Chapter 10: Lucilla

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THOUGH from the time that our new neighbors came to "Verney" I had been a more or less frequent visitor, to sleep under its roof, and for a few days at least to be considered one of the family was a new and, I must own, not quite such a delightful experience as I had pictured to myself.
Madame Johns and Greta were really very kind to me, but Madame was almost constantly engaged in superintending preparations for the visitors who were to arrive a day or two later; and Greta spent the greater part of her time in the church, which, she told me, Father Jacques had, as a great favor, given her leave to help him to decorate. Lucilla had been at home nearly a week, but we saw very little of her as, though not a nun, or even a novice, she considered herself bound by convent rules, and spent the greater part of her time in her own room, seldom joining the family even at meals.
I felt from the first that she looked coldly upon me; afterward, I remembered, she did not even offer her hand when I was introduced by Greta; she seldom spoke when I was in the room, and if I happened to be near her she would draw her dress away as if she feared some injury from my touch. I was at a loss to find a reason for such strange behavior on her part, but a fragment of a conversation between Julie and her, which, without intending to do so, I overheard, threw some light on the subject.
Lucilla, attended by the maid, had been to an early service in the church. I, too, had risen early, for our poultry-yard I knew had, notwithstanding Greta's promise of help, been left mainly in my care. I was busy among the hens and chickens as they passed the hedge that separated our garden from a footpath leading to the main road. They did not observe me, and I heard Lucilla say, "I cannot understand it! It seems so strange that my parents should have allowed Greta to choose as her friend a little heretic, the daughter, too, of one who never loses an opportunity of spreading his dangerous opinions. He will talk of God, of Christ, of faith and salvation, and even quote the words of Holy Scripture to deceive and mislead the poor, ignorant people he visits. He even told a dying man that he must ask God, not the priest, for the forgiveness of his sins.”
“But my young lady," replied Julie, "has great hopes of her conversion." They passed on, and I stood still, heedless of the rain and sleet of the dull December morning. I felt as if I had been guilty in having listened to what was not intended for my ears; and yet I did not feel that I could repeat it to any one. Oh, how at that moment I longed for my mother. If she knew all that I could have told her, I felt sure she would not have allowed her children to remain at "Verney." Greta would, I knew, expect me to go to church with her on Christmas morning, but would they really force me there against my will?
At that moment a servant from the house came to call me to breakfast. Madame Johns, as usual, took that meal in her own room, but when it was over I received a message that she wished to see me there. I went, having, I thought, fully made up my mind to beg her not to compel me to attend church on the day following; but when I entered, the sight of her grave face, and an open letter in her hand, turned my thoughts into another channel. She looked at me pityingly, and said, “Christine, I have bad news for you. A messenger has just brought me
She found your father much worse than she expected. He was in a high fever, and as there was no one else to nurse him, she may be obliged to remain for two or three weeks, at least until the crisis of the disease is past. You and Casper will, of course, remain at "Verney" during her absence. Your mother sends her love, and hopes you will be good, obedient children.”
I was weeping bitterly. I loved my father dearly, and the thought that he was very ill and might even die and I never see him again seemed, as indeed it was, the sharpest sorrow I had ever known. Madame was silent for a few moments, then said, “Christine, I trust you not to forget your mother desires that you should be obedient. Remember, you are with friends, and though some things may seem strange to you, everything you are asked to do will be for your good, and for the health of your soul.”
I did not understand her words, but I was too unhappy to ask any questions. She then bade me send Julie to her, adding that she was already late, as three hours later she had an important engagement to keep in Prague with a friend who would, in the afternoon, return with her to "Verney.”
On leaving Madame’s room I went in search of Greta. She noticed my tearstained face, and did her best to comfort me. I found courage to say to her, "I shall not be forced to attend your church to-morrow, shall I?" She was silent for a few moments, but her cheeks glowed crimson, and there was a strange, angry light in her eyes that reminded me of that never-to-be-forgotten day in the woods when I had taken my first step Rome-ward. At last she said sharply, “Who said a word about forcing you to do anything against your will? You have no need to trouble. Your father is sick, your mother left you and Casper in the care of my parents, so for the time being ‘Verney' is your home; my father and mother are your father and mother, so all you have to do is just what they wish you. Are you not told, even in your heretic book, to honor your father and mother? so you see you cannot disobey their commands. But I must not stop to talk more now; Lucilla allows me to help her to make wreaths for the church. Oh! it will be a lovely sight to-morrow. You would never forgive yourself for having missed it.”
Greta left me as she spoke, feeling very unhappy and perplexed. There was so much truth in what she had said, that I did not know how to answer her. Mother wished us in her absence to obey Madame Johns, and yet I felt sure she would never consent to our attending "high mass," as I knew the service on the following day was called. If Madame had been at home I would have gone to her and begged her not to command me to go; but she would not return till late, and then guests would be with her, and I should not have the opportunity of saying a single word. Lucilla, I felt, would not help me if she could, and I felt utterly friendless and alone. I was too miserable even to pray.
The day seemed a long and weary one, but night came at last. I had cried a great deal, and feeling thoroughly worn out went to bed early. It was late when I awoke, the household was astir, and Greta came to my room looking very pretty in her dress of soft, white cashmere, with blue sash and bows. Her father had just given her a small but beautifully carved crucifix of Italian workmanship, with which she was delighted after the fashion of a child with a new toy. She was very pleasant and friendly, just her old self. How could I help loving her, I asked myself.
We were quite a large party at break fast, several visitors having arrived the day before. Madame was much occupied with her guests, and after a "Good morning, Christine," did not speak to or even look at me during the meal. Every one was talking of the service to be held in the church; or rather, I should have said, of the music, the wax candles and the flowers that were to make it the most attractive that had ever been held in our quiet village.
“Father Andre never attempted anything on so large a scale," I heard a lady who sat near me saying to her neighbor. "No," was the reply; "I knew him in his younger days. He was a good man and an apt scholar, but," and her voice dropped almost to a whisper, “I have heard it said, but of course there was no truth in it, that during the last years of his life he was tainted with heresy. A hint had even been given to the holy Inquisition, who, with their usual mercy, waited for some proof before giving the order for his arrest; indeed, I have even heard a rumor that during the time he was the parish priest here, the village was quite a nest of heretics, who even ventured to hold secret meetings, of which he could not possibly have known, or he would have informed against them.”
Madame Johns had, I felt sure, heard as much as I had; she looked uncomfortable, and tried to turn the attention of her guests into another channel by saying, "Christine and Casper are going to church with us this morning; it will seem almost like a new world to them." I saw a look of pleasure, almost of triumph, pass across Lucilla's pale but handsome face. I must speak to Madame, and beg her not to insist upon our going, but she rose from table, and left the room hastily, and Greta caught me by the arm so as to prevent my following her.