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Alvira:  The Heroine of Vesuvius

by Rev. A. J. O'Reilly, D.D.


The Penitent Saints

The interesting and instructive character of this sensational narrative,
which we cull from the traditions of a past generation, must cover
the shortcomings of the pen that has labored to present it in an
English dress.

We are aware that the propriety of drawing from the oblivion of
forgotten literature such a story will be questioned.  The decay of
the chivalrous spirit of the middle ages, and the prudish, puritanical
code of morality that has superseded the simple manners of our
forefathers, render it hazardous to cast into the hands of the present
generation the thrilling records of sin and repentance such as they
were seen and recorded in days gone by.  Yet in the midst of a
literature professedly false, and which paints in fascinating colors
the various phases of unrepented vice and crime, without the redeeming
shadows of honor and Christian morality, our little volume must fall
a welcome sunbeam.  The strange career of our heroine constitutes a
sensational biography charming and beautiful in the moral it presents.

The evils of mixed marriages, of secret societies, of intemperance,
and the indulgence of self-love in ardent and enthusiastic youth, find
here the record of their fatal influence on social life, reflected
through the medium of historical facts.  Therefore we present to the
young a chapter of warning--a tale of the past with a deep moral for
the present.

The circumstances of our tale are extraordinary.  A young girl dresses
in male attire, murders her father, becmes an officer in the army,
goes through the horrors of battle, and dies a SAINT.

Truly we have here matter sensational enough for the most exacting
novelist; but we disclaim all effort to play upon the passions, or
add another work of fiction to the mass of irreligious trash so powerful
in the employ of the evil one for the seduction of youth.  In the
varied scenes of life there are many actions influenced by secret
motives known only to the heart that harbors them.  Not all are
dishonorable.  It takes a great deal of guilt to make a person as black
as he is painted by his enemies.  Many a brave heart has, under the
garb of an impropriety, accomplished heroic acts of self-denial.

History is teeming with instances where the love of creatures, and even
the holier and more sublime love of the Creator, have, in moments of
enthusiasm, induced tender females to forget the weakness of their
sex and successfully fulfil the spheres of manhood.  These scenes, so
censurable, are extraordinary more from the rarity of their occurence
than from the motives that inspire them, and thus our tale draws much
of its thrilling interest from the unique character of its details.

"But what a saint!" we fancy we hear whispered by the fastidious and
scrupulous into whose hand our little work may fall.

Inadvertently the thought will find a similar expression from the
superficial reader; but if we consider a little, our heroine presents
a career not more extraordinary than those that excite our surprise
in the lives of the penitent saints venerated on the alters of the
Church.  Sanctity is not to be judged by antecedents.  The soul
crimsoned with guilt may, in the crucible of repentance, become white
like the crystal snow before it touches the earth.  This consoling
thought is not a mere assertion, but a matter of faith confirmed by
fact.  There are as great names among the penitent saints of the
Church as amongst the few brilliant stars whose baptismal innocence
was never dimmed by any cloud.

Advance the rule that the early excesses of the penitent stains must
debar them from the esteem their heroic repentance has won; then we
must tear to pieces the consoling volumes of hagiology, we must drag
down Paul, Peter, Augustine, Jerome, Magdalen, and a host of illustrious
penitents from their thrones amongst the galaxy of the elect, and cast
the thrilling records of their repentance into the oblivion their early
career would seem to merit.  If we are to have no saints but those of
whom it is testified they never did a wrong act, then the catalogue
of sanctity will be reduced to baptized infants who died before coming
to the use of reason, and a few favored adults who could be counted
on the fingers.

Is it not rather the spirit and practice of the Church to propose to
her erring children the heroic example of souls who passed through the
storms and trials of life, who had the same weaknesses to contend with,
the same enemies to combat, as they have, whose triumph is her glory
and her crown?  The Catholic Church, which has so successfully promoted
the civilization of society and the moral regeneration of nations,
achieved her triumph by the conversion of those she first drew from
darkness.  Placed as lights on the rocks of eternity, and shining on
us who are yet tossed about on the stormy seas of time, the penitent
saints serve us as saving beacons to guide our course during the
tempest.  Many a feeble soul would have suffered shipwreck had it not
taken refuge near those tutelary towers where are suspended the memorial
deeds of the sainted heroes whose armor was sackcloth, whose watchword
the sigh of repentance poured out in the lonely midnight.

While Augustine was struggling with the attractions of the world which
had seduced his warm African heart, whose gilded chains seemed once
so light, he animated himself to Christian courage by the examples of
virtue which he had seen crowned in the Church triumphant.

"Canst thou not do," he said to himself, "what these have done?  Timid
youths and tender maidens have abandoned the deceitful joys of time
for the imperishable goods of eternity; canst thou not do likewise?
Were these lions, and art thou a timid deer?"  Thus this illustrious
penitent, who was one of the brightest lights of Christianity, has
made known to us the triumph he gained in his internal struggles by
the examples of his predecessors in the brave band of penitents who
shed a luminous ray on the pitchy darkness of his path.

The life of St. Anthony, written by St. Athanasius, produced such a
sensation in the Christian world that the desolate caverns of Thebias
were not able to receive all who wished to imitate that holy solitary.
Roman matrons were then seen to create for themselves a solitude in
the heart of their luxurious capital; offices of the palace, bedizened
in purple and gold, deserted the court, amid the rejoicings of a
festival, for the date-tree and the brackish rivulets of Upper Egypt!

Where, then, our error in drawing from the archives of the past another
beautiful and thrilling tale of repentance which may fall with cheerful
rays of encouragement on the soul engaged in the fierce combat with

To us the simple, touching story of Alvira has brought a charm and a
balm.  Seeking to impart to others its interest, its amusement, and
its moral, we cast it afloat on the sea of literature, to meet,
probably, a premature grave in this age of irreligion and presumptuous
denial of the necessities of penance.


Chapter I.                                        Page
Paris One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago . . . . . .    5

Chapter II.
The Usurer  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   10

Chapter III.
A Mixed Marriage  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   13

Chapter IV.
A Youth Trained in the Way he should Walk . . . .   18

Chapter V.
Our Heroines  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   27

Chapter VI.
A Secret Revealed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   33

Chapter VII.
Tears on Earth, Joy in Heaven . . . . . . . . . .   42

Chapter VIII.
Madeleine's Happy Death . . . . . . . . . . . . .   48

Chapter IX.
One Abyss Invokes Another . . . . . . . . . . . .   52

Chapter X.
On the Trail  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   57

Chapter XI.
The Flight  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   62

Chapter XII.
Geneva  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   71

Chapter XIII.
The Secret Societies  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   75

Chapter XIV.
The Freemason's Home  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   89

Chapter XV.
Tragedy in the Mountains  . . . . . . . . . . . .   96

Chapter XVI.
A Funeral in the Snow . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  110

Chapter XVII.
An Unwritten Page . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  115

Chapter XVIII.
In Uniform  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  125

Chapter XIX.
Remorse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  131

Chapter XX.
Naples  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  141

Chapter XXI.
Engagement with Brigands  . . . . . . . . . . . .  147

Chapter XXII.
The Morning After the Battle  . . . . . . . . . .  156

Chapter XXIII.
Return--A Triumph . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  161

Chapter XXIV.
Alvira's Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  165

Chapter XXV.
Honor Saved . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  183

Chapter XXVI.
Repentance  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  190

Chapter XXVII.
The Privileges of Holy Souls  . . . . . . . . . .  199

Chapter XXVIII.
A Vision of Purgatory--A Dear One Saved . . . . .  202

Chapter XXIX.
Unexpected Meeting  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  207

Chapter XXX.
Conclusion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  214

Chapter I.
Paris One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago.

"Paris is on fire!"  "The Tuileries burnt!"  "The Hotel de Ville in
ashes!"  There are few who do not remember how the world was electrified
with the telegrams that a few years ago announced the destruction of
the French capital. It was the tragic finale of a disastrous war between
rival nations; yet the flames were not sent on high to the neutral
heavens to be the beacon of triumph and revenge of a conquering army,
but set on fire by its own people, who, in a fanaticism unequalled in
the history of nations would see their beautiful city a heap of ashes
rather than a flourishing capital in the power of its rightful rulers.
Fast were the devouring elements leaping through the palaces and superb
public buildings of the city; the petroleum flames were ascending from
basement to roof; streets were in sheets of fire; the charred beams
were breaking; the walls fell with thundering crash--the empress city
was indeed on fire.  Like the winds unchained by the storm-god, the
passions of men marked their accursed sweep over the fairest city of
Europe in torrents of human blood and the wreck of material grandeur.

Those who have visited the superb queen of cities as she once flourished
in our days could not, even in imagination, grasp the contrast between
Paris of the present and the Paris of two hundred years ago.  With a
power more destructive than the petroleum of the Commune, we must, in
though, sweep away the Tuileries, the boulevards, the Opera-House and
superb buildings that surround the Champs Elysees; on their sites we
must build old, tottering, ill-shaped houses, six and seven stories
high, confining narrow and dirty streets that wind in lanes and alleys
into serpentine labyrinths, reeking with filthy odors and noxious
vapors.  Fill those narrow streets with a lazy, ill-clad people--men
in short skirts and clogs, squatting on the steps of antiquated cafes,
smoking canes steeped in opium, awaiting the beck of some political
firebrand to tear each other to pieces--and in this description you
place before the mind's eye the city some writers have painted as
the Paris of two hundred years ago.

But the old city has passed away.  Like the fabulous creations we have
read of in the tales of childhood, palaces, temples, boulevards, and
theatres have sprung up on the site of the antiquated and labyrinthine
city.  Under the dynasty of the Napoleons the capital was rebuilt with
lavish magnificence.  Accustomed to gaze on the splendor of the sun,
we seldom advert to its real magnificence in our universe; but pour
its golden flood on the sightless eyeball, and all language would fail
to tell the impression upon the paralyzed soul.  Thus, in a minor
degree, the emigrant from the southern seas who has been for years
amongst the cabins on the outskirts of uncultivated plains, where
cities were built of huts, where spireless churches of thatched roof
served for the basilicas of divine worship, and where public justice
was administered under canvas, is startled and delighted with the
refinement and civilization of his more favored fellow-mortal who lives
in the French capital.

Paris has been rudely disfigured in the fury of her Communist storm;
yet, in the invincible energy of the French character, the people who
paid to the conquering nation in fifteen months nine milliards of
francs will restore the broken ornaments of the empress city.  From
the smoking walls and unsightly ruins of bureaux and palaces that wring
a tear from the patriot, France will see life restored to the emblem
of her greatness, the phoenix-like, will rise on the horizon of time
to claim for the future generation her position among the first-rate
powers of Europe.

To the old city we must wend our way in thought.  Crossing the venerable
bridge at Notre Dame, we enter at once the Rue de Seine, where we
pause before the bank and residence of Cassier.

Chapter II.
The Usurer.

At a desk in the office we observe a lowsized, whiskered man. 
Intelligence beams from a lofty brow; sharp features an aquiline nose
tell of Jewish character; his eye glistens and dulls as the heaving
heart throbs with its tides of joy and sorrow.  Speculation, that
glides at times into golden dreams, brightens his whole features with
a sunbeam of joy; but suddenly it is clouded.  Some unseen intruder
casts a baneful shadow on the ungrasped prize; the features of the
usurer contract, the hand is clenched, the brow is wrinkled, and woe
betide the luckless debtor whose misfortunes would lead him to the
banker's bureau during the eclipse of his good-humor!

Cassier was a banker by name, but in reality dealt in usurious loans,
Shylock-like wringing the pound of flesh from the victims of his
avarice.  He was known and dreaded by all the honest tradesmen of the
city; the curse of the orphan and the widow, whom he unfeelingly drove
into the streets, followed in his path; the children stopped their
games and hid until he passed.  That repulsive character which haunts
the evil-doers of society marked the aged banker as an object of dread
and scorn to his immediate neighbors.

In religion Cassier at first strongly advocated the principles of
Lutheranism; but, as is ever the case with those set adrift on the sea
of doubt, freed from the anchor of faith, the definite character of
his belief was shipwrecked in a confusion of ideas.  At length he
lapsed into the negative deism of the French infidels, just then
commencing to gain ground in France.  He joined them, too, in open
blasphemies against God and plotting against the stability of the
Government.  The blood chills at reading some of the awful oaths
administered to the partisans of those secret societies.  They proposed

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