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not hold her while her father's spirit passed—they have gone together !”
These particulars were all forwarded to Lord Altamont, and the effect they produced on him may be imagined. Mr. Cavendish sent William to Provence, and he himself continued his inquiries in Paris and other parts: both of them without success, and, at the expiration of three months, they returned to England.
They found Lord Altamont and his mother at one of the wateringplaces, his health considerably recruited, but with a stern and settled dejection of spirits, that nothing appeared for a moment to alleviate.
By his orders, acting in the name of Lady Altamont, the establishment at Paris was broken up, and the servants well provided for. Every attention was paid to the estate in Provence, whither Fanchette was sent, to repent her share in the mischief, and to declaim against the brutality of English husbands.
As Lord Altamont persevered in refusing to see his sister, and as her situation had become in many respects unpleasant, she accepted an old offer of marriage, which she had hitherto slighted, in the hope of meeting with something better; and accompanied her husband, a middle-aged country gentleman, to his seat in the north.
In the course of the ensuing winter Lord Altamont attended his duties in Parliament; and to all that required his care, whether public or private business, he sedulously devoted himself, but to society he was inaccessible, and in the midst of a luxurious metropolis he led the life of a hermit.
Early in the spring, after having accompanied his mother on her return to Moorlands, he set off for the Continent and carefully explored the northern and middle provinces of France, visiting every convent, and not suffering the poorest village to pass without the strictest examination, but all in vain.
He returned to London in the winter, and passed it precisely as he had done the former one ; then set out again the ensuing spring, and pursued his search in the Netherlands and along both banks of the Rhine with the like ill success.
The third summer he decided on exploring the southern provinces of France and Switzerland.
He arrived in Provence. How withering, how desolating were the feelings with which the well-remembered approach to the chateau de Clairville oppressed him! The season was the same as that when, four years since, he had first beheld its towers brightening in the beams of noon and the blue sea glancing beyond them. He dismounted at the same spot, and walked through the same flowery lane in which he bad first met his Rosabelle; he recognized the very aperture in the hedge through which, all glowing in youth, in health, and beauty, she had rushed in her pursuit of the butterfly. Memory brought the whole scene so close that he gazed around as though possessed with the wild hope that she would suddenly start to sight; he repeated her name aloud, and the lone echo mournfully returned it. Alas! the field-flowers bloomed and the wild roses clustered, the air was filled with the songs of birds and perfumed with the scent of violets :—all these were here, but where was Rosabelle ?
In spite of all the good he had done the tenantry, he was received but coldly. Fanchette pretended to be ill, and it was altogether so far from agreeable, that with difficulty he prevailed upon himself to remain a couple of days in order to settle some matters of business, and to give such directions as circumstances required.
He pursued his journey slowly and with unwearied watchfulness through Provence, Dauphiny, and Savoy, and arrived in the Catholic canton of the Valais.
His melancholy visit at Clairville and the gloomy hopelessness that began to settle on his mind contributed to produce a morbid state of feverish anxiety, which his sole and faithful attendant William beheld with alarm. They had arrived at a beautiful secluded vale in the Valais, environed by lofty mountains, watered by a clear broad stream, and rich in pasture and vegetation. There was no regular village, but the farm-houses and cottages were scattered here and there, surrounded by their pretty gardens and backed by orchards laden with fruit. For twenty miles round, the fruit, vegetables, flowers, eggs, poultry, and milk of this happy valley bore higher prices than from any other part; the inhabitants were clean and comfortable, industrious and contented. In glancing over it from the eminence round which wound the principal road, three buildings more striking than the rest immediately met the eye: one was the parish church with its light spire springing up from among the thick and beautiful foliage that surrounded it together with the neat residence of the pastor.
The second was the inn, situated in the centre of the valley, and reckoned the best house of accommodation in the Valais ; it was a large irregular building, with its stables, out-houses, courts, poultry-yard, kitchen-garden, &c.; in the front it had a spacious green lawn sloping to the river, furnished with benches and rude tables under spreading trees: this was the favourite afternoon retreat of the great men of the valley ; here they smoked a pipe, enjoyed their cup of wine or ale, and talked over their own affairs and those of other people. This lawn, too, was the occasional holiday resort of their wives and daughters, and had witnessed many a merry dance and many a rustic game. The third building was a long low range on a wooded eminence; its neat white walls and green lattices peeped through the trellis-work festooned with flowers and the curling vine ; it apparently stood in the centre of a highly-cultivated garden, here and there shaded by magnificent trees. On inquiring from a peasant he met on the road, Lord Altamont was informed that it was the residence of the Charity Sisters of this district.
“ Well, my lord,” said William, “ I cannot help thinking that this is a beautiful place, and yon inn looks for all the world like a country inn in England. I should be very glad indeed if your lordship would rest a few days here and recover a little from your fatigue. Indeed, my dear master, you look as though you wanted repose.”
*** You have forestalled me, William,” replied his lordship; “ the same idea struck me the moment I beheld this secluded and romantic valley."
They arrived at the inn, and were received by the landlady, a shrewd bustling woman, who, in answer to Lord Altamont's inquiry whether he could have accommodation for a few days, showed him into the best parlour, freshly washed and sanded, with a dark polished round table in the middle, the spacious hearth filled up with green boughs and a large bouquet of beautiful flowers, white dimity curtains, a bird-cage at each of the two windows, and a portrait of William Tell worked in worsted : adjoining was an exceedingly neat and comfortable little bed-rcom. Lord Altamont was quite satisfied, and William was delighted : he took care, while the evening repast was preparing, to impress on the landlady that his master was a great milord Anglais travelling incog. and as rich as milords Anglais usually are or ought to be. The news was carried to the lawn, and from thence was caught up and re-echoed from one end of the valley to the other.
Lord Altamont, contrary to his expectation, spent a restless night, and rose late and unrefreshed. His breakfast was laid on the aforesaid round table in the sitting-room, and if any thing could have tempted him, its homely cleanliness, its fresh eggs and butter, fine preserves, rich cream, and well-made coffee, would certainly have done so. He was attended by an intelligent and pretty girl about ten years old.
“ Whose child are you ?” asked his lordship.
learnt to read and write, Annette ?”. “ Yes, sir, Sister Louise teaches me, and a great many more little girls."
“ And who is Sister Louise ?"
“ Dear me, sir, have you never heard of Sister Louise--the charity sister, that does such a deal of good—the lady in the mask ?"
“ The lady in the mask!" repeated Lord Altamont, whose attention was immediately roused. At that moment the landlady entered, hoping that milord approved of his breakfast, and at the same time telling Annette to tie on her bonnet and trudge off with her books, or she would be too late for Sister Louise.
Pray, ma'am,” said Lord Altamont, “why does your little daughter call Sister Louise the lady in the mask?
“ Because, sir, she is under a vow always to wear a mask.”
It is to be observed, that such a circumstance in itself did not create the same surprise at that period that it would now. Vows of a similar nature were then frequent, and in the course of his pursuit Lord Altamont had been occasionally arrested by mysteries of this sort.
66 Is it known who she is ?" continued Lord Altamont.
“No, milord, not at all; people do say this, and that, and the other, but there is no knowing any thing for a certainty, except that she is more like an angel than a woman, and has done more good hereabouts than any one else ever did, be they who they may, lady or nun, priest or layman.”
“ Then she must have money?"
she had a terrible illness, and we thought we should have lost her ; but, the saints be praised ! she came amongst us again, looking smaller and thinner, with her voice much weakened, but, if possible, more kind and more useful than ever.”
“ About three years since ?" repeated his lordship; " then how long has she been with you altogether ?”
“ Ten years, milord, this midsummer : she was with me when my little Annette was born."
“ Ten years !” exclaimed Lord Altamont, with his accustomed sigh of bitter disappointment, when, as in this instance, a hope had been started only to be destroyed.
After breakfast, he ordered his horse and rode out alone; the weather was cool, but he felt hot and thirsty, and stopping at a cottage, asked for water : an old blind woman sat in the little front garden; she desired her grandson, who was working in it, to fetch some water for the stranger. While he was gone, a girl came up the road, and entering the little garden, took from her arm a pretty basket filled with fruit and flowers.
“My good dame, here is a present for you."
“I heard you coming," replied the old woman, who possessed the usually quick senses of the blind, “and I smelt the fruit and flowers before you were in at the gate, and," she continued as she past her hand over them, “ I know whom they come from too."
“ From Sister Louise,” said the messenger.
“ From saint Louise rather,” solemnly replied the old woman, as she turned upwards her sightless eyes; " there are none here worthy to call her sister : may the blessing of the blind and afflicted rest on her head as the dew from heaven!”
“ This Louise,” exclaimed Lord Altamont, as he pursued his ride, " this masked charity-sister haunts me.”
After a dinner, as neatly served as excellent in its kind, and as little partaken of as his breakfast, Lord Altamont, resolving not to give way to the feverish languor that oppressed him, took a favourite author and strolled down to the river-side, carefully avoiding the lawn, which, on this afternoon, was unusually well tenanted. He had established himself at the foot of a tree, and was striving to fix his wandering thoughts, when he felt himself gently pulled by the sleeve, and, on looking round, found little Annette. “ If you
would like to see Sister Louise,” she whispered, “ you can do so now; she is at a cottage behind here, with a poor old man who is very, very ill.
Lord Altamont rose, and taking the hand of his young conductress, accompanied her to the door of a hut, which was open: an aged man, apparently near his end, lay upon a poor but clean bed; a young woman, probably his daughter, was kneeling at the foot with her head buried in the bed-clothes ; by the side of the sufferer, with her back towards the door, knelt Sister Louise : she was arrayed in the black camblet dress of her order, with a collar of plain, fine, white linen; her head-dress was of the same material in very light folds, but made high and square. She was praying; her voice was gentle and sweet, but the tones somewhat muffled in consequence of her mask; her
May 1836.-VOL. XVI.—NO. LXI.
figure was very slight and youthful; and, as she knelt, a foot and ancle of exquisite beauty were revealed. Annette, in her simplicity, wished Lord Altamont to enter and join in the prayers ; this he declined, but remained for a few minutes, almost involuntarily, gazing on the scene before him. Once Sister Louise slightly moved her head towards the weeping girl at the foot of the bed, and Lord Altamont caught a side and momentary glance of her mask. Becoming sensible, however, that his presence might be attributed to impertinent curiosity, he retreated to his seat, accompanied by Annette.
“ I will go back again,” said Annette, “ and when she comes out of the hut I will bring her to talk with you;” and without waiting a reply, away she ran.
In about twenty minutes she returned with a look of disappointment.
“I fear, Annette, you have failed,” said Lord Altamont; “you cannot prevail on Sister Louise to come and talk with a stranger, at which I am not at all surprised."
“ I thought she would have come,” said Annette, “ for she knows who you are ; I copied your name from the card on your portmanteau, and took it to her this morning.”
“ And what did she say just now when you asked her to come ?"
“ She said,” replied Annette, after a pause and speaking very slowly, as trying to recollect the exact words, “ she said, that the great, and the rich, and the happy, had nothing in common with Sister Louise ; that if you were in sickness, poverty, or misery, you might send for her, and then she would not fail you.'
That night Lord Altamont went early to bed, and in the hope of producing composure and sleep, took a small quantity of laudanum; this proved injurious, his fever increased, and a sort of light-headed doze came on, in which he fancied the apertures of his bed-curtains were filled with masks of all shapes, colours, and sizes; some with immense long noses nearly touching his own, some with that feature broad and turned up, with wide grinning mouths ; others had tongues, and lolled them at him, and others with large glassy eyes pursued his wherever they turned.
The next morning he was unable to rise, and medical assistance was immediately procured. The doctor, after having prescribed, ordered a charity sister to be sent for ; an order he never gave except when he thought a case so serious as to require great care and good nursing.
“ Let them send the lady in the mask,” said the patient.
On awaking towards the afternoon from a feverish doze, still labouring under a slight degree of delirium, Lord Altamont inquired whether the charity sister had come.
" She is by your bed-side, my lord,” whispered William.
He instantly drew aside the bed-curtain and beheld a meagre elderly lady, with a sedate and rather vinegar aspect.
“O! you are not the lady in the mask ?”