The Rebel At large

A Letter to Aristile

MON CHER ARISTILE: Pierre, your cousin Pierre, whom I have found, tells me I have much time to write before the mail will go and so I shall write in Anglais that you may see how truly learned I have become.

The little letter that I sent with the letter of Pierre an hour ago had on it so much stain of tears I fear you could not read it, but the tears will tell you more perhaps than words, for they were tears of joy.

Pierre says to me that you will get this letter also before you can come, for that you are in a small place where the trains come not back for so long a time. I know not a great deal about trains. Ma tante writes that there is a train goes near the plantation now, but when they took me to the convent; it was in a carriage we went first many miles, and then on the train many miles, and it was in the night. And that noise that is make by the engine was to me like the shrieking of lost souls, for they had taken me from you, and I was lost. But this morning when Pierre brought me here to his mother's the noise of the engine was like music, because it was bringing me nearer to you. It was most truly sweet, almost like the music of your voice and your laughter.

They did not try to make me take the vows. My aunt says, "Oui, oui, she must be a nun," and she say much more till my head was make to ache with her talk; but my father say, "The danger it is over. She is to be a nun if she choose, but she can go to school here and she will forget Aristile."

And that was four years ago and I had no hope. I try to obey the sisters and I learn the lessons and make the very foolish things they call in English "fancy work." There were many other girls and they too obey the sisters and be very meekly pressed all in one same pattern–like the fancy work.

I tried not to hate the Sisters. I knew their intention was to be good to us, but in my heart I wished to kill them all–everyone that came between you and me. I could not say my prayers for so long that God was angry with me and I grew thin and ugly, and after that I was sick and they thought I would die. It was then that I prayed, Aristile. I prayed to die. But God was still angry with me and made me well, and I learned the lessons and made fancy work again. But I prayed no more to any one and I thought wicked thoughts that no one ever thought before. Sometimes I thought perhaps there is no God at all. Can you love such a very bad girl, Aristile?

It was a year ago our father confessor cried and Father Comeaux came. I went always to confession, though I do not know why. I answered the good old father's questions as truly as I could, but I could never tell him about you. Father Comeaux is not so old a man, but his hair is turning gray, and he is look much like grandpere, my dear old grandpere, though he is not the same in the eyes.

One day at the confession he held my hand while he asked me questions and after a while he ask: "Did you ever love, my daughter?" and I was angry and went away without speaking again to him, and I went no more to confession. I was not suspicious of him, but I thought he was rude, and I know I was rude to him and that troubled me and whenever I saw Father Comeaux the look in his eyes would say to me, "I hate you."

I do not know why it was so, but the thought of that man's anger troubled me. It was like a great weight pressing down upon me even at night in my dreams. At last one day he tell the Sisters that I must go to confession, and they beg me to go, and the Mother Superior was thinking it her duty to say a great many harsh things to me, but she could not make me go. After she left, Sister Angeline, who has, a gentle heart, came to me and she say a great many tender things to me, but I was so angry I could not speak to her, for that if I did I would cry. She was frightened that I could be so bad, and at last she cried and so I too cried, and she talked to me so gently that I felt I was lower than the worms of the dust.

I promised her that I would go to confession, but I could not go then, for the crying would not stop, so I wrote a little letter to the father and Sister Angeline took it and kissed me and said tomorrow I could go to the confession. Then she say that I should bathe my eyes and go into the garden for enjoy the cool.

While I was in the garden Father Comeaux came to me. And he smiled at me so amiable that I thought how good a man he was, and how very wrong it had been to be rude to him. He said if he had done me wrong he asked my pardon, and then he talked of the beauty of love. I had thought he hated me, but he put his arm around me and said, "My child, I would love you a very great deal if you would let me and would be good to me."

I was surprised, but I was not alarmed. He is so old, I thought he meant only to be fatherly to me. And when he asked me if I loved him I said yes. I did not mean as I love you, Aristile.

We were walking alone the path as we talked, and I turned to go, but he stopped me and said, "Put your face against mine."

I did; I still thought he meant only to be fatherly to me. I had cried so long that day I was stupid and sleepy and did not think what he meant, and I did not wish to be rude to him again so soon. It was not till I was going up to my room that I thought what he might mean by the last words he spoke to me: "Come to the confession tomorrow and give yourself to me." I wondered what he meant; and when it came to my thoughts what he might mean I was ashamed of myself, for that it seemed base to suspect so good a man. But I remembered all the words he had said and the looks, and all at once I was afraid.

I think I cannot tell you, Aristile, how horrible was that fear. You could not understand. For a man can say always in the face of any danger: "At the worst I can but die." You have not anything to fear that is worse than death.

I thought of killing myself, but while you were in the world I could not leave it. I found that the hope which I had thought crushed and dead in my heart was still alive. I would not die unless it must be the only way to escape.

It is the English poet, Shakespeare, who makes Juliet to say:

From off the battlements of yonder tower."
"O bid me leap, rather than marry Paris,

You remember that, do you not, Aristile? You read it to me before I learned to read the English.

"Or bid me go into a new-made grave
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud;
Things that, to hear them told, have made me tremble,
And I will do it without fear or doubt,
To live an unstained wife to my sweet love."

I thought of those lines that night. It was a feeling of companionship they gave to me. I was not so utterly alone. It is truly not strange that they call Shakespeare the interpreter of the human heart.

Early next morning I went to Sister Angeline and beg her to take me outside the walls for a little walk. I had not in my head any plan and I was not even then sure that he meant any wrong. I only was sure I must go away.

When we walked across the bridge I looked at the water and wish the bayou was the kind in the geographies that run fast and have waterfalls and whirlpools. But is was so sluggish that I know they can rescue me. There was no hope.

We walked back towards the convent and near the gates we met Father Bienville, your cousin, Pierre Bienville–but I knew not that he is your cousin. I only know that he have good eyes, and while he talked with us I say, "Oh, I have lost my purse," but it was a lie to make me more time. I had brought no purse. I had no money–only the locket that was my mother's and that I would sell if I could get away. Then Sister Angeline say she was tired and would go to the convent if Father Bienville would go with me to hunt the purse, and I was glad.

We hunted long and I was all the time thinking, thinking of some plans, but at last Father Bienville said we must go back. Then I look up in his eyes, and he have good eyes, and before I have known what I would say, I told him, "I cannot go to that place; I am afraid." He ask of what am I afraid, and I tell him, "Of Father Comeaux." He stop smiling then.

"Why are you afraid of Father Comeaux?" he ask, and at first I would not tell him until he very greatly insist. Then I tell him all–everything I now tell to you.

He say he will take me to his mother until my father can come for me, and he ask my name, and when I tell him he ask if I have known you–and so the miracle has come. It is only last week, he said, that you told him of me and that you still are loving me.

I will confess to you, Aristile, and you will absolve me, will you not? I was so wretched I could not sometimes believe in anything good, not even in you. Sometimes I was afraid you would forget.

Pierre has come to say it is time for the mail to go, so I cannot write more, but tomorrow before this hour it will be the time for you to arrive. Until then adieux. Votre,