Chapter 11: A Great Sorrow

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BREAKFAST over, Greta and I were told to get ready for church. Julie helped us to dress, and more than once I thought she was trying to find or make an opportunity of speaking to me alone, but I think Greta must have seen it to, for she would not leave me even for a moment. It is not my intention to give an account of the service that followed. I knew it was called "high mass"; the music was grand and solemn, the air was heavy with incense, and hothouse flowers met my gaze everywhere; but the prayers and singing were in Latin, a language of which I did not understand a single word. I was thoroughly miserable. Mother wished me during my stay at "Verney" to be obedient, but I felt that both my parents would not only have strongly disapproved of, but positively forbidden me to attend such a service.
Father Jacques joined us at dinner, and was so kind and pleasant I could not help liking him. Both he and Lucilla took special notice of me, and the rest of the day was spent in music, dancing and playing forfeits. It was late when we went to bed. As Greta kissed me "good-night," she whispered, "You are very nearly one of us now." I wondered what she could mean, but the day had been a tiring one, and I was soon asleep.
Can I ever forget the
NEW YEAR'S DAY THAT FOLLOWED?
My father had passed the crisis of the fever, and though very weak, we all hoped that with the blessing of God upon the means used, and the devoted nursing of my mother, he would recover. But the poor little cottage in which he lay was badly built, and the wind that howled around found its way in through every chink and cranny, while snow and rain came in through bad places in the thatch, and in spite of all mother's care he took a chill and died just as the old year was passing away. He sank so rapidly that we had not been sent for, but mother told us he was calm and peaceful, and begged her never to allow the hope of securing any worldly advantage for us induce her to give us up to those who would seek to turn us away from the true faith.
It was my first great sorrow. I had loved my father dearly, and I wept long and bitterly. Nothing could exceed the kindness of Madame, and Greta seemed touched and said I should always be her dear friend. The funeral took place at night. As the law would not allow any but Romanists to be buried in the churchyard, a grave had been dug in the wood at a short distance from the place where he died, to which he was carried by those who had loved and honored him.
We were once more in our own little home, though it seemed very empty and desolate, we missed father so much. It would not be our home much longer, as we had, so mother said, no means of support; the doctor who would shortly take my father's practice would also require our house. The future looked very dark and uncertain. Hardly a day passed without some kindness being shown to us by our neighbors at "Verney." Whenever they received a hamper from Prague, a share of its contents was sent to us; or Greta would run in, saying she must carry me off as a little change would do me good; but I did not go more than once or twice, as I thought that mother seemed to feel the loss of my father most keenly when I was away from her.
One afternoon Madame called, as she said in a few days they would be leaving for their town house, and she must have one quiet talk with mother. She had a proposal to make; it was that I should be allowed to return with them as the friend and companion of Greta who, on their return, would not only be a day-pupil in a convent school, but have the advantage of masters for painting and music. I was to share her lessons, and in every way be treated as if I had really been her sister. She even offered to take Casper till such time as arrangements for placing him in a school could be made. Mother would then, she urged, be free from all care on our account, and as the new doctor, who was a widower, would require a housekeeper, she could remain in that capacity.
Much to the surprise of Madame, mother declined the seemingly tempting offer though she thanked Madame for her intended kindness. She was willing to work for her children, but not to part with them. To do so would not only be against her own conscience, but a betrayal of the trust reposed in her by her dying husband. After trying, but in vain, to persuade mother to change her mind, she asked if we might go for a few weeks, at least a month. A peep at town life would do me good, I was looking too thin and pale. I had heard so much of the wonders and beauties of the great city from Greta, that I thought a visit would be delightful, but mother stood firm.
When at last Madame rose to go, she was, we could see, not only disappointed, but grieved; for, as she bade mother "good-bye" she said, and her voice was low and trembling, "I would so gladly have proved myself your friend, but now it is beyond my power to help you. Whatever follows your refusal, try and think as kindly as you can of Eloise Johns." In less than a week the family would return to Prague.
It was the last night of their stay at "Verney." On the morrow the house would be empty once more. Greta had repeated her promise of a lifelong friendship, we had exchanged farewells, and we were about to retire for the night, when a low knock was heard at our door; mother opened it, and we saw that our visitor was Julie, though she was so closely veiled that for a few moments we did not know her.
In low, hurried whispers she addressed a few words to my mother; I did not at the time fully understand what she said, but from what I then heard, and what mother afterward told me, I found that the law of Bohemia, which was in many respects like that of France, gave the priests power to take any child above the age of seven who had ONCE been present in a Roman Catholic Church away from its home and parents, and give it into the care of monks and nuns. This power Father Jacques intended to use to its full extent in case Madame failed in getting my mother to give us into her care. In that case I should have been educated with my friend in a convent school, but as that had fallen through, Julie believed I was to be sent to a convent at some distance. The day following the removal of our friends to Prague was the one fixed for carrying out his purpose, and at some risk to herself Julie had dared to give us warning.