List Of Contents | Contents of Alvira- The Heroine of Vesuvius
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on the erring Magdalen had already written the name of Alvira in the
book of life, and destined her to be one of the noblest models of
repentance that adorn the latter history of the Church.  Let us come
to the sequel of this extraordinary history; but first we must introduce
our readers to a new character--a great and holy man, destined by
Providence to save Alvira, and give the most interesting and most
remarkable chapter in this romance of real life.

Chapter XXIV.
Alvira's Confession.

                      Tremble, thou wretch,
Though hast within thee undivulged crimes,
Unwhipped of justice:  hide thee, thou bloody hand;
Thou perjured, and thou simular man of virtue,
Thou art incestuous:  caitiff, to pieces shake,
That under covert and convenient seeming
Hast practised on man's life:  close pent-up guilts,
Rive your concealing continents, and cry
These dreadful summoners grace.
                                            -- Lear.

It was a beautiful morning in the Lent of 1678.  The sun had risen
over the Apennines, and flung its magnificence over the Bay of Naples.
The smoke of Vesuvius cast its shadow like a monstrous pine over the
vineyards and villas that adorned the mountain-side to the sea-shore.
The morning was such as Byron gazed on in fancy through the sorrowful
eyes of the eloquent heroine of one of his tragedies:

"So bright, so rolling back the clouds into
 Vapors more lovely than the unclouded sky,
 With golden pinnacles and snowy mountains,
 And billows purpler than the ocean's, making
 In heaven a glorious mockery of the earth,
 So like we almost deem it permanent,
 So fleeting we can scarcely call it aught
 Beyond a vision, 'tis so transiently
 Scattered along the eternal vault!"

Whilst the eight hour was chiming from the tower of the old Gesu there
issued from the monastery attacked to the church a priest accompanied
by an acolyte bearing a large, plain cross and ringing a small bell.
They moved in the direction of the mole or old fortress of the city.
Soon a crowd followed--some bare-headed; others, especially the females,
told their beads in silence.

The traveller in Italy is aware of the pious custom practised by some
of the religious communities of preaching in the open air to the people
during the season of Lent.  Extraordinary things are related of these
harangues.  The lives of the sainted missionaries ring with tales of
the marvellous and miraculous powers given to God's servants when, in
moments of fire and zeal, they went from their cloisters like beings
of another world to awaken sinners to a sense of future terrors.  At
one time we read of the saint's voice carried miraculously to a distance
of several miles; the peasant working in the fields would hear the
sweet sounds without seeing the speaker.  At another the funeral
procession was arrested and the dead called from the bier to testify
to the truth of their teaching.  Curing the cripple and restoring health
to the sick were of ordinary occurrence.  Our blessed Lord told the
messengers who came to enquire about him to report his miracles as
a proof of his divinity:  the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are
restored to health; but greater than all his reversions of the natural
laws were the humility and the mysterious arrangement of his providence
which he prophetically announced when he told his disciples that those
who should come after him would perform greater miracles than he.
There are few of the Thaumaturgi more celebrated than the humble father
who has just issued from the Gesu to thunder forth with superhuman
eloquence the truths of God and religion.

No sooner had the people heard the little bell of the attendant and
seen the venerable priest leave the college than they gathered from
various quarters, and seemed to vie with each other in getting nearest
to him.

He was a tall, thin man, his hair gray, shading a majestic forehead,
and but slightly wrinkled with the summers of over sixty years; his
eyes were partly closed, but when preaching they glowed with animation,
and were brightened by the tears that dimmed them; his long, wiry
fingers were interlocked and raised towards his breast in the attitude
of deep contemplation.  The rough soutane and leather belt, the beads
and missionary cross partly hid in his breast, declared him to be a
follower of St. Ignatius.  In the hallowed austerity of his whole
appearance, in the sweetness blended with religious gravity, and in
the respect and love manifested in the ever increasing crowd, one
easily learned he was more than an ordinary man.  The people of Naples
knew him by the endearing name of Brother Francis; history has since
written his name in letters of gold on the alters of the Catholic
Church as St. Francis of Jerome.

It must have been a treat to the people who heard such saints as Francis
of Jerome preach.  Natural eloquences is a rare and powerful gift;
when guided by education and study, the talent exercises a marvellous
influence on man; but add to these two a zeal and fervor of spirit
such as burned in the mortified spirit of the man of God, and we have
a power that is nothing short of supernatural and irresistible.

From a heart all aglow with divine love he soon enkindled in his hearers
that fire his divine Master came to kindle on earth.  His sermons were
miracles.  So great was the crowd around him at times that it would
be impossible for any human voice to reach his furthest hearers.  Yet
every word of the great preacher went with silvery tone and moving
power, as if wafted on angel breathings, to the ears of sinners whom
chance or grace had brought to join the immense crowd that surrounded
his rude platform.  Each sermon brought hundreds to repentance.  Eyes
that were long dry melted into tears, and hearts that were strangers
to every sweet and holy influence throbbed with emotion.  Efforts to
check the pent-up feelings were expressed by louder and convulsive
sobs; some knelt and prayed, others beat their breasts in the agony
of contrition.  The immense concourse of people, simple and religious
minded, at all times impressionable, were, under the appeals of Francis,
moved as in times of public calamity, and the whole crowd swayed to
and fro as the deep moved by the storm--now trembling in terror, now
ashamed of sin and ingratitude, and again encouraged with hope, whose
cheerful beams the orator would cause to dart through the dark clouds
he himself had gathered over their mental vision.

On one occasion a courtesan ridiculed from her bed-room window the
words of the saint.  She fell dead immediately.  When he heard of the
awful judgement passed on this hapless woman, he ordered her body to
be brought to him.  Then, amidst a death-like silence, he cried out
in a voice of thunder that penetrated the regions of the damned:
"Catherine, where art thou now?"

The soul answered with a shriek that sent a thrill through the assembled
thousands:  "In hell!"

Although in scenes of terror like these Francis thundered forth the
awful destinies of the judged, yet the mercy of God towards the sinner
was his favorite theme.  He looked on himself as called in a special
manner to seek out the lost sheep, to soften down the roughness found
on the path of repentance, to aid in the struggles willing souls find
in their efforts at reformation.  Francis knew, as all masters of the
spiritual life have learned, there is more power in the eloquence of
forgiving love than in the terrors of retribution; hence, with tears
and burning sentiments of sympathy for the erring children of men,
he led his hearers as it were by the hand to the Father of the
prodigal--to that Jesus who forgave and loved the penitent Magdalen.

Francis has now ascended his platform.  The crowd are swelling around.
He raises the sign of redemption over their heads; in a few majestic
sentences he commences his subject; the fire is kindling in his eye,
and the thunder is deepening in his splendid voice.  The listeners
are wrapt in breathless attention.

On the outskirts of the crowd there is a young officer, slender,
graceful, tidy to a fault.  It is Alvira.

She was passing down the Toledo, and had already heard the saint before
she had seen him.  She had heard of the great preacher, but was afraid
to meet him.  Grace had followed her in all her wanderings, and the
prayers of her mother were still heard at the throne of God.  The crowd
is so great Alvira cannot pass to the Molo, where she was quartered
with her regiment.  She must listen.

Strange, consoling ways of divine grace!  It was thee, O Lord! who
drew they servant from his convent on that auspicious morning; thou
did'st gather the crowd around him, and inspire him with the words
and theme of his moving discourse!  It was thy mercy, smiling with
compassion on a noble but erring soul, which brought her to listen
to those words that would bring thy grace to her heart!

Like one whose eye has caught a brilliant meteor flying through the
heavens, and remains gazing on it until it has disappeared, Alvira
could not remove her eyes from Francis.  When she saw his saintly
figure standing on the rude platform, holding in his outstretched
hand the saving sign of redemption, she was seized with an unaccountable
feeling of awe.  Although every word of the sermon was heard and
weighed, it seemed as if the pent-up memories of her soul took
precedence of her thoughts, and rushed on her with over whelming force,
like the winds let loose by the storm-god of old.  Everything strange
or sad in her past career lent its quota of color to the dark picture
remorse, with cruel and masterly hand, delineated before her troubled
spirit.  The struggle, the agony she had learned to brave in the Duomo
at Milan and the fortress of Messina, rose again with hydra fangs
from the tomb of oblivion in which recent excitements had buried it.
None but her guardian angel knew her soul was once more the battle-field
of contending feelings.  At length a crimson blush passed over her
marble features; a crystal tear-drop dimmed her eye; another sprang
from the resevoirs of the heart and stole down the blushing cheek.
Alvira wept.

Tears have a language of their own deep and powerful; they tell of the
weakness of the human heart, not its triumphs; for passion has a throne
that tears may wash in vain.  It is easier to drive the mighty river
from its long-loved bed than the soul from the normal state of its
gratified tendencies.

"The heart," says St. Liguori, "where passion reigns, has become a
crystal vase filled with earth no longer penetrated by the rays of
the sun."  The iron pedestal of passion's throne was not yet shivered
in the heart of Alvira, nor were tears a sign that the sun of grace
had pierced the crystal vase of the worldly heart.  Great will be
the grace that will draw Alvira from the zenith of a golden dream in
which a triumphant ambition has placed her above her sex, and great
amongst the heroes of the manly sex she feigned.  Her conversion will
be a miracle--a miracle of sweet violence, such as drew the Magdalens,
the Augustines, and the Cortonas from the trammels of vice to the holy
and happy path of repentance.

The sermon is over.  The crowd is still between Alvira and the Molo;
she must wait.

The people are gradually dispersing.  Some go to the church to follow
up the holy inspirations given, to throw themselves at the feet of a
confessor, to break the chains of sin; others hasten to their homes
or daily avocations, wondering, pleased, and sanctified in good desires
and resolutions that came gushing from their hearts.

Alvira is standing to one side alone and wrapt in thought.  Suddenly
she looks up.  Something catches her eye.  She starts; a tremble passes
from head to foot.  She looks again; her worst terrors are realized.
It is--Father Francis is coming towards her!

"But he can't be coming to me," she thought to herself.  She looked
around to see if there were any other object to bring the father in
that direction; but there was no poor creature to ask his charity, no
poor cripple to seek his sympathy; she was almost alone.  She could
have fled, but felt herself fixed to the ground, and with desperate
efforts endeavored to conceal her excitement.  He approaches nearer;
with glistening eye she watches and hopes some fortuitous circumstances
may call him aside.  Their glance meets; she blushes and trembles,
Father Francis is before her.

For a moment he gazed on the young captain with a kind, penetrating
look; and a smile on his features seemed to express a friendly
recognition.  Calling her by her assumed name, he said to her, almost
in a whisper:  "Charles, go to confession; God wishes thee well."

Alvira was relieved.  The kind, gentle manner of the father calmed
the storm of conflicting fears.  Rejecting the inward calls of grace,
and hoping she was not discovered, she replied with some hesitation:

"But, father, I don't require to go to confession.  I have not done
anything wrong."

Her voice faltered, and the blush of conscious falsehood grew deeper
and deeper on her glowing features.

Father Francis drew himself up with majesty; his eye beamed with the
glow of inspiration, and in a solemn reproof he addressed the trembling

"You have done nothing wrong, nothing to merit the judgments of a
terrible God--you, who murdered your father in the snows of the Alps,
robbed him of ill-gotten wealth, spent it in gaming, and dragged your
innocent sister in the path or your own shameless adventure!"

"Father! father!" cried Alvira, bursting into convulsive sobs.

"Maria Alvira Cassier," continued the man of God in a milder tone,
"go and change those garments; cease this tale of guilty hypocrisy. 

Advancing towards her, he took her hand, and, resuming the paternal
smile that relaxed his solemn features and banished her fears, said
in a low tone:  "But come with me to the Gesu."

Alvira obeyed.  She was thunderstruck.  The revelation of the great
secrets of her life summoned up paralyzing fears; but, accustomed
to brave the succumbing weakness of the feminine character, and
encouraged by the paternal manner of the father, she did not faint,
but buried her face in her hands and wept.

In silence she followed Father Francis.  She skilfully concealed her
emotions; the tears were brushed away as rapidly as they overflowed.
In passing the squares that separated them from the church, Alvira
had resolved to unbosom herself to the good father.  Like the angel
that led Peter from his prison, she knew this sainted man was destined
to lead her from the prison of her hypocrisy.  Where grace has not
conquered, consequences are weighed, the future becomes too dark and
unknown for the cowardly heart, and temporal evils assume the weight
of eternal woes; the blinded self-love yields, and the moment of grace
is abandoned.  But Alvira's conversion was complete, and, without one
doubt or fear for the future, she handed herself to the guidance of
the venerable father, who had learned by inspiration from heaven the
spiritual maladies of her soul.

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