List Of Contents | Contents of Alvira- The Heroine of Vesuvius
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

The whole of that day was spent in the church.  She crouched into an
agnle behind one of the large pillars.  Like the dew that freshens
and vivifies the vegetation that has been dried up by the parching
sun, the exhilarating breathings of the divine Spirit spread over
her soul that peace which surpasseth all understanding.  In the fervor
of her first real moments of prayer, the hours passed as seconds;
unmindful of food, of the duties incumbent on her military profession,
and of the busy world around, she was not roused from her reverie
until the golden floods of the setting sunlight fell in tinted splendor
through the stained-glass windows of the old Gothic church.

As the church bells were merrily chiming the Ave Maria, a gentle tap
on her shoulder called her attention.  It was Father Francis.  He had
watched her all the day with a secret joy; he knew the value of moments
like these in maturing the resolutions of the converted soul, and, as
he had not yet completed his arrangements, he was afraid his penitent
might slip from him in the crowd and be exposed to temptations that
might discourage her; the cold blast of the world might shake to the
ground the fabric he had commenced to build.  He bent his venerable
countenance to her ear, whispered a word of consolation, and bade her
not leave till he came for her.

The father moved silently and thoughtfully through the sombre aisles;
now and then he would stop to converse with some child of grace, for
he had many awaiting his spiritual aid.  With smiles of holy joy, he
imparted consolation to each, and sent them to their homes accompanied
by those spirits that rejoice in the conversion of the sinner.

A few moments, and the lights were extinguished, the crowd is gone.
The cough and suppressed sigh are no longer heard from the deep aisles,
and the footsteps of the ever-changing crowd have ceased to clatter
on the marble pavement.  The solitary lamp in the sanctuary cast a
fitful shadow through the silent and abandoned church, and was the
only indication of the presence of Him who rules in the vast spheres
of the heavens.  Alvira felt happier in this lonely moment before the
Most Holy Sacrament.  The fruit of years of penance, and the conquest
of turbulent, rebellious passions, have often been gained in moments
of fervor before the alter.  Like sand, changed to transparent crystal
glass under the blow-pipe, the heart is melted and purified under the
fire of love that darts in invisible streams from the loving Victim
of the tabernacle.

The closing of the church door and the rattling of carriage wheels in
the direction of the Chaja close an eventful day, recorded in golden
letter in heaven's history of repentant humanity.

Chapter XXV.
Honor Saved.

A series of surprises followed this memorable conversion.  Alvira's
absence from the garrison was the subject of serious comment.  Rumor
was busy, and disposed of the young captain by every imaginable
violent death.  One report seemed the most probable and gained ground.
It was thought the partisans of the defeated party, remembering the
victory of Vesuvius, and galled at the popularity of the young captain,
had waylaid and murdered him.  At the same time the mangled body of
a young man was found washed into the river by the tide; it was
mutilated and disfigured beyond recognition; the populace claimed
it to be the body of their favorite, and loud and still rang the
indignant cry for vengeance.  The city was in commotion.  The
authorities were induced to believe the report, and large rewards were
offered for the apprehension of the murderers.  'Tis but a spark that
may set the wood on fire; and popular feeling, fired by a random rumor,
now blazed in all the fury of a political conflagration.

In the midst of the commotion the commandant of the forces received
a polite note requesting his presence at the residence of the
Marchioness de Stefano.  Puzzled at the strange summons, but polite
to a fault, he appeared in grand tenu at the appointed hour in the
salons of the Marchioness.  A young lady was ushered in to the
apartment.  She was dressed in black, wore no jewelry, and seemed a
little confused; a majestic mien set off some natural charms, but her
features had an expression of care and sadness such as is read on the
countenance of the loving fair one who has been widowed in her bloom.
Her eyes were red, for many tears had dimmed them; her voice was weak,
for shame had choked the utterances in their birth; her whole demeanor
expressed deep anxiety and trouble.

The commandant was kind-hearted, but a stern ruler in those days of
trouble; he had seen in the revolutions of many years the miseries
and sorrows of life; though insensible to the horrors of the battle-
field, he felt a deep, touching sympathy with its real victims who
survive and suffer for years in silent woe, in affections that have
been ruthlessly blasted by cruel war.  The feeling of compassion
towards the strange lady introduced to him were deeply enhanced by
the remarks by which she opened the conversation.

"I sent for you, sir," commenced the lady in a subdued tone, "to speak
to you about Captain Charles Pimontel."

The veteran soldier, believing she was his betrothed, that she was
torn by cruel destiny from the object of her affections, endeavored
to soothe her troubled spirit by the balm of kindness and consolation.

"Ah! madame," he replied in his blandest manner, "if report be true,
a cruel fate has removed him for a while from thy embrace.  Young,
brave, and amiable, he was the darling of our troops, and fortune
seemed to lead our gallant young captain to a brilliant career; but
some foul assassin's hand has cut the flower ere it bloomed; destiny,
as cruel as it has been mysterious, has darkened his sun ere yet it
shone in the zenith of day!"

"Oh! sir, it may not yet be true that he has met such a sad fate,"
retorted the lady.

"Alas!" replied the commandant, "yesterday evening the youth's body
was washed up on our beach; the wounds of twenty stilettos gaped on
his mangled corpse, and the lampreys of our bay fed on his noble flesh
as they would on the vile slaves cast to them by the monster Nero.
These eyes have seen the horrid sight; though we could not recognize
the brave youth, we wept as if our own son had fallen by cowardly

The old commandant was somewhat excited; before the warm tear had welled
from the fountains of sympathy, the young lady spoke in an animated
and excited manner:

"But, sir, there is surely some mistake.  It cannot be said Charles
Pimontel was murdered; does it follow because the unrecognized body
of some hapless victim of a street brawl has been washed on the beach
that it must necessarily be the body of the captain?  Do you not think
his murderers would pay dearly for this attack on him?  Have any
witnesses come forward to swear to his assassination?  I will not
believe in his death until stronger proofs have been given; and I may
be intruding on the precious time of our commandant, but I have sought
this interview with you have found the murdered remains of Charles

"Love, madame," rejoined the commandant sentimentally, "clings to
forlorn hopes, and in its sea of trouble will grasp at straws.  The
whole city has proclaimed the murder of the captain; our military
chapel is draped in gloom, and I have given orders that all the garrison
be in attendance on the morrow at the obsequies."

The lady, who at first intended a strange surprise for the commanding
officer, began to fear things were going too far, and that no time
was to be lost in declaring the real fate of the captain.  She arose
quickly, and, approaching near to him, spoke with strong emphasis:

"I beseech you, sir, to stay these proceedings; I tell you on my word
of honor the captain is not dead."

"Then you know something of him?" interrupted the commandant.  "I
command you, madame, in the name of the King, to tell me of his
whereabouts.  If he has, without sufficient cause, absented himself
from military duty, by my sword the rash youth shall be punished.
Besides playing the fool with the people, the inviolable sanctity of
the military constitutions has been violated.  Madame, your lover,
perhaps, has forgotten himself over his cups.  If secreted within these
walls, produce him, that he may know, for thy sake, and in consideration
of his first fault, the leniency of his sentence for violation of
our military rule."

"Sir," replied the young woman, drawing herself up majestically, and
fearlessly confronting the aged officer, whose inviolable fidelity
to military honor made him warm in his indignation at the supposed
delinquency of his subaltern--"sir, the secret of the captain's absence
and his present abode is committed to me; but I shall not divulge the
information you ask until you promise me that, having shown you
reasonable cause for his seeming fault, you will not only acquit him
of his supposed crime of dereliction of duty, but that his honor shall
be preserved unstained before his fellow-officers and men."

The proposition seemed honorable to the commandant, and he immediately

"I swear by my sword it shall be so."

"Then, sir, see before you the offender.  I am Charles Pimontel!"

Chapter XXVI.

On the road that led the traveller to the ancient village of Torre
del Greco, and about a mile from the populous parts of the city, there
stood a neat little cottage.  In the front there was a flower garden,
small but charmingly pretty; the doors and windows were surrounded
with a woodbine creeper that gave an air of comfort to the little
dwelling.  The door was ever closed.  Few were seen to pass in and
out, and no noise ever betrayed the presence of its inmates.

Here for many years our young penitent Alvira passed a holy and solitary
life.  After the stirring scenes of the preceding chapters, Father
Francis procured from the military authorities for his Magdalen, as
he was wont to call her, the full pay of a captain as a retiring
pension.  This remarkable circumstance may be authenticated by reference
to the military books still preserved in the archives of the Molo at
Naples.  Her rank and pension were confirmed by the king.

Under the able direction of the man of God, Alvira gave herself to
full correspondence with the extraordinary graces offered by our blessed
Lord.  Her austerities and fervor increased until they reached the
degrees of heroic sanctity.  She knelt and wept for hours before her
crucifix; she slept on hard boards and only allowed herself sufficient
to meet the demands of nature.  She lived on herbs, and the fast of
Lent was so severe that Father Francis saw a miraculous preservation.
Long before daylight she knelt on the steps of the Gesu waiting for
the opening of the doors, and this austerity she never failed to
practice in the midst of rain or cold, until her last illness chained
her involuntarily to her couch, where her submission to the will of
God was equally meritorious.

Several terrible scenes of judgement, sent by Almighty God on
unrepentant sinners, had, in the very commencement of her conversion,
a most salutary influence on the feeble struggles of Alvira.  Her
confidence in the Blessed Virgin was much enhanced by a severe act
of St. Francis towards one of the members of the Congregation of the
Most Holy Mother.

A young man of this congregation got suddenly rich, and, with wealth,
self-conceit and pride entered his heart.  He considered it necessary,
to preserve his respectability, to separate himself from the humble
society he hitherto frequented, and cease to be a member of the
Congregation of the Madonna, composed of industrious and virtuous
youths who labored honestly for their livelihood.  St. Francis, on
hearing of this slight on the congregation and insult to Mary, was
fired with a holy indignation.  He sought the young man, and rang in
his ears the prophetic warnings which, in the case of this great saint,
were never uttered in vain to the unheeding.  Again and again
St. Francis warned, but pride was still triumphant.  One Sunday
afternoon, after the usual meeting of the confraternity, the saint
went to the alter of sodality; it was the altar of the Dolors.  Seven
daggers seemed to pierce the Virgin's heart.  Ascending the altar,
he cast a sorrowful glance on the weeping countenance of the Queen
of Sorrows, and said:  "Most Holy Virgin, this young man has been for
you a most acute sword, piercing your heart; behold, I will relieve
you of it."  So saying, he took one of the poniards from the statue,
and at the same time announced to the members that the proud young
man was expelled from the congregation.

Let those who fancy that such reprobations have not a corresponding
echo in the judgements of God tremble in reading the effects of this
simple but terrible excommunication.

Like sand through the perforated vessel, the young man's wealth passed
away; one month found him a cringing debtor, another found him a
beggar, a third found him dying in a public institution, abandoned
by God and man.

On another occasion Alvira was present when a terrible judgement of
God upon a hardened sinner thrilled the whole city with awe. 
St. Francis was preaching in one of the streets during Lent.  He
happened to pause and address a crowd near the house of an impious,
ill conducted woman, who came immediately to her window to laugh and
mock at the man of God.  Having gratified herself tot he disgust of
the crowd, she finally slammed to the window violently, uttering at
the same time some filthy and unbecoming remark.  St. Francis stood
immovable fro a moment; his eye was fixed on heaven; and the, in a
voice head half over the city, he cried out:  "My God, how terrible
are thy judgments!  That unfortunate woman has dropped dead."

The groans and confusion of the inmates soon convinced the crowd of
the awful fact, for the corpse of the hapless wretch was brought into
the street where it was exposed to the terrified people.

These and similar instances of the judgement of God witnessed by Alvira
had a salutary effect on her trembling soul.  The fear of God, which
is the beginning of wisdom, erected its watch-tower around the citadel
of her heart; the virtues, once entered, were not permitted to flee,
and soon won for this penitent soul the sweets of the illuminative
degree of sanctity.

St. Francis, a master in the science of the saints, soon recognized
the extraordinary graces destined for this chosen soul.  Full of
gratitude and love for God, he spared no effort to correspond with
the sublime destiny entrusted to him; hence in the after-history of
those two holy souls the marvels of virtue and sanctity intermingled,
so that at times it would seem doubtful whether the miracles recorded
were given to the exalted sanctity and zeal of the holy priest or to
the weeping virgin penitent, so privileged and so loved in the forgiving
memory of God.

On one occasion a young mother lost her infant.  Death had stricken
the little flower ere it had blossomed.  The mother was poor and unable

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: