She was only eighteen when she first entered the convent, directly after her father’s death, when she felt very lonely—both morally and mentally lonely—and followed by the obsession of that oath.
She never spoke of it to anyone except to her confessor, and he, a simple-minded man of great learning and a total lack of knowledge of the world, was completely at a loss how to advise.
The Archbishop was consulted. He could grant a dispensation, and release her of that most solemn vow.
When first this idea was suggested to her, Juliette was exultant. Her entire nature, which in itself was wholesome, light-hearted, the very reverse of morbid, rebelled against this unnatural task placed upon her young shoulders. It was only religion—the strange, warped religion of that extraordinary age—which kept her to it, which forbade her breaking lightly that most unnatural oath.
The Archbishop was a man of many duties, many engagements. He agreed to give this strange “cas de conscience” his most earnest attention. He would make no promises. But Mademoiselle de Marny was rich: a munificent donation to the poor of Paris, or to some cause dear to the Holy Father himself, might perhaps be more acceptable to God than the fulfilment of a compulsory vow.
Juliette, within the convent walls, was waiting patiently for the Archbishop’s decision at the very moment, when the greatest upheaval the world has ever known was beginning to shake the very foundations of France.
The Archbishop had other things now to think about than isolated cases of conscience. He forgot all about Juliette, probably. He was busy consoling a monarch for the loss of his throne, and preparing himself and his royal patron for the scaffold.
The Convent of the Ursulines was scattered during the Terror. Everyone remembers the Thermidor massacres, and the thirty-four nuns, all daughters of ancient families of France, who went so cheerfully to the scaffold.
Juliette was one of those who escaped condemnation. How or why, she herself could not have told. She was very young, and still a postulant; she was allowed to live in retirement with Petronelle, her old nurse, who had remained faithful through all these years.
Then the Archbishop was prosecuted and imprisoned. Juliette made frantic efforts to see him, but all in vain. When he died, she looked upon her spiritual guide’s death as a direct warning from God, that nothing could relieve her of her oath.
She had watched the turmoils of the Revolution through the attic window of her tiny apartment in Paris. Waited upon by faithful Petronelle, she had been forced to live on the savings of that worthy old soul, as all her property, all the Marny estates, the dot she took with her to the convent—everything, in fact—had been seized by the Revolutionary Government, self appointed to level fortunes, as well as individuals.