List Of Contents | Contents of Alvira- The Heroine of Vesuvius
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That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, "Hold!, hold!"

Poor Alvira!  Her morning dawned after a restless, sleepless night.
Phantoms of terror haunted her couch.  The agonies of anticipated
remorse had cast a withering shadow on her thoughts.  She could not
believe her own depravity in entertaining for a moment such a thrilling

Was it a dream?  Was it the hallucination of a spirit of evil that
revels in the human passions?  "I, who love my father notwithstanding
his faults, who would tremble at the gaze of my mother looking down
from heaven on my awful impiety, and would hear from her tomb her
scream of terror, her curse of vengeance on my parricidal guilt--could
I be the foolish wretch that would consent to a deed of crime which
would make me a fugitive from the face of men, and haunt my rest with
the ghost of a murdered father?"

Thus Alvira mused.  But a demon laughed at her tender conscience; deep
in hell they had forged a terrible temptation.  They knew the walls
of the citadel of morality, built alone on natural virtue and unaided
by divine grace, would soon crumble before their powerful machinations.
In moments of sober reflection our resolutions are like prisms of
basalt, that will not be riven by the lightning, but which in the hour
of real trial prove to be ice-crystals that a sunbeam can dissolve.
The powers that wage war with frail humanity have hung on the portals
of the infernal kingdom, as trophies of triumph over man and insult
to God, the resolutions of mortals made in moments of fervor and
broken in weakness.

Days roll on; they bring their sunshine and clouds, but no change in
the unhappy family; a change there was for the worse in the appalling
development of the infidel and socialistic tendencies of their impious
father.  His language, less guarded, seemed to teem with new insults
against religion and God, and contributed to confirm the chill of
horror with which he was met by hapless children that sighed over the
loss of filial love.  His late returns from the lodge, and occasionally
those sad ebullitions of intemperance, continued to be their deep

In proportion as love twines itself around the heart it absorbs all
other feelings, it draws the passions like lentils around itself; so
the contrary feeling of hatred, when permitted to enter the sanctuary
of the heart, assumes at once a tyrannical sway, whose wicked demands
of gratification become more and more imperious and exacting day by
day, and rears a throne that becomes impregnable in proportion as the
sun is allowed to set on its possessions.  Even filial love has
withered under the shadow of Cassier's worthlessness.

In lonely walks along the lake, in conversations, and in tears the two
girls lamented their fate.  The beauty of virtue withered within their
bosoms.  The resembled two beautiful flowers torn from their bed, and
cast with the weeds of the garden to taint in their decay the breezes
they would sweeten if left on their stem.  They longed for the pleasures
that pleased in the day of prosperity; the dance, the banquet, and
those visits that won the momentary gratification of flattery and
admiration were sighed for.  So irksome was the monotony and so
uncongenial the role forced upon them by disguise, they hailed with
joy the least circumstance that might be the harbinger of a change.

It is at hand.  Once more the excitement of chase!  The vigilance of
their astute father has placed them again in the caleche, and spirited
horses are galloping from the Swiss capital.

News from Paris has arrived; the failure, the flight, the reward, are
passed around in a sensational romance, and the disappearance of two
police officers lends the charms of mystery to the embellished rumor.
Cassier--the hero of the tale, the unsuspected guilty one--went around
and told the news with all the sanctimonious whining and eye-uplifting
of a ranting preacher.  In the meantime he matured his plans, and
before suspicion could point her finger at him he fled to another
retreat to elude for a while the justice of man to meet his awful
doom from the hands of God.

During the night Cassier and his children ascend the terrific pass of
the Tete Noir; he proposes to hide from the threatened storm in the
cloister of Martigny.  This is a venerable Benedictine monastery,
erected in the eleventh century by a Catholic prince, under the
sanction of Urban II., possessing, besides many other privileges,
that of sanctuary for fugitive prisoners.

The dangers of the road and the fear of pursuit lent additional terror
to the wild mountain scenery; at one moment they are dizzy looking
into awful chasms formed by huge perpendicular rocks; then the
overhanging cliffs would seem every moment to break from their frail
support and rush down the steep mountain in an avalanche of stone.
In cold that penetrated to the very bones, amidst the roar of torrents
leaping through caverns of ice, and in dangers unseen and therefore
more dreadful, they passed a restless journey through the mountains,
and arrived at the charming village of Martigny, over which the
monastery presided like the fortress of a mediaeval castle protecting
the feudal territory of the petty ruler.  Wearied, but pleased at the
novel situation into which chance had cast them, Charles and Henry
approached the venerable pile with feelings of reverence they had
never felt.  The silence of the tomb reigned around, and the old gate
was closed.  Whilst wondering how men could come voluntarily to live
in such a solitude, and how they got the necessaries of life, a bell
tolled solemnly from one of the towers; its soft, mellow tones rolled
in sweet echoes across the mountains.  Immediately the place became
thronged with men in the habit of the Benedictine Order, hastening to
and fro to commence their daily work.  An aged porter bowed the
strangers into a neat apartment, and summoned the Superior.  No
questions were asked, but comfortable rooms were appointed to them,
and they were conducted in silence to the refectory, where a plain
but substantial meal was placed before them.  Thus commenced a visit
the most extraordinary in the records of this venerable mountain

Charles and Henry were charmed with everything, although they found
themselves in strange contrast with desires of worldly pleasure they
had recently entertained.  The wild, rugged scenery, the solemn silence
of the house, and the sanctity of the mortified monks made a deep and
solemn impression on the tender hearts of the young visitors, who
felt the delicacy of their position in enjoying a forbidden hospitality.
The example of the evangelical perfection practised by these holy
servants of God insensibly drew Charles and Henry to love the sublime
virtues they practised.  Nothing impressed them more than the solemn
chant of the Office at midnight.  The slow, solemn enunciation of
each word by a choir of hoary anchorets rolled in majestic cadence
through the precipices of the mountains, and died away in the distant
ravines in echoes of heavenly harmony.

An aged father was appointed to entertain the strangers.  He led them
to points on the mountain where the view was most enchanting; skilled
in ancient monastic lore, he entertained them with anecdotes and
histories from which he drew the most instructive morals.  One cheerful
afternoon, when seated on the rocks viewing a magnificent sunset, the
aged monk told them his own history.  He had been a soldier of fortune.
In youth his ambition was as boundless as the horizon; he worshipped
his sword and loved the terrors of battle.  Fortune smiled on his
hopes, and he moved on from grade to grade, until he became commander
of a division.

He was present at the fatal field of Salzbach, where the great General
Turenne fell in the commencement of the battle.  The aged warrior,
forgetting the gravity of his years and his habit, would speak in the
fire of other days, suiting his action to the word.

He told his listeners the touching tale of his conversion.  The death
of the beloved Turenne, and at the same time the demise of his mother,
made him enter seriously into self, repeating the farewell words of
a celebrated courtier who left the French court to don the habit:
"Some time of preparation should pass between the life of a solider
and his grave."  He heard the great St. Vincent de Paul preaching on
the vanities of life; his resolutions were confirmed, and tears
started to his eyes as he recounted how happy he was in his home in
the cliffs and the clouds.

Charles loved to hear the aged man's reminiscences of his military
career.  Fired with chivalrous aspirations, she could spend a lifetime
in the regions of fancy so fervidly depicted from their Alpine retreat.
Poor Aloysia was attracted to the higher and more real glories of
the virtuous lives of these holy men.  She felt she could stay with
them for ever; and there, in the secrecy of her own heart, and before
the alter of our Holy Mother, she made promises that shared in the
merits of vows.  When free, she would give herself to the love of God
and the preparation for eternity in some secluded retreat of religion
and virginity.

But the nearer the alter, the further from God.  Reverse the picture,
and another must be contemplated.  Is it the venerable cloister buried
in the snow, buffeted by the storm, and threatened by the avalanche?
is i the awful death of starvation hanging in all its gloomy
anticipations over the community isolated by the snow-storm from the
civilized world around?  Or will it be the just indignation of the
holy monks in finding the true character of the refugees whom they
have sheltered in ignorance, contrary to the canons of the Church?
Or will the still more devastating and ruthless storm of religious
persecution seek the sanctuary in the clouds to desecrate it, to
scatter its inmates and wreck its cloisters?

A calamity as thrilling and not less anticipated will fling a sad
memory around the venerable cloisters of Martigny.

Cassier is in the group listening to the aged monk recount his
adventures; with knitted eyebrows he hears him moralizing on the awful
destiny of the future.  He is a silent listener; the conversation
is carried on by the garrulous and interested youths and the happy,
virtuous old monk.  A forced sobriety, or the atmosphere of virtue
which he dreads, has cast a gloom over him.  His thoughts are still
reeking with the blasphemy of the Masonic lodges, and, though restrained
by politeness from intruding his unbelief, he expresses in scowls
and monosyllables his dissentient feelings.

Charles still burns with indignation at her father's irreligion and
personal ill-treatment.  Her flushed countenance and agitated manner
were at times indexes of passion, revenge, and self-love; for a moment
the feeling is strong and irresistible, then calms again with the
holier sentiments of remorse and self-condemnation.

A morning as brilliant as ever lit up the glaciers of Mt. Blank rose
over the cloisters.  Charles and Henry accompany their father on a
stroll through the mountain.  They miss their kind Mentor, who is
on a retreat for some days.  Henry, commencing to love solitude, strays
from her father and Charles to gather ferns and wild flowers creeping
from the crevices of the rocks, or rising with exquisite beauty from
a layer of snow.  They are emblems of her own innocence and fragrant
as her virtue, growing in the wilderness and shedding their charms
on rocks and snow-peaks, instead of ornamenting gardens of culture
and beauty.  Poor Aloysia would be more at home in some arbor of
innocence where angels love to tarry, and where the voice and gaze of
the worldly-minded have never fallen.

Cassier and Charles had slowly climbed to a projecting rock where
nature had made a large table covered with grass.  On one side the
ascent was easy, but the other overhung a frightful precipice.  They
had entered into an animated conversation; Aloysia, down beneath,
could hear the sharp, quick answers of Charles, but, as such was usual
in the temper of Charles, she did not notice it.

But lo! another moment, and a wild, shrill scream bade her look up;
her father was no longer on the ledge of rock, and Charles flung her
arms towards heaven and fell in a swoon on the edge of the precipice.

Chapter XVI.
A Funeral in the Snow.

When Charles had recovered her consciousness, she found herself
reclining on the lap of Henry, who had been bathing her face with snow
and tears.  A long, painful call of her name had reached the inmost
recess of her being whither consciousness had repaired.  Springing
to her feet, startled as if from a frightful dream, she gazed around.
Memory and sight returned; folding her face in her hands, she cried
in a paroxysm of grief:  "My God! what have I done?"

This was the only intimation she ever gave Aloysia that in the heat
of passion she had pushed her father over the precipice; she was his
murderer.  In their conversation the old man, more, perhaps, through
impiety than conviction, misrepresented the good monks.  We will not
reproduce the sterotyped calumnies that even nowadays unbelievers love
to heap upon the religious communities of the Catholic Church.  The
madness of passion took control in the breast of Charles.  Scarcely
knowing what she did, she pushed her aged father towards the precipice;
he slipped, fell over into the chasm, and passed into eternity with
blasphemy on his guilty lips.

The two sisters wept together for hours.  Innocence, guilt, and
retribution blended together in a scene of awful tragedy amid the
glaciers of Mt. Blanc.

Seldom in the deeds of brigandage, in crimes committed in dark caves
and lonely mountain paths, was there perpetrated a fouler murder;
seldom in the sensational records of human depravity do we find the
desperado of parricidal guilt under the delicate frame of girlhood.
Yet was she rather an instrument in the hands of avenging Heaven
than a monster of moral iniquity.  At that moment the cup of iniquity
was full for the wretch who had long tested the mercy of God.  That
Providence which blinded the Jews in judgement for ingratitude, and
made them the instruments for the fulfilment of eternal decrees of
redemption, withdrew from Alvira the protection that made her, whilst
she accepted the guilt, the instrument of judgment.

Rising to her feet with a sense of her desperate condition, making a
few hurried explanations how her father slipped and lost his balance,
she approached tremblingly the fatal edge.  Leaning over, she saw the
corpse of her father lying in a pool of blood in the deep chasm below.
The scene of that sad moment was indelibly impressed on her memory,
and in after-hours of remorse haunted her with its horrors.

With nerve and courage, called forth by the awful circumstances of
the moment, they descended the mountain to the foot of the ravine
where the body lay in the snow.

The descent was steep and treacherous, and guilty conscience made

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