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12. The Casket
Behind the house at the Rue Fossette there was a garden - large, considering that it lay in
the heart of a city, and to my recollection at this day it seems pleasant: but time, like
distance, lends to certain scenes an influence so softening; and where all is stone around,
blank wall and hot pavement, how precious seems one shrub, how lovely an enclosed and
planted spot of ground!
There went a tradition that Madame Beck's house had in old days been a convent; that in
years gone by - how long gone by I cannot tell, but I think some centuries - before the
city had overspread this quarter; and when it was tilled ground and avenue, and such deep
and leafy seclusion as ought to embosom a religious house; something had happened on
this site which, rousing fear and inflicting horror, had left to the place the inheritance of a
ghost story. A vague tale went of a black and white nun, sometimes, on some night or
nights of the year, seen in some part of this vicinage. The ghost must have been built out
some ages ago, for there were houses all round now; but certain convent relics, in the
shape of old and huge fruit trees, yet consecrated the spot; and, at the foot of one - a
Methuselah of a pear tree, dead, all but a few boughs which still faithfully renewed their
perfumed snow in spring, and their honey-sweet pendants in autumn - you saw, in
scraping away the mossy earth between the half-bared roots, a glimpse of slab, smooth,
hard and black. The legend went, unconfirmed and unaccredited, but still propagated, that
this was the portal of a vault, imprisoning deep beneath that ground, on whose surface
grass grew and flowers bloomed, the bones of a girl whom the monkish conclave of the
drear middle ages had here buried alive for some sin against her vow. Her shadow it was
that tremblers had feared, through long generations after her poor frame was dust; her
black robe and white veil that, for timid eyes, moonlight and shade had mocked, as they
fluctuated in the night wind through the garden thicket.
Independently of romantic rubbish, however, that old garden had its charms. On summer
mornings I used to rise early to enjoy them alone; on summer evenings, to linger solitary,
to keep tryste with the rising moon, or taste one kiss of the evening breeze, or fancy
rather than feel the freshness of dew descending. The turf was verdant, the gravelled
walks were white; sun-bright nasturtiums clustered beautiful about the roots of the
doddered orchard giants. There was a large berceau, above which spread the shade of an
acacia; there was a smaller, more sequestered bower, nestled in the vines which ran all
along a high and grey wall, and gathered their tendrils in a knot of beauty, and hung their
clusters in loving profusion about the favoured spot where jasmine and ivy met and
married them.
Doubtless at high noon, in the broad, vulgar middle of the day, when Madame Beck's
large school turned out rampant, and externes and pensionnaires were spread abroad,
vying with the denizens of the boys' college close at hand, in the brazen exercise of their
lungs and limbs - doubtless then the garden was a trite, trodden-down place enough. But
at sunset or at the hour of salut, when the externes were gone home, and the boarders