GRASVILLE ABBEY (1795–7)

GEORGE MOORE (fl 1797–1811)


Grasville Abbey; A Romance ‘by G. M.’ was serialized in 47 instalments in The Lady’s Magazine from March 1793 through August 1797. The magazine was published by G.G. and J. Robinson, who would publish Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and other Gothic novels, and was a rich source of Radcliffean Gothic. By means of serialization the expectation of terror was prolonged from month to month – for more than four years in the case of Grasville Abbey! Matilda, like many Gothic heroines, is a prototypical detective, carefully observing strange events and small details and speculating on their import. Moore also wrote Theodosius De Zulvin, The Monk of Madrid (1802), Montbar; or The Buccaneer (1804), and Tales of the Passions (1808 and 1811).

Copyright © 2000, 2012 Rictor Norton


Agnes was astonished, when she awoke in the morning, to perceive Matilda was not undressed, and immediately enquired the cause: the latter, who had already determined on an answer, told her that having sat up longer than usual to finish a book, she fell asleep for the night. Agnes doubted not her veracity, and cheerfully went to prepare breakfast.
          Matilda was perplexed to know in what manner to act, concerning the light in the west tower. The strange circumstances which seemed to encompass this abbey with a mist of doubtful horror, every day became more uncomfortable and disagreeable. It was true, the good sense and instructions of her mother had brought her up to despise superstition, and laugh at the folly of those who listened to uncommon reports. But the occurrences she had lately been witness to gave her strong reasons to believe in supernatural existences. The crash and groans in the apartment, she had herself heard distinctly, and was certain both her brother and Leonard must have seen something more than common, to have uttered such exclamations of surprise and horror. Her aunt’s manuscript gave a particular account of a light being seen in the west tower, not only by her father and his servant, but by more than one of the villagers. An interval from that time had now passed of near one-and-twenty years, yet she had again seen a light in the same building, which had most probably never been inhabited even when the late count Maserini resided in the abbey. Such strange and mysterious events staggered all the fortitude she had derived from the lessons of her parent, and both alarmed and terrified her. She resolved however to keep the knowledge of the light to herself for the present, and watch again at the same hour, when she might possibly make some further discovery.
          With these resolutions she descended to the parlour. Her brother was already up, and the breakfast waited for her. In about two hours, they were ready to walk to the hermit, and left the abbey accordingly. Father Peter received them at the entrance of his cell, and conducted them to the inner part, where he begged they would be seated. They discoursed on several subjects; Father Peter shewed himself to be a man of great understanding and quick imagination; these gifts of nature seemed also to have been cherished by an excellent education. His manners were elegant and polished, while his whole deportment commanded respect and admiration. There was however a settled gloom which overspread his countenance, that shewed he had a heavy sorrow at heart, which he was unable to overcome. Alfred, at the latter part of their visit, mentioned the terror which people in general suffered concerning Grasville Abbey.
          ‘’Tis a misfortune from birth, my son,’ replied the hermit, ‘which is greatly increased by the errors of education.’
          ‘Yet surely, such terrors are natural,’ said Matilda; ‘and in every situation, we should be subject to their influence.’
          ‘True,’ answered Father Peter: ‘yet they are greatly encouraged by tales of horror, and terrific recitals, which curiosity prompts us to listen to, and which so far win on our fancy, as to make us anxious after such entertainment.’
          ‘Your observations, father, are just,’ said Alfred: ‘yet there may, sometimes, circumstances of a strange nature happen to us, that to all human probability would confirm the appearance of supernatural beings.’
          ‘Here he looked at Leonard, whose countenance changed, while he seemed to shudder at the ideas his master’s words had occasioned. None, except Matilda, observed it; but she had lately watched every look of both her brother and Leonard. – Father Peter appeared also disturbed; he hesitated some time before he answered; at length, however, he gave a short reply, and the conversation took another turn.
          After a little time, they took their leave, and again walked to the abbey. Alfred, when dinner was finished, had a conference of some time with Leonard; and the latter immediately after walked out. Matilda, with surprise, asked where he was gone; Alfred answered her with some confusion, that he had sent him to try if he could, by any stratagem, find if there were letters directed to him at the post-house. This she knew to be entirely evasive: but she said no more; and her brother soon after retired to his chamber.
          Agnes, the moment he was gone, began talking, as usual, of the room that was next that they were now in, and declared she expected every instant some hobgoblin would start through the large heavy folding doors before them. Matilda asked if she knew whether her brother or Leonard had examined the apartment.
          ‘Oh yes, mademoiselle, the other morning before you was up.’
          ‘And, pray, did they see any thing particular?’
          ‘Nothing then,’ answered Agnes: ‘but they did that dreadful night; for you must know I had the curiosity to listen to their discourse while they were searching the place; and though they spoke very low, I could just make out mademoiselle, they had seen a ghost.’
          ‘I am determined to have a view of this room,’ said Matilda, walking to that end of the parlour.
          ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, mademoiselle, do not enter for the world.’
          ‘Ridiculous!’ replied Matilda, and immediately pushed against the doors with all her strength, when they immediately flew open.
          The apartment was spacious, and one of those they had examined at their first coming to the abbey. The furniture was in better order than most of the others; but the shutters being closed, the only light came from an opening at the top. She walked entirely round, and could perceive no alteration whatever. Agnes stood at the door, and at intervals attempted to peep in, but directly shrunk back, and retired. Matilda, having satisfied herself, closed the doors, while Agnes impatiently inquired if she had seen any thing extraordinary. Matilda smiled at the earnestness with which she asked the question, and told her she had nothing to fear. Agnes, however, was by no means divested of her terrors; and after the strange occurrences that had already happened, and those which followwed, it is not to be wondered at that they greatly increased.
          In about two hours, Alfred descended to the parlour, and shortly after Leonard returned; he brought some articles with him, but they were carried to the chambers above, and Matilda had no opportunity of knowing what they were. Supper-time arrived; when both Leonard and his master seemed, in some measure, to have regained their usual spirits: yet Alfred was impatient to retire to rest; at an early hour they therefore parted for the night, Matilda took up a book: Agnes, after being undressed, wished her, good repose, and was presently in a profound sleep.
          Matilda now seated herself in the window, impatiently waiting the hour of midnight, yet dreading a repetition of the circumstance she had already seen. Her brother and Leonard, she could hear, continued in close discourse for some time; the purport of it, however, it was impossible for her to make out, as they spoke in a low tone of voice. At length the expected time arrived, and she kept watching with a palpitating heart the casement in the west tower. The night was extremely gloomy; the moon at intervals gave a light, but heavy clouds continued frequently to eclipse it, and thunder rolled at a distance, while flashes of strong lightning darted from an illumined part of the heavens, which seemed to form a mountain of fire. Matilda still kept her eye fixed on the tower; but no light appeared, except that from above, which fell on its grey decayed walls, o’ergrown with ivy, and slowly tumbling to the ground through the ravages of time.
          She was just going to quit her situation, when she thought she perceived something move in the court below. A few minutes before, she had heard, as she supposed, her brother’s chamber-door open softly, and a step cautiously descend the stair-case to the hall. At the time she conceived it to be a fancy, but her ideas were now different. A strong flash of lightning gave her an opportunity to discover a figure walk slowly with a dark lanthorn across the court towards the outer-gates. It was closely wrapped up; but by the height it seemed like Leonard.
          He now disappeared among some trees, but she still saw the light through the foliage. Matilda, more and more agitated, remained at the window. In about five minutes, the light again moved towards the abbey, and the moon at that moment suddenly appearing from a heavy cloud, she could plainly perceive two men follow the person who held the lanthorn. Both, by their dress, seemed Italians; but their cloaks were entirely fastened round them, and their hats flapped over their faces so as to conceal the countenance.
          Astonished at such an unexpected sight, and ready to sink with terror, she knew not in what manner to act. Leonard might be a villain! She checked herself at so uncharitable a supposition: yet, why should he leave his bed at such an hour, and admit two strangers into the abbey, where her brother had, in all probability, preserved his life through the secrecy of his habitation?
          This unaccountable adventure had so strange and dreadful an appearance, that she resolved to apprise him of the visitors, as she had every reason to believe he was asleep when Leonard left the chamber: at the moment, however, she was going to execute this resolution, she heard the latter enter, and softly accost Alfred in a low voice, saying, ‘They are come, sir:’ and immediately they both descended as she supposed, to the parlour.
          The idea of the light in the west tower now vanished from her mind, and she was entirely taken up with the occurrence that had just past.
          It was plain to her that Alfred had expected these men, as he could not be even undressed by his directly leaving the room when Leonard came up with the information of their arrival: yet what business he could have with them, was an entire mystery: and the most tormenting suspicions, which she blushed to encourage, at different intervals agitated her mind. She resolved, at all events, to watch their departure, which did not happen for nearly an hour and a half; when Leonard, with his lanthorn, again conducted them across the court. Soon after Alfred and himself entered their chamber, and, as she supposed, retired to rest. Matilda, harassed out and perplexed with the scene she had been witness to, undressed herself, and lay down on the sleepless pillow.
          The conduct of her brother was so equivocal and secret, that she was greatly at a loss to assign even one single reason for his late behaviour, since that period when Leonard returned from his first journey to the market, and desired to speak with him alone. The intelligence he received that day was certainly the cause of his strange manner of conduct since, let it be of what nature it would. Though she had laughed at Agnes’s fears concerning the apartment next the parlour, yet something had been seen to cause alarm and terror: for the countenances both of Leonard and his master, which she even then took notice of, confirmed her they had been greatly shocked.
          The light in the west tower had not appeared again as she expected; and she might have been rather doubtful of being deceived by the lightning, had she not seen an arm move within it at the same time. At length, wearied with reflection, she strove to compose herself to rest, and fell into a disturbed slumber.
          They assembled to breakfast at a very late hour the next day, and all (except Agnes) by no means refreshed from the little rest they had enjoyed. They deferred visiting the hermit till the afternoon. Matilda took particular notice of her brother, but could perceive no alteration in his manner from the day before.
          Having walked to Father Peter’s cave, he received them at the entrance with his usual cordiality, and set before them some fruits for refreshment.
          ‘I had them,’ said the old man, ‘from a peasant in the village, whom I often visit, and have known for many years, but never could persuade him to come near my habitation: for being once frightened at passing Grasville Abbey, he has never dared venture near it since, not even in the day-time!’
          All laughed at the man’s simplicity as they called it, yet were all conscious they were a prey to similar fears.
          ‘Indeed, father,’ said Alfred, ‘I have heard so much talk of this abbey, that I intend to enter it myself, and satisfy that curiosity which has been raised by the different stories I have heard concerning it.’
          The hermit’s countenance changed at Alfred’s words, and he, in vain, strove to conceal that agitation which worked in his heart.
          ‘By no means fulfil such a resolution, my son: the attempt may be dangerous. – I am an old man, and know more of that abbey than you do. – You must promise you will give up all idea of it.’
          Alfred fixed his eyes on father Peter; – Leonard looked chagrined; Matilda listened with attention; and Agnes trembled with emotion.
          ‘Excuse me,’ said Alfred, who was the first that broke silence: ‘but you forget yourself, father, and in a great degree contradict the usual tenor of your discourse.’
          The hermit raised his eyes, and was offended at the remark.
          ‘I did but warn you, signor,’ answered he: ‘but follow your own inclination: do not, however accuse me of dissimulation.’
          Alfred felt the rebuke, and made an apology.
          Soon after they took their leave, and returned to the abbey.
          Father Peter’s behaviour appeared now more strange than ever; and Alfred determined not yet to trust him with the history of his affairs. They took an early supper, and retired soon after.

(To be continued.)


[SOURCE: George Moore, ‘Grasville Abbey’, The Lady’s Magazine, 26 (September 1795), pp. 402–7]


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