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Lorenzo promised reluctantly to conform to this decree: But He added that He hoped soon to obtain that consent which would give him a claim to the renewal of their acquaintance. He then explained to her why the Marquis had not called in person, and made no scruple of confiding to her his Sister's History. He concluded by saying that He hoped to set Agnes at liberty the next day; and that as soon as Don Raymond's fears were quieted upon this subject, He would lose no time in assuring Donna Elvira of his friendship and protection.
The Lady shook her head.
'I tremble for your Sister,' said She; 'I have heard many traits of the Domina of St. Clare's character, from a Friend who was educated in the same Convent with her. She reported her to be haughty, inflexible, superstitious, and revengeful. I have since heard that She is infatuated with the idea of rendering her Convent the most regular in Madrid, and never forgave those whose imprudence threw upon it the slightest stain. Though naturally violent and severe, when her interests require it, She well knows how to assume an appearance of benignity. She leaves no means untried to persuade young Women of rank to become Members of her Community: She is implacable when once incensed, and has too much intrepidity to shrink at taking the most rigorous measures for punishing the Offender. Doubtless, She will consider your Sister's quitting the Convent as a disgrace thrown upon it: She will use every artifice to avoid obeying the mandate of his Holiness, and I shudder to think that Donna Agnes is in the hands of this dangerous Woman.'
Lorenzo now rose to take leave. Elvira gave him her hand at parting, which He kissed respectfully; and telling her that He soon hoped for the permission to salute that of Antonia, He returned to his Hotel. The Lady was perfectly satisfied with the conversation which had past between them. She looked forward with satisfaction to the prospect of his becoming her Son-in- law; But Prudence bad her conceal from her Daughter's knowledge the flattering hopes which Herself now ventured to entertain.
Scarcely was it day, and already Lorenzo was at the Convent of St. Clare, furnished with the necessary mandate. The Nuns were at Matins. He waited impatiently for the conclusion of the service, and at length the Prioress appeared at the Parlour Grate. Agnes was demanded. The old Lady replied, with a melancholy air, that the dear Child's situation grew hourly more dangerous; That the Physicians despaired of her life; But that they had declared the only chance for her recovery to consist in keeping her quiet, and not to permit those to approach her whose presence was likely to agitate her. Not a word of all this was believed by Lorenzo, any more than He credited the expressions of grief and affection for Agnes, with which this account was interlarded. To end the business, He put the Pope's Bull into the hands of the Domina, and insisted that, ill or in health, his Sister should be delivered to him without delay.
The Prioress received the paper with an air of humility: But no sooner had her eye glanced over the contents, than her resentment baffled all the efforts of Hypocrisy. A deep crimson spread itself over her face, and She darted upon Lorenzo looks of rage and menace.
'This order is positive,' said She in a voice of anger, which She in vain strove to disguise; 'Willingly would I obey it; But unfortunately it is out of my power.'
Lorenzo interrupted her by an exclamation of surprize.
'I repeat it, Segnor; to obey this order is totally out of my power. From tenderness to a Brother's feelings, I would have communicated the sad event to you by degrees, and have prepared you to hear it with fortitude. My measures are broken through: This order commands me to deliver up to you the Sister Agnes without delay; I am therefore obliged to inform you without circumlocution, that on Friday last, She expired.'
Lorenzo started back with horror, and turned pale. A moment's recollection convinced him that this assertion must be false, and it restored him to himself.
'You deceive me!' said He passionately; 'But five minutes past since you assured me that though ill She was still alive. Produce her this instant! See her I must and will, and every attempt to keep her from me will be unavailing.'
'You forget yourself, Segnor; You owe respect to my age as well as my profession. Your Sister is no more. If I at first concealed her death, it was from dreading lest an event so unexpected should produce on you too violent an effect. In truth, I am but ill repaid for my attention. And what interest, I pray you, should I have in detaining her? To know her wish of quitting our society is a sufficient reason for me to wish her absence, and think her a disgrace to the Sisterhood of St. Clare: But She has forfeited my affection in a manner yet more culpable. Her crimes were great, and when you know the cause of her death, you will doubtless rejoice, Don Lorenzo, that such a Wretch is no longer in existence. She was taken ill on Thursday last on returning from confession in the Capuchin Chapel. Her malady seemed attended with strange circumstances; But She persisted in concealing its cause: Thanks to the Virgin, we were too ignorant to suspect it! Judge then what must have been our consternation, our horror, when She was delivered the next day of a stillborn Child, whom She immediately followed to the Grave. How, Segnor? Is it possible that your countenance expresses no surprize, no indignation? Is it possible that your Sister's infamy was known to you, and that still She possessed your affection? In that case, you have no need of my compassion. I can say nothing more, except repeat my inability of obeying the orders of his Holiness. Agnes is no more, and to convince you that what I say is true, I swear by our blessed Saviour, that three days have past since She was buried.'
Here She kissed a small crucifix which hung at her girdle. She then rose from her chair, and quitted the Parlour. As She withdrew, She cast upon Lorenzo a scornful smile.
'Farewell, Segnor,' said She; 'I know no remedy for this accident: I fear that even a second Bull from the Pope will not procure your Sister's resurrection.'
Lorenzo also retired, penetrated with affliction: But Don Raymond's at the news of this event amounted to Madness. He would not be convinced that Agnes was really dead, and continued to insist that the Walls of St. Clare still confined her. No arguments could make him abandon his hopes of regaining her: Every day some fresh scheme was invented for procuring intelligence of her, and all of them were attended with the same success.
On his part, Medina gave up the idea of ever seeing his Sister more: Yet He believed that She had been taken off by unfair means. Under this persuasion, He encouraged Don Raymond's researches, determined, should He discover the least warrant for his suspicions, to take a severe vengeance upon the unfeeling Prioress. The loss of his Sister affected him sincerely; Nor was it the least cause of his distress that propriety obliged him for some time to defer mentioning Antonia to the Duke. In the meanwhile his emissaries constantly surrounded Elvira's Door. He had intelligence of all the movements of his Mistress: As She never failed every Thursday to attend the Sermon in the Capuchin Cathedral, He was secure of seeing her once a week, though in compliance with his promise, He carefully shunned her observation. Thus two long Months passed away. Still no information was procured of Agnes: All but the Marquis credited her death; and now Lorenzo determined to disclose his sentiments to his Uncle. He had already dropt some hints of his intention to marry; They had been as favourably received as He could expect, and He harboured no doubt of the success of his application.
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The Monk -by- Matthew Lewis