his arms, but with my hands and feet I defended myself to the best of my ability. Another man now came to his assistance, and with strong cords confined my hands and feet, so that I was entirely at their mercy. Perfectly helpless, I could neither resist nor call for help. They then took me up and carried me down stairs, with no clothing but my night-dress, not even a shawl to shield me from the cold night air.
At the gate stood a long covered wagon, in form like a butchers cart, drawn by two horses, and beside it a long box with several men standing around it. I had only time to observe this, when they thrust me into the box, closed the lid, placed it in the wagon, and drove rapidly away. I could not doubt for a moment into whose hands I had fallen, and when they put me into the box, I wished I might suffocate, and thus end my misery at once. But they had taken good care to prevent this by boring holes in the box, which admitted air enough to keep up respiration. And this was the result of all my efforts for freedom! After all I had suffered in making my escape, it was a terrible disappointment to be thus cruelly betrayed, gagged, bound, and boxed up like an article of merchandise, carried back to certain torture, and perchance to death. O, blame me not, gentle reader, if in my haste, and the bitter disappointment and anguish of my spirit, I questioned the justice of the power that rules the world. Nor let your virtuous indignation wax hot against me if I confess to you, that I even doubted the existence of that power. How often had I cried to God for help! Why were my prayers and tears disregarded? What had I done to deserve such a fife of misery? These, and similar thoughts occupied my mind during that lonely midnight ride.
We arrived at St. Regis before the first Mass in the morning. The box was then taken into the chapel, where they took me out and carried me into the church. I was seated at the foot of the altar, with my hands and feet fast bound, the gag still in my mouth, and no clothing on, but my night-dress. Two men stood beside me, and I remained here until the priest had said mass and the people retired from the church. He then came down from the altar, and said to the men beside me, "Well, you have got her." "Yes Sir," they replied, "what shall we do with her?" "Put her on the five o'clock boat," said he, "and let the other men go with her to Montreal. I want you to stay here, and be ready to go the other way tonight" This priest was an Indian, but he spoke the English language correctly and fluently. He seemed to feel some pity for my forlorn condition, and as they were about to carry me away he brought a large shawl, and wrapped it around me, for which I was truly grateful.
At the appointed time, I was taken on board the boat, watched very closely by the two men who had me in charge. There was need enough of this, for I would very gladly have thrown myself into the water, had I not been prevented. Once and again I attempted it, but the men held me back. For this, I am now thankful, but at that time my life appeared of so little importance, and the punishments I knew were in reserve for me seemed so fearful, I voluntarily chose "strangling and death rather than life." The captain and sailors were all Romanists, and seemed to vie with each other in making me as unhappy as possible They made sport of my "new fashioned clothing," and asked if I "did not wish to run away again?" When they found I did not notice them they used the most abusive and scurrilous language, mingled with vulgar and profane expressions, which may not be repeated. The men who had charge of me, and who should have protected me from such abuse, so far from doing it, joined in the laugh, and appeared to think it a pleasant amusement to ridicule and vex a poor helpless fugitive. May God forgive them for their cruelty, and in the hour of their greatest need, may they meet with the kindness they refused to me.
At Lachine we changed boats and took another to Montreal. When we arrived there, three priests were waiting for us. Their names I perfectly remember, but I am not sure that I can spell them correctly. Having never learned while in the nunnery, to read, or spell anything except a simple prayer, it is not strange if I do make mistakes, when attempting to give names from memory. I can only give them as they were pronounced. They were called Father Kelly, Dow, and Conroy. All the priests were called father, of whatever age they might be.
As we proceeded from the boat to the Nunnery, one of the priests went before us while the others walked beside me, leading me between them. People gazed at us as we passed, but they did not dare to insult, or laugh at me, while in such respectable company. Yet, methinks it must have been a ludicrous sight to witness so much parade for a poor run-a-way nun.
CHOICE OF PUNISHMENTS.
On our arrival at the Nunnery, I was left alone for half an hour. Then the Bishop came in with the Lady Superior, and the Abbess who had charge of the kitchen when I left. The Bishop read to me three punishments of which he said, I could take my choice. First.—To fast five days in the fasting room. Second.—To suffer punishment in the lime room. Third.—To fast four days, in the cell. As I knew nothing of these places except the cell, a priest was directed to take me to them, that I might see for myself, and then take my choice. At first, I thought I did not care, and I said I had no choice about it; but when I came to see the rooms, I was thankful that I was not allowed to abide by that decision. Certainly, I had no idea what was before me.
I was blindfolded, and taken to the lime room first. I think it must have been situated at a great distance from the room we left, for he led me down several flights of stairs, and through long, low passages, where it was impossible to stand erect. At length we entered a room where the atmosphere seemed laden with hot vapor. My blinder was removed, and I found myself in a pleasant room some fifteen feet square. There was no furniture of any kind, but a wide bench, fastened to the wall, extended round three sides of the room. The floor looked like one solid block of dark colored marble; not a crack or seam to be seen in it, but it was clouded, highly polished, and very beautiful. Around the sides of the room, a great number of hooks and chains were fastened to the wall, and a large hook hung in the center overhead. Near the door stood two men, with long iron bars, some two inches square, on their shoulders.
The priest directed me to stand upon the bench, and turning to the men, he bade them raise the door. They put down their bars, and I suppose touched a concealed spring, for the whole floor at once flew up, and fastened to the large hook over head. Surprised and terrified, I stood wondering what was to come next. At my feet yawned a deep pit, from which, arose a suffocating vapor, so hot, it almost scorched my face and nearly stopped my breath. The priest pointed to the heaving, tumbling billows of smoke that were rolling below, and; asked, "How would you like to be thrown into the lime?" "Not at all," I gasped, in a voice scarcely audible, "it would burn me to death." I suppose he thought I was sufficiently frightened, for he bade his men close the door. This they did by slowly letting down the floor, and I could see that it was in some way supported by the chains attached to the walls but in what manner I do not know.
I was nearly suffocated by the lime smoke that filled the room, and though I knew not what was in reserve for me, I was glad when my blinder was put on, and I was led away. I think we returned the same way we came, and entered another room where the scent was so very offensive, that I begged to be taken out immediately. Even before my eyes were uncovered, and I knew nothing of the loathsome objects by which we were surrounded, I felt that I could not endure to breathe an atmosphere so deadly. But the sight that met my eyes when my blinder was removed, I cannot describe, nor the sensations with which I gazed upon it. I can only give the reader some faint idea of the place, which, they said, was called the fasting room, and here incorrigible offenders fasted until they starved to death. Nor was this all. Their dead bodies were not even allowed a decent burial, but were suffered to remain in the place where they died, until the work of death was complete and dust returned to dust. Thus the atmosphere became a deadly poison to the next poor victim who was left to breathe the noxious effluvia of corruption and decay. I am well aware that my reader will hardly credit my statements, but I do solemnly affirm that I relate nothing but the truth. In this room were placed several large iron kettles, so deep that a person could sit in them, and many of them contained the remains of human beings. In one the corpse looked as though it had been dead but a short time. Others still sat erect in the kettle, but the flesh was dropping from the bones. Every stage of decay was here represented, from the commencement, till nothing but a pile of bones was left of the poor sufferer.
Conceive, if you can, with what feelings I gazed upon these disgusting relics of the dead. Even now, my blood chills in my veins, as memory recalls the fearful sight, or as, in sleep, I live over again the dread realities of that hour. Was I to meet a fate like this? I might, perchance, escape it for that time, but what assurance had I that I was not ultimately destined to such an end? These thoughts filled my mind, as I followed the priest from the room; and for a long time I continued to speculate upon what I had seen. They called it the fasting room; but if fasting were the only object, why were they placed in those kettles, instead of being allowed to sit on chairs or benches, or even on the floor? And why placed in IRON kettles? Why were they not made of wood? It would have answered the purpose quite as well, if fasting or starvation were the only objects in view. Then came the fearful suggestion, were these kettles ever heated? And was that floor made of stone or iron? The thought was too shocking to be cherished for a moment; but I could not drive it from my mind.
I was again blindfolded, and taken to a place they called a cell. But it was quite different from the one I was in before. We descended several steps as we entered it, and instead of the darkness I anticipated, I found myself in a large room with sufficient light to enable me to see every object distinctly. One end of a long chain was fastened around my waist, and the other firmly secured to an iron ring in the floor; but the chain, though large and heavy, was long enough to allow me to go all over the room. I could not see how it was lighted, but it must have been in some artificial manner, for it was quite as light at night, as in the day. Here were instruments of various kinds, the use of which, I did not understand; some of them lying on the floor, others attached to the sides of the room. One of them was made in the form of a large fish, but of what material I do not know. It was of a bright flesh color, and fastened to a board on the floor. If I pressed my foot upon the board, it would put in motion some machinery within, which caused it to spring forward with a harsh, jarring sound like the rumbling of the cars. At the same time its eyes would roll round, and its mouth open, displaying a set of teeth so large and long that I was glad to keep at a safe distance. I wished to know whether it would really bite me or not, but it looked so frightful I did not dare to hazard the experiment.
Another so nearly resembled a large serpent, I almost thought it was one; but I found it moved only when touched in a certain manner. Then it would roll over, open its mouth, and run out its tongue. There was another that I cannot describe, for I never saw anything that looked like it. It was some kind of a machine, and the turning of a crank made it draw together in such a way, that if a person were once within its embrace, the pressure would soon arrest the vital current, and stop the breath of life. Around the walls of the room were chains, rings and hooks, almost innumerable; but I did not know their use, and feared to touch them. I believed them all to be instruments of torture, and I thought they gave me a long chain in the hope and expectation that my curiosity would lead me into some of the numerous traps the room contained.
Every morning the figure I had seen beside the dying nun, which they called the devil, came to my cell, and unlocking the door himself, entered, and walked around me, laughing heartily, and seeming much pleased to find me there. He would blow white froth from his mouth, but he never spoke to me, and when he went out, he locked the door after him and took away the key. He was, in fact, very thoughtful and prudent, but it will be long before I believe that he came as they pretended, from the spirit world. So far from being frightened, the incident was rather a source of amusement. Such questions as the following would force themselves upon my mind. If that image is really the devil, where did he get that key? And what will he do with it? Does the devil hold the keys of this nunnery, so that he can come and go as he pleases? Or, are the priests on such friendly terms with his satanic majesty that they lend him their keys? Or, do they hold them as partners? Gentlemen of the Grey Nunnery, please tell us how it is about those keys.
HORRORS OF STARVATION.
One day a woman came into my cell, dressed in white, a white cap on her head, and so very pale she looked more like a corpse than a living person. She came up to me with her mouth wide open, and stood gazing at me for a moment in perfect silence. She then asked, "Where have you been?" "Into the world," I replied. "How did you like the world?" "Very well," said I. She paused a moment, and then asked, "Did you find your friends?" "No, ma'am," said I, "I did not." Another pause, and then she said, "Perhaps you will if you go again." "No," I replied, "I shall not try again." "You had better try it once more," she added, and I thought there was a slight sneer in her tone; "Perhaps you may succeed better another time." "No," I replied, "I shall not try to run away from the nunnery again. I should most assuredly be caught and brought back, and then they would make me suffer so much, I assure you I shall never do it again." She looked at me a moment as though she would read my very soul, and said, "And so you did not find your friends, after all, did you?" I again told her that I did not, and she seemed satisfied with the result of her questioning. When she came in, I was pleased to see her, and thought I would ask her for something to eat, or at least for a little cold water. But she seemed so cold-hearted, so entirely destitute of sympathy or kind feeling, I had no courage to speak to her, for I felt that it would do no good. Perhaps I misjudged her. I knew from her looks that she must have been a great sufferer; but I have heard it said that extreme suffering sometimes hardens instead of softening the heart, and I believe it. It seemed to me that this woman had suffered so much herself, that every kind feeling was crushed out of her soul. I was glad when she left me, locking the door after her.
Four days they kept me in this cell, and for five days and nights I had not tasted food or drink. I endured the most intolerable agonies from hunger and thirst. The suffering produced by hunger, when it becomes actual starvation, is far beyond anything that I can imagine. There is no other sensation that can be compared to it, and no language can describe it. One must feel it in order to realize what it is. The first two days I amused myself by walking round my room and trying to conjecture the use to which the various instruments were applied. Then I became so weak I could only think of eating and drinking. I sometimes fell asleep, but only to dream of loaded tables and luxurious feasts. Yet I could never taste the luxuries thus presented. Whenever I attempted to do so, they would be snatched away, or I would wake to find it all a dream. Driven to a perfect frenzy by the intensity of my sufferings, I would gladly have eaten my own flesh. Well was it for me that no sharp instrument was at hand, for as a last resort I more than once attempted to tear open my veins with my teeth.
This severe paroxysm passed away, and I sank into a state of partial unconsciousness, in which I remained until I was taken out of the cell. I do not believe I should have lived many hours longer, nor should I ever have been conscious of much more suffering. With me the "bitterness of death had passed," and I felt disappointed and almost angry to be recalled to a life of misery. I begged them to allow me to die. It was the only boon I craved. But this would have been too merciful; moreover, they did not care to lose my services in the kitchen. I was a good drudge for them, and they wished to restore me on the same principle that a farmer would preserve the life of a valuable horse.
I do not remember leaving the cell. The first thing I realized they were placing me in a chair in the kitchen, and allowed me to lean my head upon the table. They gave me some gruel, and I soon revived so that I could sit up in my chair and speak in a whisper. But it was some hours before I could stand on my feet or speak loud. An Abbess was in the kitchen preparing bread and wine for the priests (they partake of these refreshments every day at ten in the morning and three in the afternoon). She brought a pailful of wine and placed it on the table near me, and left a glass standing beside it. When she turned away, I took the glass, dipped up a little of the wine, and drank it. She saw me do it, but said not a word, and I think she left it there for that purpose. The wine was very strong, and my stomach so weak, I soon began to feel sick, and asked permission to go to bed. They took me up in their arms and carried me to my old room and laid me on the bed. Here they left me, but the Abbess soon returned with some gruel made very palatable with milk and sugar. I was weak, and my hand trembled so that I could not feed myself; but the Abbess kindly sat beside me and fed me until I was satisfied. I had nothing more to eat until the next day at eleven o'clock, when the Abbess again brought me some bread and gruel, and a cup of strong tea. She requested me to drink the tea as quick as possible, and then she concealed the mug in which she brought it
I was now able to feed myself, and you may be sure I had an excellent appetite, and was not half so particular about my food as some persons I have since known. I lay in bed till near night, when I rose, dressed myself without assistance, and went down to the kitchen. I was so weak and trembled so that I could hardly manage to get down stairs; but I succeeded at last, for a strong will is a wonderful incentive to efficient action.
In the kitchen I met the Lady Superior. She saw how weak I was, and as she assisted me to a chair, she said, "I should not have supposed that you could get down here alone. Have you had anything to eat to-day?" I was about to say yes, but one of the nuns shook her head at me, and I replied "No." She then brought some bread and wine, requesting me to eat it quick, for fear some of the priests might come in and detect us. Thus I saw that she feared the priests as well as the rest of us. Truly, it was a terrible crime she bad committed! No wonder she was afraid of being caught! Giving a poor starved nun a piece of bread, and then obliged to conceal it as she would have done a larceny or a murder! Think of it, reader, and conceive, if you can, the state of that community where humanity is a crime—where mercy is considered a weakness of which one should be ashamed! If a pirate or a highwayman had been guilty of treating a captive as cruelly as I was treated by those priests, he would have been looked upon as an inhuman monster, and at once given up to the strong grasp of the law. But when it is done by a priest, under the cloak of Religion, and within the sacred precincts of a nunnery, people cry out, when the tale is told, "Impossible!" "What motive could they have had?" "It cannot be true," etc. But whether the statement is believed or otherwise, it is a fact that in the Grey Nunnery at Montreal the least exhibition of a humane spirit was punished as a crime. The nun who was found guilty of showing mercy to a fellow-sufferer was sure to find none herself.
From this time I gained very fast, for the Abbess saw how hungry I was, and she would either put food in my way, or give me privately what I wished to eat. In two weeks I was able to go to work in the kitchen again. But those I had formerly seen there were gone. I never knew what became of the sick nun, nor could I learn anything about the one who ran away with me. I thought that the men who brought me to St. Regis, were kept there to go after her, but I do not know whether they found her or not. For myself, I promised so solemnly, and with such apparent sincerity, that I would never leave the nunnery again, I was believed and trusted. Had I been kindly treated, had my life been even tolerable, my conscience would have reproached me for deceiving them, but as it was, I felt that I was more "sinned against, than sinning." I could not think it wrong to get away, if the opportunity presented, and for this I was constantly on the watch. Every night I lay awake long after all the rest were buried in slumber, trying to devise some plan, by which I could once more regain my liberty. And who can blame me? Having just tasted the sweets of freedom, how could I be content to remain in servitude all my life? Many a time have I left my bed at night, resolved to try to escape once more, but the fear of detection would deter me from the attempt.