"And is it come to this!" she exclaimed. "Must I, the elder born, give place to one, because that her cheek is fairer, and that the brightness of her eye surpasses mine? Miserable Caliste! Unhappy, disgraced creature! How can I bear, rejected as I am, for a mere child to appear in Salency? How can my proud spirit bend, to treat with common courtesy those who have passed me over for one so much more girlish than I am?"
Writhing in agony, she thus gave vent to her passion. But suddenly she was roused by soothing words whispered in her ear, and looking up, she beheld Victorine, whose soft eyes were full of tears for her.
"My sister," said Victorine, "my dearest sister, give not way thus fearfully to regret. Mimi has sent me to you, Caliste. Mimi, who loves you, with tears bade me follow you hither."
Victorine, as she spoke, embraced her sister, and earnestly implored her to be calm.
"That can I never be," she answered, "whilst I am rejected, and Lisette triumphs."
"But, remember that she is our sister," whispered Victorine; "that her election is happiness to our parents. Dearest Caliste, wherefore be so dispirited? we all love you dearly; let us not then grieve our parents by not participating in their present cause of satisfaction."
"Victorine," replied her sister, "what cause have I to sooth my parents? Have they forgotten that I, too, am their child, as well as Lisette? Yes, they have forgotten it, Victorine; and in the moment when I most need their comfort, they have passed over their unhappy child, to triumph with her who is triumphant. No, I will not think of them," she added, "for they have already forgotten me. But, what am I saying—they no more regard me; in Lisette's glory they have lost all remembrance of Caliste's downfall."
"Do not say so," replied Victorine, "how proud they were at your being chosen, Caliste; they love you dearly, and even now I dare say they are seeking you."
"Victorine, you speak not what you know to be true," replied the excited girl. "Have not our father and mother continued to upbraid you from the day we were chosen, even to this very morning, because your heresy has prevented your trying to be Rosiere? Would that it were you that were elected, Victorine! To you I could give up the rose with half the sorrow I feel now."
"Ah! sister," she answered, "I thank God that I have not tried with you and Lisette; your very words make me rejoice in my quiet situation. You say you could have given up the Rose to me, but only consider, and you will acknowledge that that feeling would have passed from your mind the moment that I tried for it, with a chance of success, considering my right equal to your own. Caliste, again and again must I thank my God that I have not been in the struggle; and, oh! my beloved sister, what would I give that you might be led to feel as I do, that happiness consists in peace—that peace which the world cannot give nor cannot take away; for it is not made up of perishable things which moth or rust can corrupt, or thieves break through and steal!"
"Victorine," exclaimed Caliste, "I am no heretic; I cannot follow the counsel you give; I must labour to gain praise, I must desire merit; and, in ardently aspiring to gain this Rose, I but follow the wise injunctions of a member of our church who has instituted this ceremony, which our priests approve."
"But consider," replied Victorine, "what are the fruits of the Divine Spirit as mentioned by the Apostle. Are they not all in opposition to such a display as our fete of the Rose? All love is banished, Caliste, at present from our house, and even our little Mimi is as excited as any of us. When love departs, my sister, peace must follow; and only now perceive the state of our hearts. In sympathy for you we must all grieve; but sorry am I to own that even Mimi is roused to anger, and to that jealousy which is the most mischievous of all feelings. If, then, peace is fled from us, we must be in error, and following the counsel of those who are not really disciples of our Lord."
Whilst Victorine spoke, Caliste listened, and even seemed soothed by her words. "You may be right," she said, "in all you say, for of this I am convinced, I should be much happier now if, like you, I had refused to try for the Rose. As it is, I shall never think of this day without pain, neither can I feel for Lisette the affection I once felt for her before we were rivals to each other. From the first it has been a cause of much sorrow to me, for, from the first, I was aware of the preference given to Lisette; and from that moment I believe I have been in one constant state of vexation or painful excitement."
At that moment Mimi came into the room to tell her sisters that their parents were within sight; and, kissing Caliste warmly, the child expressed her displeasure that she had not been the chosen Rosiere. "Next to you, Victorine," she said, "I am sure Caliste deserved it, and I know it was only given to Lisette because she is a favourite at the chateau through Madame Goton, the marchande-du-mode."
Victorine tried to silence the child, and succeeded by proposing that they should go down to meet their friends, and scarcely were they in time to receive the party.
Caliste had shed no tears, but the eyes of Mimi were red and inflamed, and slight traces of the same kind of sorrow were visible on the countenance of Victorine. Mimi was not slow in explaining the cause of her grief, for resolutely did she declare aloud, "that if Monsieur le Baron only knew her sisters as well as she did, Victorine would be chosen first, and Caliste next, before Lisette."
Sincerely did Victorine feel for her elder sister when the chosen Rosiere entered the cottage. With an air of affected indifference Lisette replied to the congratulations of the neighbours, and even professed to think that the choice had been a partial one. "I could never fancy that I should have to take precedence of an elder sister," she said, "and then Felicie Durand is so charming a person that I assure you I felt it no little compliment to be chosen in the trial with her and Caliste. As the youngest of the three you know, I could not have expected to be Rosiere, for I am only sixteen, and Caliste is nearly three years older."
Thus did she enumerate, with an assumed air of innocent unconsciousness, every reason she could think of for her own non-election—not so much to vex Caliste, as she most assuredly did, as to raise her own merits the more above her competitors; for she knew not these words of Holy Writ: "If we live in the Spirit let us also walk in the Spirit, and let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, and envying one another;" "and favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord shall be praised."
But to speak of Caliste. Whilst her sister thus called upon others to compliment the idol of the day, she stood aloof, her speaking countenance and flashing eye betokening her resentment. It was useless for Victorine to try, by whispered words of affection, to soothe her; Caliste smiled fearfully as she returned her answer in low words, "Never, never," she said, "can the sting in my bosom be removed. Let the poison work, Victorine, it is not your hand that has placed the venom there."
Sorrowing at her disappointment, Victorine would have led her from the room, but she refused to accompany her. "No, I will stay," she said, "I will hear every reason why I am rejected, and my younger sister exalted over my head."
Mimi heard these words; and the excited child, irritated at the sister whom she least loved gaining the crown, turned towards Lisette and passionately addressed her—"Lisette!" she exclaimed, "I wish you would now forget you are Rosiere, surely we have had enough about it. Let us talk of something else, or, if you wish to go on, pray tell neighbour Elise that Monsieur le Prieur himself said that Victorine would be the chosen of all if she would attend mass with us; did he not, mother?" inquired the child; "and did he not come here and talk for an hour to Victorine, two months ago? and did he not promise her, if she would attend mass, she should be the Rosiere this year, and that she should publicly become a member of our congregation on the same day? So, after all, Lisette," she added, "if Victorine had pleased, she would now be the Rosiere."
"You do not know what you are saying, child!" exclaimed Lisette, for a moment assuming the angry countenance of Caliste. "You have not got a correct account of what happened, Mam'selle Mimi."
"Yes, but I have," she answered; "though I know you don't like to hear of it, Lisette. Uncle Dorsain," she added, addressing him, "you might have had all three of your nieces chosen by the Salenciens instead of Felicie Durand."
Whilst Mimi had been speaking, Victorine had left the apartment to make preparations for their dinner, or else she would probably have tried to stop her little sister; as it was, the child, who feared no one else, and who often felt much annoyed by Lisette's assumption of her rights, was glad to mortify her. Lisette and Mimi had both been somewhat spoilt as the two youngest, and the extraordinary beauty of Lisette made her still a favourite and often a successful competitor over Mimi with their parents. And now, this rivalship was manifested by the eager desire of the child to repeat what she knew would vex her sister. "Uncle Dorsain," were her words, "ask my mother if she might not have had my three sisters chosen together, instead of Felicie Durand."
"That she might!" exclaimed Durocher, proudly, but with an air of vexation; "and had you, Mimi, been Victorine, that triumph would have been obtained by our family. Most anxious is Monsieur le Prieur, brother Dorsain, for the conversion of Victorine: it is astonishing what pains the good father has taken with the girl; and it is only a few weeks ago he came here to assure her he would secure the crown to her if she would attend mass regularly. The girl obstinately refused the offer, and it was in anger that he left us."
"And wherefore did she refuse?" inquired Dorsain.
"It was all obstinate folly," replied Valmont; "she declared herself happy without it; and even went so far as to quote Scripture against the fete of the Rose."
"What could she say?" demanded the quiet Dorsain, all astonishment.
"She said what is very true!" exclaimed Mimi; "she told us it would make us unhappy and dissatisfied with each other, and the words she used from Scripture, uncle Dorsain, were these: 'Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.'"
"And she called the fete of the Rosiere a root of bitterness!" exclaimed Lisette. "Did you ever hear such nonsense, uncle?"
"I do not think it nonsense," said Mimi; "I think Victorine was very right."
"You are too young to judge Mimi;" replied Lisette, "when you are as old as Monsieur le Prieur, you will probably agree with a wise man in preference to a young girl of seventeen."
Mimi, in warmth, took up Victorine's cause; and it was with some difficulty their father silenced them; but the quiet D'Elsac was much struck with what had passed, and his eyes were gradually opening to the fact that Victorine was indeed right, and that the root of bitterness was springing up in the family of his sister.
When once the idea was raised, he became much alarmed, considering the purport of his visit. "Victorine, there is no doubt, is the most sensible of her family," he thought, "but I could not think of having a heretic in my house: then, Caliste looks so fiery, and Lisette is so selfish, and Mimi is so passionate, that I dare not offer a home to any of them. Well, I have not, at present, mentioned the purport of my journey hither; and, if things continue as I fear they will, I shall certainly travel back alone."
On the following morning Lisette, dressed in her holiday attire, went to the chateau to pay her compliments to Madame la Baronne de Salency. The young girl really looked uncommonly beautiful, and her mother, in pride, having embraced her, watched her up the village street, expressing aloud to her brother her satisfaction in being parent to such a child.
Dorsain felt that his sister's rose had many a thorn; he did not say so, however, though the words trembled on his lips, and the thought would not be banished from his mind; and, for the first time in his life, he rejoiced that he was childless. But D'Elsac was in such a deep darkness then, that, beholding faults in his nearest and dearest connexions, made him look upon men with disgust; for he saw not, nor knew of that blood of the Lamb, which, "though men's sins be as scarlet, yet shall it wash them white as snow."
When Lisette returned she had much, very much, to say on the condescending kindness of Madame, neither did she hesitate to add a little to that lady's words.
"Monsieur le Baron will conduct me himself from our cottage," she said; "for he has promised not to go to Paris till the ninth of June, on purpose to be present at the fete of the Rose, which is to be held at his chateau, and Madame asked me whom I had chosen for my companions for the day, and she was pleased to express a wish that Victorine should be amongst the number."
"But Victorine never goes to mass!" exclaimed Mimi, "and you know the Rosiere always attends vespers."
"Well, that wont signify," replied Lisette, tossing her head, "for once in a way Victorine may oblige a sister."
"Anything else I would willingly do, dear Lisette," replied Victorine, "but my parents having permitted me to stay away from mass, I cannot accompany you."
"But Madame has commanded your attendance!" exclaimed Lisette.
"She has no power to command me to do anything I think wrong," replied Victorine, "and in this point I must not obey her; with my mother's permission I will go up to the chateau, and excuse myself for opposing her wishes."
"How unkind of you, Victorine!" said Lisette, bursting into a passion of tears, "for I told Madame you would be sure to accompany me, and she said it would improve the procession if my two sisters followed me and the Baron."
Victorine appeared vexed, and, taking Lisette's hand, she said, "would you wish me to do what I think wrong to give you an hour's amusement? I cannot act against my conscience, dear sister. I cannot accompany you to chapel."
Lisette flung her hand from her as she replied, "Do as you like, Victorine, but it is hard that the very reason which makes me elected Rosiere should cause such jealousy in my two elder sisters. I might have hoped that Caliste and Victorine would rejoice in the honour done me."
Victorine appeared more and more grieved by this answer, but she said no more; and, having obtained her mother's consent, she went to the chateau to excuse herself to Madame la Baronne.
That lady received her kindly, and even approved her conduct, though she did not agree in her opinions. She regretted her remaining an alien from the Romish church, and promised her, if she would renounce her heresy, she should be the elected Rosiere of the following year. But this offer did not tempt Victorine; she could not behold the unhappy state of her sisters without dreading to become their rival.
Madame then expressed her hope that Victorine would accompany her sister to the fete at the chateau; and, with a complimentary message to her mother, she dismissed the young girl.
And now came the important business of preparing dresses for the fete. The Rosiere and her twelve female friends were all to be attired in white, and all, with the exception of the Rosiere, were to wear blue ribbon scarfs placed over one shoulder and tied under the other. They were to have no coverings on their heads, for the fete was in the warm month of June, but the Rosiere was to wear a crown of roses, made by her twelve friends.
Now D'Elsac was an hourly witness of the patience of Victorine. She it was who made her sister's dresses, for Lisette was in and out of the cottage every instant to talk of the fete, whilst Caliste felt too bitterly to set herself to work for an affair which she could not bear to think about. Mimi was too young, and the mother too old to employ themselves, and thus it was left to Victorine, who had never expected aught of pleasure in the affair.
One morning Dorsain entered the cottage, and found Victorine working as usual, whilst Caliste was seated near her, her employment cast from her, and her whole appearance expressing the utmost dejection. At sight of her uncle she roused herself, and for a short time her excessive mirth, and even the great wit with which she spoke, astonished him. The quiet man was somewhat startled by her manner, and he looked at her earnestly, half alarmed by her wild and extravagant merriment. He soon remarked that the smile seemed only to be on her lip, for every now and then her countenance changed, and expressed the deep dejection he had noticed on his entrance. He saw too that Victorine laughed not with her, and did all that was in her power to check her exuberant gaiety. The steady look that Dorsain gave her at once put to flight all assumed merriment; she suddenly ceased speaking, sighed deeply, then throwing her working materials farther from her, with a hasty movement, she left the apartment.
Victorine's employment, too, fell from her hand; with the tear in her eyes she looked after her sister, then, echoing her sigh, she set herself with a sad heart to finish the work which must be done, and which necessarily detained her from comforting Caliste.
"Your sister, Victorine, seems far from well," said Dorsain; "know you what ails her?"
"Dear uncle," she replied, "Caliste will not now acknowledge even to me what vexes her; but it is easy to see she feels most bitterly the losing the Rosiere's crown."
D'Elsac for some minutes seemed lost in thought. "Poor girl!" he murmured, "poor girl! I should not have thought it would have so disappointed her."
"You forget, then, how she is situated," replied Victorine. "From infancy has Caliste been taught to aspire to the rose, every year has she ardently expected it; now this time her name is on the list, and her own sister, younger by three years, steps forward and takes it from her. Our parents, too, rejoice with the child that rejoices; they love one daughter equally with the other; they are content that the Rosiere is in their family, and they, perhaps, have not given it a thought that the greater the triumph is to Lisette, the greater is the defeat to poor Caliste. Then, alas! my sister has none to look to for comfort, and she is overwhelmed with despair; she has been tried for worldly virtue and goodness, and she has been rejected; and she is now writhing under the shame, and unable and unwilling to turn to Him who says, 'Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.'"
D'Elsac had already been led to see that Victorine was right in refusing to be a rival to her sister; he was therefore inclined to listen to what she said, though he tried to make himself believe that, as she was a heretic, he should not be led by her in anything; however, he went on conversing with her about Caliste, and even about Lisette. Victorine could not deny that Lisette in her selfish triumph spared no opportunity of exalting herself at the expense of Caliste, neither could she excuse this sister from the fault that Dorsain charged her, with cruelly rejoicing in every pang of jealousy that the poor girl suffered. Though Victorine could not excuse her conduct, yet she laid it to its right source, the total ignorance of Lisette on religious subjects, who considered an outward appearance of virtue sufficient in the eyes of a just God, and that the guidance of the thoughts and evil passions of the heart were only so far necessary as to obtain for herself the perishable Rosiere's crown.
D'Elsac inquired if after the ceremony the Rosiere was peculiarly noticed amongst the Salenciens.
"Monsieur de Montforlaine has given an annual rent of one hundred and twenty livres to the Rosiere," replied Victorine, "and this gives the office some consequence. Those too who have been Rosieres are always treated with respect in Salency, even after their reign is over."
"Then Caliste will have to endure Lisette's superiority very long," said Dorsain.
"Till the time she is herself Rosiere," she replied; "at least whilst she remains in Salency."
Here a pause ensued, during which D'Elsac saw the tears roll fast down the cheeks of Victorine, so as almost to prevent her continuing her employment. He was a kind-hearted man, and grieved to see her tears. "Victorine," he said, lowering his voice, "you have no idea what business it was that brought me to Salency; your aunt D'Elsac is not so strong as she was some years back; she wants an assistant, and she would prefer a niece to a stranger."
"Then you will take Caliste!" she exclaimed; "you will take Caliste from Salency, will you not, uncle Dorsain?"
The good man looked annoyed as he replied, "My dear Victorine I love quiet; how could my wife and myself endure the haughty and proud airs of Caliste? No, Victorine, it was not Caliste I desired to adopt as a daughter."
Victorine could not but understand the kind old gentleman's words; she kissed his hand in token of her gratitude, and then with many thanks she tried with caution to make him comprehend her situation. "If it but depended upon myself," she said, "oh, how happy would it make me to live so near Swisserland; so near my oldest and dearest friends; so near my first, my happiest home; so near my beloved aunt Pauline's grave; but no, uncle Dorsain; no, I must not think of it; I have a duty to perform here. I ought to comfort Caliste, and I only can, because she feels that the Rosiere is a younger sister to me, as well as to herself."
D'Elsac could not be offended by such a refusal. "Victorine," he said, "pray tell me upon what motive do you act?"
She smiled, though the tear still trembled on her eyelid, as she replied playfully, "By the same motive, uncle Dorsain, which you acknowledged just now. I too love peace. I love it dearly, but pardon me if I say that the peace after which I pursue is not of so transient a nature as yours. You seek but the peace of good nature and cheerful countenances. My peace is the peace of the heart; the peace that a young child feels upon its mother's knee. My Heavenly Father's arms I know are around me; they will, I feel assured, never be withdrawn; and whilst I do what He points out as right to be done, the peace and confidence of the loved child no earthly power can take from my mind. Dear uncle, Dorsain, I must not then accept your kind offer, for I must now give the comfort of sympathy to my sorrowing Caliste; and if I left her now, peace would be banished from my mind, for I should be acting against my conscience, and that ever brings punishment in its rear."
"When I hear you speak, my dear niece," said Dorsain, "my conscience gives me many a pang for my unbrotherly conduct to that dear sister Pauline who performed the tender part of mother to you Victorine. Though a few miles, comparatively a few miles, separated us when I heard that my sister was a heretic, I at once determined to associate with her no more, and now that I have the will, the power is no longer mine to visit her."
"Your estrangement was a great grief to my dear aunt," replied Victorine, "and had not my uncle's very bad health disabled him, he or my aunt would have forced upon you a visit; but he was too ill to leave home, and she had no one to take her place with him or with me, and before I was old enough to assist her he was no more, and circumstances were changed with us. She did, however, to the last, often talk of you, hoping you would meet, if not in this world, in the next."
More was said upon this subject, and it was not till some time afterwards that the conversation was renewed, when D'Elsac said, "Then I must take Lisette, I suppose, with me to Grenoble, for when you flatter her she is good tempered, and I own I am afraid of Caliste."
"Lisette will not, I think, leave Salency whilst she is Rosiere," replied her sister. "She could not make up her mind, I fear, to give up her crown, thorny as it appears to others."
"I will ask her," replied D'Elsac, "but I acknowledge to you, Victorine, I rather hope a refusal. If you will not return with me, I prefer the hired labour of a stranger."
Dorsain then sought Lisette to learn her mind. He found her deep in consultation about the only subject that now occupied her; and, as Victorine expected, she refused at once the invitation, scarcely deigning to clothe her answer in courteous terms.
"Well, I am heartily glad of it," thought her uncle. "She has no pity for her sister's disappointment; she thinks of nothing but herself. What peace could I have hoped for in my family with an inmate so fearfully selfish?"
D'Elsac was thus, as it were, forced to think of Caliste; but it was with such repugnance that he could not make up his mind to offer to her the situation he had offered her sisters. He had never seen her brow unclouded; never seen that beautiful lip divested of its scorn never heard one expression from her that did not betray a mind full of vexation, jealousy, and passion. To her, therefore, he would not address himself, though he watched her with great anxiety, allowing the days to pass till the 8th of June, the morning of the fete of St. Medard.
What a beautiful and lovely morning was that in Salency, and how eagerly did the eyes of all the family of Durocher regard the weather, though very different were their feelings on the subject! Lisette had been kept awake by the thought of her approaching triumph; Caliste, too, had not slept; but her pale countenance and hollow eye told a tale of sorrow and dejection.
Scarcely was a word spoken at the morning's meal, save by Valmont, his wife, and Lisette. Caliste refused to eat, but, urged by Victorine, she drank some coffee, though she would not, or could not, taste any food. D'Elsac regarded her with grief, for he feared he knew not what by her manner.
The repast being over, and their parents gone, Lisette, annoyed at the silence on the affairs of the day, introduced it herself, by demanding of Victorine, "If she still refused to accompany her to the chapel."
"My parents, and Madame La Baronne, have accepted my apologies, Lisette," she said, "I wish that you too were content; I shall watch you to the chapel doors, and even hope to be present at your fete this evening."
"I wish you would dispense with my company also!" exclaimed Caliste with a bitter tone; "for, to confess the truth, my head throbs fearfully, so that I can scarce endure the pain it gives me."
"What!" exclaimed Lisette, "do you too refuse to accompany me, Caliste; alas! how unfortunate am I, possessing as I do three sisters, and yet there is not one amongst them who rejoices in my triumph."
"Because you are so often cross and ill-tempered," replied Mimi; "and if people will be cross, and will be ill-tempered, they cannot expect that others will love them."
Lisette deigned not to notice these words of her young sister; but, turning to Caliste, she inquired, "If she really was so very unamiable as to determine to stay from her fete."
"If you felt the intolerable anguish in your head that I do in mine," replied Caliste, "you would think me very unamiable to press you to go."
"But I cannot, nor will not dispense with your company, Caliste," was her answer; "unless Victorine will go in your stead. You can wear the same dress; for how odd it would look if I had no sister with me!"
"Indeed," replied Caliste, with an air of nonchalance, "I will not ask Victorine to go in my stead, neither will I promise to go myself. Cannot you take Mimi in my place?"
"Mimi," repeated Lisette; "why, she is at least a head shorter than Felicie Durand; for, if she goes instead of you, Caliste, she must walk with Felicie." "No," Caliste, "I will not have Mimi," she added, "and I will appeal to my father to command you to go."
"In your selfish triumph, Lisette," exclaimed Caliste, with bitterness, "you seem wholly to forget the feelings of your relatives! I tell you again that my head is in that state, it will half kill me to go to the fete."
She said no more, but walked out of the room, and up stairs, where Victorine found her some time afterwards, extended on a bed in a restless and feverish state, between sleeping and waking. But as Caliste left the room, Victorine with much gentleness proposed that they should seek some other young girl to fill the place of Caliste in the procession. "Indeed, indeed, Lisette," she said, "our sister is far from well, and I fear the excitement of the day will make her worse."
"It is only a jealous fit," replied the Rosiere; "only a jealous fit, sister Victorine, and nothing shall induce me to give up her attendance."
"But if it is what you say it is," exclaimed Victorine, "dearest Lisette, are you not irritating, instead of soothing your patient! My sister, vex her no more; you have obtained the crown from her; is not that sufficient? must you triumph over her also?"
"Pshaw," replied Lisette, sullenly, "I like to punish jealous people, it does them good."
"But can you be happy?" said Victorine; "can you be at peace, when another is suffering, I grieve to own, severely?"
"And why not?" she answered. "If Caliste could, she would have been Rosiere, and would not then have cared for my feelings. I have no necessity, then, to spare hers. You are sufficiently unkind, Victorine, to remain at home, pray content yourself with doing so, without keeping my other sister with you also."
Dorsain, who was present, ventured to put in a word in this place. "Really Lisette," he said, "I would caution you not to urge Caliste too much, she looks exceedingly ill."
"Monsieur D'Elsac," replied the Rosiere, "allow us young people, I entreat, to settle this matter amongst ourselves. We shall fight it out very amicably together, but when others interfere with us it only makes matters worse."
The quiet man drew back, only venturing to say, "Well Mam'selle Lisette, do as you propose; settle the matter, amongst yourselves, but let it be quite among yourselves—let no fourth person be brought in."
"Well said, uncle Dorsain!" exclaimed Mimi; "well said, uncle Dorsain! Mind, Lisette, you are not to ask our father to command Caliste to do as you please; mind that, Lisette—mind that."
"You are all against me, I see," replied Lisette, shedding tears for very passion—"you are all against me; but I might have expected it. I might have known others would be annoyed at any preference shown to me."
She left the room as she spoke, and in half an hour afterwards Caliste was sent for by her father, who commanded her to accompany her sister to the chapel.
"I will obey you, sir!" exclaimed Caliste, proudly, as she raised her throbbing head, and gazed fixedly on her father. "Yes, I will obey you, sir, whatever it may cost me!"
Dorsain was alarmed by the wild expression of her eye as she spoke, and he even ventured to hint his fears to Valmont on her departure, but the father laughed them to scorn, declaring it was, as Lisette said, mere jealousy; and if she stayed away from the ceremony it would injure her character fearfully in all Salency.
"She must learn to command herself," he added, "she is now nineteen; and if she cannot command herself now, what will become of her?"
Thus ill or well was poor Caliste to be dragged through the ceremony; and after an early dinner the family of Durocher retired to dress. Victorine, who was soon ready, went to assist Caliste, whom she found seated by the side of the bed, her head resting on the pillow. At sight of her sister she rose, assumed an air of astonishment at her own idleness, and hastened to arrange her hair. Victorine wished not to encourage this frame of mind, she therefore offered to dress her sister's hair, and to fasten her gown; and as she did so she could scarcely restrain her tears for Caliste's disappointment. She longed to speak some kind word to comfort or sooth her, but how could she do so, for pity suits not a proud heart, and Victorine felt it was not a moment to say anything that might make her worse.
Victorine, however, making some excuse for leaving the room, urged Margoton to permit Caliste to remain at home; but the mother, not alarmed herself, saw nothing to fear, and, with her husband, agreed that she would lose her character as an amiable girl, if she stayed away from chapel. What, then, could Victorine do? she could but dress her sister in silence, though in her heart she grieved most bitterly for her.
Victorine, on looking at her sparkling eye and blooming countenance, was struck by an unnatural beauty that glowed there; and she made some remark which escaped from her lips ere she was aware that in beauty the Rosiere had forced upon herself a rival.
In reply, Caliste warmly embraced her sister, and, as if softened by the action, her natural feelings found vent; and whilst her head still rested on her sister's shoulder she exclaimed, "Dearest Victorine! what would I not give if I had never been a rival to Lisette; what on earth can ever repay me for my lost peace? Oh, you know not how I sigh for peace—peace not for my body only, but for my mind. Too late have I found out that you, indeed, my own Victorine, have learnt the secret of true happiness—for you have found out the path of peace; and if I am spared but another day, be you my instructor in that path, and then will you be my guide to heaven."
Victorine could no longer restrain her tears.
"Weep not for me," said Caliste, soothingly, "weep not for me, dear Victorine. Alas! if you but knew the feelings of my heart only a moment back, you would loath me, and cast me from you. Ah! shall I ever know peace again?"
The voice of Valmont was now heard calling for Caliste, and hastily did she embrace Victorine, and descend the stairs. She looked round her on entering the sitting room, but her eye rested not on any one object; but there were all the family assembled, dressed in their best, the Rosiere impatiently expecting her companions.
At sight of Caliste her brow clouded over; for she could not but be aware that for this day, when least she had desired it, her sister's beauty would outshine her own. Turning to Victorine, she pettishly asked her, "Wherefore she had not attended to her dress as well as to Caliste's? Is there any fault in it?" she said, "for I suppose I shall be most regarded; I pray you, Victorine, set it right, if any fault is visible."
In a short time the twelve young girls, the companions of the Rosiere, were assembled in the cottage. They were all drest in white, with blue ribbon scarfs tied under the left shoulder, the two ends floating at the pleasure of the wearer. They were some of the best-looking maidens in the village; but none could compete with the daughters of Durocher. An equal number of youths wearing the Rosiere's livery of the blue ribbon scarf now made their appearance, and with them came a band of music, and soon the village street was filled by the inhabitants. The Rosiere having spoken a few words to her own attendants, chose to retire till sent for to head the procession; but Victorine remained with Caliste, who, seating herself in a corner of the apartment, was watching all that passed with a look of proud contempt.
Suddenly the band struck up in loud and joyous tones, the youths unfurled their banners, the maidens drew together, and Lisette appeared from the innermost apartment to receive the Seigneur de Salency. The next minute he had entered the cottage, and advancing towards her, addressed her as the Rosiere, and claimed his right of leading her to the church.
Lisette bowed as she listened to his compliments, then, ere she gave him her hand, she approached her parents, and on her knee asked their blessing, bending down her head to receive it.
"And now I claim the honour of leading off the fairest of Rosieres!" exclaimed the Seigneur, raising her from her kneeling attitude, and leading her by the hand to the cottage door.
Margoton shed tears of joy at the honour done her child, for the Seigneur seldom claimed his right of leading the Rosiere to church; indeed he spent most of his time in the capital, and seldom was present at the fete of the Rose. The neighbours crowded round to compliment the parents; and none thought of Caliste but Victorine and Dorsain.
As Lisette and the Seigneur reached the cottage door they paused for the maidens and youths, whose business it was to attend the Rosiere; and then, as Caliste rose from her seat to accompany her sister, her head became so confused, that had not Victorine been near at hand, she would have certainly fallen to the ground. Victorine would have pleaded her cause to their mother, but Margoton was too much occupied with their friends, and Caliste also, feeling that it was but a momentary affection, declared she would proceed.
"Lean upon me, dear niece," said the kind hearted Dorsain, "my arm will support you if you must make one in this procession."
This unexpected tenderness roused all that was amiable in the mind of Caliste, and with the impetuosity of her nature which made her too often show her contempt of her neighbours and acquaintances, she seized her uncle's hand and pressed it to her lips. "Our Lady bless you!" she murmured; "our Lady bless you for your kindness to me, but yet I must not accept of it, for you must not mingle among the Rosiere's attendants."
Victorine, in alarm for her sister, and yet very unwilling to appear at mass, applied to one of the young girls, imploring her whisperingly to watch over Caliste, who she feared was seriously ill. Scarce had she time for this before the procession commenced, the band and banners preceding the Rosiere, who leant on the arm of the Seigneur de Salency, then came the young girls dressed in white, with the blue scarfs tied under their aims, amongst which the now excited Caliste walked with a stateliness that could not but command attention; and lastly came the youths, twelve in number, wearing the Rosiere's livery.
On did the musicians and procession pass between two rows of spectators, down the village street, followed by Lisette in conscious triumph; once only did she turn her head to see her train of attendants who came behind her, but her eye resting on the almost unnatural beauty of Caliste, who walked next to her, struck with envy at beholding it, all the self-conceit of her own countenance passed away; and Dorsain, who had remarked her glance, saw that even in this hour of triumph the Rosiere was not content, for she felt she had a rival—a successful rival in beauty.
As D'Elsac watched the speaking countenances of the two sisters, he could have wept for very grief. Here were two girls whose beauty was pre-eminent, highly gifted by Providence, and possessing in reality all that could make life desirable; but, instead of being happy and content, the love of admiration had rendered the one miserable till her bodily health had suffered, and the other even in her success was envious of that beauty which illness bestowed upon her rival. Then did his thoughts wander to Victorine, and he turned towards the cottage, but she was not in sight, and he could not but recollect how she had refused the offer of the Rosiere's crown because she knew it would drive all love and peace from her mind. Yes, you are right, Victorine, he thought; true, most true, are your words; this distinction is indeed a root of bitterness, and, unless you can point out a method of extraction, much I fear has its influence taken an immovable hold upon the minds of your unhappy sisters.
The procession had now reached the church, and, Lisette being led to the centre of the aisles, she was visible to all around. A Prie Dieu or kneeling stool was then placed for her use, and the service of vespers commenced, being led by Monsieur le Prieur, the same priest who pronounced her the Rosiere. The maidens and the youths surrounded her, but she was distinguished from amongst her young companions by being all in white, for she wore no scarf, such being the wonted custom at Salency.
Whilst the service continued D'Elsac anxiously watched the countenance of Caliste, and more than once he was half tempted to step forwards and lead her from the church; every eager gaze, every look cast upon Lisette was a source of jealousy to Caliste. She could not forget that as the elder she ought to have been in her sister's stead; she could not either forget that Victorine too had refused that crown which Lisette would soon obtain, and which she herself so ardently desired, and as the service was chaunted in a tongue she knew but imperfectly, she attended not to the words, her whole thoughts being engrossed in comparing Lisette to Victorine. Like Dorsain she was led to acknowledge the superiority of the one sister's principles over the other. The one had refused to strive with her lest she should make her miserable, the other had striven and made her miserable.
Bitterly did Caliste rue this strife; but, through the blessing of God upon the words of Victorine, this poor girl for the first time loathed herself, and her own vile nature which made her envious of a sister's prosperity. Caliste was alarmed at this insight she had obtained of her own heart, and she was troubled so much within herself, that she rose suddenly clasping her hands; and, had not those near her restrained her, she would have fled from the church to seek her sister—that sister who had told her with tears of the depravity of the human heart. "Oh, Victorine!" she inwardly exclaimed, "what would I give to be like you; to possess feelings like yours, which are at peace with God and man; for me, wretch that I am, I am jealous of my own sister; and I tremble before a God who knows my inmost thoughts."
Impatiently did she wait the concluding service, her countenance changing every instant with the workings of her mind, whilst D'Elsac, as he watched her, became in a short time almost as excited as herself.
But the service was concluded, and again the Seigneur took the hand of the Rosiere to lead her from the church, and this time the priests headed the procession. Whilst moving Caliste seemed more easy, she felt the affair would soon be concluded; but though she could not urge on the party, yet still in hopes of soon being at liberty to converse with her beloved Victorine, she was certainly more composed. They had now reached the chapel of St. Medard where the Rosiere was to be crowned, and gradually did the procession enter the ready open doors. The Seigneur led Lisette to the high altar, where Monsieur le Prieur was ready to receive her. Here she was bid to kneel before the priest, and, for the first time that day did the cheek of Lisette turn paler than heretofore. She bent her beautiful head upon her bosom, whilst her suppliant attitude and her extreme youth made D'Elsac for awhile forget her selfish conduct, and to feel with Margoton there was cause to triumph in being so nearly connected to that fair young creature. All the villagers stood round; the Rosiere's crown, being then taken from the high altar, was presented to Monsieur le Prieur by a priest.
The crown was formed of the loveliest roses that could be procured in Salency; the flowers were wove together by a blue ribbon, the two ends of which hung down gracefully, being bound together by a ring of silver. This custom was instituted by Louis XIII. who, whilst staying at Varennes in the neighbourhood of Salency, sent his captain of the guard to the village to present the Rosiere with some blue ribbons, and a silver ring to wear at her coronation.
Kneeling did Lisette wait to be crowned, whilst Monsieur le Prieur standing over her held the crown in his hand above her head, first blessing it, and then commencing a discourse on wisdom and virtue, which lasted perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, during which the object of the fete was never allowed an instant to be forgotten. He ceased, and was just preparing to place the crown upon the head of Lisette; the first note of the organ began to be heard, commencing the solemn Te Deum, when a piercing shriek was heard through the chapel, the music ceased, the roses dropt from the hand of the priest, and all looked earnestly for the cause of the interruption.
The shriek had come from the lips of Caliste, and, it was evident, that now she could no longer restrain emotions which had distracted her heart for days and days. She approached her sister, her eyes frightfully extended, her whole countenance glowing with excitement, and, laying her hand on the crown, she exclaimed, "It is Victorine's! it is Victorine's! Victorine is Rosiere! Victorine alone deserves to wear this crown." She would have said more, her gestures and her features betraying the utmost excitement, when suddenly her countenance changed, her eyes became fixed, and, again uttering a piercing shriek, she fell backwards into the extended arms of her uncle.
What a scene of confusion ensued, the ceremony still unfinished, whilst the parents of Caliste rushed forwards to the unhappy girl, forgetting in their alarm all thought of the Rosiere. The next instant Caliste was borne from the chapel, whilst the villagers, most of them followed, many eager to know the result, and many from real anxiety to assist the sorrowing parents. Thus, in a moment, was the chapel almost deserted save by the astonished and overpowered Dorsain, the neglected Rosiere, the Seigneur, and the officiating priests.
"I thought it would come to this!" exclaimed the uncle after a painful silence; "I thought it would. Caliste has not been herself for the last week: poor girl, poor Caliste! the disappointment I am afraid will make her seriously ill."
"Oh, it is but the heat of the day I trust uncle," replied the offended and angry Rosiere, rising from her knees before the altar, and arranging her crown which had been but awkwardly placed on her head. "I can assure you I felt it very much myself just now. I have no doubt Caliste will be well enough to dance at the fete this evening."
The kind-hearted man shook his head mournfully as he said, "My dear niece, I am afraid you are deceiving yourself. I am afraid your poor sister is seriously indisposed."
"Let us hope for the best," interposed the Seigneur de Salency kindly.
"Ay, uncle, let us hope for the best as Monsieur le Seigneur says," exclaimed Lisette. "I can't believe myself it is anything more than the heat, judging by my own feelings."
At that moment Mimi ran into the chapel, her eyes red with weeping. "Uncle Dorsain," she said, "my mother has sent me to you to beg you to stay with Lisette till she can come to be with her. Caliste is very ill I fear," added the affectionate child, "very, very ill. She does not know any one but Victorine; she has called so often for Victorine, and she will not loose her hand, but keeps her close to her side. Poor, poor Caliste!" she continued with passion, "I hope that you are now content Lisette, you have killed Caliste by your triumphing over her as you have done."
Lisette was not in a humour to bear this affront, and she was about to make a very angry retort on the child, when she perceived that the villagers were once again entering the chapel to see the conclusion of the ceremony, so turning to her uncle, she whispered, "You see they do not want you at home, uncle Dorsain, so you may as well stay with me."
D'Elsac whispered to Mimi to run and tell her mother that he would remain with Lisette; and the chapel being once again filled, Monsieur le Prieur, laying his spread hands upon the Rosiere's crown, repeated a blessing, and the organ again commenced a Te Deum.
The procession then left the chapel of St. Medard, and in a spot chosen for the purpose was the Rosiere presented with a bouquet of flowers, an arrow, and two balls, such being the custom for many generations, and still carried on, though the reason for presenting these particular offerings is completely forgotten in Salency.
It was now the hour of the fete, and though usually the Rosiere returns to her home, yet Lisette would not do so, fearful lest she should be detained there; so taking the unwilling arm of D'Elsac she accompanied the villagers to the chateau where the fete was to be given. It was during this walk that Lisette gave full vent to the bitter passions then raging in her bosom. She abused Caliste, calling her selfish and jealous; she blamed her parents for indulging her by remaining at home; she called Victorine a hypocrite and unsisterly, and, as to little Mimi, her displeasure against her knew no bounds. "Never was any Rosiere so neglected by her own family as I have been," she said; "and even now at my own fete, they choose to remain absent."
She shed tears of passion as she thus poured forth her selfish sorrow, whilst her uncle made no reply, in silence listening to her words.
On arriving at the chateau the Rosiere was received with shouts of applause; and, before one dance was concluded, Lisette to all appearance had forgotten that she had a sister existing. Not so Dorsain; he sate apart from the villagers, watching the thoughtless and unfeeling girl, his affectionate heart picturing to himself the sorrow of his sister's family. Surely the time must come, he thought, when the eyes of Lisette will be opened. Surely she cannot long remain in such total ignorance of her own bad conduct. And this is the Rosiere, the chosen maiden of the village! Oh, Salenciens, how ignorant must you be! how dark must be your state when, judging only by outward seemings, you crowned this girl for virtue! D'Elsac shed tears when he thought of this, and when he remembered that Caliste was the one chosen next to her sister, he wept still more bitterly for the state of the human race in general. Alas! he inquired, where does virtue dwell? It has been imagined to leave the crowded cities, and to reside in lowly cottages; but here, as it were, are the hearts of two peasant girls laid open for our inspection, and, oh! how black and sinful do they appear. D'Elsac sorrowed as one without hope, for his religion taught him that without merit no man can see the Lord; and still grieving he felt the hand of some person upon his shoulder, and looking round he perceived it was Margoton.
"Brother," she said, "our dear child is, I trust, better. I have left Victorine to attend her, indeed she will not let Victorine go out of her sight; but Valmont thought we had better make our appearance, if only for an hour, at Lisette's fete. The Seigneur has shown much kindness and condescension to Lisette, and it would not do for us to appear inattentive for so much goodness, though I must own I shall not be easy till I return to my poor child."
"Then if you must stay here," said Dorsain, "if you must do so much violence to your feelings, I think you had better go nearer to those who are dancing."
"Yes, I know I ought," she answered, "but I am ashamed for my children's sake. Too, too many suspect the cause of my poor Caliste's illness. Oh, Dorsain, how proud I was of my two daughters! how neglectful of Victorine! and now my beautiful girls make me blush for them, and my modest Victorine by her own unobtrusiveness has attracted, it is true, but little admiration, yet nothing but respect and love can be attached to her name."
"But Lisette," inquired Dorsain, with an air of astonishment, for though he had heard words from her lips during their walk to the chateau that made him ashamed for her, yet he believed they were known only to himself. "What of Lisette, sister?"
"Look at her now!" exclaimed her mother. "Look at her, Dorsain. Would you think by her countenance that at this moment the sister, who was her chief companion in infancy, was lying on a sick bed, to which she has been the innocent means of bringing her?"
Dorsain sighed deeply when his eye rested on Lisette, then dancing under the trees, and laughing and conversing with her partner with all the selfish frivolity of her nature; but just at that moment her father approached her and whispered something in her ear, and even at that distance her uncle could see by the light of the lamps near which she stood, the expression of her countenance change to angry discontent. Her mirth ceased however, evincing itself so openly, and on the first opportunity she withdrew with her partner from the observation of her father.
The mother repeated D'Elsac's sigh, and then left him, to show herself to the dancers. Scarcely had she gone, before her brother, now at liberty to leave, set off to the cottage to inquire after Caliste. The village street was deserted, as it had been on the day D'Elsac first arrived there; and, unnoticed by one individual, he reached his sister's cottage. The door was half opened to let in the air, for it was a warm evening; and, by the light of a lamp, he could perceive that Caliste was extended upon the bed, which I have before mentioned as one of the chief articles of furniture in the kitchen. Close beside her couch sat Victorine, still wearing the white dress put on for the fete; and at her feet was Mimi, whose head rested on her lap, and who was evidently in the sweet sleep of childhood.
For a moment, or more, all was silent; and D'Elsac had leisure to remark the softly serene countenance of Victorine, whose sweetly expressive face was sometimes turned towards Mimi and then towards Caliste. It was evident that Caliste slept not; for D'Elsac heard her moan, and he could remark that, when the sound reached him, Victorine looked grieved, though she spoke not, fearing to rouse the invalid. Suddenly, however, Caliste addressed her, and though her uncle could not hear her words, yet her manner was energetic, and like one still suffering from excitement.
Victorine tried to sooth her, bending over her, and arranging her pillows; during which movement Mimi awoke, and inquired of Caliste "if she felt herself better."
"Yes, my little Mimi, I am better," she said, "that is, my head does not pain me as it did; yet, for all that, I am perhaps more miserable than ever. Oh! what shall I do, Victorine, what will become of me? At this moment I would gladly change place with the lowliest and most abject of God's creatures."
"Dear Caliste," replied the astonished child, "how can you say so; you, who are so beautiful, why even Lisette, the Rosiere, was jealous of your beauty more than once this very day."
"Ah, it is that!" exclaimed Caliste, sitting up in her bed, and clasping her hands together, "it is that very jealousy, Mimi, which I fear will ruin my soul and my body. Oh, Mimi, guard against jealousy, strive against envy as you would against a desire to murder your own mother."
The child seemed frightened by her sister's agitation, and clung closer to Victorine; whilst Caliste continued—"Oh, if you knew the bitter passions raging in my breast this day, if you knew how first I despised, then hated, Lisette; how I should have rejoiced had her beauty been torn from her, and how I should have triumphed in her agony! Oh, wretched, wretched girl that I am, and she too, she spurred me on, she gloried in my misery, she gloried in my downfall; and, for revenge, I would have been glad to have seen her dead at my feet. Do not come near me, Victorine," she added, "do not pity me, I do not deserve compassion. I hate and loath myself; would I could show to Lisette my repentance, but what will that avail me?—The sin is unwashed from my heart, my conscience drives me to distraction, and there is no peace left for the miserable, undone, Caliste."
"But nobody need know your thoughts, but Victorine and myself," urged Mimi; "and we will not tell of you, sister."
"But God knows them," she replied in a hollow voice, that made D'Elsac start back from the door. "He knows them and I know them, and surely I shall be punished for them severely."
She ceased; and, hiding her face with her hands, she gave way to violent emotion. Victorine allowed the first burst to pass away; and then, putting her arm round her, she gently soothed her by kind words, entreating her to listen to her. "Dearest Caliste," she said, "when I told you the Rosiere's crown would bring sorrow to our home, you did not believe me. Now that you have painfully learnt this lesson, my sister, surely now you will believe me, when I say I can point out to you a path to peace. Vile as our hearts are by nature, dear Caliste, yet did our Lord God bless the sons of Noah, even though he had just declared that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. You have done wrong, Caliste, you have sinned grievously; you have been in darkness and in error, and you now feel shame and remorse. My sister, that shame is not of the natural man, it is a gift from God, and He has said, 'When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceful habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.'"
"Ah, Victorine," she replied, "wherefore is it that you alone can sooth me? wherefore is it, that in listening to you, I hope some day to be at rest?"
"Because," answered Victorine, "the faith in which I have been reared is one of love, of joy, of peace, of hope. I have been told that the God who has made me, being infinite, must also be perfect in holiness and power. He has promised perfect peace to those whose minds are staid on him. On his word do I rely with full confidence, as the child does upon a parent's. And as I have learnt, so would I teach you, dear Caliste, that our God is love, and those that turn to Him he will in no wise cast off."
"Would that I could think as you do!" exclaimed the poor girl; "would that I were a heretic like you, Victorine, and that I might but be permitted to read in that book you have studied from childhood!"
D'Elsac was now aware that the fete had broken up, and the villagers were returning to their homes; and, unwilling to be found where he was, he left the spot; and, taking a turn, he presently came back to the cottage. He found all the family assembled in the kitchen, when he returned; and he came in just in time to hear Valmont rebuke Lisette severely for her conduct during the day.
She replied with passion and insolence to his displeasure; and the father irritated, again reproved her, commanding her to be silent, and to go up to her chamber. She obeyed him so far as to leave the apartment, taking no heed of Caliste, but muttering out her discontent at the behaviour of her relatives towards her, and she even proceeded to some kind of threat which, for the time, was unnoticed.
Valmont next spoke with some bitterness to Caliste, and then left the apartment in displeasure.
With some difficulty, D'Elsac supported, or rather carried, Caliste to the chamber above; for her father's words had so grieved her that she was immediately taken worse; and then, leaving her to her mother and Victorine, he left the cottage, unable to sleep, thinking that a walk in the quiet moonlight would do him good.
When he returned he found the door of the house still open and Mimi asleep upon the bed. He watched by his little niece for a considerable time till Victorine appeared, and said, "it was her intention to sit up all night with Caliste," and then recommended him to go to bed. "I cannot sleep," he said, "I shall sit by the fire to-night, and then I shall be at hand if you want anything for poor Caliste." Victorine thanked him for his kindness, and seeing that Mimi still slept on, she would not rouse her, but went up again to her sister's chamber.
It was a long and weary night to many in that cottage; and when morning dawned, Victorine was aware that her sister was much worse than she had even feared. A medical man was sent for, who pronounced it a fever; and in a short time the poor girl was completely unconscious of all passing round her. In the excitement that ensued, no one thought of Lisette, and the evening had nearly set in before Mimi suddenly declared that she had not made her appearance that day. It was in vain Valmont and D'Elsac inquired of the neighbours if they had seen her—they received the same answer from all; and Mimi soon discovered that she had taken some clothes away with her. And now, indeed, were the family of Durocher to be pitied;—the eldest daughter in a state of delirium, and the third having disappeared in such a manner that no traces of her could be found. It is true they knew Lisette could not be in distress; for, amongst the gifts made to her the day before, she had received the yearly income of the Rosiere, which is one hundred and twenty livres; a sum of no little importance to people living in the humble mode her parents did.
It was impossible, however, long to keep the affair a secret from Margoton and Victorine: and the heart-broken father—for he really loved his children—was forced to leave, what he imagined to be, the dying bed of his unhappy Caliste, to seek after that unnatural sister who had helped to bring her to that state.
What a household of sorrow was the kind D'Elsac left to superintend! and, had it not been for Victorine, the poor man would have added another to the causes of grief in that cottage. Now it was that Victorine's character shone forth; she was the nurse of her sister, the consoler of her mother and her uncle, and the gentle guide and director to the young Mimi.
Tenderly did she watch over all, bringing peace to their minds from that source from which peace alone can spring. Even in that time of trial was the sweet conviction brought to the mind of this young girl, that it was Divine Love that chastened them; and even then was she enabled to perceive that our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
Perhaps Margoton suffered more from the bad conduct of Lisette than from the really dangerous state of Caliste; for Lisette had been a source of greater pride to her, and now bitter was the change of pride to shame in her bosom. To Lisette she had made her sisters give way; she had herself submitted to many a whim which she would not have done from Caliste or Victorine, and how had she returned that indulgence, but by cruelty and ingratitude!
This time of mourning was through the goodness of God blest to Margoton and her brother, and as Caliste began to get better, they would entreat Victorine to talk to them of what she had learnt in Geneva, and relate all she knew of her Aunt Pauline's motives for changing her faith. Victorine loved the subject, and taught them what she could with joy and gladness.
Caliste was at length declared out of danger, and immediately afterwards Valmont returned with the news that Lisette had married a young man with whom she had danced at the fete. Her answer was to be given that very evening; for she had promised to meet him again when the rest of the family were in bed. Irritated by her father's displeasure, and urged by her companion, she left her home, whilst her mother and Victorine were with Caliste, and whilst D'Elsac was gone out for a walk to calm his mind.
Lisette had married a youth without principle; and already did he show that her life with him would be far from a happy one. Her money, little as it was, was an object to the young man; and he at once obtained possession of it, taking her with him to Paris, where they were married, and where the husband, irritated at her earnest entreaties to return to Salency, began, as I have before remarked, to show already his brutal nature. "It is of no use," he would say to her, "you have lost your character in Salency; if there was the slightest chance of your getting anything by going there, you should go tomorrow; as it is, if you go back there, you may remain. I shall not take the trouble of sending for you again to Paris."
The proud heart of Lisette was not yet humbled; for her beauty gained her much notice in Paris, and she had not attempted to make any apology to her father, or to beg his forgiveness, though it was known to her he had followed her to the capital.
Such was the painful account Valmont brought of the fate of the most beautiful maiden in all Salency; and the broken-hearted parents felt that they had none to blame but themselves for her conduct. Valmont's heart was softened, and he shed many tears when he again beheld Caliste; whilst the afflicted family mourned together for the rash and misjudging Lisette; though they all agreed that, as she did not desire pardon, it was better for the present to leave her to herself.
On Valmont's return, D'Elsac prepared to leave Salency, for he had been absent much longer than he had intended; but, before he went, he took an opportunity of telling Margoton and her husband the real motive of his journey, though he added he could not suppose they could now consent to part with another child.
Margoton and Valmont had for some time felt how painful it was to meet their neighbours, those very neighbours who had assisted in the triumph of Lisette; and, as Caliste's conduct was not free from suspicion, they replied to D'Elsac in a way he little expected, by proposing that they should sell their little property in Salency, and all go to live near Grenoble, where he might take first one and then the other of their children, without choosing one in preference to her sisters. This plan particularly suited his wishes; and as to Victorine, her happiness was almost unbounded at returning so near her dear Switzerland, particularly as her mother confessed to her before their departure, that it was in the earnest desire of seeking after that heavenly peace which had been the means of preserving Victorine through the trials that had nearly destroyed her sister's earthly and eternal happiness.
It was on the 8th of August, just two months after the fete of the Rose, that Margoton Durocher, her husband, and her three daughters, first attended the Protestant chapel at Geneva. D'Elsac too was there, and the merry hearted Mimi.
Thus was the peace of mind of Victorine blessed to many, and had she too striven for the earthly roses, she would have added another pang to the heart of her parents, and deprived herself, for a momentarily or hourly gratification, of much lasting happiness.
G. Woodfall and Son, Printers, Angel Court, Skinner Street, London.