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will, I trust, look down with an eye of pardon on the weak and erring being, who humbly supplicates that mercy, which she is conscious she has not deserved."
"Pardon me, dearest Maria (cried I), you judge yourself too severely; surely whatever errors you might have fallen into, your penitence must have more than expiated. Tranquillise your mind then, my friend, and if there is yet a ray of hope, if, as I would fain flatter myself your recovery is yet possible, your future days may yet be happy.'
"Hope (said she) is over; over did I say? no, my hope, my wish is death, Oh! I feel that life to me would be misery; but as I may not see you again, let me undeceive you in one point. I am free from what the world calls crime; I have done nothing to dishonour myself, or the noble family from which I sprung. From an unhappy want of stability in my character, the fatal error that poisoned my
life has arisen. Bitterly, oh! how bitterly, has it been expiated.'
"She drew from beneath her pillow a case, from which she took this miniature. I have promised (said she). never to part with this while I exist, and my word shall be religiously kept, though the motives that influenced me to make that promise have long since. ceased. After my death, I would wish it to be yours; it is the portrait of a man whom I once thought I loved, and while the delusion lasted, it was very dear to me; but it has long, long been. as odious to my sight, as it was formerly pleasing, and my promise solemnly given to keep it has been the only reason: why I have done so.'
"She stopped, apparently exhaust-.. ed, and, after sitting with her for some time, I took my leave. Poor Maria! she was indeed a prophet, for we met no more. That night she expired; and oh! may my last moments; be like hers.
She met death with a
pious fortitude, that robbed it of its horrors, and her spirit appeared impatient to burst its frail tenement, and soar to a better world.
"The portrait was, at her request, delivered to me, and I have ever since carefully preserved it. Its resemblance to Isabel struck me, but I thought that might have been only fancy, till you agreed with me in opinion."
"I am sorry that you know not the name of the original (cried the abbess), for I own that I wish to penetrate the inystery of Isabel's birth; not from idle curiosity, but from real interest for the sweet orphan, whom I love as a daughter."
And well worthy is she of your affection (replied the signora). Sweet Isabel! my heart too adopts thee for
"I do not think (cried the lady abbess), that Isabel, though destined for a religious life, and educated in a convent, is partial to it; yet, alas! she
will not, I fear, be allowed any other choice. I am convinced, were Isabel at liberty, her heart would prompt her to remain in the abode of her early years; but I know she fears the vows. She spoke the other day in terms of enthusiasm of the fortitude with which sister Frances had pronounced them."
"A life of religious retirement (said. I to her), is the choice of sister"Frances; she has lived in the world; she has been disgusted with its vain and empty pleasures. The time she spent in our convent previous to her noviciate, convinced her that here she was likely to find peace; and though still young, beautiful, and rich, she quitted the: world without a sigh.'
Happy sister Frances! (exclaimed. Isabel). Oh! how much is she to be envied; she had the power to chuse Irer destiny.'
"The unconscious emphasis which the dear orphan laid upon her words, gave me, for the first time, an idea.
that she disliked a monastic life, and heart bled for her; since, alas! if my fears are just, her portion of temporal happiness will be small."
"She cannot be forced to take the veil (cried the signora); and surely her mysterious protector would not be barbarous enough to sacrifice her happiness. Willingly would I receive her as my third daughter, if he would yield her
"A short time (said the abbess) must decide her destiny; the Virgin grant that it may be a happy one."
The signora joined her friend most heartily in this wish, and they parted,