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to the grating, and awaited patiently the solemn scene.
When the hazy beam of the sun mingled itself with the light of the naming tapers, the Bishop, in a robe stiff with gold, and covered with the insignia of his holy office, entered the chancel by the private door; two boys preceded him, swinging censers of burning incense, and chanting in a low, monotonous voice. Six priests followed in his train, their heads meekly bowed, their arms folded on their chests, and each in turn prostrating himself before the cross. High mass was then performed with all its imposing ceremony—distant, unseen choirs joining, from the interior of the convent. As the sound of the bell which announces the elevation of the host ceases, the folding doors within the grating of the return are thrown open, and the postulants enter with a measured step. They are clothed from head to foot in white, and chaplets of white roses are wreathed in their hair. Sixty nuns, two and two, follow in solemn procession, covered with black robes; each bears a lighted taper, and an open book of prayer in her hands. As they enter, they chant the hymn to the Virgin, and range themselves along the walls, thirty of a side; their
voices swelling like a moaning wind, and echoing sadly from the vaulted roof.
The two postulants advance up the centre of the return, near to the grating, bow to the host, and are exhorted by the Bishop; while he speaks they sink on their knees, and remain still. Four sisters carry in the veil, a pall of crape and velvet. While they bear it round, each nun bends to the ground as it passes; it is then placed near the postulants, and the priests perform a service like that of the burial of the dead. The thirty dark statues on either side give the responses in a fixed key, of intensely mournful intonation, unlike the voice of living woman. I almost fancy those sombre figures are but some piece of cunningly contrived machinery. But, under each black shroud, there throbs a human heart. School them as you may—crush every tender yearning the young bosom feels—break the elastic spirit—chase love, and hope, and happiness from the sacred temple of the mind, and haunt its deserted halls with superstition's ghosts—bury them in the convent's gloomy walls, where the dull round of life scarce rises above somnambulism—still, still under each black shroud will throb the human heart.
The postulants receive the sacrament, then, one rises, advances close to the grating, and kneels down before a small open lattice; she throws aside her veil; and, looking calmly at the Host which the Bishop holds before her eyes, repeats the vows after his dictation, in a quiet, indifferent tone. Hers is a pale, sickly, vacant countenance; no experience of joy or sorrow has traced it with lines of thought. Of weak intellect, bred up from infancy within these walls, hers seems no change, no sacrifice; it is only like putting chains upon a corpse. Two of the dark sisters stand behind her; as the last vow is spoken the white veil is lifted from her head, and the black shroud thrown over her.
The second now comes forward: she is on her knees, her face uncovered. How white it is! white as the new-fallen snow outside. She is young, has seen perhaps, some one-and-twenty years, but they have treated her very roughly: where the seeds of woe were sown, the harvest of despair is plentiful—stamped on every feature. And the voice—I never can forget that voice— there was no faltering; it was high and clear as the sound of a silver bell; but oh, how desolate, as it spoke the farewell to the world! It is over—the symbol of her sacrifice covers her; she sinks down; there seems but a heap of dark drapery on the ground, but it quivers convulsively.
The pealing organ, and the chorus of cold sad voices, drown the sobs, but under the black shroud there throbs the human heart, as if that heart would break.
After the Te Deum has been sung, the Bishop delivers an address, in an earnest and eloquent manner, summing up the duties the veil imposes, and praying for Heaven's holiest blessing on this day's offering. The two devoted ones rise,walk slowly to the first nun, make a lowly obeisance, then kiss her forehead, and so on with all in succession; each, as she receives the new comer's greeting, saying :— "Welcome, sister."
Then, by the same door by which they had entered, they go out two and two, the youngest last, and we see them no more. Farewell, sister!
I have since been told the supposed cause of the last of these two novices taking the veil: though it is but a common-place story, it is not without interest to me, who saw her face that day. If you care to know it, it is as follows. Her father was a merchant of English descent. Her mother, a French-Canadian, had died many years previously, leaving her and two younger daughters, who were brought up in the Roman Catholic religion. She devoted all her time and interest to give her little sisters whatever of accomplishments and education she had herself been able to attain. Her face was very pleasing, though not beautiful; her figure light and graceful; and she possessed that winning charm of manner with which her mother's race is so richly gifted.
Her father was occupied all day long with his business; when he returned home of an evening, it was only to sleep in an old arm-chair by the fireside. She had no companions, and was too much busied with her teaching, and household affairs, to mix much in the gaieties of the adjoining town, but she was always sought for; besides her good, kind heart, winning ways, and cheerful spirit, an aunt of her father's had left her a little fortune, and she was looked on quite as an heiress in the neighbourhood. The young gentlemen always tried to appear to their greatest advantage in her presence, and to make themselves as agreeable as possible. She was, perhaps, the least degree spoilt by this, and sometimes tossed her little head, and shook her long black ringlets quite haughtily; but every one that knew her, high and low, liked her in spite of that, and she deserved it.