How she fought with these powers now!
She fought with them, struggled with them on her knees. She tried to crush memory, tried to forget that awful midnight scene ten years ago, her brother’s dead body, her father’s avenging hand holding her own, as he begged her to do that, which he was too feeble, too old to accomplish.
His words rang in her ears from across that long vista of the past.
“Before the face of Almighthy God, who sees and hears me, I swear...”
And she had repeated those words loudly and of her own free will, with her hand resting on her brother’s breast, and God Himself looking down upon her, for she had called upon Him to listen.
“I swear that I will seek out Paul Deroulede, and in any manner which God may dictate to me encompass his death, his ruin, or dishonour in revenge for my brother’s death. May my brother’s soul remain in torment until the final Judgment Day if I should break my oath, but may it rest in eternal peace, the day on which his death is fitly avenged.”
Almost it seemed to her as if father and brother were standing by her side, as she knelt and prayed.—Oh! how she prayed!
In many ways she was only a child. All her years had been passed in confinement, either beside her dying father or, later, between the four walls of the Ursuline Convent. And during those years her soul had been fed on a contemplative, ecstatic religion, a kind of sanctified superstition, which she would have deemed sacrilege to combat.
Her first step into womanhood was taken with that oath upon her lips; since then, with a stoical sense of duty, she had lashed herself into a daily, hourly remembrance of the great mission imposed upon her.
To have neglected it would have been, to her, equal to denying God.
She had but vague ideas of the doctrinal side of religion. Purgatory was to her merely a word, but a word representing a real spiritual state—one of expectancy, of restlessness, of sorrow. And vaguely, yet determinedly, she believed that her brother’s soul suffered, because she had been too weak to fulfil her oath.
The Church had not come to her rescue. The ministers of her religion were scattered to the four corners of besieged, agonising France. She had no one to help her, no one to comfort her. That very peaceful, contemplative life she had led in the convent, only served to enhance her feeling of the solemnity of her mission.
It was true, it was inevitable, because it was so hard.
To the few who, throughout those troublous times, had kept a feeling of veneration for their religion, this religion had become one of abnegation and martyrdom.
A spirit of uncompromising Jansenism seemed to call forth sacrifices and renunciation, whereas the happy-go-lucky Catholicism of the past century had only suggested an easy, flowered path, to a comfortable, well-upholstered heaven.