In the discharge of my daily duties, I strove to the utmost of my ability to please my employers. I so far succeeded, that for five weeks after my return I escaped punishment. Then, I made a slight mistake about my work, though I verily thought I was doing it according to the direction. For this, I was told that I must go without two meals, and spend three days in the torture room. I supposed it was the same room I was in before, but I was mistaken. I was taken into the kitchen cellar, and down a flight of stairs to another room directly under it. From thence, a door opened into another subterranean apartment which they called the torture room. These doors were so constructed, that a casual observer would not be likely to notice them. I had been in that cellar many times, but never saw that door until I was taken through it. A person might live in the nunnery a life-time, and never see or hear anything of such a place. I presume those visitors who call at the school-rooms, go over a part of the house, and leave with the impression that the convent is a nice place, will never believe my statements about this room. Nor can we wonder at their skepticism. It is exceedingly difficult for pure minds to conceive how any human being can be so fearfully depraved. Knowing the purity of their own intentions, and judging others by themselves, it is not strange that they regard such tales of guilt and terror as mere fabrications, put forth to gratify the curiosity of the wonder-loving crowd.
THE TORTURE ROOM.
I remember hearing a gentleman at the depot remark that the very enormity of the crimes committed by the Romanists, is their best protection. "For," said he, "some of their practices are so shockingly infamous they may not even be alluded to in the presence of the refined and the virtuous. And if the story of their guilt were told, who would believe the tale? Far easier would it be to call the whole a slanderous fabrication, than to believe that man can be so vile."
This consideration led me to doubt the propriety of attempting a description of what I saw in that room. But I have engaged to give a faithful narrative of what transpired in the nunnery; and shall I leave out a part because it is so strange and monstrous, that people will not believe it? No. I will tell, without the least exaggeration what I saw, heard, and experienced. People may not credit the story now, but a day will surely come when they will know that I speak the truth.
As I entered the room I was exceedingly shocked at the horrid spectacle that met my eye. I knew that fearful scenes were enacted in the subterranean cells, but I never imagined anything half so terrible as this. In various parts of the room I saw machines, and instruments of torture, and on some of them persons were confined who seemed to be suffering the most excruciating agony. I paused, utterly overcome with terror, and for a moment imagined that I was a witness to the torments, which, the priests say, are endured by the lost, in the world of woe. Was I to undergo such tortures, and which of those infernal engines would be applied to me? I was not long in doubt. The priest took hold of me and put me into a machine that held me fast, while my feet rested on a piece of iron which was gradually heated until both feet were blistered. I think I must have been there fifteen minutes, but perhaps the time seemed longer than it was. He then took me out, put some ointment on my feet and left me.
I was now at liberty to examine more minutely the strange objects around me. There were some persons in the place whose punishment, like my own, was light compared with others. But near me lay one old lady extended on a rack. Her joints were all dislocated, and she was emaciated to the last degree. I do not suppose I can describe this rack, for I never saw anything like it. It looked like a gridiron but was long enough for the tallest man to lie upon. There were large rollers at each end, to which belts were attached, with a large lever to drive them back and forth. Upon this rack the poor woman was fastened in such a way, that when the levers were turned and the rollers made to revolve, every bone in her body was displaced. Then the violent strain would be relaxed, a little, and she was so very poor, her skin would sink into the joints and remain there till it mortified and corrupted.
It was enough to melt the hardest heart to witness her agony; but she bore it with a degree of fortitude and patience, I could not have supposed possible, had I not been compelled to behold it. When I entered the room she looked up and said, "Have you come to release me, or only to suffer with me?" I did not dare to reply, for the priest was there, but when he left us she exclaimed, "My child, let nothing induce you to believe this cursed religion. It will be the death of you, and that death, will be the death of a dog." I suppose she meant that they would kill me as they would a dog. She then asked, "Who put you here?" "My Father," said I. "He must have been a brute," said she, "or he never could have done it." At one time I happened to mention the name of God, when she fiercely exclaimed with gestures of contempt, "A God! You believe there is one, do you? Don't you suffer yourself to believe any such thing. Think you that a wise, merciful, and all powerful being would allow such a hell as this to exist? Would he suffer me to be torn from friends and home, from my poor children and all that my soul holds dear, to be confined in this den of iniquity, and tortured to death in this cruel manner? No, O, no. He would at once destroy these monsters in human form; he would not suffer them, for one moment, to breathe the pure air of heaven."
At another time she exclaimed, "O, my children! my poor motherless children! What will become of them? God of mercy, protect my children!" Thus, at one moment, she would say there was no God, and the next, pray to him for help. This did not surprise me, for she was in such intolerable misery she did not realize what she did say. Every few hours the priest came in, and gave the rollers a turn, when her joints would crack and—but I cannot describe it. The sight made me sick and faint at the time, as the recollection of it, does now. It seemed as though that man must have had a heart of adamant, or he could not have done it. She would shriek, and groan, and weep, but it did not affect him in the least. He was as calm, and deliberate as though he had a block of wood in his hands, instead of a human being. When I saw him coming, I once shook my head at her, to have her stop speaking; but when he was gone, she said, "Don't shake your head at me; I do not fear him. He can but kill me, and the quicker he does it the better. I would be glad if he would put an end to my misery at once, but that would be too merciful. He is determined to kill me by inches, and it makes no difference what I say to him."
She had no food, or drink, during the three days I was there, and the priest never spoke to her. He brought me my bread and water regularly, and I would gladly have given it to that poor woman if she would have taken it. But she would not accept the offer. It would only prolong her sufferings, and she wished to die. I do not suppose she could have lived, had she been taken out when I first saw her.
In another part of the room, a monk was under punishment. He was standing in some kind of a machine, with heavy weights attached to his feet, and a belt passed across his breast under his arms. He appeared to be in great distress, and no refreshment was furnished him while I was there.
On one side of the room, I observed a closet with a "slide door," as the nuns called them. There were several doors of this description in the building, so constructed as to slide back into the ceiling out of sight. Through this opening I could see an image resembling a monk; and whenever any one was put in there, they would shriek, and groan, and beg to be taken out, but I could not ascertain the cause of their suffering.
One day a nun was brought in to be punished. The priest led her up to the side of the room, and bade her put her fingers into some holes in the wall just large enough to admit them. She obeyed but immediately drew them back with a loud shriek. I looked to see what was the matter with her, and lo! every nail was torn from her fingers, which were bleeding profusely. How it was done, I do not know. Certainly, there was no visible cause for such a surprising effect. In all probability the fingers came in contact with the spring of some machine on the other side, or within the wall to which some sharp instrument was attached. I would give much to know just how it was constructed, and what the girl had done to subject herself to such a terrible and unheard-of punishment. But this, like many other things in that establishment, was wrapped in impenetrable mystery. God only knows when the veil will be removed, or whether it ever will be until the day when all secret things will be brought to light.
When the three days expired, I was taken out of this room, but did not go to work again till my feet were healed. I was then obliged to assist in milking the cows, and taking care of the milk. They had a large number of cows, I believe thirty-five, and dairy rooms, with every thing convenient for making butter and cheese. When first directed to go out and milk, I was pleased with the idea, for I hoped to find and opportunity to escape; but I was again disappointed. In the cow yard, as elsewhere, every precaution was taken to prevent it.
Passing out of the main yard of the convent through a small door, I found myself in a small, neat yard, surrounded by a high fence, so that nothing could be seen but the sky overhead. The cows were driven in, and the door immediately locked, so that escape from that place seemed impossible.
At harvest time, in company with twenty other nuns, I was taken out into the country to the residence of the monks. The ride out there was a great treat, and very much enjoyed by us all. I believe it was about five miles, through a part of the city of Montreal; the north part I think, but I am not sure. We stopped before a large white stone building, situated in the midst of a large yard like the one at the nunnery. A beautiful walk paved with stone, led from the gate to the front door, and from thence, around the house. Within the yard, there was also a delightful garden, with neat, well kept walks laid out in various directions. Before the front door there stood a large cross. I think I never saw a more charming place; it appeared to me a perfect paradise. I heard one of the priests say that the farm consisted of four hundred acres, and belonged to the nunnery. The house was kept by two widow ladies who were married before they embraced the Romish faith. They were the only women on the place previous to our arrival, and I think they must have found it very laborious work to wait upon so many monks. I do not know their number, but there was a great many of them, besides a large family of boys, who, I suppose, were being educated for priests or monks.
Immediately on our arrival a part of our number were set to work in the fields, while the rest were kept in the house to assist the women. I hoped that I might be one of these last, but disappointment was again my lot. I was sent to the field with the others, and set to reaping; a priest being stationed near, to guard us and oversee our work. We were watched very closely, one priest having charge of two nuns, for whose safe keeping he was responsible. Here we labored until the harvest was all gathered in. I dug potatoes, cut up corn and husked it, gathered apples, and did all kinds of work that is usually done by men in the fall of the year. Yet I was never allowed to wear a bonnet on my head, or anything to shield me from the piercing rays of the sun. Some days the heat was almost intolerable, and my cap was not the least protection, but they allowed me no other covering.
In consequence of this exposure, my head soon became the seat of severe neuralgic pain, which caused me at times to linger over my work. But this was not permitted. My movements were immediately quickened, for the work must be done notwithstanding the severe pain. Every command must be obeyed whatever the result.
At night a part of our number were taken to the nunnery, and the rest of us locked up in our rooms in the house. We were not permitted to take our meals with the two housekeepers, but a table was set for us in another room. One would think that when gathering the fruit we would be allowed to partake of it, or at least to taste it. But this was not allowed; and as a priest's eye was ever upon us, we dare not disobey, however much we might wish to do so. I used to wonder if the two women who kept the house were as severely dealt with as we were, but had no means whereby to satisfy my curiosity. They were not allowed to converse with us, and we might not speak to them, or even look them in the face. Here, as at the nunnery, we were obliged to walk with the head bent forward a little, the eyes fixed on the floor, one hand, if disengaged, under the cape, the other down by the side, and on no occasion might we look a person in the face. The two women seemed to be governed by the same rules that we were, and subject to the same masters. I used to think a great deal about them, and longed to know their history. They wore blue dresses, with white caps, and white handkerchiefs on their necks. Their life, I think, was a hard one.
RETURN TO THE NUNNERY.
While we remained at this place I was not punished in any of the usual methods. Perhaps they thought the exposure to a burning sun, and a severe headache, sufficient to keep me in subjection without any other infliction. But immediately on my return to the nunnery I was again subjected to the same cruel, capricious, and unreasonable punishment.
On the first day after my return one of the priests came into the kitchen where I was at work, and I hastened to give him the usual respectful salutation, which I have before described. But he took hold of my arm and said, "What do you look so cross for?" And without giving me time to reply, even if I had dared to do so, he added, "I'll teach you not to look cross at me." He left the room, with an expression of countenance that frightened me. I was not aware of looking cross at him, though I must confess I had suffered so much at his hands already, I did not feel very happy in his presence; yet I always endeavored to treat him with all due respect. Certainly his accusation against me in this instance was as false as it was cruel. But what of that? I was only a nun, and who would care if I was punished unjustly? The priest soon returned with a band of leather, or something of the kind, into which thorns were fastened in such numbers that the inside was completely covered with them. This he fastened around my head with the points of the thorns pressing into the skin, and drew it so tight that the blood ran in streams over my neck and shoulders. I wore this band, or "crown of thorns;" as they called it, for six hours, and all the time continued my work as usual. Then I thought of the "crown of thorns" our Saviour wore when he gave his life a ransom for the sins of the world. I thought I could realize something of his personal agony, and the prayer of my soul went up to heaven for grace to follow his example and forgive my tormentors.
From this time I was punished every day while I remained there, and for the most simple things. It was evident they wished to break down my spirit, but it only confirmed me in my resolution to get away from them as soon as possible.
One day I chanced to close the door a little too hard. It was mere accident, but for doing it they burned me with red hot tongs. They kept them in the fire till they were red hot, then plunged them into cold water, drew them out as quickly as possible, and immediately applied them to my arms or feet. The skin would, of course adhere to the iron, and it would sometime burn down to the bone before they condescended to remove it. At another time I was cruelly burned on my arms and shoulders for not standing erect. The flesh was deep in some places, and the agony I suffered was intolerable. I thought of the stories the Abbess used to tell me years before about the martyrs who were burned at the stake. But I had not a martyr's faith, and I could not imitate their patience and resignation. The sores made on these occasions were long in healing, and to this day I bear upon my person the scars caused by these frequent burnings.
I was often punished because I forgot to walk on my toes. For this trivial offence I have often been made to fast two days. We all wore cloth shoes, and it was the rule of the house that we should all walk on tip-toe. Sometimes we would forget, and take a step or two in the usual way; and then it did seem as though they rejoiced in the opportunity to inflict punishment. It was the only amusement they had, and there was so little variety in their daily life, I believe they were glad of anything to break in upon the monotony of convent life, and give them a little excitement. It was very hard for me to learn to walk on my toes, and as I often failed to do it, I was of course punished for the atrocious crime. But I did learn at last, for what can we not accomplish by resolute perseverance? Several years of practice so confirmed the habit that I found it as difficult to leave off as it was to begin. Even now I often find myself tripping along on tip-toe before I am aware of it.
We had a very cruel abbess in the kitchen, and this was one reason of our being punished so often. She was young and inexperienced, and had just been promoted to office, with which she seemed much pleased and elated. She embraced every opportunity to exercise her authority, and often have I fasted two whole days for accidentally spilling a little water on the kitchen floor. Whenever she wished to call my attention to her, she did not content herself with simply speaking, but would box my ears, pull my hair, pinch my arms, and in many ways so annoy and provoke me that I often wished her dead. One day when I was cleaning knives and forks she came up to me and gave me such a severe pinch on my arm that I carried the marks for many days. I did not wait to think what I was doing, but turned and struck her with all my might. It could not have been a light blow, for I was very angry. She turned away, saying she should report me to the Lady Superior. I did not answer her, but as she passed through the door I threw a knife which I hoped would hit her, but it struck the door as she closed it. I expected something dreadful would be done to me after this wilful violation of a well known law. But I could bear it, I thought, and I was glad I hit her so hard.
She soon returned with a young priest, who had been there but a short time, and his heart had not yet become so hard as is necessary to be a good Romish priest. He came to me and asked, "What is the matter?" I told him the Abbess punished me every day, that in fact I was under punishment most of the time; that I did not deserve it, and I was resolved to bear it no longer. I struck her because she pinched me for no good reason; and I should in future try to defend myself from her cruelty.
"Do you know," said he, "what will be done to you for this?" "No, sir," said I, "I do not know," and I was about to add, "I do not care," but I restrained myself. He went out, and for a long time I expected to be called to account, but I heard no more of it. The Abbess, however, went on in the old way, tormenting me on every occasion.
One day the priests had a quarrel among themselves, and if I had said a DRUNKEN QUARREL, I do not think it would have been a very great mistake. In the fray they stabbed one of their number in the side, drew him out of his room, and left him on the floor in the hall of the main building, but one flight of stairs above the kitchen. Two nuns, who did the chamber work, came down stairs, and, seeing him lie there helpless and forsaken, they took him by the hair of the head and drew him down to the kitchen. Here they began to torment him in the most cruel manner. They burned sticks in the fire until the end was a live coal, put them into his hands and closed them, pressing the burning wood into the flesh, and thus producing the most exquisite pain. At least this would have been the result if he had realized their cruelty. But I think he was insensible before they touched him, or if not, must have died very soon after, for I am sure he was dead when I first saw him.
I went to them and remonstrated against such inhuman conduct. But one of the nuns replied, "That man has tormented me more than I can him, if I do my best, and I wish him to know how good it is." "But," said I, some one will come in, and you will be caught in the act." "I'll risk that," said she, "they are quarreling all over the house, and will have enough to do to look after each other for a while, I assure you." "But the man is dead," said I. "How can you treat a senseless corpse in that way?" "I'm afraid he is dead," she replied, he don't move at all, and I can't feel his heart beat; but I did hope to make him realize how good the fire feels."
Meanwhile, the blood was flowing from the wound in his side, and ran over the floor. The sight of this alarmed them, and they drew him into another dark hall, and left him beside the door of a room used for punishment. They then came back, locked the hall door, and washed up the blood. They expected to be punished for moving the dead body, but the floor was dry before any of the priests came in, and I do not think it was ever known. Perhaps they did not remember events as distinctly as they might under other circumstances, and it is very possible, that, when they found the corpse they might not have been able to say whether it was where they left it, or not. We all rejoiced over the death of that priest. He was a very cruel man; had punished me times without number, but, though I was glad he was dead, I could not have touched him when he lay helpless and insensible.
A few weeks after the events just related, another trifling occurrence brought me into collision with the Abbess. And here let me remark that I have no way, by which to ascertain at what particular time certain events transpired. The reader will understand that I write this narrative from memory, and our life at the nunnery was so monotonous, the days and weeks passed by with such dull, and irksome uniformity, that sometimes our frequent punishments were the only memorable events to break in upon the tiresome sameness of our unvarying life. Of course the most simple thing was regarded by us as a great event, something worthy of special notice, because, for the time, it diverted our minds from the peculiar restraints of our disagreeable situation.
To illustrate this remark let me relate an incident that transpired about this time. I was one day sent to a part of the house where I was not in the habit of going. I was passing along a dark hall, when a ray of light from an open door fell upon my path. I looked up, and as the door at that moment swung wide open, I saw, before a glass, in a richly furnished room, the most beautiful woman I ever beheld. From the purity of her complexion, and the bright color of her cheeks and lips, I could have taken her for a piece of wax work, but for the fact that she was carelessly arranging her hair. She was tall, and elegant in person, with a countenance of such rare and surpassing beauty, I involuntarily exclaimed, "What a beautiful woman!" She turned towards me with a smile of angelic sweetness, while an expression of sympathetic emotion overspread her exquisitely moulded features, which seemed to say as plainly as though she had spoken in words, "Poor child, I pity you." I now became conscious that I was breaking the rules of the house, and hastened away. But O, how many days my soul fed on that smile! I never saw the lady again, her name I could never know, but that look of tenderness will never be forgotten. It was something to think of through many dreary hours, something to look back to, and be grateful for, all the days of my life.
But to return to my narrative. The priests had a large quantity of sap gathered from the maple trees, and brought to the nunnery to be boiled into sugar. Another nun and myself were left to watch it, keep the kettle filled up, and prevent it from burning. It was boiled in the large caldron of which I have before spoken, and covered with a large, thin, wooden cover. The sap had boiled some time, and become very thick. I was employed in filling up the kettle when the Abbess came into the room, and after a few inquiries, directed me to stand upon the cover of the caldron, and fix a large hook directly over it. I objected, for I know full well that it would not bear a fourth part of my weight. She then took hold of me, and tried to force me to step upon it, but I knew I should be burned to death, for the cover, on account of its enormous size was made as thin as possible, that we might be able to lift it. When I saw that she was determined to make me yield, in self defence, I threw her upon the floor. Would that I had been content to stop here. But no. When I saw her in my power, and remembered how much I had suffered from her, my angry passions rose, and I thought only of revenge.
I commenced beating her with all my might, and when I stopped from mere exhaustion, the other nun caught her by the hair and began to draw her round the room. She struggled and shrieked, but she could not help herself. Her screams, however, alarmed the house, and hearing one of the priests coming, the nun gave her a kick and left her. The priest asked what we were doing, and the Abbess related with all possible exaggeration, the story of our cruelty. "But what did you do to them?" asked the priest "You gave them some provocation, or they never would treat you so." She was then obliged to tell what had passed between us, and he said she deserved to suffer for giving such an order. "Why," said he," that cover would not have held her a moment, and she would most assuredly have burned to death." He punished us all; the Abbess for giving the order, and us for abusing her. I should not have done this thing, had I not come off so well, when I once before attempted to defend myself; but my success at that time gave me courage to try it again. My punishment was just, and I bore it very well, consoled by the thought that justice was awarded to the Abbess, as well as myself.
SICKNESS AND DEATH OF A SUPERIOR.
The next excitement in our little community was caused by the sickness and death of our Superior. I do not know what her disease was, but she was sick two weeks, and one of the nuns from the kitchen was sent to take care of her. One night she was so much worse, the nun thought she would die, and she began to torment her in the most inhuman manner. She had been severely punished a short time before at the instigation of this woman, and she then swore revenge if she ever found an opportunity. Now it was presented. She was in her power, too weak to resist or call for assistance, and she resolved to let her know by experience how bitterly she had made others suffer in days gone by. It was a fiendish spirit, undoubtedly, that prompted her to seek revenge upon the dying, but what else could we expect? She only followed the example of her elders, and if she went somewhat beyond their teachings, she had, as we shall see, her reasons for so doing. With hot irons she burned her on various parts of her person, cut great gashes in the flesh upon her face, sides, and arms, and then rubbed salt and pepper into the wounds. But I will not try to describe it.
The wretched woman died before morning, and the nun went to the priest and told him that the Superior was dead, and that she had killed her. The priests were immediately all called together, and the Bishop called upon for counsel. He sentenced her to be hung that morning in the chapel before the assembled household. The Abbess came and informed us what had taken place, and directed us to get ready and go to the chapel. When we entered, the doomed girl sat upon a chair on the altar. She was clad in a white robe, with a white cap on her head, and appeared calm, self-possessed, and even joyful. The Bishop asked her if she had anything to say for herself. She immediately rose and said, "I have killed the Superior, for which I am to be hung. I know that I deserve to die, but I have suffered more than death many times over, from punishments inflicted by her order. For many years my life has been one of continual suffering; and for what? For just nothing at all, or for the most simple things. Is it right, is it just to starve a person two whole days for shutting the door a little too hard? or to burn one with hot irons because a little water was accidentally spilt on the floor? Yet for these and similar things I have again and again been tortured within an inch of my life. Now that I am to be hung, I am glad of it, for I shall die quick, and be out of my misery, instead of being tortured to death by inches. I did this thing for this very purpose, for I do not fear death nor anything that comes after it. Talk about the existence of a God! I don't believe a word of it. And the story of heaven and hell, purgatory, and the Virgin Mary; why, it's all a humbug, like the rest of the vile stuff you call religion. Religion indeed! You wont catch us nuns believing it, and more than all that, you don't believe it yourselves, not one of you."
She sat down, and they put a cap over her head and face, drew it tight around her neck, adjusted the rope, and she was launched into eternity. To me it seemed a horrid thing, and I could not look upon her dying struggles. I did not justify the girl in what she had done, yet I knew that the woman would have died if she had let her alone; and I also knew that worse things than that were done in the nunnery almost every day, and that too by the very men who had taken her life. I left the chapel with a firm resolve to make one more effort to escape from a thraldom that everyday became more irksome.
At the door the Abbess met me, and led me to a room I had never seen before, where, to my great surprise, I found my bed. She said it was removed by her order, and in future I was to sleep in that room. "What! sleep here alone?" I exclaimed, quite forgetting, in the agitation of the moment, the rule of silent obedience. But she did not condescend to notice either my question or the unpleasant feelings which must have been visible in my features. I did feel very much troubled. I had never slept in a room alone a night in my life. Another nun always occupied the room with me, and when she was absent, as she often was when under punishment, the Abbess slept there, so that I was never alone. I did not often meet the girl with whom I slept, as she did not work in the kitchen, but whenever I did, I felt as pleased as though she had been my sister. Yet I never spoke to her, nor did she ever attempt to converse with me. Yes, strange as it may seem, incredible as my reader may think it, it is a fact, that during all the years we slept together, not one word ever passed between us. We did not even dare to communicate our thoughts by signs, lest the Abbess should detect us.
That night I spent in my new room; but I could not sleep. I had heard strange hints about some room where no one could sleep, and where no one liked to go, though for what reason I could never learn. When I first entered, I discovered that the floor was badly stained, and, while speculating on the cause of those stains, I came to the conclusion that this was the room to which so much mystery was attached. It was very dark, with no window in it, situated in the midst of the house, surrounded by other rooms, and no means of ventilation except the door. I did not close my eyes during the whole night. I imagined that the door opened and shut, that persons were walking in the room, and I am certain that I heard noises near my bed for which I could not account. Altogether, it was the most uncomfortable night I ever spent, and I believe that few persons would have felt entirely at ease in my situation.
To such a degree did these superstitious fears assail me, I felt as though I would endure any amount of physical suffering rather than stay there another night. Resolved to brave everything, I went to a priest and asked permission to speak to him. It was an unusual thing, and I think his curiosity was excited, for it was only in extreme cases that a nun ventures to appeal to a priest When I told him my story, he seemed much surprised, and asked by whose order my bed was moved to that room. I informed him of all the particulars, when he ordered me to move my bed back again. "No one," said he, "has slept in that room for years, and we do not wish any one to sleep there." I accordingly moved the bed back, and as I had permission from the priest, the Abbess dared not find fault with me.
STUDENTS AT THE ACADEMY.
Through the winter I continued to work as usual, leading the same dull, dreary, and monotonous life, varied only by pains, and privations. In the spring a slight change was made in the household arrangements, and for a short time I assisted some of the other nuns to do the chamber work for the students at the academy. There was an under-ground passage from the convent to the cellar of the academy through which we passed. Before we entered, the doors and windows were securely fastened, and the students ordered to leave their rooms, and not return again till we had left. They were also forbidden to speak to us, but whenever the teachers were away, they were sure to come back to their rooms, and ask us all manner of questions. They wished to know, they said, how long we were going to stay in the convent, if we really enjoyed the life we had chosen, and were happy in our retirement; if we had not rather return to the world, go into company, get married, etc. I suppose they really thought that we could leave at any time if we chose. But we did not dare to answer their questions, or let them know the truth.
One day, when we went to do the work, we found in one of the rooms, some men who were engaged in painting. They asked us if we were contented. We did not dare to reply, lest they should betray us. They then began to make remarks about us, some of which I well remember. One of them said, "I don't believe they are used very well; they look as though they were half starved." Another replied, "I know they do; there is certainly something wrong about these convents, or the nuns would not all look so pale and thin." I suspect the man little thought how much truth there was in his remarks.
Soon after the painters left we were all taken suddenly ill. Some were worse than others, but all were unwell except one nun. As all exhibited the same symptoms, we were supposed to have taken poison, and suspicion fastened on that nun. She was put upon the rack, and when she saw that her guilt could not be concealed, she confessed that she poisoned the water in the well, but she would not tell what she put into it, nor where she got it. She said she did not do it to injure the nuns, for she thought they were allowed so little drink with their food, they would not be affected by it, while those who drank more, she hoped to kill. She disliked all the priests, and the Superior, and would gladly have murdered them all. But for one priest in particular, she felt all the hatred that a naturally malignant spirit, excited by repeated acts of cruelty, is capable of. He had punished her repeatedly, and as she thought, unjustly, and she resolved to avenge herself and destroy her enemy, even though the innocent should suffer with the guilty. This was all wrong, fearfully wrong we must admit. But while we look with horror at the enormity of her crime let us remember that she had great provocation. I hope there are few who could have sought revenge in the way she did; yet I cannot believe that any one would endure from another what she was compelled to suffer from that man, without some feelings of resentment. Let us not judge too harshly this erring sister, for if her crime was great, her wrongs were neither small nor few, and her punishment was terrible.
They tortured her a long time to make her tell what kind of poison she put in the well, and where she obtained it. They supposed she must have got it from the painters, but she would never tell where she procured it. This fact proves that she had some generous feelings left. Under any other circumstances such magnanimity would have been highly applauded, and in my secret soul I could not but admire the firmness with which she bore her sufferings. She was kept upon the rack until all her joints were dislocated, and the flesh around them mortified. They then carried her to her room, removed the bed, and laid her upon the bedcord. The nuns were all assembled to look at her, and take warning by her sad fate. Such a picture of misery I never saw before. She seemed to have suffered even more than the old lady I saw in the cellar. It was but a moment, however, that we were allowed to gaze upon her shrunken ghastly features, and then she was hid from our sight forever. The nuns, except two or three, were sent from the room, and thus the murder was consummated. What else can we call it?
There was one young student at the academy whose name was Smalley. He was from New England, and his father lived at St. Albans, Vt., where he had wealth and influence. This young man had a little sister who used to visit at the convent, whom they called Sissy Smalley. She was young, but handsome, witty and intelligent. For one of her age, she was very much refined in her manners. They allowed her to go anywhere in the building except the private apartments where those deeds of darkness were performed which would not bear the pure light of heaven. I presume that no argument could convince little Sissy Smalley that such rooms were actually in the nunnery. She had been all over it, she would tell you, and she never saw any torture rooms, never heard of any one being punished, or anything of the kind. Such reports would appear to her as mere slanders, yet God knows they are true. I well remember how I used to shudder to hear that child praise the nunnery, tell what a nice, quiet place it was, and how she would like it for a permanent home. I hope her brother will find out the truth about it in season to prevent his beautiful sister from ever becoming a nun.
SECOND ESCAPE FROM THE NUNNERY.
It was early in the spring, when I again succeeded in making my escape. It was on a Saturday evening, when the priests and nearly all the nuns were In the chapel. I was assisted out of the yard in the same way I was before, and by the same person. There was still snow upon the ground and that they might not be able to track me, I entered the market and walked the whole length of it without attracting observation. From thence I crossed the street, when I saw a police officer coming directly towards me. I turned down a dark alley and ran for my life, I knew not whither. It is the duty of every police officer in Montreal to accompany any of the sisters whom they chance to meet in the street, and I knew if he saw me he would offer to attend me wherever I wished to go. Such an offer might not be refused, and, certainly, his company, just at that time, was neither desirable nor agreeable.
At the end of the alley, I found myself near a large church, and two priests were coming directly towards me. It is said "the drowning catch at straws." Whether this be true or not, the plan which I adopted in this emergency seemed as hopeless for my preservation, as a straw for the support of the drowning. Yet it was the only course I could pursue, for to escape unseen was impossible. I therefore resolved to go boldly past them, and try to make them think I was a Superior going to church. Trying to appear as indifferent as possible, I approached, and saluted them in the usual way. This is done by throwing forward the open hand, and passing it down by the side with a slight inclination of the head. The priest returns the salutation by standing with uncovered head till you have passed. In the present instance, the priest said, as he removed his hat, "Church is in, Sister." I bowed again, and hastened on. With trembling limbs I ascended the Church steps, and stood there till the priests were out of sight. It was but a moment, yet it seemed a long time. I knew the house was filled with priests and students, some of whom would be sure to recognize me at once. What if they should come out! The thought of it nearly took away my breath. The cold perspiration started from my brow, and I felt as though I should faint. But my fears were not realized, and as soon as the priests were out of sight, I went on again. Soon I came to a cross street, leading to the river, where a large hotel stood on the corner. I followed the river, and travelled all night. The next day, fearing to be seen by people going to church, I hid in a cellar hole, covered over with old boards and timbers.
At night I went on again, and on Sunday evening about ten o'clock I came to a small village where I resolved to seek food and lodging. Tired, hungry and cold, feeling as though I could not take another step, I called at one of the houses, and asked permission to stay over night. It was cheerfully granted. The lady gave me some milk, and I retired to rest. Next morning, I rose early and left before any of the family were up. I knew they were all Romanists, and I feared to trust them.
At noon that day I arrived at St. Oars, a town, named, as I have been informed, for the man who owns a great part of it. I stopped at a public house, which, they called, "Lady St. Oars," where they were eating dinner. The landlady invited me to dine with them, and asked if I belonged to the convent in that place. I told her that I did, for I knew if I told the truth they would suspect me at once. "Do you eat meat?" she asked. I told her I did not. "Do you eat butter on your bread?" I replied in the affirmative, and she gave me a slice of bread and butter, a piece of cheese and a silver cup full of milk. I ate it all, and would gladly have eaten more, for I was very hungry. As I was about to leave, the lady remarked, "There was grease in that cheese, was it a sin for me to give it to you?" I assured her it was not, for I was allowed to eat milk, and the cheese being made of milk, there could be no sin in my eating it I told her that, so far from committing a sin, the blessed Virgin was pleased with her benevolent spirit, and would, in some way, reward her for her kindness.
Leaving Lady St. Oars, I went on to the next town where I arrived at seven in the evening. I called at the house of a Frenchman, and asked if I could stay over night, or at least, be allowed to rest awhile. The man said I was welcome to come in, but he had no place where I could sleep. They were just sitting down to supper, which consisted of pea soup; but the lady said there was meat in it, and she would not invite me to partake of it; but she gave me a good supper of bread and milk. She thought I was a Sister of Charity, and I did not tell her that I was not. After supper, she saw that my skirt was stiff with mud, and kindly offered to wash it out for me, saying, I could rest till it was dry. I joyfully accepted her offer, and reclining in a corner, enjoyed a refreshing slumber.
It was near twelve o'clock before I was ready to go on again, and when I asked how far it was to the next town, they manifested a great anxiety for my welfare. The man said it was seven miles to Mt. Bly, but he hoped I did not intend to walk. I told him I did not know whether I should or not, perhaps I might ride. "But are you not afraid to go on alone?" he asked. "St. Dennis is a bad place for a lady to be out alone at night, and you must pass a grave-yard in the south part of the town; dare you go by it, in the dark?" I assured him that I had no fear whatever, that would prevent me from going past the grave-yard. I had never committed a crime, never injured any one, and I did not think the departed would come back to harm me. The lady said she would think of me with some anxiety, for she should not dare to go past that grave-yard alone in the dark. I again assured her that I had no cause to fear, had no crime on my conscience, had been guilty of no neglect of duty, and if the living would let me alone, I did not fear the dead. They thought I referred to the low characters about town, and the lady replied, "I shall tell my beads for you and the holy Virgin will protect you from all harm. But remember," she continued, "whenever you pass this way, you will always find a cordial welcome with us." I thanked her, and with a warm grasp of the hand we parted.
LONELY MIDNIGHT WALK.
It was near morning when I entered Mt. Bly, but I did not stop. I traveled all night, and late in the morning came to a respectable looking farmhouse which I thought might be occupied by Protestants. I always noticed that their houses were neater, and more comfortable than those of the Romanists in the same condition in life. In the present instance I was not disappointed in my expectations. The lady received me kindly, gave me some breakfast, and directed me to the next village. I walked all day, and near night arrived at St. Mary's, where I called at a house, and asked permission to sit and rest awhile. They gave me an invitation to enter, but did not offer refreshments. I did not like to ask for charity if I could avoid it, and I thought it possible they might ask me to stay over night. But they did not, and after a half hour's rest I rose to depart, and thanking them for their kindness inquired how far it was to the next house. They said it was seven miles to the first house, and nine to the next village.
With a sad heart, I once more pursued my lonely way. Soon it began to rain, and the night came on, dark and dismal, cold and stormy, with a high wind that drove the rain against my face with pitiless fury. I entered a thick wood where no ray of light could penetrate, and at almost every step, I sank over shoes in the mud. Thus I wandered on, reflecting bitterly on my wretched fate. All the superstitious fears, which a convent life is so well calculated to produce, again assailed me, and I was frightened at my own wild imaginings. I thought of the nuns who had been murdered so cruelly, and I listened to the voice of the storm, as to the despairing wail of a lost soul. The wind swept fiercely through the leafless branches, now roaring like a tornado, again rising to a shrill shriek, or a prolonged whistle, then sinking to a hollow murmer, and dying away in a low sob which sounded to my excited fancy like the last convulsive sigh of a breaking heart. Once and again I paused, faint and dizzy with hunger and fatigue, feeling as though I could go no further. But there was no alternative. I must go on or perish. And go on I did, though, as I now look back upon that night's experience, I wonder how I managed to do so. But a kind providence, undoubtedly, watched over me, and good angels guided me on my way. Some time in the night, I think it must have been past twelve o'clock, I became so very weary I felt that I must rest awhile at all events. It was so dark I could not see a step before me, but I groped my way to a fence, seated myself on a stone with my head resting against the rails, and in that position I fell asleep.
How long I slept, I do not know. I think it must have been some hours. When I awoke, my clothes were drenched with rain, and I was so stiff and lame, I could hardly move. But go I must, so I resolved to make the best of it, and hobble along as well as I could. At last I reached the village, but it was not yet morning, and I dared not stop. I kept on till daylight, and as soon as I thought people were up, I went up to a house and rapped. A woman came to the door, and I asked if she would allow me to go in, and dry my clothes, and I would have added, get some breakfast, but her looks restrained me. They were getting breakfast, but did not invite me to partake of it, and I dared not ask for anything to eat. When my clothes were dry, I thanked them for the use of their fire, and inquired how far it was to the next village. They said the next town was Highgate, but they did not know the distance.
My tears flowed freely when I again found myself in the street, cold, hungry, almost sick, and entirely friendless. What should I do? What would become of me? One thought alone gave courage to my desponding heart, buoyed up my sinking spirits, and restored strength to my weary limbs. I was striving for liberty, that priceless boon, so dear to every human heart. I might, perhaps, obtain it. At least, I would try.
Nerved to renewed effort by thoughts like these, I toiled onward. All that day I walked without a particle of nourishment. When I reached Highgate, it was eleven o'clock at night, but in one house I saw a light, and I ventured to rap at the door. It was opened by a pale, but pleasant looking woman. "Kind lady," said I, "will you please tell me how far it is to the States?" "To the States!" she exclaimed, and in a moment she seemed to understand both my character and situation. "You are now in Vermont State," said she, "but come in child, you look sad and weary." I at once accepted her offer, and when she asked how far I was traveling, and how I came to be out so late, I did not hesitate to reveal to her my secret, for I was sure she could be trusted. She invited me to spend the remainder of the night, and gave me some refreshment. She was nursing a sick woman, which accounted for her being up so late, but did not prevent her from attending to all my wants, and making me as comfortable as possible. When she saw that my feet were wounded, badly swollen, and covered with blood and dirt, she procured warm water, and with her own hands bathed, and made them clean, with the best toilet soap. She expressed great sympathy for the sad condition my feet were in, and asked if I had no shoes? I told her that my shoes were made of cloth, and soon wore out; that what was left of them, I lost in the mud, when traveling through the woods in the dark. She then procured a pair of nice woollen stockings, and a pair of new shoes, some under clothes, and a good flannel skirt, which she begged me to wear for her sake. I accepted them gratefully, but the shoes I could not wear, my feet were so sore. She said I could take them with me, and she gave me a pair of Indian moccasins to wear till my feet were healed. Angel of mercy that she was; may God's blessing rest upon her for her kindness to the friendless wanderer.
The next morning the good lady urged me to stay with her, at least, for a time, and said I should be welcome to a home there for the rest of my life. Grateful as I was for her offer, I was forced to decline it, for I knew that I could not remain so near Montreal in safety. She said the "select men" of the town would protect me, if they were made acquainted with my peculiar situation. Dear lady! she little knew the character of a Romish priest! Her guileless heart did not suspect the cunning artifice by which they accomplish whatever they undertake. And those worthy "select men," I imagine, were not much better informed than herself. Sure I am, that any protection they could offer me, would not, in the least degree, shield me from the secret intrigue, the affectionate, maternal embrace of holy Mother Church.
When she found that, notwithstanding all her offers, I was resolved to go, she put into a basket, a change of clothing, the shoes she had given me, and a good supply of food which she gave me for future use. But the most acceptable part of her present was a sun-bonnet; for thus far I had nothing on my head but the cap I wore in the convent. She gave me some money, and bade me go to Swanton, and there, she said, I could take the cars. I accordingly bade her farewell, and, basket in hand, directed my steps toward the depot some seven miles distant, as I was informed; but I thought it a long seven miles, as I passed over it with my sore feet, the blood starting at every step.
On my arrival at the depot, a man came to me, and asked where I wished to go. I told him I wished to go as far into the State as my money would carry me. He procured me a ticket, and said it would take me to St. Albans. He asked me where I came from, but I begged to be excused from answering questions. He then conducted me to the ladies room, and left me, saying the cars would be along in about an hour.
In this room, several ladies were waiting to take the cars. As I walked across the room, one of them said, in a tone that grated harshly on my feelings, "Your skirt is below your dress." I did not feel very good natured, and instead of saying "thank you," as I should have done, I replied in the most impudent manner, "Well, it is clean, if it is in sight." The lady said no more, and I sat down upon a sofa and fell asleep. As I awoke, one of the ladies said, "I wonder who that poor girl is!" I was bewildered, and, for the moment, could not think where I was, but I thought I must make some reply, and rousing myself I turned to her, and said, "I am a nun, if you wish to know, and I have just escaped from a convent." She gave me a searching look, and said, "Well, I must confess you do look like one. I often visit in Montreal where I see a great many of them, and they always look poor and pale. Will you allow me to ask you a few questions?" By this time, I was wide awake, and realized perfectly where I was, and the folly of making such an imprudent disclosure. I would have given much to recall those few words, for I had a kind of presentiment that they would bring me trouble. I begged to be excused from answering any questions, as I was almost crazy with thinking of the past and did not wish to speak of it.
The lady said no more for some time, but she kept her eye upon me, in a way that I did not like; and I began to consider whether I had better wait for the cars, or start on foot. I was sorry for my imprudence, but it could not be helped now, and I must do the best I could to avoid the unpleasant consequences which might result from it. I had just made up my mind to go on, when I heard in the far distance, the shrill whistle of the approaching train; that train which I fondly hoped would bear me far away from danger, and onward to the goal of my desires.
At this moment, the lady crossed the room, and seating herself by my side, asked, "Would you not like to go and live with me? I have one waiting maid now, but I wish for another, and if you will go, I will take you and give you good wages. Your work will not be hard; will you go?" "Where do you go?" I asked. "To Montreal," she replied. "Then I shall not go with you," said I. "No money could induce me to return there again." "Ah!" said she, with a peculiar smile, "I see how it is, but you need not fear to trust me. I will protect you, and never suffer you to be taken back to the convent." I saw that I had made unconsciously another imprudent revelation, and resolved to say no more. I was about to leave her, but she drew me back saying, "I will give you some of my clothes, and I can make them fit you so well that no one will ever recognize you. I shall have plenty of time to alter them if they require it, for the train that I go in, will not he along for about three hours; you can help me, and in that time we will get you nicely fixed."
I could hardly repress a smile when I saw how earnest she was, and I thought it a great pity that a plan so nicely laid out should be so suddenly deranged, but I could not listen to her flatteries. I suspected that she was herself in the employ of the priests, and merely wished to get me back that she might betray me. She had the appearance of being very wealthy, was richly clad, wore a gold watch, chain, bracelets, breastpin, ear rings, and many finger rings, all of the finest gold. But with all her wealth and kind offers, I dare not trust her. I thought she looked annoyed when I refused to go with her, but when I rose to go to the cars, a look of angry impatience stole over, her fine features, which convinced me that I had escaped a snare.
The cars came at length, and I was soon on my way to St. Albans. I was very sick, and asked a gentleman near me to raise the windows. He did so, and inquired how far I was going. I informed him, when he remarked that he was somewhat acquainted in St. Albans, and asked with whom I designed to stop. I told him I had no friends or acquaintance in the place, but I hoped to get employment in some protestant family. He said he could direct me to some gentlemen who would, he thought, assist me. One in particular, he mentioned as being a very wealthy man, and kept a number of servants; perhaps he would employ me.
This gentleman's name was Branard, and my informant spoke so highly of the family, I immediately sought them out on leaving the cars, and was at once employed by Mrs. Branard, as a seamstress. Here I found a quiet, happy home. Mrs. Branard was a kind sympathizing woman, and to her, I confided the history of my convent life. She would not allow me to work hard, for she saw that my nerves were easily excited. She made me sit with her in her own room a great part of the time, and did not wish me to go out alone. They had several boarders in the family, and one of them was a brother-in-law [Footnote: This gentleman was Mr. Z. K. Pangborn, late editor of the Worcester Daily Transcript. Both Mr. and Mrs. Pangborn give their testimony of the truth of this statement.] to Mrs. Branard. His name I have forgotten; it was not a common name, but he married Mrs. Branard's sister, and with his wife resided there all the time that I was with them. Mr. Branard was away from home most of the time, so that I saw but little of him. They had an Irish girl in the kitchen, named Betsy. She was a kind, pleasant girl, and she thought me a strict Romanist because I said my prayers so often, and wore the Holy Scapulary round my neck. This Scapulary is a band with a cross on one side, and on the other, the letters "J. H. S." which signify, "Jesus The Savior of Man."
At this place I professed great regard for the Church of Rome, and no one but Mrs. Branard was acquainted with my real character and history. When they asked my name, I told them they could call me Margaret, but it was an assumed name. My own, for reasons known only by myself, I did not choose to reveal. I supposed, of course, they would regard me with suspicion for a while, but I saw nothing of the kind. They treated me with great respect, and no questions were ever asked. Perhaps I did wrong in changing my name, but I felt that I was justified in using any means to preserve my liberty.
FLIGHT AND RECAPTURE.
Four happy weeks I enjoyed unalloyed satisfaction in the bosom of this charming family. It was a new thing for me to feel at home, contented, and undisturbed; to have every one around me treat me with kindness and even affection. I sometimes feared it was too good to last. Mrs. Branard in particular, I shall ever remember with grateful and affectionate regard. She was more like a mother to me, than a mistress, and I shall ever look back to the time I spent with her, as a bright spot in the otherwise barren desert of my life. Better, far better would it have been for me had I never left her. But I became alarmed, and thought the convent people were after me. It was no idle whim, no imaginary terror. I had good cause to fear, for I had several times seen a priest go past, and gaze attentively at the house. I knew him at the first glance, having often seen him in Montreal.
Then my heart told me that they had traced me to this place, and were now watching a chance to get hold of me. Imagine, if you can, my feelings. Had I suffered so much in vain? Would they be allowed to take me back to those fearful cells, where no ray of mercy could ever reach me? I could not endure the thought. Frightened, and almost beside myself, I resolved to make an effort to find a more secure place. I therefore left those kind friends in the darkness of night, without one word of farewell, and without their knowledge. I knew they would not allow me to go, if they were apprised of my design. In all probability, they would have ridiculed my fears, and bade me rest in peace. How could I expect them to comprehend my danger, when they knew so little of the machination of my foes? I intended to go further into the state, but did not wish to have any one know which way I had gone. It was a sad mistake, but how often in this world do we plunge into danger when we seek to avoid it! How often fancy ourselves in security when we stand upon the very brink of ruin!
I left Mr. Branard's in the evening, and called upon a family in the neighborhood whose acquaintance I had made, and whom I wished to see once more, though I dared not say farewell. I left them between the hours of nine and ten, and set forward on my perilous journey. I had gone but a short distance when I heard the sound of wheels and the heavy tread of horses' feet behind me. My heart beat with such violence it almost stopped my breath, for I felt that they were after me. But there was no escape— no forest or shelter near where I could seek protection. On came the furious beasts, driven by no gentle hand. They came up with me, and I almost began to hope that my fears were groundless, when the horses suddenly stopped, a strong hand grasped me, a gag was thrust into my mouth, and again the well-known box was taken from the wagon. Another moment and I was securely caged, and on my way back to Montreal. Two men were in the wagon and two rode on horseback beside it. Four men to guard one poor nun!
They drove to Mt. Bly, where they stopped to change horses, and the two men on horseback remained there, while the other two mounted the wagon and drove to Sorel. Here the box was taken out and carried on board a boat, where two priests were waiting for me. When the boat started, they took me out for the first time after I was put into it at St. Albans. Three days we had been on the way, and I had tasted neither food nor drink. How little did I think when I took my tea at Mr. Branard's the night I left that it was the last refreshment I would have for SEVEN DAYS; yet such was the fact. And how little did they think, as they lay in their quiet beds that night, that the poor fugitive they had taken to their home was fleeing for life, or for that which, to her, was better than life. Yet so it was. Bitterly did I reproach myself for leaving those kind friends as I did, for I thought perhaps if I had remained there, they would not have dared to touch me. Such were my feelings then; but as I now look back, I can see that it would have made little difference whether I left or remained. They were bound to get me, at all events, and if I had stopped there until they despaired of catching me secretly, they would undoubtedly have come with an officer, and accused me of some crime, as a pretext for taking me away. Then, had any one been so far interested for me as to insist on my having a fair trial, how easy for them to produce witnesses enough to condemn me! Those priests have many ways to accomplish their designs. The American people don't know them yet; God grant they never may.
On my arrival at the nunnery I was taken down the coal grate, and fastened to an iron ring in the back part of a cell. The Archbishop then came down and read my punishment. Notwithstanding the bitter grief that oppressed my spirit, I could not repress a smile of contempt as the great man entered my cell. I remembered that before I ran away, my punishments were assigned by a priest, but the first time I fled from them a Bishop condescended to read my sentence, and now his honor the Archbishop graciously deigned to illume my dismal cell with the light of his countenance, and his own august lips pronounced the words of doom. Was I rising in their esteem, or did they think to frighten me into obedience by the grandeur of his majestic mien?
Such were my thoughts as this illustrious personage proceeded slowly, and with suitable dignity, to unroll the document that would decide my fate. What would it be? Death? It might be for aught I knew, or cared to know. I had by this time become perfectly reckless, and the whole proceeding seemed so ridiculous, I found it exceedingly difficult to maintain a demeanor sufficiently solemn for the occasion. But when the fixed decree came forth, when the sentence fell upon my ear that condemned me to SEVEN DAYS' STARVATION, it sobered me at once. Yet even then the feeling of indignation was so strong within me, I could not hold my peace. I would speak to that man, if he killed me for it. Looking him full in the face (which, by the way, I knew was considered by him a great crime), I asked, "Do you ever expect to die?" I did not, of course, expect an answer, but he replied, with a smile, "Yes; but you will die first" He then asked how long I had fasted, and I replied, "Three days." He said, "You will fast four days more, and you will be punished every day until next December, when you will take the black veil." As he was leaving the room, he remarked, "We do not usually have the nuns take the black veil until they are twenty-one; but you have such good luck in getting away, we mean to put you where you can't do it." And with this consoling thought he left me—left me in darkness and despair, to combat, as best I could, the horrors of starvation. This was in the early part of winter, and only about a year would transpire before I entered that retreat from which none ever returned. And then to be punished every day for a year! What a prospect! The priest came every morning, with his dark lantern, to look at me; but he never spoke. On the second day after my return, I told him if he would bring me a little piece of bread, I would never attempt to run away again, but would serve him faithfully the rest of my life. Had he given it to me, I would have faithfully kept my word; but he did not notice me, and closing the door, he left me once more to pass through all the agonies of starvation. I remember nothing after that day. Whether I remained in the cell the other two days, or was taken out before the time expired, I do not know. This much, however, I do know, as a general rule a nun's punishment is never remitted. If she lives, it is well; if she dies, no matter; there are enough more, and no one will ever call them to an account for the murder.
But methinks I hear the reader ask, "Did they not fear the judgment of God and a future retribution?" In reply I can only state what I believe to be the fact. It is my firm belief that not more than one priest in ten thousand really believes in the truth of Christianity, or even in the existence of a God. They are all Infidels or Atheists; and how can they be otherwise? It is the legitimate fruit of that system of deceit which they call religion. Of course I only give this as my opinion, founded on what I have seen and heard. You can take it, reader, for what it is worth; believe it or not, just us you please; but I assure you I have often heard the nuns say that they did not believe in any religion. The professions of holiness of heart and parity of life so often made by the priests they KNOW to be nothing but a hypocritical pretence, and their ceremonies they regard as a ridiculous farce.
For some time after I was taken from the cell I lay in a state of partial unconsciousness, but how long, I do not know. I have no recollection of being taken up stairs, but I found myself on my bed, in my old room, and on the stand beside me were several cups, vials, etc. The Abbess who sat beside me, occasionally gave me a tea-spoonful of wine or brandy, and tried to make me eat. Ere long, my appetite returned, but it was several weeks before my stomach was strong enough to enable me to satisfy in any degree, the cravings of hunger. When I could eat, I gained very fast, and the Abbess left me in the care of a nun, who came in occasionally to see if I wanted anything. This nun often stopped to talk with me, when she thought no one was near, and expressed great curiosity to know what I saw in the world; if people were kind to me, and if I did not mean to get away again, if possible, I told her I should not; but she replied, "I don't believe that. You will try again, and you will succeed yet, if you keep up good courage. You are so good to work, they do not wish to part with you, and that is one reason why they try so hard to get you back again. But never mind, they won't get you next time." I assured her I should not try to escape again, for they were sure to catch me, and as they had almost killed me this time, they would quite the next. I did not dare to trust her, for I supposed the Superior had given her orders to question me.
I was still weak, so weak that I could hardly walk when they obliged me to go into the kitchen to clean vegetables and do other light work, and as soon as I had sufficient strength, to milk the cows, and take the care of the milk. They punished me every day, in accordance with the Bishop's order, and sometimes, I thought, more than he intended. I wore thorns on my head, and peas in my shoes, was whipped and pinched, burnt with hot irons, and made to crawl through the underground passage I have before described. In short, I was tortured and punished in every possible way, until I was weary of my life. Still they were careful not to go so far as to disable me from work. They did not care how much I suffered, if I only performed my daily task.
There was an underground passage leading from the nunnery to a place which they called, "Providence," in the south part of the city. I do not know whether it is a school, or a convent, or what it is, but I think it must be some distance, from what I heard said about it. The priest often spoke of sending me there, but for some reason, he did not make me go. Still the frequent reference to what I so much dreaded, kept me in constant apprehension and alarm. I have heard the priest say that underground passages extended from the convent in every direction, for a distance of five miles; and I have reason to believe the statement is true. But these reasons I may not attempt to give. There are things that may not even be alluded to, and if it were possible to speak of them, who would believe the story?
RESOLVES TO ESCAPE.
As summer approached, I expected to be sent to the farm again, but for some reason I was still employed in the kitchen. Yet I could not keep my mind upon my work. The one great object of my life; the subject that continually pressed upon my mind was the momentous question, how shall I escape? The dreaded December was rapidly approaching. To some it would bring a joyous festival, but to me, the black veil and a life long imprisonment. Once within those dreary walls, and I might as well hope to escape from the grave. Such are the arrangements, there is no chance for a nun to escape unless she is promoted to the office of Abbess or Superior. Of course, but few of them can hope for this, especially, if they are not contented; and certainly, in my case there was not the least reason to expect anything of the kind. Knowing these facts, with the horrors of the Secret Cloister ever before me, I felt some days as though on the verge of madness. Before the nuns take the black veil, and enter this tomb for the living, they are put into a room by themselves, called the forbidden closet, where they spend six months in studying the Black Book. Perchance, the reader will remember that when I first came to this nunnery, I was taken by the door-tender to this forbidden closet, and permitted to look in upon the wretched inmates. From that time I always had the greatest horror of that room. I was never allowed to enter it, and in fact never wished to do so, but I have heard the most agonizing groans from those within, and sometimes I have heard them laugh. Not a natural, hearty laugh, however, such as we hear from the gay and happy, but a strange, terrible, sound which I cannot describe, and which sent a thrill of terror through my frame, and seemed to chill the very blood in my veins.
I have heard the priests say, when conversing with each other, while I was tidying their room, that many of these nuns lose their reason while studying the Black Book. I can well believe this, for never in my life did I ever witness an expression of such unspeakable, unmitigated anguish, such helpless and utter despair as I saw upon the faces of those nuns. And well they may despair. Kept under lock and key, their windows barred, and no air admitted to the room except what comes through the iron grate of their windows from other apartments; compelled to study, I know not what; with no hope of the least mitigation of their sufferings, or relaxation of the stringent rules that bind them; no prospect before them but a life-long imprisonment; what have they to hope for? Surely, death and the grave are the only things to which they can look forward with the least degree of satisfaction.
Those nuns selected for this Secret Cloister are generally the fairest, the most beautiful of the whole number. I used to see them in the chapel, and some of them were very handsome. They dressed like the other nuns, and always looked sad and broken hearted, but were not pale and thin like the rest of us. I am sure they were not kept upon short allowance as the others were, and starvation was not one of their punishments, whatever else they might endure. The plain looking girls were always selected to work in the kitchen, and do the drudgery about the house. How often have I thanked God for my plain face! But for that, I might not have been kept in the kitchen so long, and thus found means to escape which I certainly could not have found elsewhere.
With all my watching, and planning I did not find an opportunity to get away till June. I then, succeeded in getting outside the convent yard one evening between eight and nine o'clock. How I got there, is a secret I shall never reveal. A few yards from the gate I was stopped by one of the guard at the Barrack, who asked where I was going. "To visit a sick woman," I promptly replied, and he let me pass. Soon after this, before my heart ceased to flutter, I thought I heard some one running after me. My resolution was at once taken. I would never be caught and carried back alive. My fate was at last, I thought, in my own hands. Better die at once than to be chained like a guilty criminal, and suffer as I had done before. Blame me not gentle reader, when I tell you that I stood upon the bank of the river with exultant joy; and, as I pursued my way along the tow-path, ready to spring into the water on the first indication of danger, I rejoiced over the disappointment of my pursuers in losing a servant who had done them so good service. At a little distance I saw a ferry boat, but when I asked the captain to carry me over the river, he refused. He was, probably, afraid of the police and a fine, for no one can assist a run-away nun with impunity, if caught in the act. He directed me, however, to the owner of the boat, who said I could go if the captain was willing to carry me. I knew very well that he would not, and I took my place in the boat as though I had a perfect right to it.
We were almost across the river, when the captain saw me, and gave orders to turn back the boat, and leave me on the shore from whence we started. From his appearance I thought we were pursued, and I was not mistaken. Five priests were following us in another boat, and they too, turned back, and reached the shore almost as soon as we did. I left the boat and ran for my life. I was now sure that I was pursued; there could be no doubt of that, for the sound of footsteps behind me came distinct to my ear. At a little distance stood a small, white house. Could I not reach it? Would not the people protect me? The thought gave me courage, and I renewed my efforts. Nearer came the footsteps, but I reached the house, and without knocking, or asking permission, I sprang through the door.
The people were in bed, in another room, but a man looked out, and asked what I wanted. "I'm a nun," said I. "I've run away from the Grey Nunnery, and they're after me. Hide me, O hide me, and God will bless you!" As I spoke he put out his hand and opened the cellar door. "Here," said he, "run down cellar, I'll be with you in a moment." I obeyed, and he struck a light and followed. Pointing to a place where he kept ashes, he said hastily, "Crawl in there." There was not a moment to lose, for before he had covered up my hiding place, a loud knock was heard upon the front door. Having extinguished his light, he ran up stairs, and opened the door with the appearance of having just left his bed. "Who is here?" he asked, "and what do you want this time of night?" One of them replied, "We are in search of a nun, and are very sure she came in here?" "Well gentlemen," said he, "walk in, and see for yourselves. If she is here, you are at liberty to find her." Lighting a candle, he proceeded to guide them over the house, which they searched until they were satisfied. They then came down cellar, and I gave up all hope of escape. Still, I resolved never to be taken alive. I could strangle myself, and I would do it, rather than suffer as I did before. At that moment I could truly say with the inspired penman, with whose language I have since become familiar, "my soul chooseth strangling and death rather than life."
They looked all around me, and even into the place where I lay concealed, but they did not find me. At length I heard them depart, and so great was my joy, I could hardly restrain my feelings within the bounds of decorum. I felt as though I must dance and sing, shout aloud or leap for joy at my great deliverance. I am sure I should have committed some extravagant act had not the gentleman at that moment called me up, and told me that my danger was by no means past. This information so dashed my cup of bliss that I was able to drink it quietly.
He gave me some refreshment, and as soon as safety would permit, saddled his horse, and taking me on behind him, carried me six miles to another boat, put me on board, and paid the captain three dollars to carry me to Laprairie. On leaving me, he gave me twenty-five cents, and said, "you'll be caught if you go with the other passengers." The captain said he could hide me and no one know that I was on board, but himself. He led me to the end of the boat, and put me upon a board over the horses. He fixed a strong cord for me to hold on by, and said, "you must be careful and not fall down, for the horses would certainly kill you before you could be taken out." The captain was very kind to me and when I left him, gave me twenty-five cents, and some good advice. He said I must hurry along as fast as possible, for it was Jubilee, and the priests would all be in church at four o'clock. He also advised me not to stop in any place where a Romish priest resided, "for," said he, "the convent people have, undoubtedly, telegraphed all over the country giving a minute description of your person, and the priests will all be looking for you."
Two days I travelled as fast as my strength would allow, when I came to Sorel, which was on the other side of the river. Here I saw several priests on the road coming directly towards me. That they were after me, I had not a doubt. Whither should I flee? To escape by running, was out of the question, but just at that moment my eye fell upon a boat near the shore. I ran to the captain, and asked him to take me across the river. He consented, and, as I expected, the priests took another boat and followed us. Once more I gave myself up for lost, and prepared to spring into the water, if they were likely to overtake me. The man understood my feelings, and exerted all his strength to urge forward the boat. At last it reached the shore, and as he helped me out he whispered, "Now run." I did run, but though my own liberty was at stake I could not help thinking about the consequences to that man if I escaped, for I knew they would make him pay a heavy fine for his benevolent act. A large house stood in my way, and throwing open the door I exclaimed, "Are there any protestants here?" "O, yes," replied a man who sat there, "come with me." He led me to the kitchen, where a large company of Irish men were rolling little balls on a table. I saw the men were Irish and my first thought was, "I am betrayed."
But my fears were soon relieved, for the man exclaimed, "Here is a nun, inquiring for protestants." "Well," replied one who seemed to be a leader, "this is the right place to find them. We are all true Orange men." And then they all began to shout, "Down with the Catholics! Down with the Pope! Death to the Jesuits! etc." I was frightened at their violence, but their leader came to me, and with the kindness of a brother, said, "Do not fear us. If you are a run-away, we will protect you." He bade the men be still and asked if any one was after me. I told him about the priests, and he replied, "you have come to the right place for protection, for they dare not show themselves here. I am the leader of a band of Anti-Catholics, and this is their lodge. You have heard of us, I presume; we are called Orange men. Our object is, to overthrow the Roman Catholic religion, and we are bound by the most fearful oaths to stand by each other, and protect all who seek our aid. The priests dread our influence, for we have many members, and I hope ere long, the power of the Pope in this country will be at an end. I am sure people must see what a cruel, hypocritical set they are."
Before he had done speaking, a man came to the door and said, "The carriage is ready." Another of the men, on hearing this, said, "Come with me, and I'll take you out of the reach of the priests." He conducted me to a carriage, which was covered and the curtains all fastened down. He helped me into it, directing me to sit upon the back seat, where I could not be seen by any one unless they took particular pains. He drove to St. Oars that night, and, if I remember right, he said the distance was twelve miles. When, he left me he gave me twenty-five cents. I travelled all night, and about midnight passed through St. Dennis, But I did not stop until the next morning, when I called at a house and asked for something to eat. The lady gave me some bread and milk, and I again pursued my way.
Once more I had the good fortune to obtain a passage across the river in a ferry-boat, and was soon pressing onward upon the other side. Passing through two places called St. Mary's and St. John's, I followed the railroad to a village which I was informed was called Stotsville, [Footnote: I beg leave once more to remind the reader that it is by no means certain that I give these names correctly. Hearing them pronounced, with no idea of ever referring to them again, it is not strange that mistakes of this kind should occur.] a great part of the property being owned by a Mr. Stots, to whom I was at once directed. Here I stopped, and was kindly received by the gentleman and his wife. They offered me refreshments, gave me some articles of clothing, and then he carried me twelve miles, and left me at Rouse's Point, to take the cars for Albany. He gave me six dollars to pay my expenses, and a letter of introduction to a gentleman by the name of Williams, in which he stated all the facts he knew concerning me, and commended me to his care for protection. I think he said Mr. Williams lived on North Pearl street, but I may be mistaken in this and also in some other particulars. As I had no thought of relating these facts at the time of their occurrence, I did not fix them in my mind as I otherwise should have done.
Mr. Stots said that if I could not find the gentleman to whom the letter was directed, I was to take it to the city authorities, and they would protect me. As he assisted me from the carriage he said, "You will stop here until the cars come along, and you must get your own ticket. I shall not notice you again, and I do not wish you to speak to me." I entered the depot intending to follow his directions; but when I found the cars would not come along for three hours, I did not dare to stay. There was quite a large collection of people there, and I feared that some one would suspect and stop me. I therefore resolved to follow the railroad, and walk on to the next station. On my way I passed over a railroad bridge, which I should think was two miles long. The wind blew very hard at the time, and I found it exceedingly difficult to walk upon the narrow timbers. More than once I came near losing my precarious footing, and I was in constant fear that the train would overtake me before I got over. In that case I had resolved to step outside the track where I thought I could stand upon the edge of the bridge and hold on by the telegraph poles, and thus let them pass without doing me injury. Happily, however, I was not compelled to resort to this perilous expedient, but passed the bridge in safety. At the end I found another nearly as long, connected with it by a drawbridge. When I drew near it was up for a boat to pass; but a man called to me, and asked if I wish to go over. I told him I did, and he let down the bridge. As I approached him he asked, "Are you mad? or how came you here?" I told him I had walked from the depot at Rouse's Point. He appeared greatly surprised, and said, "You are the first person who ever walked over that bridge. Will you come to my house and rest awhile? You must be very weary, and my wife will be glad to see you. She is rather lonely here, and is pleased to see any one. Will you come? 'Tis only a short distance, just down under the bridge." Those last words decided me. I thanked him, but firmly refused to go one step out of my way. I thought that he wished to deceive me, perhaps take me to some out-of-the-way place, and give me up to my pursuers. At all events, it was wise not to trust him, for I was sure there was no house near the bridge, certainly not under it. I have since learned that such is the fact. As I turned to leave him, he again urged me to stop, and said, "The cars will soon be along, and they will run over you. How do you expect to get out of their way?" I told him I would risk it, and left him. I passed on in safety, and soon came to the depot, where I took the evening train for Albany. At eight the same evening I left the cars, and walked on towards Troy, which I think was four miles distant. Here I met a lad, of whom I inquired the way to Albany. "You cannot get there to-night," said he, "and I advise you not to try." When he saw that I was determined to go on, he said I would pass a tavern called the half-way house, and if I was tired I could stop there. It was about eleven o'clock when I passed this house, There were several persons on the piazza, laughing, talking, and singing, who called me as I passed, shouted after me, and bade me stop. Exceedingly frightened, I ran with all possible speed, but they continued to call after me till I was out of hearing. Seeing a light at a house near by, I ventured to rap on the door. It was opened by a woman, who asked me to walk in. I inquired the distance to Albany. She informed me, but said, "You can't go there to-night." I told her I must, "Well," said she, "if you will go, the watch will take care of you when you get there." She then asked, "Were those men calling after you?" I told her I supposed they were, when she replied, with a peculiar smile, "I guess you can't be a very nice kind of girl, or you wouldn't be on the street this time of night." My feelings were so deeply wounded I could hardly restrain my tears at this cruel insinuation; but pride came to my aid, and, choking down the rising emotion, I replied as carelessly as possible, "I must do as I can, and not as I would."
It was about one o'clock at night when I entered the principal street in Albany, and, as the lady predicted, a watchman came to me and asked why I was out that time of night. I gave him Mr. Stot's letter. He stood beside a lamp-post and read it, when he seemed satisfied, and said, "I know the man; come with me and I'll take you to his house." I followed him a long way, till at last he stopped before a large house, and rang the bell. Mr. Williams came to the door, and asked what was wanted. The watchman gave him the letter. He read it, and invited me to stop. His wife got up, received me very kindly, and gave me some supper, for which I was truly grateful. Nor was I less thankful for the delicate consideration with which they avoided any allusion to my convent life, or my subsequent flight and suffering. Mrs. Williams saw that I was sad and weary, and as she conducted me to a comfortable bed, she remarked, "You are safe at last, and I am glad of it. You can now retire without the apprehension of danger, and sleep in perfect security. You are with friends who will protect you as long as you choose to remain with us."
Notwithstanding the good lady's assurance of safety, I found it impossible to close my eyes. I was among strangers, in a strange place, and, having been so often deceived, might I not be again? Perhaps, after all their pretended kindness, they were plotting to betray me. A few days, however, convinced me that I had at last found real friends, who would protect me in the hour of danger to the utmost of their ability.
I remained here some four weeks, and should have remained longer, but an incident transpired that awakened all my fears, and again sent me forth into the wide world, a fugitive, and a wanderer. I went to my chamber one night, when I heard a sound like the full, heavy respiration of a man in deep sleep. The sound appeared to come from under the bed, but stopped as I entered the room. I was very much alarmed, but I controlled my feelings, and instead of running shrieking from the room, I deliberately closed the blinds, shut the windows, adjusted the curtain, all the time carelessly humming a tune, and taking up my lamp I slowly left the room. Once outside the door, I ran in all haste to Mr. Williams, and told him what I had heard. He laughed at me, said it was all imagination, but, to quiet my fears, he went to my room resolved to convince me that no one was there. I followed, and stood at the door while he lifted the bed valance, when a large, tall man sprang forth, and caught him with one hand while with the other he drew a pistol from beneath his coat saying, "Let me go, and I'll depart in peace; but attempt to detain me, and I'll blow your brains out." I shrieked, and Mrs. Williams came in great terror and consternation, to see what was the matter. But she could render no assistance, and Mr. Williams, being unarmed, was obliged to let him go. The watch were immediately called, and they sought for the intruder in every direction. No effort was spared to find him, that we might, at least, learn the object of this untimely visit. But the search was all in vain. No trace of his whereabouts could be discovered.
Mr. Williams said he did not believe it was me he sought. He thought the object was robbery, and perhaps arson and murder, but he would not think that I was in the least danger. "The man," he said, "in hastily concealing himself had taken the first hiding place he could find." Yet I thought otherwise. Indeed, so sure was I that he was an agent of the priests, sent forth for the express purpose of arresting me, no earthly consideration would have induced me to remain there another day. The rest of that night I spent in a state of anxiety I cannot describe. Sleep fled from my eyes. I dared not even undress and go to bed, but I sat in my chair, or walked the room every moment expecting the return of the mysterious visitor. I shuddered at every sound, whether real or imaginary. Once in particular, I remember, the distant roll of carriage wheels fell upon my ear. I listened; it came near, and still nearer, till at last it stopped, as I thought, at the gate. For a moment I stood literally stupified with terror, and then I hastily prepared to use the means for self destruction I had already provided in anticipation of such an emergency. I was still resolved never to be taken alive. "Give me liberty or give me death," was now the language of my soul. If I could not enjoy the one, I would cordially embrace the other. But it was a sad alternative after all I had suffered that I might be free, after all my buoyant hopes, all my ardent aspirations for a better life. O, it was a bitter thing, thus to stand in the darkness of night, and with my own hand carefully adjust the cord that was to cut me off from the land of the living, and in a moment launch my trembling soul into the vast, unknown, untried, and fearful future, that men call eternity! Was this to be the only use I was to make of liberty? Was it for this I had so long struggled, toiled, wept and prayed? "God of mercy," I cried, "save, O save me from this last great sin! From the sad and dire necessity which thus urges me to cut short a life which thou alone canst give!" My prayer was heard; but how slowly passed the hours of that weary night while I waited for the day that I might "hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest." Truly, at that time I could say with one of old, "Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. My heart is sore pained within me, and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Oh that I had the wings of a dove, for then would I flee away, and be at rest."
But alas! I had not the wings of a dove, and whither should I flee from the furious grasp of my relentless persecutors? Again I must go forth into the "busy haunts of men," I must mingle with the multitude, and what chance had I for ultimate escape? If I left these kind friends, and leave them I must, who would take me in? In whom could I confide? Who would have the power to rescue me in my hour of need? In God alone could I trust, yet why is he so far from helping me? Why are my prayers so long unanswered? And why does he thus allow the wicked to triumph; to lay snares for the feet of the innocent, and wrongfully persecute those whom their wanton cruelty hath caused to sit in darkness and in the shadow of death? Why does he not at once "break the bands of iron, and let the oppressed go free?"
The tedious night at length passed away. When I met Mr. Williams in the morning, I told him I could no longer remain with him, for I was sure if I did, I should be suddenly arrested in some unguarded moment, and carried back to Montreal. He urged me to stay, assured me he would never allow them to take me, said that he thought some of going south, and I could go with him, and thus be removed far from all whom I feared. Mrs. Williams, also, strove to persuade me to stay. But, though sorry to appear ungrateful, I dared not remain another night where I felt that my danger was so great.
When they found that I was determined to go, Mr. Williams said I had better go to Worcester, Mass., and try to get employment in some farmer's family, a little out of the city. He gave me money to bear my expenses, until I found a place where I could earn my living. It was with a sad heart that I left this hospitable roof, and as I turned away I said in my heart, "Shall I always be hunted through the world in this manner, obliged to flee like a guilty thing, and shall I never find a home of happiness and peace? Must sorrow and despair forever be the portion of my cup?" But no words of mine can describe what I felt at that moment. I longed for the power to sound a warning through the length and breadth of the land, to cry in the ears of all the people, "Beware of Romanism!" Like the patient man of Uz, with whose history I have since become familiar, I was ready to exclaim, "O that my words were now written! O that they were printed in a book! Graven with an iron pen," that the whole world might know what a fearful and bitter thing it is to be a nun! To be subject to the control of those ruthless tyrants, the Romish Priests.