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With well-dissembled reluctance he told the abbess that he felt himself compelled to divulge the secret of Isabel's birth: she was, he said, the daughter of a noble Neapolitan lady, who, during the absence of her husband, had an intrigue with a man of high rank, the fruit of which was Isabel; as the lady dreaded that her husband might discover her infidelity, she had, as soon as Isabel was born, placed her with a nurse in an obscure situation. The father of the child, who, he added, was his particular friend, had, when she was nearly four years of age, intrusted him with the secret, for the purpose of getting him to place her in the convent of St. Teresa.
"It is (continued he), the will of both her parents that she shall be professed as soon as the term of her noviciate expires, and it was their desire that she should instantly enter upon it; if she consents it is well; if not, my orders are to remove her immediately.”
"But surely, signor (cried the abbess), if the secret of Isabel's birth is still preserved inviolate, if the Signora Sforza and her son are still anxious for her alliance, and that I am sure they will be, the parents of Isabel cannot object to.”
"I can only tell you, madam (interrupted Montalva), that were a prince to seek in marriage the hand of Isabel, her parents would refuse him: her destiny is fixed, and no power on earth can change it."
The abbess, dearly as she loved the interesting girl, could not oppose the will of her parents. With tears did she reveal to Isabel what she had heard, and with a firmness, which to the abbess appeared surprising, did she refuse the veil.
"I cannot now, dearest mother (cried she), ever hope to be the wife of Sforza, even were my parents to consent to our union, and his noble mother and himself would deign to over
look the ignominy of my birth, yet, never could the offspring of guilt aspire to his hand, whatever my unhappy mother may command, save only that, I will willingly obey."
"Thou hast sealed thy doom," (mentally exclaimed Montalva), when the abbess repeated to him the answer of Isabel.
"Tis well, madam (cried he). This obstinacy, I own I did not expect; but as Isabel rejects the peaceful, and happy lot, which her parents have chosen for her, she must abide the consequences. In two days I depart, and she must accompany me."
"Nay, signor (cried the lady abbess), let me at least plead for a little delay."
"It is impossible to grant it, madam (replied Montalva), my orders are most strict, and Isabel shall not in
stance disobey the will of her parents." The abbess did not venture to remon
strate, though her heart swelled at what
she considered the most tyrannical injustice. "Isabel shall know your will, signor (replied she coldly), and I doubt not of her obedience."
Montalva now departed, and the abbess prepared to undertake the ungrateful task of announcing to Isabel her approaching departure. "Good Heavens! (thought the mother of St. Teresa,) what cruelty and injustice, to tear thee, my poor child, from the happiest lot, and consign thee to one so full of misery. Shame on the weak, the guilty being, who would thus hide her fault at the expence of thy peace." While she was lost in rumination, Isabel entered. "Well, dearest mother (cried she), I heard the signor had just left you, and I felt most anxious to know what he says to the determination which I have made."
My tidings are unpleasing ones, my beloved Isabel (said the abbess, tenderly), but it is the lot of humanity to
suffer; and blessed are those who bear their sufferings with patience, a bright unfading reward awaits them."
I understand your kind caution (cried Isabel, turning pale), you have something to say that will, you think, me, and you wish to prepare me for it by degrees, but fear not my fortitude, dear and venerable friend, your child will not disgrace those instructions you have deigned to bestow upon
"You recollect my child (said the abbess), the declaration of Signor Valdorno, that if you refused the veil, you were to accompany him; I grieve to say that he is about immediately to depart,
"I must be torn from the dear abode of my infancy (cried Isabel), this is a blow, indeed. Oh! my more than mother, must I then leave you, never, never, perhaps, to see you again?" For a moment, the boasted fortitude