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Thus did the anxious Cécile endeavour to minister to poor Mabel Hawthorne's last earthly sufferings, and to dispel the terrors which were closing fast upon her death-bed. For some time longer was the whispered dialogue continued, but in tones so low as to render it inaudible to all around; and then, either through physical debility or by the virtue of some inward consolation duly received, the fitful excitement of the dying girl subsided into a serener mood. Miss Basinstoke, who was herself well-nigh exhausted, was now prevailed upon by the nurse to retire for a few minutes into the fresher atmosphere of the adjoining room, and St. Edmunds took the same opportunity of noiselessly withdrawing from the sick chamber. He allowed, however, a few minutes to elapse before he would interrupt the silent course of her solemn reflections.
“It must be a great satisfaction to you, Miss Basinstoke,” he then whispered, “ to witness the success of your efforts to calm and soothe in this awful hour.”
“It is indeed an awful hour," replied Cécile, “and struggle, and hope, and believe as we may,
it is a longing, lingering look still that will be cast behind. Perhaps you have never assisted at a death-bed before ?”
"It is a scene which reveals much that nothing else in life will disclose.”
“I have, in truth, learnt much to-day, Miss Basinstoke, and never as yet has it so forcibly occurred to me that death may well be the beginning rather than the end.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Cécile, fixing her inspired eye full upon the countenance of the youthful speaker, " tell that to Edward when next you meet him, and ask him how it is that the nearer the final goal is approached, the more boundless will show the expanse beyond it. What do you think would have been the response of that poor girl's native and untaught impulse, if I had attempted to persuade her just now that death was the dissolution of
Another interval of silence ensued, and it was again broken by our hero.
“You spoke with marvellous authority, Miss Basinstoke."
“ Authority ?” replied she, “no, not with
authority, but perhaps with the sincerity of faith. Would you require yonder sufferer to pronounce, with those mental faculties now on the very verge of extinction, whether Calvin be more orthodox than Arminius, or Socinus less clearly borne out than Luther by the more plausible interpretation of the text ? Would it be a great consolation for her now to learn, that her creed has been cunningly shaped and fashioned to the prejudices and passions of a nation, or will she not rather call for that visible sacrament which embodies the uncompromising tradition of Catholic belief ?”
“There is doubtless much, very much, in what you say, Miss Basinstoke; and still, I am sure that you will excuse me for observing that solace might also be derived from hearing, at such a moment, some of the more appropriate passages of Holy Writ.”
“No doubt,” responded Cécile, “and though my heart might fail me whilst making the dread selection, I should not until now have deferred the performance of that duty, had I deemed that no other ministration than mine would be granted. But stay, I think I hear the sound of an approaching horse without. It is, it must be he!” exclaimed she, fervently clasping her hands; "oh! this is a mercy indeed !".
Cécile was not mistaken: within a few minutes, the tall figure of the long-expected Father Athanasius darkened the narrow threshold of the cottage. There, Miss Basinstoke met him, and at once seizing his proffered hand, conducted him first to the corner of the room, where Mr. Lewis had been patiently awaiting his arrival. The greeting exchanged between the two churchmen, though distant and reserved, was by no means uncourteous. Both had been members, first of the same university, then of the same Church; and if there was something more stern and compressed in the manner and countenance of the Romish priest, perhaps this might be partly accounted for as the consequence of the altered bearing towards him, since his secession, of many of his former friends and associates. The conference was an earnest but very short one, after which Mr. Lewis retired, and Father Athanasius proceeded, with Cécile, towards the sick chamber. At the door, she paused, and after having exchanged a few words with her confessor, she turned towards St. Edmunds and said to him :
“ You can come with us, if you please, but I presume that you would rather not.”
Our hero, though somewhat perplexed, finally assented to the latter view, and every one else having fully shared his scruples, with the exception of Mr. Bolus, who thought it his duty not to leave the death-bed, the last solemn ceremony was performed with no other witnesses than he and Cécile.
At the end of about a quarter of an hour, Miss Basinstoke re-appeared, and requested Mrs. Hawthorne's attendance. The door having remained open behind them, St. Edmunds could see the priest raising poor Mabel in her bed, that she might embrace her step-mother, after which the death-stricken form was suffered to relapse into its former position ;—but soon the nurse was anxiously summoned. As she passed the door, she gently closed it, and for the space of about ten minutes, no further tidings from within reached the outer room. Then Mrs. Hawthorne re-issued first, pressing her handkerchief to her eyes; then Cécile followed, looking very pale, but perfectly composed ; and then Mr. Bolus himself, with his great coat on, and his hat in his hand :