"Who now will guard bewilder'd 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, Mad. 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 of 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 Mad. 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 every thing 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 Mad. 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 Mad. de Fleury's danger, abandoned all their little property, and instantly obeyed her orders to go home to their parents. Victoire at last saw Mad. 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 school-house. 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 every thing 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 Mad. 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.
Mad. 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.
"Alas! full oft on Guilt's victorious car The spoils of Virtue are in triumph borne, While the fair captive, mark'd with many a scar, In lone obscurity, oppress'd, forlorn, Resigns to tears her angel form."—BEATTIE.
A close prisoner in her own house, Mad. 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 these 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 jailers 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. Mad. 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 sunk 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."
Mad. 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 an 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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!"
Mad. 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 snug 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 develope all the powers of her mind. It was she and Maurice who had prevailed upon the smith to effect Mad. de Fleury's escape from her own house. She had invented, she had foreseen, she had arranged every thing; 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 Mad. 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 Mad. de Fleury was in safety. All the day was passed in apprehension. Mad. 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, any thing 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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. Mad. 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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, boddice, &c.; and equipped in these, Mad. 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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.
Mad. 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 scrutinizing 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. Mad. de Fleury was suffered to proceed on her journey. She reached Bourdeaux 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.
"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."
Mad. 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, Mad. 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 every body 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 every thing. 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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 Mad. de V——, who has lost a great part of her large fortune, and cannot afford to keep her former waiting-maid. Mad. 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 every thing 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 Mad. 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 I 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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 every thing 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 twelvemonth—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 Mad. 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 every thing at once, because, may be, I shall not for a long time have so safe an opportunity of sending a letter to you.
Several months elapsed before Mad. de 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. Mad. Feuillot, the brodeuse, with whom she lived, added a 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 Mad. 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 every thing 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 Mad. 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."
"Dans sa pompe elegante, admirez Chantilly, De heros en heros, d'age en age, embelli."
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 Mad. 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 jail 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!
"When thy last breath, ere Nature sank to rest, Thy meek submission to thy God express'd; 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 unblemish'd youth, Th'inspiring voice of innocence and truth!"
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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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 which 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 shrunk from his duty, came to attend 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 every thing 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.
"The character is lost! Her head adorn'd with lappets, pinn'd aloft, And ribands streaming gay, superbly raised, Indebted to some smart wig-weaver's hand For more than half the tresses it sustains."
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 Mad. 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—every body goes on the same 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 Mad. 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."
"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."
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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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. Mad. 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 Mad. de Feuillot, and desired that he might be admitted into the back parlour, as he had something of consequence to say to Mlle. 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 contained 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 term 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 Mad. 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. "Every body—I mean every body who is good for any thing—must respect, admire, and love you, Victoire."
"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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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 Mad. 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 of 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 Mad. 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 mean time 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 la 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 any thing 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 he granted; speak freely, therefore."
Basile asked what he knew Victoire most desired—that M. and Mad. 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 tyrannized. 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—sunk from one degree of profligacy to another; and at last died in an hospital.
In the mean time, 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 every thing 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 M. and Mad. de Fleury arrived at Calais. Victoire had assembled all her companions, all Mad. 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. Mad. 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 Mad. 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?—M. 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, Mad. 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."
EMILIE DE COULANGES
"I am young, I am in good health." said Emilie de Coulanges; "I am not to be pitied. But my poor mamma, who has been used all her life to such luxuries! And now to have only her Emilie to wait upon her! Her Emilie, who is but an awkward femme de chambre! But she will improve, it must be hoped; and as to the rest, things, which are now always changing, and which cannot change for the worse, must soon infallibly change for the better—and mamma will certainly recover all her property one of these days. In the mean time (if mamma is tolerably well), we shall be perfectly happy in England—that charming country, which, perhaps, we should never have seen but for this terrible revolution!—Here we shall assuredly find friends. The English are such good people!—Cold, indeed, at first—that's their misfortune: but then the English coldness is of manner, not of heart. Time immemorial, they have been famous for making the best friends in the world; and even to us, who are their natural enemies, they are generous in our distress. I have heard innumerable instances of their hospitality to our emigrants; and mamma will certainly not be the first exception. At her Hotel de Coulanges, she always received the English with distinguished attention; and though our hotel, with half Paris, has changed its name since those days, the English have too good memories to forget it, I am sure."
By such speeches Emilie endeavoured to revive her mother's spirits. To a most affectionate disposition and a feeling heart she joined all the characteristic and constitutional gaiety of her nation; a gaiety which, under the pressure of misfortune, merits the name of philosophy, since it produces all the effects, and is not attended with any of the parade of stoicism.
Emilie de Coulanges was a young French emigrant, of a noble family, and heiress to a large estate; but the property of her family had been confiscated during the revolution. She and her mother, la Comtesse de Coulanges, made their escape to England. Mad. de Coulanges was in feeble health, and much dispirited by the sudden loss of rank and fortune. Mlle. de Coulanges felt the change more for her mother than for herself; she always spoke of her mother's misfortunes, never of her own.
Upon their arrival in London, Emilie, full of life and hope, went to present some of her mother's letters of recommendation. One of them was addressed to Mrs. Somers. Mlle. de Coulanges was particularly delighted by the manner in which she was received by this lady.
"No English coldness!—no English reserve!—So warm in her expressions of kindness!—so eager in her offers of service!" Emilie could speak of nothing for the remainder of the day, but "cette charmante Mad. Somers!" The next day, and the next, and the next, she found increasing reasons to think her charming. Mrs. Somers exerted herself, indeed, with the most benevolent activity, to procure for Mad. de Coulanges every thing that could be convenient or agreeable. She prepared apartments in her own house for the mother and daughter, which she absolutely insisted upon their occupying immediately: she assured them that they should not be treated as visitors, but as inmates and friends of the family. She pressed her invitation with such earnestness, and so politely urged her absolute right to show her remembrance of the civilities which she had received at Paris, that there was no possibility of persisting in a refusal. The pride of high birth would have revolted at the idea of becoming dependent, but all such thoughts were precluded by the manner in which Mrs. Somers spoke; and the Comtesse de Coulanges accepted of the invitation, resolving, however, not to prolong her stay, if affairs in her own country should not take a favourable turn. She expected remittances from a Paris banker, with whom she had lodged a considerable sum—all that could be saved in ready money, in jewels, &c. from the wreck of her fortune: with this sum, if she should find all schemes of returning to France and recovering her property impracticable, she determined to live, in some retired part of England, in the most economical manner possible. But, in the mean time, as economy had never been either her theory or her practice, and as she considered retreat from the world as the worst thing, next to death, that could befal a woman, she was glad to put off the evil hour. She acknowledged that ill health made her look some years older than she really was; but she could not think herself yet old enough to become devout; and, till that crisis arrived, she, of course, would not willingly be banished from society. So that, upon the whole, she was well satisfied to find herself established in Mrs. Somers's excellent house; where, but for the want of three antechambers, and of the Parisian quantity of looking-glass on every side of every apartment, la comtesse might have fancied herself at her own Hotel de Coulanges. Emilie would have been better contented to have been lodged and treated with less magnificence; but she rejoiced to see that her mother was pleased, and that she became freer from her vapeurs noirs. Emilie began to love Mrs. Somers for making her mother well and happy—to love her with all the fearless enthusiasm of a young, generous mind, which accepts of obligation without any idea that gratitude may become burdensome. Mrs. Somers excited not only affection—she inspired admiration. Capable of the utmost exertion and of the most noble sacrifices for her friends, the indulgence of her generosity seemed not only to be the greatest pleasure of her soul, but absolutely necessary to her nature. To attempt to restrain her liberality was to provoke her indignation, or to incur her contempt. To refuse her benefits was to forfeit her friendship. She grew extremely fond of her present guests, because, without resistance, they permitted her to load them with favours. According to her custom, she found a thousand perfections in those whom she obliged. She had considered la Comtesse de Coulanges, when she knew her at Paris, as a very well-bred woman, but as nothing more; yet now she discovered that Mad. de Coulanges had a superior understanding and great strength of mind;—and Emilie, who had pleased her when a child, only by the ingenuous sweetness of her disposition and vivacity of her manners, was now become a complete angel—no angel had ever such a variety of accomplishments—none but an angel could possess such a combination of virtues. Mrs. Somers introduced her charming and noble emigrants to all her numerous and fashionable acquaintance; and she would certainly have quarrelled with any one who did not at least appear to sympathize in her sentiments. Fortunately there was no necessity for quarrelling; these foreigners were well received in every company, and Emilie pleased universally; or, as Mad. de Coulanges expressed it, "Elle avoit des grands succes dans la societe." The French comtesse herself could hardly give more emphatic importance to the untranslateable word succes than Mrs. Somers annexed to it upon this occasion. She was proud of producing Emilie as her protegee; and the approbation of others increased her own enthusiasm: much as she did for her favourite, she longed to do more.—An opportunity soon presented itself.
[Footnote 1: Vapeurs noirs—vulgarly known by the name of blue devils.]
One evening, after Mad. de Coulanges had actually tired herself with talking to the crowd, which her vivacity, grace, and volubility had attracted about her sofa, she ran to entrench herself in an arm-chair by the fireside, sprinkled the floor round her with eau de senteur, drew, with her pretty foot, a line of circumvallation, and then, shaking her tiny fan at the host of assailants, she forbade them, under pain of her sovereign displeasure, to venture within the magic circle, or to torment her by one more question or compliment. It was now absolutely necessary to be serious, and to study the politics of Europe. She called for the French newspapers, which Mrs. Somers had on purpose for her; and, provided with a pinch of snuff, from the ever-ready box of a French abbe, whose arm was permitted to cross the line of demarcation, Mad. de Coulanges began to study. Silence ensued—for novelty always produces silence in the first instant of surprise. An English gentleman wrote on the back of a letter an offer to his neighbour of a wager, that the silence would be first broken by the French countess, and that it could not last above two minutes. The wager was accepted, and watches were produced. Before the two minutes had expired, the pinch of snuff dropped from the countess's fingers, and, clasping her hands together, she exclaimed, "Ah! ciel!"—The surrounding gentlemen, who were full of their wager, and who had heard, from the lady, during the course of the evening, at least a dozen exclamations of nearly equal vehemence about the merest trifles, were more amused than alarmed at this instant: but Emilie, who knew her mother's countenance, and who saw the sudden change in it, pressed through the circle, and just caught her mother in her arms as she fainted. Mrs. Somers, much alarmed, hastened to her assistance. The countess was carried out of the room, and every body was full of pity and of curiosity. When Mad. de Coulanges recovered from her fainting-fit, she was seized with one of her nervous attacks; so that no explanation could be obtained. Emilie and Mrs. Somers looked over the French paper, but could not find any paragraph unusually alarming. At length, more composed, the countess apologized for the disturbance which she had occasioned; thanked Mrs. Somers repeatedly for her kindness; but spoke in a hurried manner, as if she did not well know what she said. She concluded by declaring that she was subject to these nervous attacks, that she should be quite well the next morning, and that she did not wish that any one should sit up with her during the night except Emilie, who was used to her ways. With that true politeness which understands quickly the feelings and wishes of others, Mrs. Somers forbore to make any ill-timed inquiries or officious offers of assistance; but immediately retired, and ordered the attendants to leave the room, that Mad. de Coulanges and her daughter might be at perfect liberty. Early in the morning Mrs. Somers heard somebody knock softly at her door. It was Emilie.
"Mrs. Masham told me that you were awake, madam, or I should not—"
"Come in, come in, my dearest Emilie—I am awake—wide awake. Is your mother better?"
"Alas! no, madam!"
"Sit down, my dear, and do not call me madam, so coldly.—I do not deserve it."
"My dear friend! friend of mamma! my dearest friend!" cried Emilie, bursting into tears, and seizing Mrs. Somers' hand; "do not accuse me of coldness to you. I am always afraid that my French expressions should sound exaggerated to English ears, and that you should think I say too much to be sincere in expressing my gratitude."
"My sweet Emilie, who could doubt your sincerity?—none but a brute or a fool: but do not talk to me of gratitude."
"I must," said Emilie; "for I feel it."
"Prove it to me, then, in the manner I like best—in the only manner I like—by putting it in my power to serve you. I do not intrude upon your mother's confidence—I make no inquiries; but do me the justice to tell me how I can be of use to her—or rather to you. From you I expect frankness. Command my fortune, my time, my credit, my utmost exertions—they are all, they ever have been, they ever shall be, whilst I have life, at the command of my friends. And are not you my friend?"
"Generous lady!—You overpower me with your goodness."
"No praises, no speeches!—Actions for me!—Tell me how I can serve you."
"Alas! you, even you, can do us no good in this business."
"That I will never believe, till I know the business."
"The worst of it is," said Emilie, "that we must leave you."
"Leave me! Impossible!" cried Mrs. Somers, starting up.—You shall not leave me, that I am determined upon. Why cannot you speak out at once, and tell me what is the matter, Emilie? How can I act, unless I am trusted? and who deserves to be trusted by you, if I do not?"
"Assuredly nobody deserves it better; and if it were only my affair, dear Mrs. Somers, you should have known it as soon as I knew it myself; but it is mamma's, more than mine."
"Madame la comtesse, then, does not think me worthy of her confidence," said Mrs. Somers, in a haughty tone, whilst displeasure clouded her whole countenance. "Is that what I am to understand from you, Mille. de Coulanges?"
"No, no; that is not what you are to understand, dear madam—my dear friend, I should say," cried Emilie, alarmed. "Certainly I have explained myself ill, or you could not suspect mamma for a moment of such injustice. She knows you to be most worthy of her confidence; but on this occasion her reserve, believe me, proceeds solely from motives of delicacy, of which you could not but approve."
"Motives of delicacy, my dear Emilie," said Mrs. Somers, softening her tone, but still with an air of dissatisfaction—"motives of delicacy, my dear Emilie, are mighty pretty sounding words; and at your age I used to think them mighty grand things; but I have long since found out that motives of delicacy are usually the excuse of weak minds for not speaking the plain truth to their friends. People quit the straight path from motives of delicacy, may be, to a worm or a beetle—vulgar souls, observe, I rank only as worms and beetles; they cross our path every instant in life; and those who fear to give them offence must deviate and deviate, till they get into a labyrinth, from which they can never extricate themselves, or be extricated. My Emilie, I am sure, will always keep the straight road—I know her strength of mind. Indeed, I did expect strength of mind from her mother; but, like all who have lived a great deal in the world, she is, I find, a slave to motives of delicacy."
"Mamma's delicacy is of a very different sort from what you describe, and what you dislike," said Emilie. "But, since persisting in her reserve would, as I see, offend one whom she would be most sorry to displease, permit me to go this moment and persuade her to let me tell you the simple truth."
"Go—run, my dear. Now I know my Emilie again. Now I shall be able to do some good."
By the time that Emilie returned, Mrs. Somers was dressed: she had dressed in the greatest hurry imaginable, that she might be ready for action—instantaneous action—if the service of her friends, as she hoped, required it. Emilie brought the newspaper in her hand, which her mother had been reading the preceding night.
"Here is all the mystery," said she, pointing to a paragraph which announced the failure of a Paris banker. "Mamma lodged all the money she had left in this man's hands."
"And is that all?—I really expected something much more terrible."
"It is terrible to mamma; because, depending on this man's punctuality, she has bought in London clothes and trinkets—chiefly for me, indeed—and she has no immediate means of paying these debts; but, if she will only keep her mind tranquil, all will yet be well. You flatter me that I play tolerably on the piano-forte and the harp; you will recommend me, and I can endeavour to teach music. So that, if mamma will but be well, we shall not be in any great distress—except in leaving you; that is painful, but must be done. Yes, it absolutely must. Mamma knows what is proper, and so do I. We are not people to encroach upon the generosity of our friends. I need not say more; for I am sure that Mrs. Somers, who is herself so well-born and well-educated, must understand and approve of mamma's way of thinking."
Mrs. Somers replied not one word, but rang her bell violently—ordered her carriage.
"Do not you breakfast, madam, before you go out?" said the servant.
"Not a dish of chocolate, ma'am?"
"My carriage, I tell you.—Emilie, you have been up all night: I insist upon your going to bed this minute, and upon your sleeping till I come back again. La comtesse always breakfasts in her own room; so I have no apologies to make for leaving her. I shall be at home before her toilette is finished, and hope she will then permit me to pay my respects to her—you will tell her so, my dear. I must be gone instantly.—Why will they not let me have this carriage?—Where are those gloves of mine?—and the key of my writing-desk?—Ring again for the coach."
Between the acting of a generous thing and the first motion, all the interim was, with Mrs. Somers, a delicious phantasma; and her ideas of time and distance were as extravagant as those of a person in a dream. She very nearly ran over Emilie in her way down stairs, and then said, "Oh! I beg pardon a thousand times, my dear!—I thought you had been in bed an hour ago."
The toilette of Mad. de Coulanges, this morning, went on at the usual rate. Whether in adversity or prosperity, this was to la comtesse an elaborate, but never a tedious work. Long as it had lasted, it was, however, finished; and she had full leisure for a fit and a half of the vapours, before Mrs. Somers returned—she came in with a face radiant with joy.
"Fortunately, most fortunately," cried she, "I have it in my power to repair the loss occasioned by the failure of this good-for-nothing banker! Nay, positively, Mad. de Coulanges, I must not be refused," continued she, in a peremptory manner. "You make an enemy, if you refuse a friend."
She laid a pocket-book on the table, and left the room instantly. The pocket-book contained notes to a very considerable amount, surpassing the sum which Mad. de Coulanges had lost by her banker; and on a scrap of paper was written in pencil "Mad. de Coulanges must never return this sum, for it is utterly useless to Mrs. Somers; as the superfluities it was appropriated to purchase are now in the possession of one who will not sell them."
Astonished equally at the magnitude and the manner of the gift, Mad. de Coulanges repeated, a million of times, that it was "noble! tres noble! une belle action!"—that she could not possibly accept of such an obligation—that she could not tell how to refuse it—that Mrs. Somers was the most generous woman upon earth—that Mrs. Somers had thrown her into a terrible embarrassment.
Then la comtesse had recourse to her smelling-bottle, consulted Emilie's eyes, and answered them.
"Child! I have no thoughts of accepting; but I only ask you how I can refuse, after what has been said, without making Mrs. Somers my enemy? You see her humour—English humours must not be trifled with—her humour, you see, is to give. It is a shocking thing for people of our birth to be reduced to receive, but we cannot avoid it without losing Mrs. Somers' friendship entirely; and that is what you would not wish to do, Emilie."
"Oh, no, indeed!"
"Now we must be under obligations to our milliner and jeweller, if we do not pay them immediately; for these sort of people call it a favour to give credit for a length of time: and I really think that it is much better to be indebted to Mrs. Somers than to absolute strangers and to rude tradespeople. It is always best to have to deal with polite persons."
"And with generous persons!" cried Emilie; "and a more generous person than Mrs. Somers, I am sure, cannot exist."
"And then," continued Mad. de Coulanges, "like all these rich English, she can afford to be generous. I am persuaded that this Mrs. Somers is as rich as a Russian princess; yes, as rich as the Russian princess with the superb diadem of diamonds. You remember her at Paris?"
"No, mamma, I forget her," answered Emilie, with a look of absence of mind.
"Bon Dieu! what can you be thinking of?" exclaimed Mad. de Coulanges. "You forget the Russian princess, with the diamond diadem, that was valued at 200,000 livres! She wore it at her presentation—it was the conversation of Paris for a week: you must recollect it, Emilie?"
"Oh, yes: I recollect something about its cutting her forehead."
"Not at all, my dear; how you exaggerate! The princess only complained, by way of something to say, that the weight of the diamonds made her head ache.
"Was that all?"
"That was all. But I will tell you what you are thinking of, Emilie—quite another thing—quite another person—broad Mad. Vanderbenbruggen: her diamonds were not worth looking at; and they were so horribly set, that she deserved all manner of misfortunes, and to be disgraced in public, as she was. For you know the bandeau slipt over her great forehead; and instead of turning to the gentlemen, and ordering some man of sense to arrange her head-dress, she kept holding her stiff neck stock still, like an idiot; she actually sat, with the patience of a martyr, two immense hours, till somebody cried, 'Ah! madame, here is the blood coming!' I see her before me this instant. Is it possible, my dear Emilie, that you do not remember the difference between this buche of a Mad. Vanderbenbruggen, and our charming princess? but you are as dull as Mad. Vanderbenbruggen herself, this morning."
The vivacious countess having once seized upon the ideas of Mad. Vanderbenbruggen, the charming princess, and the fine diamonds, it was some time before Emilie could recall her to the order of the day—to the recollection of her banker's failure, and of the necessity of giving an answer to generous Mrs. Somers. The decision of Mad. de Coulanges was probably at last influenced materially by the gay ideas of "stars and dukes, and all their sweeping train," associated with Mad. Vanderbenbruggen's image. The countess observed, that, after the style in which she had been used to live in the first company at Paris, it would be worse than death to be buried alive in some obscure country town in England; and that she would rather see Emilie guillotined at once, than condemned, with all her grace and talents, to work, like a galley slave, at a tambour frame for her bread all the days of her life.
Emilie assured her mother that she should cheerfully submit to much greater evils than that of working at a tambour frame; and that, as far as her own feelings were concerned, she should infinitely prefer living by labour to becoming dependent. She therefore intreated that her mother might not, from any false tenderness for her Emilie, decide contrary to her own principles or wishes.
Mad. de Coulanges, after looking in the glass, at length determined that it would be best to accept of Mrs. Somers' generous offer; and Emilie, who usually contrived to find something agreeable in all her mother's decisions, rejoiced that by this determination, Mrs. Somers at least would be pleased. Mrs. Somers, indeed, was highly gratified; and her expressions of satisfaction were so warm, that any body would have thought she was the person receiving, instead of conferring, a great favour. She thanked Emilie, in particular, for having vanquished her mother's false delicacy. Emilie blushed at hearing this undeserved praise; and assured Mrs. Somers that all the merit was her mother's.
"What!" cried Mrs. Somers hastily, "was it contrary to your opinion?—Were you treacherous—were you my enemy—Mlle. de Coulanges?"
Emilie replied that she had left the decision to her mother; that she confessed she had felt some reluctance to receive a pecuniary obligation, even from Mrs. Somers; but that she had rather be obliged to her than to any body in the world, except to her mamma.
This explanation was not perfectly satisfactory to Mrs. Somers, and there was a marked coldness in her manner towards Emilie during the remainder of the day. Her affectionate and grateful disposition made her extremely sensible to this change; and, when she retired to her own room at night, she sat down beside her bed, and shed tears for the first time since she had been in England. Mrs. Somers happened to go into Emilie's room to leave some message for Mad. de Coulanges—she found Emilie in tears—inquired the cause—was touched and flattered by her sensibility—kissed her—blamed herself—confessed she had been extremely unreasonable—acknowledged that her temper was naturally too hasty and susceptible, especially with those she loved—but assured Emilie that this, which had been their first, should be their last quarrel;—a rash promise, considering the circumstances in which they were both placed. Those who receive and those who confer great favours are both in difficult situations; but the part of the benefactor is the most difficult to support with propriety. What a combination of rare qualities is essential for this purpose! Amongst others, sense, delicacy and temper. Mrs. Somers possessed all but the last; and, unluckily, she was not sensible of the importance of this deficiency. Confident and proud, that, upon all the grand occasions where the human heart is put to the trial, she could display superior generosity, she disdained attention to the minutiae of kindness. This was inconvenient to her friends; because occasion for a great sacrifice of the heart occurs, perhaps, but once in a life, whilst small sacrifices of temper are requisite every day, and every hour.
[Footnote 1: Since this was written, the author has seen the same thoughts so much better expressed in the following lines that she cannot forbear to quote them:
"Since trifles make the sum of human things, And half our mis'ry from our foibles springs; Since life's best joys consist in peace and ease, And few can save or serve, but all may please: Oh! let th'ungentle spirit learn from hence, A small unkindness is a great offence. Large bounties to bestow we wish in vain; But all may shun the guilt of giving pain."
SENSIBILITY. By Mrs. H. More.]
Mrs. Somers had concealed from Mad. de Coulanges and from Emilie the full extent of their obligation: she told them, that the sum of money which she offered had become useless to her, because it had been destined to the purchase of some superfluities, which were now in the possession of another person. The fact was, that she had been in treaty for two fine pictures, a Guido and a Correggio; these pictures might have been hers, but that on the morning, when she heard of the failure of the banker of Mad. de Coulanges, she had hastened to prevent the money from being paid for them. She was extremely fond of paintings, and had long and earnestly desired to possess these celebrated pictures; so that she had really made a great sacrifice of her taste and of her vanity. For some time she was satisfied with her own self-complacent reflections: but presently she began to be displeased that Mad. de Coulanges and Emilie did not see the full extent of her sacrifice. She became provoked by their want of penetration in not discovering all that she studiously concealed; and her mind, going on rapidly from one step to another, decided that this want of penetration arose from a deficiency of sensibility.
One day, some of her visitors, who were admiring the taste with which she had newly furnished a room, inquired for what those two compartments were intended, looking at the compartments which had been prepared for the famous pictures. Mrs. Somers replied that she had not yet determined what she should put there: she glanced her eye upon Mad. de Coulanges and upon Emilie, to observe whether they felt as they ought to do. Mad. de Coulanges, imagining that an appeal was made to her taste, decidedly answered, that nothing would have so fine an effect as handsome looking-glasses: "Such," added she, "as we have at Paris. No house is furnished without them—they are absolute necessaries of life. And, no doubt, these places were originally intended for mirrors."
"No," said Mrs. Somers, dryly, and with a look of great displeasure: "No, madame la comtesse, those places were not originally intended for looking-glasses."
The countess secretly despised Mrs. Somers for her want of taste; but, being too well bred to dispute the point, she confessed that she was no judge—that she knew nothing of the matter; and then immediately turned to her abbe, and asked him if he remembered the superb mirrors in Mad. de V——'s charming house on the Boulevards. "It is," said she, "in my opinion one of the very best houses in Paris. There you enter the principal apartments by an antechamber, such as you ought to see in a great house, with real ottomanes, covered with buff trimmed with black velvet; and then you pass through the spacious salle a manger and the delightful saloon, hung with blue silk, to the bijou of a boudoir, that looks out upon the garden, with the windows shaded by the most beautiful flowering shrubs in summer, and in winter adorned with exotics. Then you see, through the plate-glass door of the boudoir, into the gallery of paintings—I call it a gallery, but it is, in fact, a delightful room, not a gallery—where you are not to perish in cold, whilst you admire the magnificence of the place. Not at all: it is warmed by a large stove, and you may examine the fine pictures at your ease, or, as you English would say, in comfort. This gallery must have cost M. de V—— an immense sum. The connoisseurs say that it is really the best collection of Flemish pictures in the possession of any individual in France. By-the-bye, Mrs. Somers, there is, amongst others, an excellent Van Dyck, a portrait of your Charles the First, when a boy, which I wonder that none of you rich English have purchased."
The countenance of Mrs. Somers had clouded over more and more during this speech; but the heedless countess went on, with her usual volubility.
"Yet, no doubt, M. de V—— would not sell this Van Dyck: but he would, I am told, part with his superb collection of prints, which cost him 30,000 of your pounds. He must look for a purchaser amongst those Polish and Russian princes who have nothing to do with their riches—for instance, my friend Lewenhof, who complained that he was not able to spend half his income in Paris; that he could not contrive to give an entertainment that cost him money enough. What can he do better than commence amateur?—then he might throw away money as fast as his heart could wish. M. l'abbe, why do not you, or some man of letters, write directly, and advise him to this, for the good of his country? What a figure those prints would make in Petersburgh!—and how they would polish the Russians! But, as a good Frenchwoman, I ought to wish them to remain at Paris: they certainly cannot be better than where they are."
"True," cried Emilie, "they cannot be better than where they are, in the possession of those generous friends. I used to love to see Mad. de V—— in the midst of all her fine things, of which she thought so little. Her very looks are enough to make one happy—all radiant with good-humoured benevolence. I am sure one might always salute Mad. de V—— with the Chinese compliment, 'Felicity is painted in your countenance.'"
This was a compliment which could not be paid to Mrs. Somers at the present instant; for her countenance was as little expressive of felicity as could well be imagined. Emilie, who suddenly turned and saw it, was so much struck that she became immediately silent. There was a dead pause in the conversation. Mad. de Coulanges was the only unembarrassed person in company; she was very contentedly arranging her hair upon her forehead opposite to a looking-glass. Mrs. Somers broke the silence by observing, that, in her opinion, there was no occasion for more mirrors in this room; and she added, in a voice of suppressed anger, "I did originally intend to have filled those unfortunate blanks with something more to my taste."
Mad. de Coulanges was too much occupied with her ringlets to hear or heed this speech. Mrs. Somers fixed her indignant eyes upon Emilie, who, perceiving that she was offended, yet not knowing by what, looked embarrassed, and simply answered, "Did you?"
This reply, which seemed as neutral as words could make it, and which was uttered not only with a pacific, but with an intimidated tone, incensed Mrs. Somers beyond measure. It put the finishing stroke to the whole conversation. All that had been said about elegant houses—antechambers—mirrors—pictures—amateurs—throwing away money; and the generous Mad. de V——, who was always good-humoured, Mrs. Somers fancied was meant for her. She decided that it was absolutely impossible that Emilie could be so stupid as not to have perfectly understood that the compartments had been prepared for the Guido and Correggio, which she had so generously sacrificed; and the total want of feeling—of common civility—evinced by Emilie's reply, was astonishing, was incomprehensible.
The more she reflected upon the words, the more of artifice, of duplicity, of ingratitude, of insult, of meanness she discovered in them. In her cold fits of ill-humour, this lady was prone to degrade, as monsters below the standard of humanity, those whom, in the warmth of her enthusiasm, she had exalted to the state of angelic perfection. Emilie, though aware that she had unwittingly offended, was not aware how low she had sunk in her friend's opinion: she endeavoured, by playful wit and caresses, to atone for her fault, and to reinstate herself in her favour. But playful wit and caresses were aggravating crimes; they were proofs of obstinacy in deceit, of a callous conscience, and of a heart that was not to be touched by the marked displeasure of a benefactress. Three days and three nights did the displeasure of Mrs. Somers continue in full force, and manifest itself by a variety of signs, which were lost upon Mad. de Coulanges, but which were all intelligible to poor Emilie. She made several attempts to bring on an explanation, by saying, "Are you not well?—Is any thing the matter, dear Mrs. Somers?" But these questions were always coldly answered by, "I am perfectly well, I thank you, Mlle. de Coulanges—why should you imagine that any thing is the matter with me?"
At the end of the third day of reprobation, Emilie, who could no longer endure this state, resolved to take courage and to ask pardon for her unknown offence. That night she went, trembling like a real criminal, into Mrs. Somers' dressing-room, kissed her forehead, and said, "I hope you have not such a headache as I have?"
"Have you the headache?—I am sorry for it," said Mrs. Somers; "but you should take something for it—what will you take?"
"I will take nothing, except—your forgiveness."
"My forgiveness!—you astonish me, Mlle. de Coulanges! I am sure that I ought to ask yours, if I have said a word that could possibly give you reason to imagine I am angry—I really am not conscious of any such thing; but if you will point it out to me—"
"You cannot imagine that I come to accuse you, dear Mrs. Somers; I do not attempt even to justify myself: I am convinced that, if you are displeased, it cannot be without reason."