“She was proud, wayward, passionate, with a splendor of wit and unusual intelligence. He was calm, sweet, wise; with a depthless tenderness of passion. But Sulpizia inherited her will from her father, and at fourteen she was sacrificed to the vow he had made. She was buried alive in the convent of our Lady of the Isle, and my brother’s heart with her.
“Sulpizia’s powerful nature chafed in the narrow bounds of the convent discipline. But her religious education assured her that that discipline was so much the more necessary, and she struggled with the sirens of worldly desire. The other sisters were shocked and surprised, at one moment by her surpassing fervor, at another by her bold and startling protests against their miserable bondage.
“Often, at vespers, in the dim twilight of the chapel, she flung back her cape and hood, with the tears raining from her eyes and her voice gushing and throbbing with the melancholy music, while the nuns paused in their singing, appalled by the religious ecstasy of Sulpizia. She was so sweet and gentle in her daily intercourse that all of them loved her, bending to her caresses like grain to the breeze; but they trembled in the power of her denunciation, which shook their faith to the centre, for it seemed to be the voice of a faith so much profounder.
“While she was yet young she was elected abbess of the convent. It was a day of triumph for her powerful family. Perhaps the Count Balbo may have sometimes regretted that solemn vow, but he never betrayed repentance. Perhaps he would have been more secretly satisfied by the triumphant worldly career of a woman like his daughter, but he never said so.
“Sulpizia knew that my brother loved her. I think she loved him—at least I thought so.
“The nuns were not jealous of her rule, for the superior genius which commanded them also consoled and counselled; and her protests becoming less frequent, her persuasive affection won all their hearts. They saw that the first fire of youth slowly saddened in her eyes. Her mien became even more lofty; her voice less salient; and a shadow fell gently over her life. The sisters thought it was age; but Sulpizia was young. Others thought it was care; but her duties could not harass such a spirit. Others thought it was repentance; but natures like hers do not early repent.
“It was resolved that the portrait of the abbess should be painted, and the nuns applied to her parents to select the artist. They, in turn, consulted my brother Camillo, who was the friend of the family, and for whom the Count Balbo would, I believe, have willingly unvowed his vow. Camillo had left Venice as the great door of the convent closed behind his life and love. He fled over the globe. He lost himself in new scenes, in new employments. He took the wings of the morning, and flew to the uttermost parts of the earth,[A] and there he found—himself. So he returned an older and a colder man. His love, which had been a passion, seemed to settle into a principle. His life was consecrated to one remembrance. It did not dare to have a hope.