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CHAPTER III.

And soon the Lady Isolda entered was habited in the usual dret Sisters of the Order of St. Bern21-3 aning flowing robe of white serge, vil aurpes sleeves, and black facings, 26 the an stiff gorget of white linek, vr.1 i 25 hood of black cloth fastened it u krte head. No ornament disle:11:16 from the community Orie presided, except a heavy 206 vagas ring of the same metal.

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The prior, who was seated, rose from his chair as he perceived her entrance, and, with a slight inclination of the body, uttered a gentle “Benedicite.” The lady abbess replied, “ Save you, my father.” After a very deep curtsey, with her hands folded upon her breast, she moved forward towards a sort of chair of state, carved in oak, and placed opposite a small table. She then pointed to a stool near her right hand.

The prior took his seat; and these very simple movements were all performed with a stiffness and gravity, in which each seemed to vie with the other as to the proper degree of rigidity to be observed. The abbess was

a woman who had passed her sixtieth year, but the prior, in craft and acuteness, more than doubled her age. The Lady Isolda had not much craft, but she had faith, and fanaticism, and superstition to a marvellous degree. Her reverence for the prior was unboundedher fear of his displeasure incredible. As he hastily scanned the demure countenance before him, Father Thomas saw that the abbess was sorely troubled; but his inti

mate acquaintance with the petty nature of her griefs in general might account for the slightly derisive air of resignation with which he awaited their disclosure, for in courtesy he did not permit himself to be the first to speak. The Lady Isolda sighed, then cast her meek eyes to heaven, then replaced her rosary within the folds of her dress. At length she said,

“ Reverend father, forgive me if I have thus soon again disturbed you ; but a heavy sorrow has fallen upon my heart, and, woe is me! a disgrace to our house may be the consequence.”

“My sister,” replied the prior, gravely, “in a well-ordered community - in one where the fear of God and the love of the holy church are the sole guides of those who rule, such frequent transgressions should not be found in those who obey. It was but last week that sister Cunegonda received four-and-twenty stripes, for robbing the hen-roost and regaling herself with fresh eggs upon a solemn day of fast. The week before last sister Agatha did penance, for three days and nights, for having secreted a ribbon of gold thread, intended

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for the new petticoat of our Blessed Lady ; while, if I remember aright, a short time previously, sisters Martha and Edelgitha said forty Aves and fifteen Credos for their spite to the poor lay-sisters, whom they served with salt instead of sugar, in their confectionary, at the high feast of Saint Augustine. Now, with all due respect, holy mother-blessed sister in the Lord-I must believe that were due discipline enforced, such grievous fallings away could not so often recur. Peradventure you have been lax in your authority, my sister ;-your kind heart may have misled you. Speak! is it so ?

“ Holy father,” replied the abbess, who had listened with a flushed cheek and downcast look, “your last words to me, a poor servant of God, were · Sister, I charge you be vigilant.' I have not forgotten them, my father ;"—and she raised her eyes

with a timid and respectful air to the face of the prior.

“Yea, my sister, you are right-vigilance was indeed my last word, as it is ever my first thought. By it many an error is avoided, many a sorrow spared; it

is verily a safeguard - a watch-tower to the weakness of our souls."

Weakness, but not wickedness; not premeditated sin,” ejaculated the abbess, with a look of devout horror : “ against weakness, my father, who shall guard? Oh! it is grievous to dwell among such misguided spirits—poor sinners though we are ! But we must punish, for we seek to serve the Lord.” And she folded her hands with a penitent and deprecating air; for the lady abbess was a pattern woman, and dreaded the imputation of even an ungodly thought.

The prior looked calmly at the abbess; her hard gray eye, unshaded by eyelash, was dilated and angry; and she turned the beads of her rosary rapidly round and round. Father Thomas had never before seen her so agitated: but as she was not usually very concise of speech, he forbore to question her; and she went on.

“Verily the backslidings of our flocks are as thorns in our sides; they peril their wretched souls like children at play, and we try to save them in vain. They set our counsels at naught, and bid defiance

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