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Title: The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin
Author: Anonymous
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606741.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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The Ruins of the Abbey of Fitz-Martin
Anonymous


The Abbey of Fitz-Martin had been once famous for its riches and
grandeur, and, as a monastery, was dedicated to St Catherine; but the
subsequent irregularity of its order, together with the despotic
tyranny of one of its ancient lords, had stripped it by slow but sure
degrees of all its former wealth and consequence; insomuch, that the
haughty Baron had, under unjust pretences, demanded heavy
contributions, to assist in carrying on the war between the first
Edward and the nearly subdued Scots. His only excuse for such an open
violation of ecclesiastic rights was grounded on a discovery he
pretended he had made, of one of the nuns having broken the sacred
rules of her profession, by a disregard to her vows of vestal
celibacy. The haughty Baron seized greedily this circumstance, as the
means of succeeding in his ambitious designs, and determined to humble
the pride and insolence of the superiors, since the land belonged
originally to his ancestors, and was transmitted to himself with
powers to exact homage and fee from the heads of the monastery for
this only part of their dependance on laical jurisdiction. For this
latter purpose, the Baron, as Lord Patron of the holy community,
entered the abbey, and demanded from the superiors not only a large
subsidy of money, but an acknowledgement of their obedience; and, to
cover his injustice, pretended it was designed for the further
prosecution of the Holy Wars.

The superiors proudly refused compliance, and, in angry tones,
threatened an appeal to Rome, with a dreadful anathema on the head of
the daring violator, if he persisted in his presumptions.

But the Baron knew the surety of his proceedings, and, with a smile of
malicious triumph, exposed his knowledge of the crimes of Sister St
Anna, even relating at full his acquaintance with the proof of her
lapse from that sacred vow, which for ever enjoined the community of a
monastery to celibacy. The fathers of the order, when summoned to the
council, heard the account with confusion and dismay, and entreated
time to search into the truth of the Baron's assertions. The crafty
Baron knew the advantage he had over them; and, to increase their
fears of the dreaded exposure, quitted the abbey, in haughty and
forbidding silence, without deigning to answer their petitions.

The unhappy community of the once proud monastery of St Catherine, at
length, harassed by their dread of an exposure, and the total loss of
all their wealth, by multiplied and never ceasing demands, became
dependant on its tyrannic Baron, who kept the monks in such entire and
arbitrary subjection, that in the course of a very few years, the
abbey became nearly quite forsaken by its once imperious masters;
when, at length, the Baron having disclosed to the King the dissolute
manners of the order, and supplying Edward also with a large sum of
money, that Monarch unknowingly rewarded his treachery with the
hereditary possession of the abbey, and all its tenures, revenues and
riches.

The Baron, therefore, took undisputed possession of his new
acquisition, which he soon transformed into a princely habitation. But
tradition says, that its imperious master did not, though surrounded
by the possession of a mine of wealth, enjoy that expected ease, and
inward happiness, which the gratification of his lawless wishes led
him to hope for. For he is reported ever after to have been subject to
gloomy passions, and melancholy abstractions of mind, which often
ended in vehement paroxisms of madness. An imperfectly handed
tradition still existed, which related, that the spectre of St Anna,
the unhappy instrument of his destruction to the monastery, had
repeatedly appeared to the Baron, to warn him of his heinous offences,
and even accuse him as the cause of her ruin, and subsequent
punishment by death. Certain it is, that various reports and
conjectures had arisen in the minds of the ignorant; some tending to
involve the Baron in the guilt of being the unknown seducer of Anna,
for the purpose of completing his avaricious designs. But the real
truth of her destiny was totally involved in silence; as, soon after
the Baron had exposed to the superiors his knowledge of her
dereliction, she had suddenly disappeared from the community, nor was
ever heard of after. Whatever was in reality her dreadful end is still
unknown. But the Baron lived not long to enjoy the splendor of his
ill-gained riches. He was heard to confess, that peace of mind was for
ever banished from his heart; and, though lying on the downy couches
of luxury, yet did he never after enjoy a calm undisturbed conscience.
His death was the departure of guilty horror, and alarm for the
future; and he quitted the world with curses and execrations on
himself, leaving no child to inherit the abbey, which descended to his
next heir; who, being every way unlike his uncle, refused to reside in
a place that had been obtained by fraud and injustice. From this
period the abbey, for near a century and a half, had acknowledged
several lords, but was seldom honored, for any length of time, by the
presence of its possessors, who were in general eager to shun a place,
whose traditional history teemed with dark and mysterious records. The
owners of the abbey were too superiorly gifted with Fortune's
treasures, and the spectred traditions of St Anna kept them from ever
approaching its decayed towers. Its lands, therefore, remaining
untilled, soon added increase to the surrounding forests, and were
suffered to become useless, and over-run with the luxuriance of
uncultivated nature.

The last owner deceased, was a distant relation of the present
inheritor, Sir Thomas Fitz-Martin, who was driven by severe
misfortune, and the loss of a most amiable wife, to seek its long-
deserted ruins, to hide himself and family from the dreadful
consequences of an over-ruling fate which no human wisdom could avert,
but in the hoped-for security of this long-forgotten retreat.

Yet the suddenness of his journey, its long and fatiguing continuance,
together with the gloomy, remote, and even terrific habitation he was
speedily approaching, began to raise fears and doubts in the minds of
the domestics, who shrunk back, declaring it impossible to venture
into so terrific and ruinous a place. Sir Thomas had never but once
seen it, and that many years since, and even shuddered as he again
reviewed its dreary and frowning exterior, and half wished that his
haste had not led him to choose so desolate a place for his future
abode. At that moment the carriage suddenly stopping, at some little
distance from an open avenue that led immediately to the abbey, Owen
demanded if he was to proceed further, or if his Honor had not better
turn into another path, and seek the nearest way out of the dismal
forest; 'for surely, my Lord will never think of entering yon
frightful old ruin, which, I dare say, will fall, and crush us alive
beneath its humble battlements: or perhaps we shall have to encounter
a battle with an army of ghosts and hobgoblins, who will dispute our
right of admission within their tottering territories.'

'Peace, I command you,' exclaimed Sir Thomas. 'I thought you, at
least, possessed more courage, than to admit the impression of such
idle fears as even your female companions would blush to express. The
seat of my ancestors, though long deserted and now perhaps destitute
of every comfort, has, I will vouch for it, nothing that can justly
alarm or excite cowardice in the minds of my servants. If, however,
yourself, or any of your companions, fear to enter with your lord the
building he has chosen for his future abode, they have free permission
to remain with the carriage till day-light, whilst I and my daughter
will alone seek our admission within a mansion that hereafter shall
become our chief residence.'

Sir Thomas, at length descending from the vehicle, walked, with
cautious inspection, a considerable way beneath the walls, before he
arrived at the heavy gates of entrance. They were, however, securely
closed, and resisted his attempts to force them, with an obstinacy
that surprised him. Calling loudly to his terror-stricken people, he
commanded them, on their approach, to join their efforts with his; but
the gates proved the strength of their interior holds, and none of the
fastenings yielded to their attacks. Tired with this fruitless labour,
yet wondering at the security with which they were barricaded, Sir
Thomas paused once more, and in that interval the idea flashed on his
mind, that the abbey might possibly be inhabited; though well he knew
he had given no one permission to enter its precincts; and the
traditional terrors of the place he thought were a sufficient guard
against all unknown intruders. Yet it was not unlikely, that if it
were indeed inhabited, it was become the dreadful haunt of banditti,
to whom the lonely situation of the forest rendered it a very
favorable concealment for the practice of their daring profession. For
a moment this fearful supposition rendered Sir Thomas undecided, and
he remained irresolute how to proceed, from the dread of exposing his
family to more real dangers than the imaginary ones of Owen, till a
violent flash of lightning ended his doubts; as it glanced in an
instant on the walls of the abbey, and displayed its tottering turrets
and broken casements. It shewed also, at no great distance, a small
postern, whose weak state seemed to promise greater success; and they
determined to try it if they could not here find a more willing
admission. The postern was extremely old, and seemed only held by the
bolt of the lock, which soon gave way to the attack of the travellers;
and crossing beneath a heavy Gothic arch, they found themselves within
the area of the first court. Sir Thomas, followed by his trembling
attendants, was hastening forward, till recollecting the females in
the carriage were left unguarded, he ordered one of the men to return
instantly, and await with them the event of their lord's bold
adventure to gain shelter within the ruin. Owen summoned up a sort of
desperate courage, and declared his intention of attending his master:
and lighting a torch, he followed his calm and undaunted conductor,
who now advanced with caution through the wide area of a second court,
which, being covered with crumbling fragments of the ruins, rendered
his advances difficult, and even dangerous. At length he reached a
flight of steps, that seemed to lead to the grand portal of entrance.
Sir Thomas, however, determined to ascend; and Owen, though tottering
beneath his own weight with terrors, dared not interpose his
resistance: his trembling hand held the light to the great folding
doors, and Sir Thomas, after some efforts, burst them open, and
entered what appeared an immense hall, terminating in vistas of huge
pillars, whose lofty heads, like the roof they supported, were
impervious to the faint rays of the torch, and enveloped in an awful
and misty gloom, beyond expression impressive and solemn, and creating
astonishing sensations in the startled beholder.

At length Sir Thomas's progress was stopped by some steps, that led up
to a Gothic door, which, with no little difficulty, he forced back,
and entering its dark precincts, found himself within a large antique
room, with the forms of several crumbling pieces of furniture, which,
from the number of its raised couches, now covered with blackness,
seemed evidently the remnants of a chamber that had once been stately
and magnificent. Sir Thomas examined it well. The walls, though
dripping with damp, seemed tolerably entire, and to promise security
from the dangers of the night; and as he had as yet seen nothing to
excite alarm or dread, he hastened to the carriage, and declared to
its inmates his resolution. The females knowing that, as they had
proceeded thus far, to retract from their fearful enterprise was now
become impracticable, obeyed with trembling and reluctant steps, and,
supported by their male companions, slowly advanced; whilst Sir
Thomas, taking Rosaline in his arms, conveyed her to the abbey.

Owen and Rowland, who had, by the command of their master, cut down
several branches from the forest, now set them alight within the wide
spreading hearth, whose brisk and crackling blaze soon dispelled the
damp and glooms of a dreary chamber, and at length compelled even the
long-stretched countenances of the females to relax into something
like a smile; and the remembered fatigue and danger of their perilous
journey through the forest, when compared with their present shelter,
and the comforts of a welcome and plentiful meal, succeeded at last in
making a very visible alteration. The repast being ended, Sir Thomas
commanded Owen to place before the fire some of the strongest couches
he could find, and cover them with packages, and compose themselves to
rest. The servants, who had dreaded the thoughts of being obliged to
pass the night in the chamber, were grateful for this considerate
permission; and reclining themselves on the couches, they soon forgot
the terrors and dangers they had felt, and became alike insensible to
their forlorn situation, and to the storm which howled without, and
now shook the trembling fabric, with each fresh gust of wind that
assailed its ruined towers.

Sir Thomas was the first of the slumbering travellers that awoke.
Convinced that it was day, from a ray of light that shone through a
broken window shutter, he hastened to arise; for, since he was assured
he should sleep no more, he resolved not to disturb his wearied
domestics, but use the present interval to search the abbey. He
proceeded to a large folding door on the west side, which he concluded
must have been the grand entrance; but he declined, for the present,
any further examination of the outside of the building; and turning to
the left, advanced to a folding door, deeply fixed within a Gothic
portal, which opening harshly to his efforts, let him, with
astonishment, into a long suite of rooms, which, notwithstanding their
silent, deserted, ruinous state, he was rejoiced to find might again
be rendered habitable, and in a little time even convenient and
comfortable.

They were eight in number, and still retained many remnants of
furniture, which, though covered with mildew and dust, and crumbling
to tatters, evidently witnessed the splendor of its former owner. He
was satisfied that these chambers would amply answer his present
wants, and rejoiced to find them in such a state as to make their
repair not only possible but easy.

Proceeding forward through this vast extent of chambers, Sir Thomas
felt that every former surmise of robbers was at an end, as he had as
yet met with not a single circumstance that could in any degree
confirm it. He was now hastening back to his family, who, should they
have awoke, might experience no inconsiderable alarm.

Having descended for this purpose, he found himself, as he turned on
the left, in a long but narrow gallery or passage; passing forward, he
opened with much labor several old doors, in hopes they would bring
him into a passage leading into the great hall or church; but they
only presented a number of weak and dangerous recesses, perhaps
formerly cells of the monastery, whose flooring was so much decayed,
and in some places fallen in, as to render further progress
impossible. Quitting the fruitless search, he proceeded to the extreme
end, where he met with a stronger door, which occasioned him no small
manual exercise to unclose, when, to his surprise, a violent scream
rung upon his ears; and, as he threw open the arched door, he beheld
his terrified party, who, awaked by the noise of his forcing of the
portal, had rushed into the arms of the men, to whom they clung,
shrieking for protection against nothing less than a legion of armed
spectres, whom their affrighted fancies had in an instant conjured
from their graves.

'I have,' said Sir Thomas, 'explored the chief apartments of the
abbey, and rejoice to find them every way beyond my expectations.
Workmen, and other necessary persons shall be instantly engaged for
the repair of this ancient and long-neglected mansion, which, as I
mean to make it perfectly habitable, I have now only to assure all
present, that the seat of my family has nothing to excite just terror,
or encourage misconceptions relating to beings that never had
existence.'

As soon as their small repast was ended, Sir Thomas desired Owen to
take one of the horses, and find the nearest way to the next town; for
a supply of food was become necessary. Sir Thomas went, followed by
Owen, round the southern angle of the abbey, where they had a full
view of a portal more ruinous than the one they had quitted, and which
presented a long and dreary continuation of those parts of the
building once dedicated to conventual occupation, and were now
crumbling into dust. 'Now,' said Sir Thomas, 'mount your horse, and
proceed down yonder avenue, which will conduct you to the next town;
and likewise inquire for one Norman Clare, who was steward to these
estates; explain to him my present situation, and that I require his
attendance; and give him full commission to engage such workmen as
shall be needful for the full repair.'

Owen immediately obeyed; and lashing his steed into a fast trot, soon
arrived within sight of a poor but neat-looking cottage, with a
venerable looking old man sitting beneath a spreading oak, who had
seen the intruder as he gallopped out of the forest, with surprise
strongly marked in his face. 'Pray,' said Owen, as he rode up to the
cottage, 'can you inform me if there be one Norman Clare living in
this neighbourhood?'

The old man started back with increased surprise, exclaiming, 'And
pray what is thy business with Norman Clare?' 'The simple-hearted Owen
entered into a full detail of his mission, adding, 'if such a person
as Norman was alive, his master, Sir Thomas, Lord of Fitz-Martin's
abbey and lands, demanded his assistance at the above named mansion.'

'If thou requirest to be acquainted with him, thou shalt not further
waste thy labor; for truly I am Norman Clare; and since I find thou
art real flesh and blood, thou shalt enter with me my lonely dwelling,
and welcome shalt thou be to share its homely fare.' Owen alighted
joyfully from his panting steed, and entered with his host the well-
arranged cottage. 'Here, good dame!' exclaimed Norman to his aged
partner, 'I have brought you a stranger, who, coming from the old
abbey yonder, must needs lack something to cheer his spirits.'

Owen then entered at large upon the whole of his late journey, and its
termination at the abbey.

'What!' cried Blanche, 'lie in such a place as the haunted abbey!
Mercy on us! friend, does your master know that it has not been
inhabited for more than an hundred years; and does he not know that
it is all over so full of goblins and spectres, that nobody will ever
set a foot near it? And, moreover, the ghost of Anna is seen every
night, walking down the great long aisles of the church up to the
altar, where it kneels till the clock strikes twelve, when it goes out
of the great doors, which fly open at its approach, and walks to the
great south tower, where it utters three loud shrieks; when the old
wicked Baron's ghost is forced to come, as soon as these are heard;
and Anna drives him with a fire-brand in one hand, and a dead child in
the other, all over the ruins, till they come to the chamber where the
Baron used to sleep after he treacherously got possession of the
abbey. Dismal yells, and dying groans, are then heard to echo through
all the apartments, and blazing lights thrown about the great north
bed-chamber, till the great turret clock, that has never for many a
weary long year been touched by mortal hands, tolls heavily two, and
sometimes three strokes upon the bell.'

'Nonsense, nonsense,' interrupted Norman, with a wink, meant to
silence the loquacity of Blanche, 'you see all these idle terrors are
done away. Did not Sir Thomas and his family sleep there last night,
and is not Mr Owen here alive to tell us so?' Poor Owen, a coward at
heart, sat trembling every joint as he listened to the extravagances
of Blanche, and gave implicit belief to all the wild incoherences she
tittered. At length, Owen, aided by a flaggon of ale, which inspired
him with something like resolution, once more braved the terrific
dangers of the abbey, and mounting his horse, (well stored with many
comforts provided by Norman,) he gallopped down the avenue leading
towards the abbey.

The next day, Norman, followed by a parcel of workmen, brought with
him all his paper accounts, and monies, the produce of the rents,
which he had faithfully hoarded up for the lord of the demesne
whenever he thought proper to claim it.

One half of the range of the west front in a month's time was rendered
perfectly safe; and having undergone a complete repair, the apartments
soon began to lose much of their desolate and forlorn appearance.
Three chambers were fitted up for the future residence of the steward;
but it was a work of long entreaty before Sir Thomas could prevail on
the venerable old Norman to take possession of them.

The lovely Rosaline (the Baron's only daughter) had at this period
arrived at the age of sixteen, and having no society, but the inmates
of the abbey, nor accustomed to any other, would dispense with the
forms of rank, and, seating herself by the brisk wood fire that blazed
on the hearth, listen attentively to the talkative Blanche's terrible
narratives of spectres and supernatural appearances.

Rosaline would, at times, anxiously attend to these dreadful stories;
as the tales of Blanche were generally terrific in the extreme, and
always finished with the history of the Baron and the nun; who, she
affirmed, still haunted the ruins of the abbey. The story of Sister
Anna had made a deep impression on her memory; and having often wished
for a clear and true account of what was the end of the unfortunate
nun, had determined to search among the ruins, in hopes that some
discoveries might be made, that would lead to a development of her
death. But as this enterprise could not so well be performed alone,
she made Jannette her confidant, who readily promised obedience.

As they proceeded from the abbey, Rosaline failed not to examine every
nook and corner that crossed her way. Sometimes she ventured up the
broken steps of a broken tower, whose lofty battlements no longer
reared their proud heads, that lay extended in the area. She ascended
the first story, and through the heavy arch had a full view of the
south tower. Rosaline bade Jannette observe it, and asked if she had
courage to enter it.--'Indeed, my lady,' she replied, 'I never behold
that tower, but it makes me tremble. It was there, they say, that poor
Anna was confined; and I dare hardly look at it. Besides, my lady, you
see it is more ruinous than this; nor is it safe to be approached.
Surely, Madam, you do not mean to make the trial?'

'If, as you say, that was the prison of poor Anna, it is there only I
may hope to find some documents relative to her fate. I am,
therefore, resolved to proceed. But for you, Jannette, stay where you
are: I shall not require a further attendance than your remaining
within hearing.'

Rosaline descended the broken steps, and proceeded towards the tower,
whilst Jannette, not daring to advance, stood trembling, entreating
her young lady to forego her dangerous enterprise: but Rosaline having
as yet found nothing to gratify her search, resolved not to yield to
the light fears of Jannette: she therefore proceeded, and arrived at
the full sight of the south tower: its black and frowning aspect,
together with its weak, tottering situation, at first aroused a
momentary feeling of terror; but youthful hope encouraged her to
venture, and she approached the old Gothic door, which gave her a
sight of an iron grating that was fixed in the wall.

To the left she beheld a flight of stairs that led to the upper
stories; but these were too weak to admit her ascent in safety to the
top; she therefore gave over the design, and turned again to the iron
grating. As she caught the first view of the alarming objects within,
her mind, unprepared for the sudden shock, endured a momentary
suspension, and she fell, nearly fainting, against the wall.

The power of calling for aid was gone, and, for a few seconds, she was
unable to support herself.

The terrific spectacle that had so powerfully affected Rosaline, as
she caught a view of the interior of this forlorn ruin, was a deep
narrow cell, whose walls were hung with mouldering trappings of black.
The only light that was admitted within, proceeded from an iron grate
fixed in the amazing thickness of the wall. Around this gloomy place
were fixed, in all directions, the horrific emblems of death; and
which ever way the desolate inhabitant of this dreary cell turned,
images of horror, shocking to nature, met the tortured view, in the
terrific state and eyeless sockets of the ghastly skull bones that
hung in grim appalling array. In the middle of the cell, upon a raised
pedestal, stood the mouldering relics of a coffin, which had been once
covered with a velvet pall, but which now hung in tatters down its
sides. At one corner was a small hillock, that appeared the sad
resting place of the distracted penitent; for that this was the severe
prison of penance and contrition, every superstitious emblem of
monkish torture that surrounded the walls plainly bore testimony of. A
crucifix, and broken hour-glass, still remained, covered with dust,
upon a small altar, beneath an arched recess; whilst the floor was
strewed with skulls and human bones.

After the first momentary shock had subsided, Rosaline arose, and
stood irresolute to proceed in researches. Her alarms were strong, but
her curiosity was, if possible, stronger. She felt she should never be
able voluntarily again to enter this tremendous place; and she debated
whether her courage would support her, should she pursue further the
daring adventure. 'Perhaps,' said she, 'this was, indeed, the final
end of the unhappy sister. Alas! poor unfortunate, this too, surely
was alike your prison, and the cause of your lingering death. Yet
wherefore am I thus anxious to solve the mystery of her death? Dare I
lift the pall from that horrific spectacle? What if my spirits fail
me, and I sink, overcome with dread, in this charnel house of death.
May not my senses forsake me in the trial? or is it not very likely
that terror may bereave me of my reason?--Shall I enter?'

Either her senses were indeed confused, or perhaps her mind, wrought
to a certain pitch, led her to fancy more than reality; for, as the
last word dropped from her lips, she started, and thought she heard it
feebly repeated by an unknown voice, which slowly pronounced, 'Enter!'

Rosaline trembled, and not exactly aware of her intentions, unfastened
the grate, and threw back the rattling chains that were hooked on the
staples without the cell. The grate opened with ease, and swung on its
hinges with little or no resistance; and Rosaline, with an imagination
distempered, and misled by the hopes of discovering something she came
in search of, that would repay her fears, descended the indented
declivity, and with trembling steps staggered two or three paces from
the grating; but again became irresolute, and terrified from her
purpose, she stopped.

'Dare I,' she faintly ejaculated, 'dare I raise the mysterious lid of
that horrific coffin?'

'Dare to do so!' replied a voice, that sounded hollow along the
dreaded vault; and Rosaline, whose terror now had suspended the
faculty of feeling, though not of life, actually moved towards the
coffin, as if performing some dreadful rite, that she found she had
not a power to resist.

Impelled with a notion of that superior agency which she dared not
disobey, and not exactly sensible of what she did, she fearfully cast
aside the lid, which, as she touched, fell crumbling to the ground;
and turning aside her head, her hand fell within the coffin; and in
her fright she grasped something moist and clammy, which she brought
away. Shrieking wildly, she rushed from the scene of terror, and
precipitating herself through the tower-gate, fell fainting into the
arms of Jannette; who, pale and terrified, called aloud for help, as
she supported her insensible lady.

Norman, who had long been impatient at the stay of his mistress, and
alarmed for her safety, was hastening down the ruins, when the cries
of Jannette assailed his ears, and had arrived at the scene of terror
as Rosaline began to open her eyes.

'Holy Virgin protect the lady,' he exclaimed. 'Hast thou seen any
thing? or do these pale looks proceed from some fall which may have
bruised thy tender form among the ruins?'

'Oh no, good Norman, not so,' feebly and wildly ejaculated Rosaline.
'The tower! the dreadful tower!'

'The tower! sayst thou, my' lady? Mercy on me! Have you been so hardy
as to venture into that dismal place!'

Rosaline, as she gradually recovered, felt a perfect recollection of
the late horrid scene, and recalling the awful voice she had heard,
which she doubted not proceeded from some supernatural agency, she no
sooner beheld Norman, than she darted towards her chamber, regardless
of the terrors of the old steward or Jannette.

As soon as she entered her room, she drew from the folds of her robe
the relics she had unknowingly grasped from the coffin. On
examination, it seemed to be some folded papers; but in so decayed a
condition, that they threatened to drop in pieces with the touch.

She carefully unfolded the parcel, and found it to contain the story
of the unfortunate Anna; but many of the lines were totally extinct,
and only here and there a few that could be distinguished.

At length, in another packet she discovered a more perfect copy of the
preceding ones, which, from the style of its writing, evidently proved
them to be the labor of some of the monks, who had, from the papers
discovered in the cell of her confinement, been enabled to trace the
truth of her melancholy story and sufferings, in which the Baron was
but too principally concerned.

Rosaline, retrimming her lamp, and seating herself nearer the table,
took up the monk's copy, and began, not without difficulty, to read
the melancholy story of The Bleeding Nun of St Catherine's. It was in
the reign of Edward the First, that, in an old dilapidated mansion,
lived the poor but proud Sir Emanfred, descended of an illustrious
house, whose noble progenitors had with the Conqueror settled in
England, upon the establishment of their royal master.

In the two succeeding centuries, however, great changes had taken
place, and many events had reduced the once powerful and splendid
ancestors of Sir Emanfred to little more than a military dependance.
The proud nature of the Knight shrunk from the consequences of the
total ruin of his house; and, indignant at the disgraceful and
humiliating change of his circumstances, he hastily quitted the gay
triumphs of the British court, because his fallen fortunes and wasted
patrimony no longer enabled him to vie, in the splendor of his
appearance and expenditure, with the rest of the nobles of the
kingdom. In the gloomy shades of his forsaken mansion, he buried
himself from all the joys of social intercourse: nor was his
melancholy habitation ever after disturbed by the sounds of festive
cheerfulness, or the smile of contentment. Morose in temper from his
disappointments of fortune, and too proud to stoop to such honorable
recourses, as might have in time procured for him the re-establishment
of his decayed house, he disdained all pecuniary acquirements, and
determined to build his hope of future greatness on an alliance of
his only child with the splendid and noble lord of Osmand. But the
lovely Anna, brought up in total seclusion, and unacquainted with the
manners of the world, happily free from the ambitious and haughty
passions of her stern sire, had unconsciously rendered obedience to his
commands impossible, and shrunk in horror from the dreaded proposal of
an union with Lord Osmand; for, alas! she had not a heart to bestow,
nor a hand to give away.' Anna, the beautiful and enchanting Anna,
whose years scarce numbered seventeen, had known the exquisite pain
and pleasures of a secret love; and, in the simple innocence of an
unsuspecting mind, had given her heart, her soul, her all to a--
Stranger.

Anna had never known a mother's tenderness, nor experienced a father's
sheltering protection; the artless dictates of her too susceptible
heart were her only guides and monitors; and, during the long absence
of her sire, her soul first felt the pleasing emotions of love for an
unknown but graceful Stranger, whom she had first beheld in the shades
of a melancholy but romantic wood, that adjoined equally her father's
domain, and the vast forest of St Catherine's monastery, where she had
often been accustomed to roam, and where she had first met the
fascinating Vortimer, who but too soon betrayed the unconscious maid
into a confession that his fervent love was not displeasing, and that
to him, and him only, she had resigned her heart, beyond even a wish
for its recall. The mind of Anna was incapable of restraining the
soft, thrilling ecstasies of a first infant passion. The Stranger
urged his suit with all the melting, all the prevailing, eloquence of
an enraptured lover, and all the outward blandishments of feeling and
sincerity. Unacquainted with the world's deceits, poor Anna listened
to his fervent vows with downcast, blushing timidity, and pleased
acceptance. Each secret meeting more firmly linked her chains: her
very soul was devoted to the Stranger, whom, as yet, she knew not by
any other title than the simple name of Vortimer.

In a moment fatally destructive to her repose, when love had blinded
reason, and the artless character of Anna but too successfully aided
the purposes of the Stranger, he obtained not only complete possession
of her affections, but of her person also.

At midnight, in the ruined chapel of Sir Emanfred's gloomy edifice,
the Stranger had prevailed on the innocent Anna to meet him, and
ratify his wishes. A monk of a distant convent waited in the chapel;
and the inauspicious nuptials were performed; and Anna became a bride,
without knowing by what title she must in future call herself.

Scarcely had three months of happiness and love passed over her head,
when a storm, dreadful and unexpected, threatened for ever to
annihilate the bright prospect of felicity.

The sudden arrival of a hasty messenger from the Knight alarmed the
trembling Anna; and scarce had she perused the purport of his arrival,
than with a faint shriek, and a stifled cry of agony, she fell to the
ground, as she feebly exclaimed, 'Lost, undone, and wretched Anna!
destruction and death await thee!'

The Stranger read the fatal paper that contained the harsh mandate of
his Anna's father: his brow became contracted, and his countenance
overcast with apparent gloom and sorrow, as he perused the unwelcome
information of the Knight's arrival, on the morrow, at his castle, to
celebrate the nuptials of his daughter with the lord of Osmand, who
accompanied him. For a time a gloomy silence pervaded his lips; and
Anna vainly cast her tearful, imploring eyes to him for succour and
protection. At length, starting from a deep reverie, he caught her in
his arms, as she was sinking to the ground, and kissing her cold and
quivering lips, bade her take comfort, and abide with patience the
arrival of her sire; adding, that in three weeks he would return, and
openly claim her as his wife; when the mystery that had so long
enveloped his name and title in secrecy should be unravelled, and his
adored Anna be restored to affluence and splendor. Again embracing
her, he hurried precipitately from the place; and Anna--the ruined,
hapless Anna--never saw him more--

* * * * *

Here many lines became defaced, as the ink had rotted through the
vellum, and all traces of writing were totally lost in mildew and
obscurity. At length she was able to continue as follows:

Ferocious rage filled the soul of the Knight, and darkened his
features, as prostrate at his feet lay, overwhelmed in grief and
tears, the imploring Anna. 'Spare me!' she cried, 'Oh, sire! spare
your wretched child--she cannot marry the lord of Osmand!'

Fury flashed in the eyes of the stern Sir Emanfred, on hearing these
words of his daughter. At length the burst of rage found vent, he
seized the arm of the trembling Anna, and placing her hand forcibly in
that of Sir Osmand's, commanded her to prepare herself, in three days,
to become his bride, or meet the curses of an angry father, and be
driven from his sight for ever.

Driven to despair, and now vainly calling on the mysterious Stranger
to shield her from the direful fate that awaited her, or the still
more dreadful vengeance of her unrelenting father, the hapless Anna
wildly flew to the gloomy wood, in the forlorn hope that there, once
more, she might behold the lord of all her love and fondest wishes. In
three weeks he had promised to reclaim her; but, alas! they had
already expired, and no Stranger had appeared. The fourth week of his
absence came: it passed away, but he came not; and now but three days
remained between her and her hateful nuptials. Wildly she wandered
through the gloomy wood, and vainly cast her eyes in hopeless anguish
on all around her: no Stranger met her sight: he came not to rescue
his forlorn bride from the rude grasp of impending misery and
destruction. Night came on; the hours passed away unheeded, yet still
she quitted not the solemn shades of the dreary grove. The bell of
midnight sounded; she started at the melancholy toll, and fear and awe
possessed her sickening fancy. She hurried through the wood, and
reached in silence her chamber; but sleep visited not the wretched
Anna.

Again, as the hour of suffering drew still nigher, she threw herself
in supplication before the gloomy Knight, and besought him to spare
her but one week longer, ere he linked her to misery and woe; hoping
by this delay to procure time for the Stranger, and give him yet
another chance, ere it was too late, to save her, and claim his
affianced bride. But, inexorably bent on the union of his child with
Lord Osmand, the Knight, in anger, cast her from his knees, and
threatened to overwhelm her with his most tremendous curses, if she
did not meet Lord Osmand at the altar before the sixth hour of the
early morrow had chimed upon the bell.

Poor Anna shrunk from the angry glances of the enraged Knight; despair
and anguish seized her soul. The Stranger never came; he had forgotten
his solemn vows, neglected his promise, and abandoned her to her fate.
Whither could she fly? How was she to avoid the choice of miseries
that equally pursued her? Either she must perjure her soul to false
oaths, or meet the dreadful alternative of a parent's dire
malediction.--Oh! whither, lost and wretched Anna! canst thou fly!

Upon the pillow of her tear-bedewed couch she vainly laid her head, to
seek a momentary oblivion of her sorrow in repose. Something lay upon
her pillow--It was a paper curiously folded.--With fearful, trembling
expectation she hastily opened the envelope, and read, 'The Stranger
guards his love; and though unseen, and yet forbidden, to reclaim his
lovely bride, now watches over her safety, and awaits the precious
moment when he shall hasten on the wings of love to restore his Anna
to happiness and liberty. If then she would preserve herself for her
unknown friend, let her instantly fly to the monastery of St
Catherine's, where she may remain in security till demanded by her
adoring VORTIMER.'

The unhappy maid perused the fatal lines with unsuspecting belief and
joyful ecstasy; and, in compliance with the Stranger's mysterious
warning, escaped at midnight from her father's mansion; and took
refuge in the cloisters of St Catherine.

The haughty lady abbess received the forlorn wanderer with cold
civility and suspicious scrutiny. The unfortunate Anna had, in the
simple innocence of her heart, confided to the superior her mournful
tale, nor left one circumstance untold that could excite her pity,
save her marriage with the Stranger, for whom she now began to feel
unusual fears, and dreadful forebodings of evil to herself; for a
month had glided away at the abbey, and yet he came not.

The Knight, with dreadful rage, discovered his daughter's flight; but
vainly sought again to restore her to his power. He never saw her
more; nor knew the sad conclusion of the unhappy Anna's destiny; who,
deceived and terrified by the threats, expostulations, and commands,
of the lady abbess, and the father confessors of the monastery, was at
length betrayed into her own destruction; for the merciless abbess
threatened to return her to her lord, and to her father, if she longer
refused to take the vow of monastic life.

Despair and horror now seized the suffering victim of bigotry and
paternal tyranny. Another and another month elapsed, and hope no
longer could support her--the cruel Stranger never came. At the gates
of her prison, she was told, waited her father, with a powerful band,
to force her from the abbey into the arms of a hated husband; and only
the alternative of instantly taking the veil, could save her from the
misery that pursued her. In a wild agony of terror, that had totally
bereft her of her reason, she faintly bade them save her from her
father's vengeance.

That instant the sacred, irrevocable vow was administered, and all its
binding forms complied with by the lost St Anna, who, in the terror of
her father, had for a moment forgot her previous engagements with the
Stranger--forgot that she must, in a little time, become, perhaps, a
wretched mother, and now was a still more wretched nun.

* * * * *

Here again the papers were totally useless, as Rosaline could only
make out here and there a word, by which it appeared, that the Baron
Fitzmartin had accused the order, with breaking the vow of celibacy.
At length she read as follows:

With difficulty he was prevailed upon to suspend his proceedings
against the abbey till the succeeding morrow, whilst the holy
sisterhood endured the most persecuting examination from the lady
abbess. No signs of guilt, however, were found; and the fathers,
rejoicing in their expected security, were debating on an ample
defiance to the Baron, when news was brought that Sister St Anna had
fallen senseless on the steps of the grand altar, and had been with
difficulty removed to her cell. Thither the abbess instantly hastened;
and as the insensible nun lay still reclined on her mattress, her
outer garment unlaced to admit of respiration, the disfigurement of
her person first forcibly struck the lady mother with suspicion. She
started, frowned; then looked again; conviction flashed upon her eyes;
and, regardless of pity for the still lifeless state of the hapless
Anna, she commanded all to quit the cell, and send instantly the
father abbot to her. The father hastily obeyed, and entered. The lady
abbess murmured in a hollow voice, as frowns of fury darted from her
now terrific countenance: 'Behold the guilty wretch that, with impious
sacrilege, hath defiled our holy sanctuary, and brought destruction on
the glory of our house's fame!--Say, holy father, how must we dispose
of the accursed apostate?'

Before the abbot could reply, the unfortunate Anna awoke from the
counterfeit of death's repose, and, wildly casting her eyes around her
cell, beheld the forms of her inveterate destroyers.

Their fierce and angry looks of dreadful inquiry were bent upon the
terrified nun, who, sickened with an unusual apprehension and dismay,
whilst the abbot, fixing on the trembling Anna an increasing look of
penetrating sternness, in a hollow, deep-toned voice, that sunk to her
appalled heart, thus exclaimed: 'What punishment too terrible can
await that guilty wretch who with sacrilege defiles our holy order?--
say, lost one of God, art thou not guilty?'

Sinking on her knees, of every hope of life bereft, the unhappy Anna
drooped her head to avoid the terrible scrutiny of truths pronounced,
and looks unanswerable. No chance of escape was left her; she dared
not prevaricate; and only with a groan of agony she feebly exclaimed--
'I am, indeed!--Have mercy, holy father, as you shall hereafter expect
to receive mercy from our heavenly Judge, on my involuntary crime!'
She then turned to the frowning abbess her beseeching eyes, and
piteously added, as she clung around her knees, 'Spare, oh gracious
mother, spare a repentant daughter!'

In the countenances of her terrific judges poor Anna read the horrid
mandate of her fate; for against the sacred order of the sisterhood
she had sinned beyond atonement by any other punishment than death--
Death the most horrible and excruciating! Vainly then she knelt, and
clung to the robe of the abbess; she had slandered with sacrilege the
purity of God's anointed house; its ministers and sacred devotees were
sullied with a stain, that only the blood of a victim could wash away.
Nor was the plea of marriage to a knight, who evidently never meant to
claim her, admitted as the slightest expiation of her perjured vows to
the abbey, and the disgrace she had brought on its sanctified inmates.
Her horrid crimes demanded instant punishment: and the dreadful
vengeance of the insulted members of the church could only be appeased
by the immediate extirpation of the heinous apostate. To dispose of
the unfortunate nun for ever, beyond the possibility of her being
produced as a living evidence of the Baron's censure, and the abbey's
shame, was now become an event absolutely necessary to the safety and
welfare of the order: the claims of mercy, or the melting pleadings of
pity, were alike disregarded for the stronger interest of the more
immediate triumph of the abbey over its avowed and implacable enemy:
and the father abbot, with the lady mother, having exhausted on the
lost fair one the dreadful thunders of the church's vengeance,
forcibly tore themselves from her distracted grasp, and prepared to
inflict the terrific punishments that awaited their despairing victim,
who, shrieking vainly for aid, and calling piteously on the Stranger
for rescue and protection from her horrid fate, was borne by the
tormentors from her cell to the dungeon of the south tower.

At the hour of midnight they dragged the miserable victim from her
bed, and deep in the horrific dungeons of the prison plunged the
distracted nun!--Groans, sighs, and shrieks, alternately rung echoing
round the rugged walls: the torturing horrors of famine awaited the
unfortunate nun; no pity alleviated her misery; and in the centre of
the place stood the coffin destined for her; whilst round the walls
and floor, in all directions, were strewed the ghastly ensigns of woe
and torment.

A faint glimmering lamp, suspended from the massy bars of the roof (as
if with a refinement of cruelty unequalled, to blast the sight of the
victim, and shut out every contemplation but her immediate fate)
served to shew her the horrors that overwhelmed her, and the terrific
engines of her tortures. The implements of confession were placed on
the lid of her coffin; for the fathers denied her even the last
consolation of absolution; but these she only in moments of short
intellect would use, when distracted sentences, and wild, unfinished
exclamations and appeals were all that it produced, sufficiently
depictive of the horrors of her fate.

Two days of lingering sufferings had passed, and the third was nearly
closed. Shut from life, and light, and every means of existence, the
pangs of hunger seized the frantic sufferer, and the perils of
premature childbirth writhed her anguished frame. Shrieks of despair
rang through the building, and echoed to the vault of heaven. Hark!
again that soul-appalling cry!--Inhuman fiends, is mercy dead within
you!--Is there no touch of pity in your obdurate souls!--And thou too,
remorseless betrayer of trusting innocence, hear ye not yon soul-
appalling cry of her thy fatal love has destroyed?--Hark! again she
calls on thy unpitying name; and now, in the bitterness of her soul's
sufferings, she curses thee, and imprecates heaven's just vengeance on
thy perjured head! Heaven hears the awful appeal!--it will avenge
thee, suffering Anna! Now sink to death appeased.--Again the
shrieks--Sure it is her last! The holy sisterhood, appalled, fly
wildly from the dreadful tower; but vainly supplicate the mercy of
their superiors for its dying inmate. Nature is exhausted, and hark,
again the groans grow fainter! Short-breathed murmurs proclaim the
welcome dissolution of life. The soul, though confined with the
suffering frame within the massy bars of her prison, at length has
burst its bonds--It mounts from death, and in a moment is freed for
ever. A short prayer addressed to the throne of mercy, releases the
sufferer, and wafts her soul from the persecution of the wicked. The
cruel strife has ceased--Poor Anna is at rest--her voice is heard no
more. In the coffin of penitence she laid her suffering form; perhaps,
it will never be removed from thence. Her guilty judges tremble at the
place, nor dare their unhallowed footsteps approach the sacred dust.

Again the papers were useless, but it seemed, by what she could make
out, that the haughty Baron triumphed over the Fathers of the Abbey,
to the entire seclusion of the order. At length she came to the
following passage, which concluded the manuscript.

The vengeance of heaven hung heavily over the conscience of the wicked
Baron, nor was he suffered ever after to partake of happiness. It was
on the third evening after his removal from his castle to the abbey he
had plundered, that, retiring earlier than usual to his unwelcome
couch, he tried in the arms of sleep to lose the remembrance of his
crimes, and the terrible vengeance they inflicted on his guilty
conscience. The sullen bell had tolled the hour of midnight ere he
could compose his mind to repose. On this night, however, unusual
restlessness pervaded his frame; nor could he for some time close in
forgetfulness his eye-lids. At length a kind of unwilling stupor
lulled for a moment his tortured spirits, and he slept. Not long did
the balmy deity await him: troubled groans of anguish sounded through
the apartment, and piercing shrieks rung bitterly in his ears.
Starting in horror, he wildly raised himself, half bent, on his couch,
and drew aside his curtains. The chamber was in total darkness, and
every taper seemed suddenly to have been extinguished. At that moment
the heavy bell of the abbey clock struck one. A freezing awe stole
over the senses of the Baron: he in vain attempted to call his
attendants; for speech was denied him; and a suspense of trembling
horror had chilled his soul. His blood ran cold to its native source;
his hair stood erect, and his countenance was distorted; for, as his
eyes turned wildly, he beheld, standing close to the side of his bed,
the pale figure of a female form, thinly clothed in the habiliments of
a nun, and bearing in one hand a taper, whilst the other arm supported
the ghastly form of a dead infant reclining on her breast. The
countenance of the figure was pale, wan, and horrible to behold; for
from its motionless eyes no spark of life proceeded; but they were
fixed in unmoving terrific expression on the appalled Baron. At length
a hollow-sounding voice pronounced through the closed lips of the
spectre, 'O false, false Vortimer! accursed and rejected of thy Maker!
knowest thou not the shadowy form that stands before thee? knowest
thou not thy wretched bride? seest thou not the murdered infant thou
hast destroyed?--From the deep bosom of immensity, the yawning horrors
of the grave, the spirit of St Anna comes to call for vengeance and
retribution; for know, the curses of her latest moments, when writhing
beneath the agonies, the torments of death, and devouring hunger, that
she then called upon thy head, were heard; and never shalt thou,
guilty wretch! enjoy one quiet moment more. My mangled form, as now
thou seest me, and dreams for ever of affright and terror, shall haunt
thy thoughts with horror; nor shall even the grave rescue thee from
the tortures I await to inflict.--Farewell--farewell till next we
meet. In the grove where first thy perjured soul won on my happy,
unsuspecting nature, and drew my youthful heart from parental duty and
obedience, there shalt thou again behold me!'

Suddenly the eyes of the spectre became animated--Oh! then what
flashes of appalling anger darted their orbits on the horrorstruck
Vortimer! three dreadful shrieks rung pealing through the chamber, now
filled with a blaze of sulphureous light. The spectre suddenly became
invisible, and the Baron fell senseless on his couch.



THE END



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