“See, Alice, if he won’t come,” he resumed, “you must only write your confession to him in full—you and Una. Laurence is trusty, and will carry it—and we’ll get the bishop’s—or, if need be, the Pope’s leave for him to give you absolution. I’ll move heaven and earth, but you shall have the sacraments, poor children!—and see him. I’ve been a wild fellow in my youth, and never pretended to sanctity; but I know there’s but one safe way—and—and—keep you each a bit of this—(he opened a small silver box)—about you while you stay here—fold and sew it up reverently in a bit of the old psaltery parchment and wear it next your hearts—’tis a fragment of the consecrated wafer—and will help, with the saints’ protection, to guard you from harm—and be strict in fasts, and constant in prayer—I can do nothing—nor devise any help. The curse has fallen, indeed, on me and mine.”
And Alice, saw, in silence, the tears of despair roll down his pale and agitated face.
This adventure was also a secret, and Una was to hear nothing of it.
Now Una, nobody knew why, began to lose spirit, and to grow pale. Her fun and frolic were quite gone! Even her songs ceased. She was silent with her sister, and loved solitude better. She said she was well, and quite happy, and could in no wise be got to account for the lamentable change that had stolen over her. She had grown odd too, and obstinate in trifles; and strangely reserved and cold.
Alice was very unhappy in consequence. What was the cause of this estrangement—had she offended her, and how? But Una had never before borne resentment for an hour. What could have altered her entire nature so? Could it be the shadow and chill of coming insanity?
Once or twice, when her sister urged her with tears and entreaties to disclose the secret of her changed spirits and demeanour, she seemed to listen with a sort of silent wonder and suspicion, and then she looked for a moment full upon her, and seemed on the very point of revealing all. But the earnest dilated gaze stole downward to the floor, and subsided into an odd wily smile, and she began to whisper to herself, and the smile and the whisper were both a mystery to Alice.
She and Alice slept in the same bedroom—a chamber in a projecting tower—which on their arrival, when poor Una was so merry, they had hung round with old tapestry, and decorated fantastically according to their skill and frolic. One night, as they went to bed, Una said, as if speaking to herself——
“’Tis my last night in this room—I shall sleep no more with Alice.”
“And what has poor Alice done, Una, to deserve your strange unkindness?”
Una looked on her curiously, and half frightened, and then the odd smile stole over her face like a gleam of moonlight.
“My poor Alice, what have you to do with it?” she whispered.