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Madame De Fleury  by Maria Edgeworth

 

CHAPTER I

"There oft are heard the notes of infant woe,
The short thick sob, loud scream, and shriller squall -
How can you, mothers, vex your infants so?"--POPE

"D'abord, madame, c'est impossible!--Madame ne descendra pas ici?" said Francois, the footman of Madame de Fleury, with a half expostulatory, half indignant look, as he let down the step of her carriage at the entrance of a dirty passage, that led to one of the most miserable-looking houses in Paris.

"But what can be the cause of the cries which I hear in this house?" said Madame de Fleury.

"'Tis only some child who is crying," replied Francois; and he would have put up the step, but his lady was not satisfied.

"'Tis nothing in the world," continued he, with a look of appeal to the coachman, "it CAN be nothing, but some children who are locked up there above. The mother, the workwoman my lady wants, is not at home: that's certain."

"I must know the cause of these cries; I must see these children" said Madame de Fleury, getting out of her carriage.

Francois held his arm for his lady as she got out.

"Bon!" cried he, with an air of vexation. "Si madame la vent absolument, a la bonne heure!--Mais madame sera abimee. Madame verra que j'ai raison. Madame ne montera jamais ce vilain escalier. D'ailleurs c'est au cinquieme. Mais, madame, c'est impossible."

Notwithstanding the impossibility, Madame de Fleury proceeded; and bidding her talkative footman wait in the entry, made her way up the dark, dirty, broken staircase, the sound of the cries increasing every instant, till, as she reached the fifth storey, she heard the shrieks of one in violent pain. She hastened to the door of the room from which the cries proceeded; the door was fastened, and the noise was so great that, though she knocked as loud as she was able, she could not immediately make herself heard. At last the voice of a child from within answered, "The door is locked--mamma has the key in her pocket, and won't be home till night; and here's Victoire has tumbled from the top of the big press, and it is she that is shrieking so."

Madame de Fleury ran down the stairs which she had ascended with so much difficulty, called to her footman, who was waiting in the entry, despatched him for a surgeon, and then she returned to obtain from some people who lodged in the house assistance to force open the door of the room in which the children were confined.

On the next floor there was a smith at work, filing so earnestly that he did not hear the screams of the children. When his door was pushed open, and the bright vision of Madame de Fleury appeared to him, his astonishment was so great that he seemed incapable of comprehending what she said. In a strong provincial accent he repeated, "Plait-il?" and stood aghast till she had explained herself three times; then suddenly exclaiming, "Ah! c'est ca;"--he collected his tools precipitately, and followed to obey her orders. The door of the room was at last forced half open, for a press that had been overturned prevented its opening entirely. The horrible smells that issued did not overcome Madame de Fleury's humanity: she squeezed her way into the room, and behind the fallen press saw three little children: the youngest, almost an infant, ceased roaring, and ran to a corner; the eldest, a boy of about eight years old, whose face and clothes were covered with blood, held on his knee a girl younger than himself, whom he was trying to pacify, but who struggled most violently and screamed incessantly, regardless of Madame de Fleury, to whose questions she made no answer.

"Where are you hurt, my dear?" repeated Madame de Fleury in a soothing voice. "Only tell me where you feel pain?"

The boy, showing his sister's arm, said, in a surly tone--"It is this that is hurt--but it was not I did it."

"It was, it WAS!" cried the girl as loud as she could vociferate: "it was Maurice threw me down from the top of the press."

"No--it was you that were pushing me, Victoire, and you fell backwards.--Have done screeching, and show your arm to the lady."

"I can't," said the girl.

"She won't," said the boy.

"She cannot," said Madame de Fleury, kneeling down to examine it. "She cannot move it; I am afraid that it is broken."

"Don't touch it! don't touch it!" cried the girl, screaming more violently.

"Ma'am, she screams that way for nothing often," said the boy. "Her arm is no more broke than mine, I'm sure; she'll move it well enough when she's not cross."

"I am afraid," said Madame de Fleury, "that her arm is broken."

"Is it indeed?" said the boy, with a look of terror.

"Oh! don't touch it--you'll kill me; you are killing me," screamed the poor girl, whilst Madame de Fleury with the greatest care endeavoured to join the bones in their proper place, and resolved to hold the arm till the arrival of the surgeon.

From the feminine appearance of this lady, no stranger would have expected such resolution; but with all the natural sensibility and graceful delicacy of her sex, she had none of that weakness or affection which incapacitates from being useful in real distress. In most sudden accidents, and in all domestic misfortunes, female resolution and presence of mind are indispensably requisite: safety, health, and life often depend upon the fortitude of women. Happy they who, like Madame de Fleury, possess strength of mind united with the utmost gentleness of manner and tenderness of disposition!

Soothed by this lady's sweet voice, the child's rage subsided; and no longer struggling, the poor little girl sat quietly on her lap, sometimes writhing and moaning with pain.

The surgeon at length arrived: her arm was set: and he said "that she had probably been saved much future pain by Madame de Fleury's presence of mind."

"Sir,--will it soon be well?" said Maurice to the surgeon.

"Oh yes, very soon, I dare say," said the little girl. "To-morrow, perhaps; for now that it is tied up it does not hurt me to signify- -and after all, I do believe, Maurice, it was not you threw me down."

As she spoke, she held up her face to kiss her brother.--"That is right," said Madame de Fleury; "there is a good sister."

The little girl put out her lips, offering a second kiss, but the boy turned hastily away to rub the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand.

"I am not cross now: am I, Maurice?"

"No, Victoire; I was cross myself when I said THAT."

As Victoire was going to speak again, the surgeon imposed silence, observing that she must be put to bed, and should be kept quiet. Madame de Fleury laid her upon the bed, as soon as Maurice had cleared it of the things with which it was covered; and as they were spreading the ragged blanket over the little girl, she whispered a request to Madame de Fleury that she would "stay till her mamma came home, to beg Maurice off from being whipped, if mamma should be angry."

Touched by this instance of goodness, and compassionating the desolate condition of these children, Madame de Fleury complied with Victoire's request; resolving to remonstrate with their mother for leaving them locked up in this manner. They did not know to what part of the town their mother was gone; they could tell only "that she was to go to a great many different places to carry back work, and to bring home more, and that she expected to be in by five." It was now half after four.

Whilst Madame de Fleury waited, she asked the boy to give her a full account of the manner in which the accident had happened.

"Why, ma'am," said Maurice, twisting and untwisting a ragged handkerchief as he spoke, "the first beginning of all the mischief was, we had nothing to do, so we went to the ashes to make dirt pies; but Babet would go so close that she burnt her petticoat, and threw about all our ashes, and plagued us, and we whipped her. But all would not do, she would not be quiet; so to get out of her reach, we climbed up by this chair on the table to the top of the press, and there we were well enough for a little while, till somehow we began to quarrel about the old scissors, and we struggled hard for them till I got this cut."

Here he unwound the handkerchief, and for the first time showed the wound, which he had never mentioned before.

"Then," continued he, "when I got the cut, I shoved Victoire, and she pushed at me again, and I was keeping her off, and her foot slipped, and down she fell, and caught by the press-door, and pulled it and me after her, and that's all I know."

"It is well that you were not both killed," said Madame de Fleury. "Are you often left locked up in this manner by yourselves, and without anything to do?"

"Yes, always, when mamma is abroad, except sometimes we are let out upon the stairs or in the street; but mamma says we get into mischief there."

This dialogue was interrupted by the return of the mother. She came upstairs slowly, much fatigued, and with a heavy bundle under her arm.

"How now! Maurice, how comes my door open? What's all this?" cried she, in an angry voice; but seeing a lady sitting upon her child's bed, she stopped short in great astonishment. Madame de Fleury related what had happened, and averted her anger from Maurice by gently expostulating upon the hardship and hazard of leaving her young children in this manner during so many hours of the day.

"Why, my lady," replied the poor woman, wiping her forehead, "every hard-working woman in Paris does the same with her children; and what can I do else? I must earn bread for these helpless ones, and to do that I must be out backwards and forwards, and to the furthest parts of the town, often from morning till night, with those that employ me; and I cannot afford to send the children to school, or to keep any kind of a servant to look after them; and when I'm away, if I let them run about these stairs and entries, or go into the sheets, they do get a little exercise and air, to be sure, such as it is on which account I do let them out sometimes; but then a deal of mischief comes of that, too: they learn all kinds of wickedness, and would grow up to be no better than pickpockets, if they were let often to consort with the little vagabonds they find in the streets. So what to do better for them I don't know."

The poor mother sat down upon the fallen press, looked at Victoire, and wept bitterly. Madame de Fleury was struck with compassion; but she did not satisfy her feelings merely by words or comfort or by the easy donation of some money--she resolved to do something more, and something better.

CHAPTER II

"Come often, then; for haply in my bower
Amusement, knowledge, wisdom, thou may'st gain:
If I one soul improve, I have not lived in vain."--BEATTIE.

It is not so easy to do good as those who have never attempted it may imagine; and they who without consideration follow the mere instinct of pity, often by their imprudent generosity create evils more pernicious to society than any which they partially remedy. "Warm Charity, the general friend," may become the general enemy, unless she consults her head as well as her heart. Whilst she pleases herself with the idea that she daily feeds hundreds of the poor, she is perhaps preparing want and famine for thousands. Whilst she delights herself with the anticipation of gratitude for her bounties, she is often exciting only unreasonable expectations, inducing habits of dependence and submission to slavery.

Those who wish to do good should attend to experience, from whom they may receive lessons upon the largest scale that time and numbers can afford.

Madame de Fleury was aware that neither a benevolent disposition nor a large fortune were sufficient to enable her to be of real service, without the constant exercise of her judgment. She had, therefore, listened with deference to the conversation of well- informed men upon those subjects on which ladies have not always the means or the wish to acquire extensive and accurate knowledge. Though a Parisian belle, she had read with attention some of those books which are generally thought too dry or too deep for her sex. Consequently, her benevolence was neither wild in theory nor precipitate nor ostentatious in practice.

Touched with compassion for a little girl whose arm had been accidentally broken, and shocked by the discovery of the confinement and the dangers to which numbers of children in Paris were doomed, she did not make a parade of her sensibility. She did not talk of her feelings in fine sentences to a circle of opulent admirers, nor did she project for the relief of the little sufferers some magnificent establishment which she could not execute or superintend. She was contented with attempting only what she had reasonable hopes of accomplishing.

The gift of education she believed to be more advantageous than the gift of money to the poor, as it ensures the means both of future subsistence and happiness. But the application even of this incontrovertible principle requires caution and judgment. To crowd numbers of children into a place called a school, to abandon them to the management of any person called a schoolmaster or a schoolmistress, is not sufficient to secure the blessings of a good education. Madame de Fleury was sensible that the greatest care is necessary in the choice of the person to whom young children are to be entrusted; she knew that only a certain number can be properly directed by one superintendent, and that, by attempting to do too much, she might do nothing, or worse than nothing. Her school was formed, therefore, on a small scale, which she could enlarge to any extent, if it should be found to succeed. From some of the families of poor people, who, in earning their bread, are obliged to spend most of the day from home, she selected twelve little girls, of whom Victoire was the eldest, and she was between six and seven.

The person under whose care Madame de Fleury wished to place these children was a nun of the Soeurs de la Charite, with whose simplicity of character, benevolence, and mild, steady temper she was thoroughly acquainted. Sister Frances was delighted with the plan. Any scheme that promised to be of service to her follow- creatures was sure of meeting with her approbation; but this suited her taste peculiarly, because she was extremely fond of children. No young person had ever boarded six months at her convent without becoming attached to good Sister Frances.

The period of which we are writing was some years before convents were abolished; but the strictness of their rules had in many instances been considerably relaxed. Without much difficulty, permission was obtained from the abbess for our nun to devote her time during the day to the care of these poor children, upon condition that she should regularly return to her convent every night before evening prayers. The house which Madame de Fleury chose for her little school was in an airy part of the town; it did not face the street, but was separated from other buildings at the back of a court, retired from noise and bustle. The two rooms intended for the occupation of the children were neat and clean, but perfectly simple, with whitewashed walls, furnished only with wooden stools and benches, and plain deal tables. The kitchen was well lighted (for light is essential to cleanliness), and it was provided with utensils; and for these appropriate places were allotted, to give the habit and the taste of order. The schoolroom opened into a garden larger than is usually seen in towns. The nun, who had been accustomed to purchase provisions for her convent, undertook to prepare daily for the children breakfast and dinner; they were to sup and sleep at their respective homes. Their parents were to take them to Sister Frances every morning when they went out to work, and to call for them upon their return home every evening. By this arrangement, the natural ties of affection and intimacy between the children and their parents would not be loosened; they would be separate only at the time when their absence must be inevitable. Madame de Fleury thought that any education which estranges children entirely from their parents must be fundamentally erroneous; that such a separation must tend to destroy that sense of filial affection and duty, and those principles of domestic subordination, on which so many of the interests and much of the virtue and happiness of society depend. The parents of these poor children were eager to trust them to her care, and they strenuously endeavoured to promote what they perceived to be entirely to their advantage. They promised to take their daughters to school punctually every morning--a promise which was likely to be kept, as a good breakfast was to be ready at a certain hour, and not to wait for anybody. The parents looked forward with pleasure, also, to the idea of calling for their little girls at the end of their day's labour, and of taking them home to their family supper. During the intermediate hours the children were constantly to be employed, or in exercise. It was difficult to provide suitable employments for their early age; but even the youngest of those admitted could be taught to wind balls of cotton, thread, and silk for haberdashers; or they could shell peas and beans, &c., for a neighbouring traiteur; or they could weed in a garden. The next in age could learn knitting and plain work, reading, writing, and arithmetic. As the girls should grow up, they were to be made useful in the care of the house. Sister Frances said she could teach them to wash and iron, and that she would make them as skilful in cookery as she was herself. This last was doubtless a rash promise; for in most of the mysteries of the culinary art, especially in the medical branches of it, in making savoury messes palatable to the sick, few could hope to equal the neat-handed Sister Frances. She had a variety of other accomplishments; but her humility and good sense forbade her upon the present occasion to mention these. She said nothing of embroidery, or of painting, or of cutting out paper, or of carving in ivory, though in all these she excelled: her cuttings-out in paper were exquisite as the finest lace; her embroidered housewives, and her painted boxes, and her fan-mounts, and her curiously-wrought ivory toys, had obtained for her the highest reputation in the convent amongst the best judges in the world. Those only who have philosophically studied and thoroughly understand the nature of fame and vanity can justly appreciate the self-denial or magnanimity of Sister Frances, in forbearing to enumerate or boast of these things. She alluded to them but once, and in the slightest and most humble manner.

"These little creatures are too young for us to think of teaching them anything but plain work at present; but if hereafter any of them should show a superior genius we can cultivate it properly. Heaven has been pleased to endow me with the means--at least, our convent says so."

The actions of Sister Frances showed as much moderation as her words; for though she was strongly tempted to adorn her new dwelling with those specimens of her skill which had long been the glory of her apartment in the convent, yet she resisted the impulse, and contented herself with hanging over the chimney-piece of her schoolroom a Madonna of her own painting.

The day arrived when she was to receive her pupils in their new habitation. When the children entered the room for the first time, they paid the Madonna the homage of their unfeigned admiration. Involuntarily the little crowd stopped short at the sight of the picture. Some dormant emotions of human vanity were now awakened-- played for a moment about the heart of Sister Frances--and may be forgiven. Her vanity was innocent and transient, her benevolence permanent and useful. Repressing the vain-glory of an artist, as she fixed her eyes upon the Madonna, her thoughts rose to higher objects, and she seized this happy moment to impress upon the minds of her young pupils their first religious ideas and feelings. There was such unaffected piety in her manner, such goodness in her countenance, such persuasion in her voice, and simplicity in her words, that the impression she made was at once serious, pleasing, and not to be effaced. Much depends upon the moment and the manner in which the first notions of religion are communicated to children; if these ideas be connected with terror, and produced when the mind is sullen or in a state of dejection, the future religious feelings are sometimes of a gloomy, dispiriting sort; but if the first impression be made when the heart is expanded by hope or touched by affection, these emotions are happily and permanently associated with religion. This should be particularly attended to by those who undertake the instruction of the children of the poor, who must lead a life of labour, and can seldom have leisure or inclination, when arrived at years of discretion, to re-examine the principles early infused into their minds. They cannot in their riper age conquer by reason those superstitions terrors, or bigoted prejudices, which render their victims miserable, or perhaps criminal. To attempt to rectify any errors in the foundation after an edifice has been constructed is dangerous: the foundation, therefore, should be laid with care. The religious opinions of Sister Frances were strictly united with just rules of morality, strongly enforcing, as the essential means of obtaining present and future happiness, the practice of the social virtues, so that no good or wise persons, however they might differ from her in modes of faith, could doubt the beneficial influence of her general principles, or disapprove of the manner in which they were inculcated.

Detached from every other worldly interest, this benevolent nun devoted all her earthly thoughts to the children of whom she had undertaken the charge. She watched over them with unceasing vigilance, whilst diffidence of her own abilities was happily supported by her high opinion of Madame de Fleury's judgment. This lady constantly visited her pupils every week; not in the hasty, negligent manner in which fine ladies sometimes visit charitable institutions, imagining that the honour of their presence is to work miracles, and that everything will go on rightly when they have said, "LET IT BE SO," or, "I MUST HAVE IT SO." Madame de Fleury's visits were not of this dictatorial or cursory nature. Not minutes, but hours, she devoted to these children--she who could charm by the grace of her manners, and delight by the elegance of her conversation, the most polished circles and the best-informed societies of Paris, preferred to the glory of being admired the pleasure of being useful:-

"Her life, as lovely as her face, Each duty mark'd with every grace; Her native sense improved by reading, Her native sweetness by good breeding."

CHAPTER III

"Ah me! how much I fear lest pride it be;
But if that pride it be which thus inspires,
Beware, ye dames! with nice discernment see
Ye quench not too the sparks of nobler fires."
SHENSTONE.

By repeated observation, and by attending to the minute reports of Sister Frances, Madame de Fleury soon became acquainted with the habits and temper of each individual in this little society. The most intelligent and the most amiable of these children was Victoire. Whence her superiority arose, whether her abilities were naturally more vivacious than those of her companions, or whether they had been more early developed by accidental excitation, we cannot pretend to determine, lest we should involve ourselves in the intricate question respecting natural genius--a metaphysical point, which we shall not in this place stop to discuss. Till the world has an accurate philosophical dictionary (a work not to be expected in less than half a dozen centuries), this question will never be decided to general satisfaction. In the meantime we may proceed with our story.

Deep was the impression made on Victoire's heart by the kindness that Madame de Fleury showed her at the time her arm was broken; and her gratitude was expressed with all the enthusiastic fondness of childhood. Whenever she spoke or heard of Madame de Fleury her countenance became interested and animated in a degree that would have astonished a cool English spectator. Every morning her first question to Sister Frances was: "Will SHE come to-day?" If Madame de Fleury was expected, the hours and the minutes were counted, and the sand in the hour-glass that stood on the schoolroom table was frequently shaken. The moment she appeared Victoire ran to her, and was silent; satisfied with standing close beside her, holding her gown when unperceived, and watching, as she spoke and moved, every turn of her countenance. Delighted by these marks of sensibility, Sister Frances would have praised the child, but was warned by Madame de Fleury to refrain from injudicious eulogiums, lest she should teach her affectation.

"If I must not praise, you will permit me at least to love her," said Sister Frances.

Her affection for Victoire was increased by compassion: during two months the poor child's arm hung in a sling, so that she could not venture to play with her companions. At their hours of recreation she used to sit on the schoolroom steps, looking down into the garden at the scene of merriment in which she could not partake.

For those who know how to find it, there is good in everything. Sister Frances used to take her seat on the steps, sometimes with her work and sometimes with a book; and Victoire, tired of being quite idle, listened with eagerness to the stories which Sister Frances read, or watched with interest the progress of her work; soon she longed to imitate what she saw done with so much pleasure, and begged to be taught to work and read. By degrees she learned her alphabet, and could soon, to the amazement of her schoolfellows, read the names of all the animals in Sister Frances' picture-book. No matter how trifling the thing done, or the knowledge acquired, a great point is gained by giving the desire for employment. Children frequently become industrious from impatience of the pains and penalties of idleness. Count Rumford showed that he understood childish nature perfectly well when, in his House of Industry at Munich, he compelled the young children to sit for some time idle in a gallery round the hall, where others a little older than themselves were busied at work. During Victoire's state of idle convalescence she acquired the desire to be employed, and she consequently soon became more industrious than her neighbours. Succeeding in her first efforts, she was praised-- was pleased, and persevered till she became an example of activity to her companions. But Victoire, though now nearly seven years old, was not quite perfect. Naturally, or accidentally, she was very passionate, and not a little self-willed.

One day being mounted, horsemanlike, with whip in hand, upon the banister of the flight of stairs leading from the schoolroom to the garden, she called in a tone of triumph to her playfellows, desiring them to stand out of the way, and see her slide from top to bottom. At this moment Sister Frances came to the schoolroom door and forbade the feat; but Victoire, regardless of all prohibition, slid down instantly, and moreover was going to repeat the glorious operation, when Sister Frances, catching hold of her arm, pointed to a heap of sharp stones that lay on the ground upon the other side of the banisters.

"I am not afraid," said Victoire.

"But if you fall there, you may break your arm again."

"And if I do, I can bear it," said Victoire. "Let me go, pray let me go: I must do it."

"No; I forbid you, Victoire, to slide down again. Babet and all the little ones would follow your example, and perhaps break their necks."

The nun, as she spoke, attempted to compel Victoire to dismount; but she was so much of a heroine, that she would do nothing upon compulsion. Clinging fast to the banisters, she resisted with all her might; she kicked and screamed, and screamed and kicked, but at last her feet were taken prisoners; then grasping the railway with one hand, with the other she brandished high the little whip.

"What!" said the mild nun, "would you strike me with that ARM?"

The arm dropped instantly--Victoire recollected Madame de Fleury's kindness the day when the arm was broken; dismounting immediately, she threw herself upon her knees in the midst of the crowd of young spectators, and begged pardon of Sister Frances. For the rest of the day she was as gentle as a lamb; nay, some assert that the effects of her contrition were visible during the remainder of the week.

Having thus found the secret of reducing the little rebel to obedience by touching her on the tender point of gratitude, the nun had recourse to this expedient in all perilous cases; but one day, when she was boasting of the infallible operation of her charm, Madame de Fleury advised her to forbear recurring to it frequently, lest she should wear out the sensibility she so much loved. In consequence of this counsel, Victoire's violence of temper was sometimes reduced by force and sometimes corrected by reason; but the principle and the feeling of gratitude were not exhausted or weakened in the struggle. The hope of reward operated upon her generous mind more powerfully than the fear of punishment; and Madame de Fleury devised rewards with as much ability as some legislators invent punishments.

Victoire's brother Maurice, who was now of an age to earn his own bread, had a strong desire to be bound apprentice to the smith who worked in the house where his mother lodged. This most ardent wish of his soul he had imparted to his sister; and she consulted her benefactress, whom she considered as all-powerful in this, as in every other affair.

"Your brother's wish shall be gratified," replied Madame de Fleury, "if you can keep your temper one month. If you are never in a passion for a whole month, I will undertake that your brother shall be bound apprentice to his friend the smith. To your companions, to Sister Frances, and above all to yourself, I trust, to make me a just report this day month."

CHAPTER IV

"You she preferred to all the gay resorts,
Where female vanity might wish to shine,
The pomp of cities, and the pride of courts."
LYTTELTON.

At the end of the time prescribed, the judges, including Victoire herself, who was the most severe of them all, agreed she had justly deserved her reward. Maurice obtained his wish; and Victoire's temper never relapsed into its former bad habits--so powerful is the effect of a well-chosen motive! Perhaps the historian may be blamed for dwelling on such trivial anecdotes; yet a lady, who was accustomed to the conversation of deep philosophers and polished courtiers, listened without disdain to these simple annals. Nothing appeared to her a trifle that could tend to form the habits of temper, truth, honesty, order, and industry: habits which are to be early induced, not by solemn precepts, but by practical lessons. A few more examples of these shall be recorded, notwithstanding the fear of being tiresome.

One day little Babet, who was now five years old, saw, as she was coming to school, an old woman sitting at a corner of the street beside a large black brazier full of roasted chestnuts. Babet thought that the chestnuts looked and smelled very good; the old woman was talking earnestly to some people, who were on her other side; Babet filled her work-bag with chestnuts, and then ran after her mother and sister, who, having turned the corner of the street, had not seen what passed. When Babet came to the schoolroom, she opened her bag with triumph, displayed her treasure, and offered to divide it with her companions. "Here, Victoire," said she, "here is the largest chestnut for you."

But Victoire would not take it; for she staid that Babet had no money, and that she could not have come honestly by these chestnuts. She spoke so forcibly upon this point that even those who had the tempting morsel actually at their lips forbore to bite; those who had bitten laid down their half-eaten prize; and those who had their hands full of chestnuts rolled them back again towards the bag. Babet cried with vexation.

"I burned my fingers in getting them for you, and now you won't eat them!--And I must not eat them!" said she: then curbing her passion, she added, "But at any rate, I won't be a thief. I am sure I did not think it was being a thief just to take a few chestnuts from an old woman who had such heaps and heaps; but Victoire says it is wrong, and I would not be a thief for all the chestnuts in the world--I'll throw them all into the fire this minute!"

"No; give them back again to the old woman," said Victoire.

"But, may be, she would scold me for having taken them," said Babet; "or who knows but she might whip me?"

"And if she did, could you not bear it?" said Victoire. "I am sure I would rather bear twenty whippings than be a thief."

"Twenty, whippings! that's a great many," said Babet; "and I am so little, consider--and that woman has such a monstrous arm!--Now, if it was Sister Frances, it would be another thing. But come! if you will go with me, Victoire, you shall see how I will behave."

"We will all go with you," said Victoire.

"Yes, all!" said the children; "And Sister Frances, I dare say, would go, if you asked her."

Babet ran and told her, and she readily consented to accompany the little penitent to make restitution. The chestnut woman did not whip Babet, nor even scold her, but said she was sure that since the child was so honest as to return what she had taken, she would never steal again. This was the most glorious day of Babet's life, and the happiest. When the circumstance was told to Madame de Fleury, she gave the little girl a bag of the best chestnuts the old women could select, and Babet with great delight shared her reward with her companions.

"But, alas! these chestnuts are not roasted. Oh, if we could but roast them!" said the children.

Sister Frances placed in the middle of the table on which the chestnuts were spread a small earthenware furnace--a delightful toy, commonly used by children in Paris to cook their little feasts.

"This can be bought for sixpence," said she: "and if each of you twelve earn one halfpenny apiece to-day, you can purchase it tonight, and I will put a little fire into it, and you will then be able to roast your chestnuts."

The children ran eagerly to their work--some to wind worsted for a woman who paid them a liard for each ball, others to shell peas for a neighbouring traiteur--all rejoicing that they were able to earn something. The older girls, under the directions and with the assistance of Sister Frances, completed making, washing, and ironing, half a dozen little caps, to supply a baby-linen warehouse. At the end of the day, when the sum of the produce of their labours was added together, they were surprised to find that, instead of one, they could purchase two furnaces. They received and enjoyed the reward of their united industry. The success of their first efforts was fixed in their memory: for they were very happy roasting the chestnuts, and they were all (Sister Frances inclusive) unanimous in opinion that no chestnuts ever were so good, or so well roasted. Sister Frances always partook in their little innocent amusements; and it was her great delight to be the dispenser of rewards which at once conferred present pleasure and cherished future virtue.

CHAPTER V

"To virtue wake the pulses of the heart,
And bid the tear of emulation start."
ROGERS.

Victoire, who gave constant exercise to the benevolent feelings of the amiable nun, became every day more dear to her. Far from having the selfishness of a favourite, Victoire loved to bring into public notice the good actions of her companions. "Stoop down your ear to me, Sister Frances," said she, "and I will tell you a secret--I will tell you why my friend Annette is growing so thin--I found it out this morning--she does not eat above half her soup every day. Look, there's her porringer covered up in the corner-- she carries it home to her mother, who is sick, and who has not bread to eat."

Madame de Fleury came in whilst Sister Frances was yet bending down to hear this secret; it was repeated to her, and she immediately ordered that a certain allowance of bread should be given to Annette every day to carry to her mother during her illness.

"I give it in charge to you, Victoire, to remember this, and I am sure it will never be forgotten. Here is an order for you upon my baker: run and show it to Annette. This is a pleasure you deserve; I am glad that you have chosen for your friend a girl who is so good a daughter. Good daughters make good friends."

By similar instances of goodness Victoire obtained the love and confidence of her companions, notwithstanding her manifest superiority. In their turn, they were eager to proclaim her merits; and, as Sister Frances and Madame de Fleury administered justice with invariable impartiality, the hateful passions of envy and jealousy were never excited in this little society. No servile sycophant, no malicious detractor, could rob or defraud their little virtues of their due reward.

"Whom shall I trust to take this to Madame de Fleury?" said Sister Frances, carrying into the garden where the children were playing a pot of fine jonquils, which she had brought from her convent.-- "These are the first jonquils I have seen this year, and finer I never beheld! Whom shall I trust to take them to Madame de Fleury this evening?--It must be some one who will not stop to stare about on the way, but who will be very, very careful--some one in whom I can place perfect dependence."

"It must be Victoire, then," cried every voice.

"Yes, she deserves it to-day particularly," said Annette eagerly; "because she was not angry with Babet when she did what was enough to put anybody in a passion. Sister Frances, you know this cherry- tree which you grafted for Victoire last year, and that was yesterday so full of blossoms--now you see, there is not a blossom left!--Babet plucked them all this morning to make a nosegay."

"But she did not know," said Victoire, "that pulling off the blossoms would prevent my having any cherries."

"Oh, I am very sorry I was so foolish," said Babet; "Victoire did not even say a cross word to me."

"Though she was excessively anxious about the cherries," pursued Annette, "because she intended to have given the first she had to Madame de Fleury."

"Victoire, take the jonquils--it is but just," said Sister Frances. "How I do love to hear them all praise her!--I knew what she would be from the first."

With a joyful heart Victoire took the jonquils, promised to carry them with the utmost care, and not to stop to stare on the way. She set out to Madame de Fleury's hotel, which was in La Place de Louis Quinze. It was late in the evening, the lamps were lighting, and as Victoire crossed the Pont de Louis Seize, she stopped to look at the reflection of the lamps in the water, which appeared in succession, as they were lighted, spreading as if by magic along the river. While Victoire leaned over the battlements of the bridge, watching the rising of these stars of fire, a sudden push from the elbow of some rude passenger precipitated her pot of jonquils into the Seine. The sound it made in the water was thunder to the ear of Victoire; she stood for an instant vainly hoping it would rise again, but the waters had closed over it for ever.

"Dans cet etat affreux, que faire? . . . Mon devoir."

Victoire courageously proceeded to Madame de Fleury's, and desired to see her.

"D'abord c'est impossible--madame is dressing to go to a concert," said Francois. "Cannot you leave your message?"

"Oh no," said Victoire; "it is of great consequence--I must see her myself; and she is so good, and you too, Monsieur Francois, that I am sure you will not refuse."

"Well, I remember one day you found the seal of my watch, which I dropped at your school-room door--one good turn deserves another. If it is possible it shall be done--I will inquire of madame's woman."--"Follow me upstairs," said he, returning in a few minutes; "madame will see you."

She followed him up the large staircase, and through a suite of apartments sufficiently grand to intimidate her young imagination.

"Madame est dans son cabinet. Entrez--mais entrez donc, entrez toujours."

Madame de Fleury was more richly dressed than usual; and her image was reflected in the large looking-glass, so that at the first moment Victoire thought she saw many fine ladies, but not one of them the lady she wanted.

"Well, Victoire, my child, what is the matter?"

"Oh, it is her voice!--I know you now, madame, and I am not afraid- -not afraid even to tell you how foolish I have been. Sister Frances trusted me to carry for you, madame, a beautiful pot of jonquils, and she desired me not to stop on the way to stare; but I did stop to look at the lamps on the bridge, and I forgot the jonquils, and somebody brushed by me and threw them into the river- -and I am very sorry I was so foolish."

"And I am very glad that you are so wise as to tell the truth, without attempting to make any paltry excuses. Go home to Sister Frances, and assure her that I am more obliged to her for making you such an honest girl than I could be for a whole bed of jonquils."

Victoire's heart was so full that she could not speak--she kissed Madame de Fleury's hand in silence, and then seemed to be lost in contemplation of her bracelet.

"Are you thinking, Victoire, that you should be much happier if you had such bracelets as these? Believe me, you are mistaken if you think so; many people are unhappy who wear fine bracelets; so, my child, content yourself."

"Myself! Oh, madame, I was not thinking of myself--I was not wishing for bracelets; I was only thinking that--"

"That what?"

"That it is a pity you are so very rich; you have everything in this world that you want, and I can never be of the least use to YOU--all my life I shall never be able to do YOU any good--and what," said Victoire, turning away to hide her tears, "what signifies the gratitude of such a poor little creature as I am?"

"Did you never hear the fable of the lion and the mouse, Victoire?"

"No, madame--never!"

"Then I will tell it to you."

Victoire looked up with eyes of eager expectation--Francois opened the door to announce that the Marquis de M- and the Comte de S- were in the saloon; but Madame de Fleury stayed to tell Victoire her fable--she would not lose the opportunity of making an impression upon this child's heart.

It is whilst the mind is warm that the deepest impressions can be made. Seizing the happy moment sometimes decides the character and the fate of a child. In this respect, what advantages have the rich and great in educating the children of the poor! they have the power which their rank and all its decorations obtain over the imagination. Their smiles are favours; their words are listened to as oracular; they are looked up to as beings of a superior order. Their powers of working good are almost as great, though not quite so wonderful, as those formerly attributed to beneficent, fairies.

CHAPTER VI

"Knowledge for them unlocks her USEFUL page,
And virtue blossoms for a better age."--BARBAULD.

A few days after Madame de Fleury had told Victoire the fable of the lion and the mouse, she was informed by Sister Frances that Victoire had put the fable into verse. It was wonderfully well done for a child of nine years old, and Madame de Fleury was tempted to praise the lines; but, checking the enthusiasm of the moment, she considered whether it would be advantageous to cultivate her pupil's talent for poetry. Excellence in the poetic art cannot be obtained without a degree of application for which a girl in her situation could not have leisure. To encourage her to become a mere rhyming scribbler, without any chance of obtaining celebrity or securing subsistence, would be folly and cruelty. Early prodigies in the lower ranks of life are seldom permanently successful; they are cried up one day, and cried down the next. Their productions rarely have that superiority which secures a fair preference in the great literary market. Their performances are, perhaps, said to be WONDERFUL, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, &C. Charitable allowances are made; the books are purchased by associations of complaisant friends or opulent patrons; a kind of forced demand is raised, but this can be only temporary and delusive. In spite of bounties and of all the arts of protection, nothing but what is intrinsically good will long be preferred, when it must be purchased. But granting that positive excellence is attained, there is always danger that for works of fancy the taste of the public may suddenly vary: there is a fashion in these things; and when the mode changes, the mere literary manufacturer is thrown out of employment; he is unable to turn his hand to another trade, or to any but his own peculiar branch of the business. The powers of the mind are often partially cultivated in these self-taught geniuses. We often see that one part of their understanding is nourished to the prejudice of the rest--the imagination, for instance, at the expense of the judgment: so that whilst they have acquired talents for show they have none for use. In the affairs of common life they are utterly ignorant and imbecile--or worse than imbecile. Early called into public notice, probably before their moral habits are formed, they are extolled for some play of fancy or of wit, as Bacon calls it, some juggler's trick of the intellect; they immediately take an aversion to plodding labour, they feel raised above their situation; possessed by the notion that genius exempts them not only from labour, but from vulgar rules of prudence, they soon disgrace themselves by their conduct, are deserted by their patrons, and sink into despair or plunge into profligacy.

Convinced of these melancholy truths, Madame de Fleury was determined not to add to the number of those imprudent or ostentatious patrons, who sacrifice to their own amusement and vanity the future happiness of their favourites. Victoire's verses were not handed about in fashionable circles, nor was she called upon to recite them before a brilliant audience, nor was she produced in public as a prodigy; she was educated in private, and by slow and sure degrees, to be a good, useful, and happy member of society. Upon the same principles which decided Madame de Fleury against encouraging Victoire to be a poetess, she refrained from giving any of her little pupils accomplishments unsuited to their situation. Some had a fine ear for music, others showed powers of dancing; but they were taught neither dancing nor music--talents which in their station were more likely to be dangerous than serviceable. They were not intended for actresses or opera-girls, but for shop-girls, mantua-makers, work-women, and servants of different sorts; consequently they were instructed in things which would be most necessary and useful to young women in their rank of life. Before they were ten years old they could do all kinds of plain needlework, they could read and write well, and they were mistresses of the common rules of arithmetic. After this age they were practised by a writing-master in drawing out bills neatly, keeping accounts, and applying to every-day use their knowledge of arithmetic. Some were taught by a laundress to wash and get up fine linen and lace; others were instructed by a neighbouring traiteur in those culinary mysteries with which Sister Frances was unacquainted. In sweetmeats and confectioneries she yielded to no one; and she made her pupils as expert as herself. Those who were intended for ladies' maids were taught mantua-making, and had lessons from Madame de Fleury's own woman in hairdressing.

Amongst her numerous friends and acquaintances, and amongst the shopkeepers whom she was in the habit of employing, Madame de Fleury had means of placing and establishing her pupils suitably and advantageously: of this, both they and their parents were aware, so that there was a constant and great motive operating continually to induce them to exert themselves, and to behave well. This reasonable hope of reaping the fruits of their education, and of being immediately rewarded for their good conduct; this perception of the connection between what they are taught and what they are to become, is necessary to make young people assiduous; for want of attending to these principles many splendid establishments have failed to produce pupils answerable to the expectations which had been formed of them.

During seven years that Madame de Fleury persevered uniformly on the same plan, only one girl forfeited her protection--a girl of the name of Manon; she was Victoire's cousin, but totally unlike her in character.

When very young, her beautiful eyes and hair caught the fancy of a rich lady, who took her into her family as a sort of humble playfellow for her children. She was taught to dance and to sing: she soon excelled in these accomplishments, and was admired, and produced as a prodigy of talent. The lady of the house gave herself great credit for having discerned, and having brought forward, such talents. Manon's moral character was in the meantime neglected. In this house, where there was a constant scene of hurry and dissipation, the child had frequent opportunities and temptations to be dishonest. For some time she was not detected; her caressing manners pleased her patroness, and servile compliance with the humours of the children of the family secured their goodwill. Encouraged by daily petty successes in the art of deceit, she became a complete hypocrite. With culpable negligence, her mistress trusted implicitly to appearances; and without examining whether she were really honest, she suffered her to have free access to unlocked drawers and valuable cabinets. Several articles of dress were missed from time to time; but Manon managed so artfully, that she averted from herself all suspicion. Emboldened by this fatal impunity, she at last attempted depredations of more importance. She purloined a valuable snuff- box--was detected in disposing of the broken parts of it at a pawnbroker's, and was immediately discarded in disgrace; but by her tears and vehement expressions of remorse she so far worked upon the weakness of the lady of the house as to prevail upon her to conceal the circumstance that occasioned her dismissal. Some months afterwards, Manon, pleading that she was thoroughly reformed, obtained from this lady a recommendation to Madame de Fleury's school. It is wonderful that, people, who in other respects profess and practise integrity, can be so culpably weak as to give good characters to those who do not deserve them: this is really one of the worst species of forgery. Imposed upon by this treacherous recommendation, Madame de Fleury received into the midst of her innocent young pupils one who might have corrupted their minds secretly and irrecoverably. Fortunately a discovery was made in time of Manon's real disposition. A mere trifle led to the detection of her habits of falsehood. As she could not do any kind of needlework, she was employed in winding cotton; she was negligent, and did not in the course of the week wind the same number of balls as her companions; and to conceal this, she pretended that she had delivered the proper number to the woman, who regularly called at the end of the week for the cotton. The woman persisted in her account, and the children in theirs; and Manon would not retract her assertion. The poor woman gave up the point; but she declared that she would the next time send her brother to make up the account, because he was sharper than herself, and would not be imposed upon so easily. The ensuing week the brother came, and he proved to be the very pawnbroker to whom Manon formerly offered the stolen box: he knew her immediately; it was in vain that she attempted to puzzle him, and to persuade him that she was not the same person. The man was clear and firm. Sister Frances could scarcely believe what she heard. Struck with horror, the children shrank back from Manon, and stood in silence. Madame de Fleury immediately wrote to the lady who had recommended this girl, and inquired into the truth of the pawnbroker's assertions. The lady, who had given Manon a false character, could not deny the facts, and could apologise for herself only by saying that "she believed the girl to be partly reformed, and that she hoped, under Madame de Fleury's judicious care, she would become an amiable and respectable woman."

Madame de Fleury, however, wisely judged that the hazard of corrupting all her pupils should not be incurred for the slight chance of correcting one, whose bad habits wore of such long standing. Manon was expelled from this happy little community-- even Sister Frances, the most mild of human beings, could never think of the danger to which they had been exposed without expressing indignation against the lady who recommended such a girl as a fit companion for her blameless and beloved pupils.

CHAPTER VII

"Alas! regardless of their doom,
The little victims play:
No sense have they of ills to come,
No care beyond to-day."--GRAY.

Good legislators always attend to the habits, and what is called the genius, of the people they have to govern. From youth to age, the taste for whatever is called une fete pervades the whole French nation. Madame de Fleury availed herself judiciously of this powerful motive, and connected it with the feelings of affection more than with the passion for show. For instance, when any of her little people had done anything particularly worthy of reward, she gave them leave to invite their parents to a fete prepared for them by their children, assisted by the kindness of Sister Frances.

One day--it was a holiday obtained by Victoire's good conduct--all the children prepared in their garden a little feast for their parents. Sister Frances spread the table with a bountiful hand, the happy fathers and mothers were waited upon by their children, and each in their turn heard with delight from the benevolent nun some instance of their daughter's improvement. Full of hope for the future and of gratitude for the past, these honest people ate and talked, whilst in imagination they saw their children all prosperously and usefully settled in the world. They blessed Madame de Fleury in her absence, and they wished ardently for her presence.

"The sun is setting, and Madame de Fleury is not yet come," cried Victoire; "she said she would be here this evening--What can be the matter?"

"Nothing is the matter, you may be sure," said Babet; "but that she has forgotten us--she has so many things to think of."

"Yes; but I know she never forgets us," said Victoire; "and she loves so much to see us all happy together, that I am sure it must be something very extraordinary that detains her."

Babet laughed at Victoire's fears; but presently even she began to grow impatient; for they waited long after sunset, expecting every moment that Madame de Fleury would arrive. At last she appeared, but with a dejected countenance, which seemed to justify Victoire's foreboding. When she saw this festive company, each child sitting between her parents, and all at her entrance looking up with affectionate pleasure, a faint smile enlivened her countenance for a moment; but she did not speak to them with her usual ease. Her mind seemed preoccupied by some disagreeable business of importance. It appeared that it had some connection with them; for as she walked round the table with Sister Frances, she said, with a voice and look of great tenderness, "Poor children! how happy they are at this moment!--Heaven only knows how soon they may be rendered, or may render themselves, miserable!"

None of the children could imagine what this meant; but their parents guessed that it had some allusion to the state of public affairs. About this time some of those discontents had broken out which preceded the terrible days of the Revolution. As yet, most of the common people, who were honestly employed in earning their own living, neither understood what was going on nor foresaw what was to happen. Many of their superiors were not in such happy ignorance--they had information of the intrigues that were forming; and the more penetration they possessed, the more they feared the consequences of events which they could not control. At the house of a great man, with whom she had dined this day, Madame de Fleury had heard alarming news. Dreadful public disturbances, she saw, were inevitable; and whilst she trembled for the fate of all who were dear to her, these poor children had a share in her anxiety. She foresaw the temptations, the dangers, to which they must be exposed, whether they abandoned, or whether they abided by the principles their education had instilled. She feared that the labour of years would perhaps be lost in an instant, or that her innocent pupils would fall victims even to their virtues.

Many of these young people were now of an age to understand and to govern themselves by reason; and with these she determined to use those preventive measures which reason affords. Without meddling with politics, in which no amiable or sensible woman can wish to interfere, the influence of ladies in the higher ranks of life may always be exerted with perfect propriety, and with essential advantage to the public, in conciliating the inferior classes of society, explaining to them their duties and their interests, and impressing upon the minds of the children of the poor sentiments of just subordination and honest independence. How happy would it have been for France if women of fortune and abilities had always exerted their talents and activity in this manner, instead of wasting their powers in futile declamations, or in the intrigues of party!

CHAPTER VIII

"E'en now the devastation is begun,
And half the business of destruction done."
GOLDSMITH.

Madame de Fleury was not disappointed in her pupils. When the public disturbances began, these children were shocked by the horrible actions they saw. Instead of being seduced by bad example, they only showed anxiety to avoid companions of their own age who were dishonest, idle, or profligate. Victoire's cousin Manon ridiculed these absurd principles, as she called them, and endeavoured to persuade Victoire that she would be much happier if she followed the fashion.

"What! Victoire, still with your work-bag on your arm, and still going to school with your little sister, though you are but a year younger than I am, I believe!--thirteen last birthday, were not you?--Mon Dieu! Why, how long do you intend to be a child? and why don't you leave that old nun, who keeps you in leading-strings?--I assure you, nuns, and school-mistresses, and schools, and all that sort of thing, are out of fashion now--we have abolished all that-- we are to live a life of reason now--and all soon to be equal, I can tell you; let your Madame de Fleury look to that, and look to it yourself; for with all your wisdom, you might find yourself in the wrong box by sticking to her, and that side of the question.-- Disengage yourself from her, I advise you, as soon as you can.--My dear Victoire! believe me, you may spell very well--but you know nothing of the rights of man, or the rights of woman."

"I do not pretend to know anything of the rights of men, or the rights of women," cried Victoire; "but this I know: that I never can or will be ungrateful to Madame de Fleury. Disengage myself from her! I am bound to her for ever, and I will abide by her till the last hour I breathe."

"Well, well! there is no occasion to be in a passion--I only speak as a friend, and I have no more time to reason with you; for I must go home, and get ready my dress for the ball to-night."

"Manon, how can you afford to buy a dress for a ball?"

"As you might, if you had common sense, Victoire--only by being a good citizen. I and a party of us denounced a milliner and a confectioner in our neighbourhood, who were horrible aristocrats; and of their goods forfeited to the nation we had, as was our just share, such delicious marangues and charming ribands!--Oh, Victoire, believe me, you will never get such things by going to school, or saying your prayers either. You may look with as much scorn and indignation as you please, but I advise you to let it alone, for all that is out of fashion, and may, moreover, bring you into difficulties. Believe me, my dear Victoire, your head is not deep enough to understand these things--you know nothing of politics."

"But I know the difference between right and wrong, Manon: politics can never alter that, you know."

"Never alter that! there you are quite mistaken," said Manon. "I cannot stay to convince you now--but this I can tell you: that I know secrets that you don't suspect."

"I do not wish to know any of your secrets, Manon," said Victoire, proudly.

"Your pride may be humbled, Citoyenne Victoire, sooner than you expect," exclaimed Manon, who was now so provoked by her cousin's contempt that she could not refrain from boasting of her political knowledge. "I can tell you that your fine friends will in a few days not be able to protect you. The Abbe Tracassier is in love with a dear friend of mine, and I know all the secrets of state from her--and I know what I know. Be as incredulous as you please, but you will see that, before this week is at end, Monsieur de Fleury will be guillotined, and then what will become of you? Good morning, my proud cousin."

Shocked by what she had just heard, Victoire could scarcely believe that Manon was in earnest; she resolved, however, to go immediately and communicate this intelligence, whether true or false, to Madame de Fleury. It agreed but too well with other circumstances, which alarmed this lady for the safety of her husband. A man of his abilities, integrity, and fortune, could not in such times hope to escape persecution. He was inclined to brave the danger; but his lady represented that it would not be courage, but rashness and folly, to sacrifice his life to the villainy of others, without probability or possibility of serving his country by his fall.

Monsieur de Fleury, in consequence of these representations, and of Victoire's intelligence, made his escape from Paris; and the very next day placards were put up in every street, offering a price for the head of Citoyen Fleury, SUSPECTED OF INCIVISME.

Struck with terror and astonishment at the sight of these placards, the children read them as they returned in the evening from school; and little Babet in the vehemence of her indignation mounted a lamplighter's ladder, and tore down one of the papers. This imprudent action did not pass unobserved: it was seen by one of the spies of Citoyen Tracassier, a man who, under the pretence of zeal pour la chose publique, gratified without scruple his private resentments and his malevolent passions. In his former character of an abbe, and a man of wit, he had gained admittance into Madame de Fleury's society. There he attempted to dictate both as a literary and religious despot. Accidentally discovering that Madame de Fleury had a little school for poor children, he thought proper to be offended, because he had not been consulted respecting the regulations, and because he was not permitted, as he said, to take the charge of this little flock. He made many objections to Sister Frances, as being an improper person to have the spiritual guidance of these young people; but as he was unable to give any just reason for his dislike, Madame de Fleury persisted in her choice, and was at last obliged to assert, in opposition to the domineering abbe, her right to judge and decide in her own affairs. With seeming politeness, he begged ten thousand pardons for his conscientious interference. No more was said upon the subject; and as he did not totally withdraw from her society till the revolution broke out, she did not suspect that she had anything to fear from his resentment. His manners and opinions changed suddenly with the times; the mask of religion was thrown off; and now, instead of objecting to Sister Frances as not being sufficiently strict and orthodox in her tenets, he boldly declared that a nun was not a fit person to be intrusted with the education of any of the young citizens--they should all be des eleves de la patrie. The abbe, become a member of the Committee of Public Safety, denounced Madame de Fleury, in the strange jargon of the day, as "the fosterer of a swarm of bad citizens, who were nourished in the anticivic prejudices de l'ancien regime, and fostered in the most detestable superstitions, in defiance of the law." He further observed, that he had good reason to believe that some of these little enemies to the constitution had contrived and abetted Monsieur de Fleury's escape. Of their having rejoiced at it in a most indecent manner, he said he could produce irrefragable proof. The boy who saw Babet tear down the placard was produced and solemnly examined; and the thoughtless action of this poor little girl was construed into a state crime of the most horrible nature. In a declamatory tone, Tracassier reminded his fellow-citizens, that in the ancient Grecian times of virtuous republicanism (times of which France ought to show herself emulous), an Athenian child was condemned to death for having made a plaything of a fragment of the gilding that had fallen from a public statue. The orator, for the reward of his eloquence, obtained an order to seize everything in Madame de Fleury's school-house, and to throw the nun into prison.

CHAPTER IX

"Who now will guard bewildered youth
Safe from the fierce assault of hostile rage? -
Such war can Virtue wage?"

At the very moment when this order was going to be put in execution, Madame de Fleury was sitting in the midst of the children, listening to Babet, who was reading AEsop's fable of THE OLD MAN AND HIS SONS. Whilst her sister was reading, Victoire collected a number of twigs from the garden: she had just tied them together; and was going, by Sister Frances' desire, to let her companions try if they could break the bundle, when the attention to the moral of the fable was interrupted by the entrance of an old woman, whose countenance expressed the utmost terror and haste, to tell what she had not breath to utter. To Madame de Fleury she was a stranger; but the children immediately recollected her to be the chestnut woman to whom Babet had some years ago restored certain purloined chestnuts.

"Fly!" said she, the moment she had breath to speak: "Fly!--they are coming to seize everything here--carry off what you can--make haste--make haste!--I came through a by-street. A man was eating chestnuts at my stall, and I saw him show one that was with him the order from Citoyen Tracassier. They'll be here in five minutes-- quick!--quick!--You, in particular," continued she, turning to the nun, "else you'll be in prison."

At these words, the children, who had clung round Sister Frances, loosed their hold, exclaiming, "Go! go quick: but where? where?-- we will go with her."

"No, no!" said Madame de Fleury, "she shall come home with me--my carriage is at the door."

"Ma belle dame!" cried the chestnut woman, "your house is the worst place she can go to--let her come to my cellar--the poorest cellar in these days is safer than the grandest palace."

So saying, she seized the nun with honest roughness, and hurried her away. As soon as she was gone, the children ran different ways, each to collect some favourite thing, which they thought they could not leave behind. Victoire alone stood motionless beside Madame de Fleury; her whole thoughts absorbed by the fear that her benefactress would be imprisoned. "Oh, madame! dear, dear Madame de Fleury, don't stay! don't stay!"

"Oh, children, never mind these things."

"Don't stay, madame, don't stay! I will stay with them--I will stay--do you go."

The children hearing these words, and recollecting Madame de Fleury's danger, abandoned all their little property, and instantly obeyed her orders to go home to their parents. Victoire at last saw Madame de Fleury safe in her carriage. The coachman drove off at a great rate; and a few minutes afterwards Tracassier's myrmidons arrived at the schoolhouse. Great was their surprise when they found only the poor children's little books, unfinished samplers, and half-hemmed handkerchiefs. They ran into the garden to search for the nun. They were men of brutal habits, yet as they looked at everything round them, which bespoke peace, innocence, and childish happiness, they could not help thinking it was a pity to destroy what could do the nation no great harm after all. They were even glad that the nun had made her escape, since they were not answerable for it; and they returned to their employer satisfied for once without doing any mischief; but Citizen Tracassier was of too vindictive a temper to suffer the objects of his hatred thus to elude his vengeance. The next day Madame de Fleury was summoned before his tribunal and ordered to give up the nun, against whom, as a suspected person, a decree of the law had been obtained.

Madame de Fleury refused to betray the innocent woman; the gentle firmness of this lady's answers to a brutal interrogatory was termed insolence--she was pronounced a refractory aristocrat, dangerous to the state; and an order was made out to seal up her goods, and to keep her a prisoner in her own house.

CHAPTER X

"Alas! full oft on Guilt's victorious car
The spoils of Virtue are in triumph borne,
While the fair captive, marked with many a scar,
In lone obscurity, oppressed, forlorn,
Resigns to tears her angel form."--BEATTIE.

A close prisoner in her own house, Madame de Fleury was now guarded by men suddenly become soldiers, and sprung from the dregs of the people; men of brutal manners, ferocious countenances, and more ferocious minds. They seemed to delight in the insolent display of their newly-acquired power. One of those men had formerly been convicted of some horrible crime, and had been sent to the galleys by M. de Fleury. Revenge actuated this wretch under the mask of patriotism, and he rejoiced in seeing the wife of the man he hated a prisoner in his custody. Ignorant of the facts, his associates were ready to believe him in the right, and to join in the senseless cry against all who were their superiors in fortune, birth, and education. This unfortunate lady was forbidden all intercourse with her friends, and it was in vain she attempted to obtain from her gaolers intelligence of what was passing in Paris.

"Tu verras--Tout va bien--Ca ira," were the only answers they deigned to make; frequently they continued smoking their pipes in obdurate silence. She occupied the back rooms of her house, because her guards apprehended that she might from the front windows receive intelligence from her friends. One morning she was awakened by an unusual noise in the streets; and, upon her inquiring the occasion of it, her guards told her she was welcome to go to the front windows and satisfy her curiosity. She went, and saw an immense crowd of people surrounding a guillotine that had been erected the preceding night. Madame de Fleury started back with horror--her guards burst into an inhuman laugh, and asked whether her curiosity was satisfied. She would have left the room; but it was now their pleasure to detain her, and to force her to continue the whole day in this apartment. When the guillotine began its work, they had even the barbarity to drag her to the window, repeating, "It is there you ought to be!--It is there your husband ought to be!--You are too happy, that your husband is not there this moment. But he will be there--the law will overtake him--he will be there in time--and you too!"

The mild fortitude of this innocent, benevolent woman made no impression upon these cruel men. When at night they saw her kneeling at her prayers, they taunted her with gross and impious mockery; and when she sank to sleep, they would waken her by their loud and drunken orgies--if she remonstrated, they answered, "The enemies of the constitution should have no rest."

Madame de Fleury was not an enemy to any human being; she had never interfered in politics; her life had been passed in domestic pleasures, or employed for the good of her fellow-creatures. Even in this hour of personal danger she thought of others more than of herself: she thought of her husband, an exile in a foreign country, who might be reduced to the utmost distress now that she was deprived of all means of remitting him money. She thought of her friends, who, she knew, would exert themselves to obtain her liberty, and whose zeal in her cause might involve them and their families in distress. She thought of the good Sister Frances, who had been exposed by her means to the unrelenting persecution of the malignant and powerful Tracassier. She thought of her poor little pupils, now thrown upon the world without a protector. Whilst these ideas were revolving in her mind one night as she lay awake, she heard the door of her chamber open softly, and a soldier, one of her guards, with a light in his hand, entered; he came to the foot of her bed, and, as she started up, laid his finger upon his lips.

"Don't make the least noise," said he in a whisper; "those without are drunk, and asleep. Don't you know me?--don't you remember my face?"

"Not in the least; yet I have some recollection of your voice."

The man took off the bonnet-rouge--still she could not guess who he was. "You never saw me in a uniform before nor without a black face."

She looked again, and recollected the smith to whom Maurice was bound apprentice, and remembered his patois accent.

"I remember you," said he, "at any rate; and your goodness to that poor girl the day her arm was broken, and all your goodness to Maurice. But I've no time for talking of that now--get up, wrap this great coat round you--don't be in a hurry, but make no noise-- and follow me."

She followed him; and he led her past the sleeping sentinels, opened a back door into the garden, hurried her (almost carried her) across the garden to a door at the furthest end of it, which opened into Les Champs Elysees--"La voila!" cried he, pushing her through the half-opened door. "God be praised!" answered a voice, which Madame de Fleury knew to be Victoire's, whose arms were thrown round her with a transport of joy.

"Softly; she is not safe yet--wait till we get her home, Victoire," said another voice, which she knew to be that of Maurice. He produced a dark lantern, and guided Madame de Fleury across the Champs Elysees, and across the bridge, and then through various by- streets, in perfect silence, till they arrived safely at the house where Victoire's mother lodged, and went up those very stairs which she had ascended in such different circumstances several years before. The mother, who was sitting up waiting most anxiously for the return of her children, clasped her hands in an ecstasy when she saw them return with Madame de Fleury.

"Welcome, madame! Welcome, dear madame! but who would have thought of seeing you here in such a way? Let her rest herself--let her rest; she is quite overcome. Here, madame, can you sleep on this poor bed?"

"The very same bed you laid me upon the day my arm was broken," said Victoire.

"Ay, Lord bless her!" said the mother; "and though it's seven good years ago, it seemed but yesterday that I saw her sitting on that bed beside my poor child looking like an angel. But let her rest, let her rest--we'll not say a word more, only God bless her; thank Heaven, she's safe with us at last!"

Madame de Fleury expressed unwillingness to stay with these good people, lest she should expose them to danger; but they begged most earnestly that she would remain with them without scruple.

"Surely, madame," said the mother, "you must think that we have some remembrance of all you have done for us, and some touch of gratitude."

"And surely, madame, you can trust us, I hope," said Maurice.

"And surely you are not too proud to let us do something for you. The lion was not too proud to be served by the poor little mouse," said Victoire. "As to danger for us," continued she, "there can be none; for Maurice and I have contrived a hiding-place for you, madame, that can never be found out--let them come spying here as often as they please, they will never find her out, will they, Maurice? Look, madame, into this lumber-room; you see it seems to be quite full of wood for firing; well, if you creep in behind, you can hide yourself quite sung in the loft above, and here's a trap- door into the loft that nobody ever would think of, for we have hung these old things from the top of it, and who could guess it was a trap-door? So you see, dear madame, you may sleep in peace here, and never fear for us."

Though but a girl of fourteen, Victoire showed at this time all the sense and prudence of a woman of thirty. Gratitude seemed at once to develop all the powers of her mind. It was she and Maurice who had prevailed upon the smith to effect Madame de Fleury's escape from her own house. She had invented, she had foreseen, she had arranged everything; she had scarcely rested night or day since the imprisonment of her benefactress, and now that her exertions had fully succeeded, her joy seemed to raise her above all feeling of fatigue; she looked as fresh and moved as briskly, her mother said, as if she were preparing to go to a ball.

"Ah! my child," said she, "your cousin Manon, who goes to those balls every night, was never so happy as you are this minute."

But Victoire's happiness was not of long continuance; for the next day they were alarmed by intelligence that Tracassier was enraged beyond measure at Madame de Fleury's escape, that all his emissaries were at work to discover her present hiding-place, that the houses of all the parents and relations of her pupils were to be searched, and that the most severe denunciations were issued against all by whom she should be harboured. Manon was the person who gave this intelligence, but not with any benevolent design; she first came to Victoire, to display her own consequence; and to terrify her, she related all she knew from a soldier's wife, who was M. Tracassier's mistress. Victoire had sufficient command over herself to conceal from the inquisitive eyes of Manon the agitation of her heart; she had also the prudence not to let any one of her companions into her secret, though, when she saw their anxiety, she was much tempted to relieve them, by the assurance that Madame de Fleury was in safety. All the day was passed in apprehension. Madame de Fleury never stirred from her place of concealment: as the evening and the hour of the domiciliary visits approached, Victoire and Maurice were alarmed by an unforeseen difficulty. Their mother, whose health had been broken by hard work, in vain endeavoured to suppress her terror at the thoughts of this domiciliary visit; she repeated incessantly that she knew they should all be discovered, and that her children would be dragged to the guillotine before her face. She was in such a distracted state, that they dreaded she would, the moment she saw the soldiers, reveal all she knew.

"If they question me, I shall not know what to answer," cried the terrified woman. "What can I say?--What can I do?"

Reasoning, entreaties, all were vain; she was not in a condition to understand, or even to listen to, anything that was said. In this situation they were when the domiciliary visitors arrived--they heard the noise of the soldiers' feet on the stairs--the poor woman sprang from the arms of her children; but at the moment the door was opened, and she saw the glittering of the bayonets, she fell at full length in a swoon on the floor--fortunately before she had power to utter a syllable. The people of the house knew, and said, that she was subject to fits on any sudden alarm; so that her being affected in this manner did not appear surprising. They threw her on a bed, whilst they proceeded to search the house: her children stayed with her; and, wholly occupied in attending to her, they were not exposed to the danger of betraying their anxiety about Madame de Fleury. They trembled, however, from head to foot when they heard one of the soldiers swear that all the wood in the lumber-room must be pulled out, and that he would not leave the house till every stick was moved; the sound of each log, as it was thrown out, was heard by Victoire; her brother was now summoned to assist. How great was his terror when one of the searchers looked up to the roof, as if expecting to find a trap door; fortunately, however, he did not discover it. Maurice, who had seized the light, contrived to throw the shadows so as to deceive the eye. The soldiers at length retreated; and with inexpressible satisfaction Maurice lighted them down stairs, and saw them fairly out of the house. For some minutes after they were in safety, the terrified mother, who had recovered her senses, could scarcely believe that the danger was over. She embraced her children by turns with wild transport; and with tears begged Madame de Fleury to forgive her cowardice, and not to attribute it to ingratitude, or to suspect that she had a bad heart. She protested that she was now become so courageous, since she found that she had gone through this trial successfully, and since she was sure that the hiding- place was really so secure, that she should never be alarmed at any domiciliary visit in future. Madame de Fleury, however, did not think it either just or expedient to put her resolution to the trial. She determined to leave Paris; and, if possible, to make her escape from France. The master of one of the Paris diligences was brother to Francois, her footman: he was ready to assist her at all hazards, and to convey her safely to Bourdeaux, if she could disguise herself properly; and if she could obtain a pass from any friend under a feigned name.

Victoire--the indefatigable Victoire--recollected that her friend Annette had an aunt, who was nearly of Madame de Fleury's size, and who had just obtained a pass to go to Bourdeaux, to visit some of her relations. The pass was willingly given up to Madame de Fleury; and upon reading it over it was found to answer tolerably well--the colour of the eyes and hair at least would do; though the words un nez gros were not precisely descriptive of this lady's. Annette's mother, who had always worn the provincial dress of Auvergne, furnished the high cornette, stiff stays, bodice, &c.; and equipped in these, Madame de Fleury was so admirably well disguised, that even Victoire declared she should scarcely have known her. Money, that most necessary passport in all countries, was still wanting: as seals had been put upon all Madame de Fleury's effects the day she had been first imprisoned in her own house, she could not save even her jewels. She had, however, one ring on her finger of some value. How to dispose of it without exciting suspicion was the difficulty. Babet, who was resolved to have her share in assisting her benefactress, proposed to carry the ring to a colporteur--a pedlar, or sort of travelling jeweller--who had come to lay in a stock of hardware at Paris: he was related to one of Madame de Fleury's little pupils, and readily disposed of the ring for her: she obtained at least two-thirds of its value--a great deal in those times.

The proofs of integrity, attachment, and gratitude which she received in these days of peril, from those whom she had obliged in her prosperity, touched her generous heart so much, that she has often since declared she could not regret having been reduced to distress. Before she quitted Paris she wrote letters to her friends, recommending her pupils to their protection; she left these letters in the care of Victoire, who to the last moment followed her with anxious affection. She would have followed her benefactress into exile, but that she was prevented by duty and affection from leaving her mother, who was in declining health.

Madame de Fleury successfully made her escape from Paris. Some of the municipal officers in the towns through which she passed on her road were as severe as their ignorance would permit in scrutinising her passport. It seldom happened that more than one of these petty committees of public safety could read. One usually spelled out the passport as well as he could, whilst the others smoked their pipes, and from time to time held a light up to the lady's face to examine whether it agreed with the description.

"Mais toi! tu n'as pas le nez gros!" said one of her judges to her. "Son nez est assez gros, et c'est moi qui le dit," said another. The question was put to the vote; and the man who had asserted what was contrary to the evidence of his senses was so vehement in supporting his opinion, that it was carried in spite of all that could be said against it. Madame de Fleury was suffered to proceed on her journey. She reached Bordeaux in safety. Her husband's friends--the good have always friends in adversity--her husband's friends exerted themselves for her with the most prudent zeal. She was soon provided with a sum of money sufficient for her support for some time in England; and she safely reached that free and happy country, which has been the refuge of so many illustrious exiles.

CHAPTER XI

"Cosi rozzo diamante appena splende
Dalla rupe natia quand' esce fuora,
E a poco a poco lucido se rende
Sotto l'attenta che lo lavora."

Madame de Fleury joined her husband, who was in London, and they both lived in the most retired and frugal manner. They had too much of the pride of independence to become burthensome to their generous English friends. Notwithstanding the variety of difficulties they had to encounter, and the number of daily privations to which they were forced to submit, yet they were happy--in a tranquil conscience, in their mutual affection, and the attachment of many poor but grateful friends. A few months after she came to England, Madame de Fleury received, by a private hand, a packet of letters from her little pupils. Each of them, even the youngest, who had but just begun to learn joining-hand, would write a few lines in this packet.

In various hands, of various sizes, the changes were rung upon these simple words:-

"MY DEAR MADAME DE FLEURY,

"I love you--I wish you were here again--I will be VERY VERY good whilst you are away. If you stay away ever so long, I shall never forget you, nor your goodness; but I hope you will soon be able to come back, and this is what I pray for every night. Sister Frances says I may tell you that I am very good, and Victoire thinks so too."

This was the substance of several of their little letters. Victoire's contained rather more information:-

"You will be glad to learn that dear Sister Frances is safe, and that the good chestnut-woman, in whose cellar she took refuge, did not get into any difficulty. After you were gone, M. T- said that he did not think it worth while to pursue her, as it was only you he wanted to humble. Manon, who has, I do not know how, means of knowing, told me this. Sister Frances is now with her abbess, who, as well as everybody else that knows her, is very fond of her. What was a convent is no longer a convent--the nuns are turned out of it. Sister Frances' health is not so good as it used to be, though she never complains. I am sure she suffers much; she has never been the same person since that day when we were driven from our happy school-room. It is all destroyed--the garden and everything. It is now a dismal sight. Your absence also afflicts Sister Frances much, and she is in great anxiety about all of us. She has the six little ones with her every day in her own apartment, and goes on teaching them as she used to do. We six eldest go to see her as often as we can. I should have begun, my dear Madame de Fleury, by telling you, that, the day after you left Paris, I went to deliver all the letters you were so very kind to write for us in the midst of your hurry. Your friends have been exceedingly good to us, and have got places for us all. Rose is with Madame la Grace, your mantua-maker, who says she is more handy and more expert at cutting out than girls she has had these three years. Marianne is in the service of Madame de V-, who has lost a great part of her large fortune, and cannot afford to keep her former waiting-maid. Madame de V- is well pleased with Marianne, and bids me tell you that she thanks you for her. Indeed, Marianne, though she is only fourteen, can do everything her lady wants. Susanne is with a confectioner. She gave Sister Frances a box of bonbons of her own making this morning; and Sister Frances, who is a judge, says they are excellent--she only wishes you could taste them. Annette and I (thanks to your kindness!) are in the same service with Madame Feuillot, the brodeuse, to whom you recommended us. She is not discontented with our work, and, indeed, sent a very civil message yesterday to Sister Frances on this subject; but believe it is too flattering for me to repeat in this letter. We shall do our best to give her satisfaction. She is glad to find that we can write tolerably, and that we can make out bills and keep accounts, this being particularly convenient to her at present, as the young man she had in the shop is become an orator, and good for nothing but la chose publique; her son, who could have supplied his place, is ill; and Madame Feuillot herself, not having had, as she says, the advantage of such a good education as we have been blessed with, writes but badly, and knows nothing of arithmetic. Dear Madame de Fleury, how much, how very much we are obliged to you! We feel it every day more and more; in these times what would have become of us if we could do nothing useful? Who would, who could be burdened with us? Dear madame, we owe everything to you--and we can do nothing, not the least thing for you! My mother is still in bad health, and I fear will never recover; Babet is with her always, and Sister Frances is very good to her. My brother Maurice is now so good a workman that he earns a louis a week. He is very steady to his business, and never goes to the revolutionary meetings, though once he had a great mind to be an orator of the people, but never since the day that you explained to him that he knew nothing about equality and the rights of men, &c. How could I forget to tell you, that his master the smith, who was one of your guards, and who assisted you to escape, has returned without suspicion to his former trade? and he declares that he will never more meddle with public affairs. I gave him the money you left with me for him. He is very kind to my brother. Yesterday Maurice mended for Annette's mistress the lock of an English writing-desk, and he mended it so astonishingly well, that an English gentleman, who saw it, could not believe the work was done by a Frenchman; so my brother was sent for, to prove it, and they were forced to believe it. To-day he has more work than he can finish this twelve-month--all this we owe to you. I shall never forget the day when you promised that you would grant my brother's wish to be apprenticed to the smith, if I was not in a passion for a month; that cured me of being so passionate.

"Dear Madame de Fleury, I have written you too long a letter, and not so well as I can write when I am not in a hurry; but I wanted to tell you everything at once, because, may be, I shall not for a long time have so safe an opportunity of sending a letter to you.

"VICTOIRE."

Several months elapsed before Madame do Fleury received another letter from Victoire; it was short and evidently written in great distress of mind. It contained an account of her mother's death. She was now left at the early age of sixteen an orphan. Madame Feuillot, the brodeuse, with whom she lived, added few lines to her letter, penned with difficulty and strangely spelled, but, expressive of her being highly pleased with both the girls recommended to her by Madame de Fleury, especially Victoire, who she said was such a treasure to her, that she would not part with her on any account, and should consider her as a daughter. "I tell her not to grieve so much; for though she has lost one mother she has gained another for herself, who will always love her; and besides she is so useful, and in so many ways, with her pen and her needle, in accounts, and everything that is wanted in a family or a shop; she can never want employment or friends in the worst times, and none can be worse than these, especially for such pretty girls as she is, who have all their heads turned, and are taught to consider nothing a sin that used to be sins. Many gentlemen, who come to our shop, have found out that Victoire is very handsome, and tell her so; but she is so modest and prudent that I am not afraid for her. I could tell you, madame, a good anecdote on this subject, but my paper will not allow, and, besides, my writing is so difficult."

Above a year elapsed before Madame de Fleury received another letter from Victoire: this was in a parcel, of which an emigrant took charge; it contained a variety of little offerings from her pupils, instances of their ingenuity, their industry, and their affection; the last thing in the packet was a small purse labelled in this manner -

"Savings from our wages and earnings for her who taught us all we know."

CHAPTER XII

"Dans sa pompe elegante, admirez Chantilly,
De heros en heros, d'age en age, embelli."--DE LILLE.

The health of the good Sister Frances, which had suffered much from the shock her mind received at the commencement of the revolution, declined so rapidly in the course of the two succeeding years, that she was obliged to leave Paris, and she retired to a little village in the neighbourhood of Chantilly. She chose this situation because here she was within a morning's walk of Madame de Fleury's country-seat. The Chateau de Fleury had not yet been seized as national property, nor had it suffered from the attacks of the mob, though it was in a perilous situation, within view of the high road to Paris. The Parisian populace had not yet extended their outrages to this distance from the city, and the poor people who lived on the estate of Fleury, attached from habit, principle, and gratitude, to their lord, were not disposed to take advantage of the disorder of the times, to injure the property of those from whom they had all their lives received favours and protection. A faithful old steward had the care of the castle and the grounds. Sister Frances was impatient to talk to him and to visit the chateau, which she had never seen; but for some days after her arrival in the village she was so much fatigued and so weak that she could not attempt so long a walk. Victoire had obtained permission from her mistress to accompany the nun for a few days to the country, as Annette undertook to do all the business of the shop during the absence of her companion. Victoire was fully as eager as Sister Frances to see the faithful steward and the Chateau de Fleury, and the morning was now fixed for their walk; but in the middle of the night they were awakened by the shouts of a mob, who had just entered the village fresh from the destruction of a neighbouring castle. The nun and Victoire listened; but in the midst of the horrid yells of joy no human voice, no intelligible word could be distinguished; they looked through a chink in the window-shutter and they saw the street below filled with a crowd of men, whose countenances were by turns illuminated by the glare of the torches which they brandished.

"Good Heavens!" whispered the nun to Victoire: "I should know the face of that man who is loading his musket--the very man whom I nursed ten years ago when he was ill with a gaol fever!"

This man, who stood in the midst of the crowd, taller by the head than the others, seemed to be the leader of the party; they were disputing whether they should proceed further, spend the remainder of the night in the village alehouse, or return to Paris. Their leader ordered spirits to be distributed to his associates, and exhorted them in a loud voice to proceed in their glorious work. Tossing his firebrand over his head he declared that he would never return to Paris till he had razed to the ground the Chateau de Fleury. At these words, Victoire, forgetful of all personal danger, ran out into the midst of the mob, pressed her way up to the leader of these ruffians, caught him by the arm, exclaiming, "You will not touch a stone in the Chateau de Fleury--I have my reasons--I say you will not suffer a stone in the Chateau de Fleury to be touched."

"And why not?" cried the man, turning astonished; "and who are you that I should listen to you?"

"No matter who I am," said Victoire; "follow me and I will show you one to whom you will not refuse to listen. Here!--here she is," continued Victoire, pointing to the nun, who had followed her in amazement; here is one to whom you will listen--yes, look at her well: hold the light to her face."

The nun, in a supplicating attitude, stood in speechless expectation.

"Ay, I see you have gratitude, I know you will have mercy," cried Victoire, watching the workings in the countenance of the man; "you will save the Chateau de Fleury for her sake--who saved your life."

"I will," cried this astonished chief of a mob, fired with sudden generosity. "By my faith you are a brave girl, and a fine girl, and know how to speak to the heart, and in the right moment. Friends, citizens, this nun, though she is a nun, is good for something. When I lay ill with a fever, and not a soul else to help me, she came and gave me medicines and food--in short, I owe my life to her. 'Tis ten years ago, but I remember it well, and now it is our turn to rule, and she shall be paid as she deserves. Not a stone of the Chateau de Fleury shall be touched!"

With loud acclamations the mob joined in the generous enthusiasm of the moment and followed their leader peaceably out of the village. All this passed with such rapidity as scarcely to leave the impression of reality upon the mind. As soon as the sun rose in the morning Victoire looked out for the turrets of the Chateau de Fleury, and she saw that they were safe--safe in the midst of the surrounding devastation. Nothing remained of the superb palace of Chantilly but the white arches of its foundation.

CHAPTER XIII

"When thy last breath, ere Nature sank to rest
Thy meek submission to thy God expressed;
When thy last look, ere thought and feeling fled,
A mingled gleam of hope and triumph shed;
What to thy soul its glad assurance gave -
Its hope in death, its triumph o'er the grave?
The sweet remembrance of unblemished youth,
Th' inspiring voice of innocence and truth!"--ROGERS.

The good Sister Frances, though she had scarcely recovered from the shock of the preceding night, accompanied Victoire to the Chateau de Fleury. The gates were opened for them by the old steward and his son Basile, who welcomed them with all the eagerness with which people welcome friends in time of adversity. The old man showed them the place; and through every apartment of the castle went on talking of former times, and with narrative fondness told anecdotes of his dear master and mistress. Here his lady used to sit and read--here was the table at which she wrote--this was the sofa on which she and the ladies sat the very last day she was at the castle, at the open windows of the hall, whilst all the tenants and people of the village were dancing on the green.

"Ay, those were happy times," said the old man; "but they will never return."

"Never! Oh do not say so," cried Victoire.

"Never during my life, at least," said the nun in a low voice, and with a look of resignation.

Basile, as he wiped the tears from his eyes, happened to strike his arm against the chord of Madame de Fleury's harp, and the sound echoed through the room.

"Before this year is at an end," cried Victoire, "perhaps that harp will be struck again in this Chateau by Madame de Fleury herself. Last night we could hardly have hoped to see these walls standing this morning, and yet it is safe--not a stone touched! Oh, we shall all live, I hope, to see better times!"

Sister Frances smiled, for she would not depress Victoire's enthusiastic hope: to please her, the good nun added, that she felt better this morning than she had felt for months, and Victoire was happier than she had been since Madame de Fleury left France. But, alas! it was only a transient gleam. Sister Frances relapsed and declined so rapidly, that even Victoire, whose mind was almost always disposed to hope, despaired of her recovery. With placid resignation, or rather with mild confidence, this innocent and benevolent creature met the approach of death. She seemed attached to earth only by affection for those whom she was to leave in this world. Two of the youngest of the children who had formerly been placed under her care, and who were not yet able to earn their own subsistence, she kept with her, and in the last days of her life she continued her instructions to them with the fond solicitude of a parent. Her father confessor, an excellent man, who never even in these dangerous times shrank from his duty, came to Sister Frances in her last moments, and relieved her mind from all anxiety, by promising to place the two little children with the lady who had been abbess of her convent, who would to the utmost of her power protect and provide for them suitably. Satisfied by this promise, the good Sister Frances smiled upon Victoire, who stood beside her bed, and with that smile upon her countenance expired.-- It was some time before the little children seemed to comprehend, or to believe, that Sister Frances was dead: they had never before seen any one die; they had no idea what it was to die, and their first feeling was astonishment; they did not seem to understand why Victoire wept. But the next day when no Sister Frances spoke to them, when every hour they missed some accustomed kindness from her,--when presently they saw the preparations for her funeral,-- when they heard that she was to be buried in the earth, and that they should never see her more,--they could neither play nor eat, but sat in a corner holding each other's hands, and watching everything that was done for the dead by Victoire.

In those times, the funeral of a nun, with a priest attending, would not have been permitted by the populace. It was therefore performed as secretly as possible: in the middle of the night the coffin was carried to the burial-place of the Fleury family; the old steward, his son Basile, Victoire, and the good father confessor, were the only persons present. It is necessary to mention this, because the facts were afterwards misrepresented.

CHAPTER XIV

"The character is lost!
Her head adorned with lappets, pinned aloft,
And ribands streaming gay, superbly raised,
Indebted to some smart wig-weaver's hand
For more than half the tresses it sustains."--COWPER.

Upon her return to Paris, Victoire felt melancholy; but she exerted herself as much as possible in her usual occupation; finding that employment and the consciousness of doing her duty were the best remedies for sorrow.

One day as she was busy settling Madame Feuillot's accounts a servant came into the shop and inquired for Mademoiselle Victoire: he presented her a note, which she found rather difficult to decipher. It was signed by her cousin Manon, who desired to see Victoire at her hotel. "HER HOTEL!" repeated Victoire with astonishment. The servant assured her that one of the finest hotels in Paris belonged to his lady, and that he was commissioned to show her the way to it. Victoire found her cousin in a magnificent house, which had formerly belonged to the Prince de Salms. Manon, dressed in the disgusting, indecent extreme of the mode, was seated under a richly-fringed canopy. She burst into a loud laugh as Victoire entered.

"You look just as much astonished as I expected," cried she. "Great changes have happened since I saw you last--I always told you, Victoire, I knew the world better than you did. What has come of all your schooling, and your mighty goodness, and your gratitude truly? Your patroness is banished and a beggar, and you a drudge in the shop of a brodeuse, who makes you work your fingers to the bone, no doubt. Now you shall see the difference. Let me show you my house; you know it was formerly the hotel of the Prince de Salms, he that was guillotined the other day; but you know nothing, for you have been out of Paris this month, I understand. Then I must tell you that my friend Villeneuf has acquired an immense fortune! by assignats made in the course of a fortnight. I say an immense fortune! and has bought this fine house. Now do you begin to understand?"

"I do not clearly know whom you mean by 'your friend Villeneuf,'" said Victoire.

"The hairdresser who lived in our street," said Manon; "he became a great patriot, you know, and orator; and, what with his eloquence and his luck in dealing in assignats, he has made his fortune and mine."

"And yours! then he is your husband?"

"That does not follow--that is not necessary--but do not look so shocked--everybody goes on the sane way now; besides, I had no other resource--I must have starved--I could not earn my bread as you do. Besides, I was too delicate for hard work of any sort--and besides--but come, let me show you my house--you have no idea how fine it is."

With anxious ostentation Manon displayed all her riches to excite Victoire's envy.

"Confess, Victoire," said she at last, "that you think me the happiest person you have ever known.--You do not answer; whom did you ever know that was happier?"

"Sister Frances, who died last week, appeared to be much happier," said Victoire.

"The poor nun!" said Manon, disdainfully. "Well, and whom do you think the next happiest?"

"Madame de Fleury."

"An exile and a beggar!--Oh, you are jesting now, Victoire--or-- envious. With that sanctified face, citoyenne--perhaps I should say Mademoiselle--Victoire you would be delighted to change places with me this instant. Come, you shall stay with me a week to try how you like it."

"Excuse me," said Victoire, firmly; "I cannot stay with you, Manon; you have chosen one way of life and I another--quite another. I do not repent my choice--may you never repent yours!--Farewell!"

"Bless me! what airs! and with what dignity she looks! Repent of my choice!--a likely thing, truly. Am not I at the top of the wheel?"

"And may not the wheel turn?" said Victoire.

"Perhaps it may," said Manon; "but till it does I will enjoy myself. Since you are of a different humour, return to Madame Feuillot, and figure upon cambric and muslin, and make out bills, and nurse old nuns all the days of your life. You will never persuade me, however, that you would not change places with me if you could. Stay till you are tried, Mademoiselle Victoire. Who was ever in love with you or your virtues?--Stay till you are tried."

CHAPTER XV

"But beauty, like the fair Hesperian tree,
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard
Of dragon watch with unenchanted eye
To save her blossoms, or defend her fruit."--MILTON.

The trial was nearer than either Manon or Victoire expected. Manon had scarcely pronounced the last words when the ci-devant hairdresser burst into the room, accompanied by several of his political associates, who met to consult measures for the good of the nation. Among these patriots was the Abbe Tracassier.

"Who is that pretty girl who is with you, Manon?" whispered he; "a friend of yours, I hope?"

Victoire left the room immediately, but not before the profligate abbe had seen enough to make him wish to see more. The next day he went to Madame Feuillot's under pretence of buying some embroidered handkerchiefs; he paid Victoire a profusion of extravagant compliments, which made no impression upon her innocent heart, and which appeared ridiculous to her plain good sense. She did not know who he was, nor did Madame Feuillot; for though she had often heard of the abbe, yet she had never seen him. Several succeeding days he returned, and addressed himself to Victoire, each time with increasing freedom. Madame Feuillot, who had the greatest confidence in her, left her entirely to her own discretion. Victoire begged her friend Annette to do the business of the shop, and stayed at work in the back parlour. Tracassier was much disappointed by her absence; but as he thought no great ceremony necessary in his proceedings, he made his name known in a haughty manner to Madame de Feuillot, and desired that he might be admitted into the back parlour, as he had something of consequence to say to Mademoiselle Victoire in private. Our readers will not require to have a detailed account of this tete-a-tete; it is sufficient to say that the disappointed and exasperated abbe left the house muttering imprecations. The next morning a note came to Victoire apparently from Manon: it was directed by her, but the inside was written by an unknown hand, and continued these words:-

"You are a charming, but incomprehensible girl--since you do not like compliments, you shall not be addressed with empty flattery. It is in the power of the person who dictates this, not only to make you as rich and great as your cousin Manon, but also to restore to fortune and to their country the friends for whom, you are most interested. Their fate as well as your own is in your power: if you send a favourable answer to this note, the persons alluded to will, to-morrow, be struck from the list of emigrants, and reinstated in their former possessions. If your answer is decidedly unfavourable, the return of your friends to France will be thenceforward impracticable, and their chateau, as well as their house in Paris, will be declared national property, and sold without delay to the highest bidder. To you, who have as much understanding as beauty, it is unnecessary to say more. Consult your heart, charming Victoire! be happy, and make others happy. This moment is decisive of your fate and of theirs, for you have to answer a man of a most decided character."

Victoire's answer was as follows:-

"My friends would not, I am sure, accept of their fortune, or consent to return to their country, upon the conditions proposed; therefore I have no merit in rejecting them."

Victoire had early acquired good principles, and that plain steady good sense, which goes straight to its object, without being dazzled or imposed upon by sophistry. She was unacquainted with the refinements of sentiment, but she distinctly knew right from wrong, and had sufficient resolution to abide by the right. Perhaps many romantic heroines might have thought it a generous self-devotion to have become in similar circumstances the mistress of Tracassier; and those who are skilled "to make the worst appear the better cause" might have made such an act of heroism the foundation of an interesting, or at least a fashionable novel. Poor Victoire had not received an education sufficiently refined to enable her to understand these mysteries of sentiment. She was even simple enough to flatter herself that this libertine patriot would not fulfil his threats, and that these had been made only with a view to terrify her into compliance. In this opinion, however, she found herself mistaken. M. Tracassier was indeed a man of the most decided character, if this form may properly be applied to those who act uniformly in consequence of their ruling passion. The Chateau de Fleury was seized as national property. Victoire heard this bad news from the old steward, who was turned out of the castle, along with his son, the very day after her rejection of the proposed conditions.

"I could not have believed that any human creature could be so wicked!" exclaimed Victoire, glowing with indignation: but indignation gave way to sorrow.

"And the Chateau de Fleury is really seized?--and you, good old man, are turned out of the place where you were born?--and you too, Basile?--and Madame de Fleury will never come back again!--and perhaps she may be put into prison in a foreign country, and may die for want--and I might have prevented all this!"

Unable to shed a tear, Victoire stood in silent consternation, whilst Annette explained to the good steward and his son the whole transaction. Basile, who was naturally of an impetuous temper, was so transported with indignation, that he would have gone instantly with the note from Tracassier to denounce him before the whole National Convention, if he had not been restrained by his more prudent father. The old steward represented to him, that as the note was neither signed nor written by the hand of Tracassier, no proof could be brought home to him, and the attempt to convict one of so powerful a party would only bring certain destruction upon the accusers. Besides, such was at this time the general depravity of manners, that numbers would keep the guilty in countenance. There was no crime which the mask of patriotism could not cover. "There is one comfort we have in our misfortunes, which these men can never have," said the old man; "when their downfall comes, and come it will most certainly, they will not feel as we do, INNOCENT. Victoire, look up! and do not give way to despair--all will yet be well."

"At all events, you have done what is right--so do not reproach yourself," said Basile. "Everybody--I mean everybody who is good for anything--must respect, admire, and love you, Victoire."

CHAPTER XVI

"Ne mal cio che v'annoja,
Quello e vero gioire
Che nasce da virtude dopo il soffrire."

Basile had not seen without emotion the various instances of goodness which Victoire showed during the illness of Sister Frances. Her conduct towards M. Tracassier increased his esteem and attachment; but he forbore to declare his affection, because he could not, consistently with prudence, or with gratitude to his father, think of marrying, now that he was not able to maintain a wife and family. The honest earnings of many years of service had been wrested from the old steward at the time the Chateau de Fleury was seized, and he now depended on the industry of his son for the daily support of his age. His dependence was just, and not likely to be disappointed; for he had given his son an education suitable to his condition in life. Basile was an exact arithmetician, could write an excellent hand, and was a ready draughtsman and surveyor. To bring these useful talents into action, and to find employment for them with men by whom they would be honestly rewarded, was the only difficulty--a difficulty which Victoire's brother Maurice soon removed. His reputation as a smith had introduced him, among his many customers, to a gentleman of worth and scientific knowledge, who was at this time employed to make models and plans of all the fortified places in Europe; he was in want of a good clerk and draughtsman, of whose integrity he could be secure. Maurice mentioned his friend Basile; and upon inquiry into his character, and upon trial of his abilities, he was found suited to the place, and was accepted. By his well-earned salary he supported himself and his father; and began, with the sanguine hopes of a young man, to flatter himself that he should soon be rich enough to marry, and that then he might declare his attachment to Victoire. Notwithstanding all his boasted prudence, he had betrayed sufficient symptoms of his passion to have rendered a declaration unnecessary to any clear-sighted observer: but Victoire was not thinking of conquests; she was wholly occupied with a scheme of earning a certain sum of money for her benefactress, who was now, as she feared, in want. All Madame de Fleury's former pupils contributed their share to the common stock; and the mantua-maker, the confectioner, the servants of different sorts, who had been educated at her school, had laid by, during the years of her banishment, an annual portion of their wages and savings: with the sum which Victoire now added to the fund, it amounted to ten thousand livres. The person who undertook to carry this money to Madame de Fleury, was Francois, her former footman, who had procured a pass to go to England as a hairdresser. The night before he set out was a happy night for Victoire, as all her companions met, by Madame Feuillot's invitation, at her house; and after tea they had the pleasure of packing up the little box, in which each, besides the money, sent some token their gratitude, and some proof of their ingenuity. They would with all their hearts have sent twice as many souvenirs as Francois could carry.

"D'abord c'est impossible!" cried he, when he saw the box that was prepared for him to carry to England: but his good nature was unable to resist the entreaties of each to have her offering carried, "which would take up no room."

He departed--arrived safe in England--found out Madame de Fleury, who was in real distress, in obscure lodgings at Richmond. He delivered the money, and all the presents of which he had taken charge: but the person to whom she entrusted a letter, in answer to Victoire, was not so punctual, or was more unlucky: for the letter never reached her, and she and her companions were long uncertain whether their little treasure had been received. They still continued, however, with indefatigable gratitude, to lay by a portion of their earnings for their benefactress; and the pleasure they had in this perseverance made them more than amends for the loss of some little amusements, and for privations to which they submitted in consequence of their resolution.

In the meantime, Basile, going on steadily with his employments, advanced every day in the favour of his master, and his salary was increased in proportion to his abilities and industry; so that he thought he could now, without any imprudence, marry. He consulted his father, who approved of his choice; he consulted Maurice as to the probability of his being accepted by Victoire; and encouraged by both his father and his friend, he was upon the eve of addressing himself to Victoire, when he was prevented by a new and unforeseen misfortune. His father was taken up, by an emissary of Tracassier's, and brought before one of their revolutionary committees, where he was accused of various acts of incivisme. Among other things equally criminal, it was proved that one Sunday, when he went to see Le Petit Trianon, then a public-house, he exclaimed, "C'est ici que le canaille danse, et que les honnetes gens pleurent!"

Basile was present at this mock examination of his father--he saw him on the point of being dragged to prison--when a hint was given that he might save his father by enlisting immediately, and going with the army out of France. Victoire was full in Basile's recollection; but there was no other means of saving his father. He enlisted, and in twenty-four hours left Paris.

What appear to be the most unfortunate circumstances of life often prove ultimately the most advantageous--indeed, those who have knowledge, activity, and integrity, can convert the apparent blanks in the lottery of fortune into prizes. Basile was recommended to his commanding officer by the gentleman who had lately employed him as a clerk; his skill in drawing plans, and in taking rapid surveys of the country through which they passed, was extremely useful to his general, and his integrity made it safe to trust him as a secretary. His commanding officer, though a brave man, was illiterate, and a secretary was to him a necessary of life. Basile was not only useful, but agreeable; without any mean arts, or servile adulation, he pleased by simply showing the desire to oblige and the ability to serve.

"Diable!" exclaimed the general one day, as he looked at Basile's plan of a town which the army was besieging. "How comes it that you are able to do all these things? But you have a genius for this sort of work, apparently."

"No, sir," said Basile, "these things were taught to me when I was a child by a good friend."

"A good friend he was, indeed! he did more for you than if he had given you a fortune; for, in these times, that might have been soon taken from you; but now you have the means of making a fortune for yourself."

This observation of the general's, obvious as it may seem, is deserving of the serious consideration of those who have children of their own to educate, or who have the disposal of money for public charities. In these times no sensible person will venture to pronounce that a change of fortune and station may not await the highest and the lowest; whether we rise or fall in the scale of society, personal qualities and knowledge will be valuable. Those who fall cannot be destitute, and those who rise cannot be ridiculous or contemptible, if they have been prepared for their fortune by proper education. In shipwreck those who carry their all in their minds are the most secure.

But to return to Basile. He had sense enough not to make his general jealous of him by any unseasonable display of his talents, or any officious intrusion of advice, even upon subjects which he best understood.

The talents of the warrior and the secretary were in such different lines, that there was no danger of competition; and the general, finding in his secretary the soul of all the arts, good sense, gradually acquired the habit of asking his opinion on every subject that came within his department. It happened that the general received orders from the Directory at Paris to take a certain town, let it cost what it would, within a given time: in his perplexity he exclaimed before Basile against the unreasonableness of these orders, and declared his belief that it was impossible he should succeed, and that this was only a scheme of his enemies to prepare his ruin. Basile had attended to the operations of the engineer who acted under the general, and perfectly recollected the model of the mines of this town, which he had seen when he was employed as draughtsman by his Parisian friend. He remembered that there was formerly an old mine that had been stopped up somewhere near the place where the engineer was at work; he mentioned in private his suspicions to the general, who gave orders in consequence. The old mine was discovered, cleared out, and by these means the town was taken the day before the time appointed. Basile did not arrogate to himself any of the glory of this success; he kept his general's secret and his confidence. Upon their return to Paris, after a fortunate campaign, the general was more grateful than some others have been, perhaps because more room was given by Basile's prudence for the exercise of this virtue.

"My friend," said he to Basile, "you have done me a great service by your counsel, and a greater still by holding your tongue. Speak now, and tell me freely if there is anything I can do for you. You see, as a victorious general, I have the upper hand amongst these fellows--Tracassier's scheme to ruin me missed--whatever I ask will at this moment be granted; speak freely, therefore."

Basile asked what he knew Victoire most desired--that Monsieur and Madame de Fleury should be struck from the list of emigrants, and that their property now in the hands of the nation should be restored to them. The general promised that this should be done. A warm contest ensued upon the subject between him and Tracassier, but the general stood firm; and Tracassier, enraged, forgot his usual cunning, and quarrelling irrevocably with a party now more powerful than his own, he and his adherents were driven from that station in which they had so long tyrannised. From being the rulers of France, they in a few hours became banished men, or, in the phrase of the times, des deportes.

We must not omit to mention the wretched end of Manon. The man with whom she lived perished by the guillotine. From his splendid house she went upon the stage, did not succeed, sank from one degree of profligacy to another, and at last died in an hospital.

In the meantime, the order for the restoration of the Fleury property, and for permission for the Fleury family to return to France, was made out in due form, and Maurice begged to be the messenger of these good tidings--he set out for England with the order.

Victoire immediately went down to the Chateau de Fleury, to get everything in readiness for the reception of the family.

Exiles are expeditious in their return to their native country. Victoire had but just time to complete her preparations, when Monsieur and Madame de Fleury arrived at Calais. Victoire had assembled all her companions, all Madame de Fleury's former pupils; and the hour when she was expected home, they, with the peasants of the neighbourhood, were all in their holiday clothes, and, according to the custom of the country, singing and dancing. Without music and dancing there is no perfect joy in France. Never was fete du village or fete du Seigneur more joyful than this.

The old steward opened the gate, the carriage drove in. Madame de Fleury saw that home which she had little expected evermore to behold, but all other thoughts were lost in the pleasure of meeting her beloved pupils.

"My children!" cried she, as they crowded round her the moment she got out of her carriage--"my dear, GOOD children!"

It was all she could say. She leaned on Victoire's arm as she went into the house, and by degrees recovering from the almost painful excess of pleasure, began to enjoy what she yet only confusedly felt.

Several of her pupils were so much grown and altered in their external appearance, that she could scarcely recollect them till they spoke, and then their voices and the expression of their countenances brought their childhood fully to her memory. Victoire, she thought, was changed the least, and at this she rejoiced.

The feeling and intelligent reader will imagine all the pleasure that Madame de Fleury enjoyed this day; nor was it merely the pleasure of a day. She heard from all her friends, with prolonged satisfaction, repeated accounts of the good conduct of these young people during her absence. She learned with delight how her restoration to her country and her fortune had been effected; and is it necessary to add, that Victoire consented to marry Basile, and that she was suitably portioned, and, what is better still, that she was perfectly happy? Monsieur de Fleury rewarded the attachment and good conduct of Maurice by taking him into his service, and making him his manager under the old steward at the Chateau de Fleury.

On Victoire's wedding-day Madame de Fleury produced all the little offerings of gratitude which she had received from her and her companions during her exile. It was now her turn to confer favours, and she knew how to confer them both with grace and judgment.

"No gratitude in human nature! No gratitude in the lower classes of the people!" cried she; "how much those are mistaken who think so! I wish they could know my history, and the history of these my children, and they would acknowledge their error."

Footnotes:

{1} "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first deprive of understanding."

 
 
 

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