I felt that my chance of hearing Mother Martha’s story would be a poor one indeed, if I allowed her to begin a fresh string of questions. Accordingly, I dismissed the inquiries about the clergy of the Established Church with the most irreverent briefness, and recalled her attention forthwith to the subject of the wooden cross.
“Yes, yes,” said the good-natured nun; “surely you shall hear all I can tell you about it; but—” she hesitated timidly, “but I must ask the Mother Superior’s leave first.”
Saying these words, she summoned the portress, to my great amusement, to keep guard over the inestimable Correggio in her absence, and left the room. In less than five minutes she came back, looking quite happy and important in her innocent way.
“The Mother Superior,” she said, “has given me leave to tell all I know about the wooden cross. She says it may do you good, and improve your Protestant opinion of us Catholics.”
I expressed myself as being both willing and anxious to profit by what I heard; and the nun began her narrative immediately.
She related it in her own simple, earnest, minute way; dwelling as long on small particulars as on important incidents; and making moral reflections for my benefit at every place where it was possible to introduce them. In spite, however, of these drawbacks in the telling of it, the story interested and impressed me in no ordinary degree; and I now purpose putting the events of it together as skillfully and strikingly as I can, in the hope that this written version of the narrative may appeal as strongly to the reader’s sympathies as the spoken version did to mine.
One night, during the period of the first French Revolution, the family of Francois Sarzeau, a fisherman of Brittany, were all waking and watching at a late hour in their cottage on the peninsula of Quiberon. Francois had gone out in his boat that evening, as usual, to fish. Shortly after his departure, the wind had risen, the clouds had gathered; and the storm, which had been threatening at intervals throughout the whole day, burst forth furiously about nine o’clock. It was now eleven; and the raging of the wind over the barren, heathy peninsula still seemed to increase with each fresh blast that tore its way out upon the open sea; the crashing of the waves on the beach was awful to hear; the dreary blackness of the sky terrible to behold. The longer they listened to the storm, the oftener they looked out at it, the fainter grew the hopes which the fisherman’s family still strove to cherish for the safety of Francois Sarzeau and of his younger son who had gone with him in the boat.
There was something impressive in the simplicity of the scene that was now passing within the cottage.