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Eustace, whom she looked at with a reverence amounting almost to adoration.
Lady Edith had entered so noiselessly at the open door of the vestry, that neither she nor Allan attracted any notice at first from the assembled party, whose feelings were evidently at that moment in a state of the most vehement excitement. Mr. Ambrose had ceased to address Beatrice as Lady Edith entered, but Father Eustace took up the subject, saying in a tone of deep and very stern resolution, “ Consider well before you answer. More than life depends on your decision."
“ It requires no consideration—it never can, replied Beatrice in a low, tremulous, but perfectly decided voice. “I adhere to my own faith, and to my old home.”
“ Yet you are told, Beatrice Farinelli, as you have hitherto been named, how near are the relatives ready to claim your dutiful affection—that your own mother, ignorant of our language, and believing that not a soul but herself had been saved from the shipwreck, retired to the convent of St. Veronica, under a vow of perpetual penitence, and of a meritorious silence never to be broken, except to her confessor. Through me, then, she now claims your affection and your obedience. Instead of being as hitherto an outcast from every tie relationship, you are now offered troops of friends, and a position high above them all in rank and fortune. The simple condition is, that you remain in this house to be taught the truth. She cannot and dare not acknowledge a heretic daughter,
whose influence must become so great if used against her own faith, her own church, and her own noble family—a family which you may perhaps one day represent. Say, can you hesitate ? Does not duty as well as inclination dictate obedience to your only parent? From the moment when you were lost she has remained under a saintly vow of perpetual silence, a penance which she has faithfully kept, to the praise and edification of all who witness it. Never more is her voice to be heard on the earth, till you are converted. Let the voice of filial duty speak in your own heart."
Why was I not claimed at once? Why have I been left here in ignorance of any such relationship, when my history was known throughout the whole neighbourhood ? Surely, even from within the walls of a convent, I might have been traced,” said Beatrice in a low trembling whisper. “Through life I have known but one mother and one friend.
Whatever I am, she formed me; whatever I know, she taught me; whatever I possess, she gave me. Lady Edith has been all in all to her adopted child, and I cannot give her up.
“ You shall !—you must!” exclaimed Father Eustace in a tone of most imperious authority, and holding up his finger in a menacing attitude; “I can produce now your late father's will, appointing you to be Lord Eaglescairn's ward ; therefore, he legally claims you to remain under his guardianship. He can force you to do so. He will make you listen to the teaching of our Church, and disown all who ever taught you otherwise."
No-no! an hundred times no !” exclaimed Beatrice in low, earnest accents. “ Would the first lesson of your Church be to inculcate ingratitude ? What is there on earth that I do not owe to my more than mother, my most generous benefactress? Oh, that she could but know all and advise me now-tell me, with her own true judgment, what would be the dictate of religion!”
“ Her religion !” muttered Father Eustace contemptuously between his teeth. “The old heretic! I could willingly thrust her alive into that fire and stamp upon her! Do you persist in adhering to one whom we consider an enemy to truth and to ourselves!"
Yes,” replied Beatrice, with scarcely audible agitation, “I have said it, and need not unnecessarily repeat words which irritate you thus."
At this moment Lady Edith, having overheard the half soliloquy of Father Eustace and his subsequent question, slowly advanced into the middle of the circle, and with unflinching firmness looked steadily at each of the astonished countenances around. To all but the delighted Beatrice, her presence was as unwelcome as it was unexpected, and yet the calm dignity of her expression commanded instant respect. In the silence which followed, no eye but that of Beatrice could meet hers, in which there shone the lofty consciousness of rectitude and truth.
Lady Edith had heard all, as though she heard it not; and having recalled her nearly bewildered senses, she now, with her wonted tranquil grace of
manner walked straight up to Beatrice, and laying her hand on her arm, said in low solemn accents, while every syllable fell singly from her lips in the effort it cost her to speak, “I know all now, my child; I know how deeply you have been tried,-how firmly you have stood. Beatrice, I am at this moment more than rewarded for a lifetime of prayer on your account."
Lady Edith's voice faltered, she bent her head till it rested on the shoulder of Beatrice, and struggled to conceal the overwhelming emotion that choked her utterance. After a short conflict with her feelings, she fixed her eyes on Mr. Ambrose, whose countenance had already resumed its usual imperturbable nothingness of expression, and in a low voice of earnest remonstrance she said, “It would have been unlike the frank and honest character of any Protestant minister to sanction proceedings so clandestine as these; but your Church thinks otherwise. Why am I, al ays till this hour the guardian of Beatrice, to be excluded from the knowledge of events which seem to involve her whole welfare? That I see before me now, probably, the mother of my adopted child, it is impossible to dispute ; that face once seen I could not forget; but why, if your intentions be legally right, conceal the facts from me? If anything be for the real good of Beatrice, could I do otherwise than rejoice at it, knowing well that no prosperity can shake her attachment to myself, nor her allegiance to the faith in which we both hope to live and die."
“Let your attachment to Miss Farinelli be proved now,” said Father Eustace contumeliously. He then advanced with his usual noiseless velvet step, while his glittering eyes looked cold as steel at Lady Edith, seeing which, Beatrice cowered closer to her benefactress, while the nervous pressure of her hand upon her arm indicated the agitation she endured. “This young lady, once accidentally thrown into your power, and now discovered by her only parent, is claimed to fill a noble position, for which she was born. While Miss Farinelli continues under the baleful influence of heretics, the proofs that entitle her to rank, fortune, friends, and influence beyond your utmost dreams, shall be withheld. Resign her then entirely, and at once, to a parent who will allow no half-measures. She is entitled by law, as much as by duty, to claim her own daughter."
Beatrice tearfully clapsed in her hand the folds of Lady Edith's dress, who threw her own arm round her adopted child with a solemn sadness of manner, more impressively affecting than the keenest burst of anguish, while the affectionately attached girl trembled like a leaf in the blast of autumn. In the progress of a conversation which ensued, the intentions of Father Eustace and of Mr. Ambrose appeared more and more developed, when the astonishing conviction became unavoidable to Lady Edith, that they aimed at nothing less than the immediate and final separation of herself from the child of her whole affections and care.