“You know that this is Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas,” said the abbess.
“Is it? I did not know, I have taken no note of time.”
“And to-morrow is Sunday, the last Sunday before Christmas.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Daughter, you have not been to chapel once since your arrival among us.”
“Ah, no! I came from the infirmary here, and I have not left this room to go anywhere since!” sighed Salome.
“That is not because you are not able to do so, but because you are not willing. You have allowed yourself to sink into a sinful and dangerous lethargy of mind and body in which you have brooded morbidly over your afflictions. You must do so no longer. You must rouse yourself from this moment. You must go with us to-night to vespers. To-morrow morning you will attend high mass. A fellow-countryman of yours, Father F——, an Oratorian priest from Norwood, England, will preach. He will do you good. Since the days of St. John, the beloved disciple, no wiser, more loving, or more eloquent soul ever spoke to sinners,” said the abbess.
“But—coming from England!—If he should recognize me!” exclaimed Salome.
“Why, do you know him?”
“Oh, no, not at all; but then there are sometimes people with whom we have no sort of acquaintance, who yet know us by sight from seeing us in public places, or meeting us on public occasions.”
“That is very true, my child; but you need have no fear of being recognized by the officiating priest to-morrow, whoever he may be, for you will sit with us behind the screen.”
“Thanks, dear mother; I will go with you this very evening.”
“You are a good and obedient child. Receive my benediction,” said the mother-superior, rising.
Salome bent her head, and the abbess solemnly blessed her, and then withdrew from the room.
THE SOUL’S STRUGGLE.
That same evening, while the vesper bells were ringing, Salome dressed herself, and, leaning on the arm of the mother-superior headed the procession of the sisterhood as they marched to the chapel and took their seats in the recess behind the screen, which was so cunningly devised, that, while it afforded the nuns a full view of the altar, the priests, the interior of the pews and the whole congregation, it effectually concealed the forms and faces of the sisterhood seated within it.
Father Francois, the confessor of the convent, officiated at the altar.
A rustic congregation of the faithful filled the pews in the body of the church. They came from farm-houses and villages in the immediate neighborhood of the convent.
The vesper hymn was raised by the nuns.
Salome joined in singing it. She had a rich, sweet, clear soprano voice.
Many were the heads in the rustic assemblage that turned to listen to the new singer in the nuns’ choir.