Part 2 out of 3
this man was a watchman whom the over-vigilant verger had stationed
there to guard the Hereford Cathedral from his attacks. O'Neill
little guessed that he had been arrested merely to keep him from
blowing up the cathedral this night. The arrest had an excellent
effect upon his mind, for he was a young man of good sense: it
made him resolve to retrench his expenses in time, to live more
like a glover and less like a gentleman; and to aim more at
establishing credit, and less at gaining popularity. He found,
from experience, that good friends will not pay bad debts.
On Thursday morning our verger rose in unusually good spirits,
congratulating himself upon the eminent service he had done to the
city of Hereford by his sagacity in discovering the foreign plot to
blow up the Cathedral, and by his dexterity in having the enemy
held in custody, at the very hour when the dreadful deed was to
have been perpetrated. Mr. Hill's knowing friends farther agreed
it would be necessary to have a guard that should sit up every
night in the churchyard; and that as soon as they could, by
constantly watching the enemy's motions, procure any information
which the attorney should deem sufficient grounds for a legal
proceeding, they should lay the whole business before the mayor.
After arranging all this most judiciously and mysteriously with
friends who were exactly of his own opinion, Mr. Hill laid aside
his dignity of verger, and assuming his other character of a
tanner, proceeded to his tan-yard. What was his surprise and
consternation, when he beheld his great rick of oak bark levelled
to the ground; the pieces of bark were scattered far and wide, some
over the close, some over the fields, and some were seen swimming
upon the water! No tongue, no pen, no muse can describe the
feelings of our tanner at this spectacle--feelings which became the
more violent from the absolute silence which he imposed on himself
upon this occasion. He instantly decided in his own mind that this
injury was perpetrated by O'Neill, in revenge for his arrest; and
went privately to the attorney to inquire what was to be done, on
his part, to secure legal vengeance.
The attorney unluckily--or at least, as Mr. Hill thought,
unluckily--had been sent for, half an hour before, by a gentleman
at some distance from Hereford, to draw up a will: so that our
tanner was obliged to postpone his legal operations.
We forbear to recount his return, and how many times he walked up
and down the close to view his scattered bark, and to estimate the
damage that had been done to him. At length that hour came which
usually suspends all passions by the more imperious power of
appetite--the hour of dinner: an hour of which it was never
needful to remind Mr. Hill by watch, clock, or dial; for he was
blessed with a punctual appetite, and powerful as punctual: so
powerful, indeed, that it often excited the spleen of his more
genteel or less hungry wife. "Bless my stars! Mr. Hill," she
would oftentimes say, "I am really downright ashamed to see you eat
so much; and when company is to dine with us, I do wish you would
take a snack by way of a damper before dinner, that you may not
look so prodigious famishing and ungenteel."
Upon this hint, Mr. Hill commenced a practice, to which he ever
afterwards religiously adhered, of going, whether there was to be
company or no company, into the kitchen regularly every day, half
an hour before dinner, to take a slice from the roast or the boiled
before it went up to table. As he was this day, according to his
custom, in the kitchen, taking his snack by way of a damper, he
heard the housemaid and the cook talking about some wonderful
fortune-teller, whom the housemaid had been consulting. This
fortune-teller was no less a personage than the successor to
Bampfylde Moore Carew, king of the gipsies, whose life and
adventures are probably in many, too many, of our readers' hands.
Bampfylde, the second king of the gipsies, assumed this title, in
hopes of becoming as famous, or as infamous, as his predecessor:
he was now holding his court in a wood near the town of Hereford,
and numbers of servant-maids and 'prentices went to consult him--
nay, it was whispered that he was resorted to, secretly, by some
whose education might have taught them better sense.
Numberless were the instances which our verger heard in his kitchen
of the supernatural skill of this cunning man; and whilst Mr. Hill
ate his snack with his wonted gravity, he revolved great designs in
his secret soul. Mrs. Hill was surprised, several times during
dinner, to see her consort put down his knife and fork, and
meditate. "Gracious me, Mr. Hill! what can have happened to you
this day? What can you be thinking of, Mr. Hill, that can make you
forget what you have upon your plate?"
"Mrs. Hill," replied the thoughtful verger, "our grandmother Eve
had too much curiosity; and we all know it did not lead to good.
What I am thinking of will be known to you in due time, but not
now, Mrs. Hill; therefore, pray, no questions, or teasing, or
pumping. What I think, I think; what I say, I say; what I know, I
know; and that is enough for you to know at present: only this,
Phoebe, you did very well not to put on the Limerick gloves, child.
What I know, I know. Things will turn out just as I said from the
first. What I say, I say; and what I think, I think; and this is
enough for you to know at present."
Having finished dinner with this solemn speech, Mr. Hill settled
himself in his arm-chair, to take his after-dinner's nap: and he
dreamed of blowing up cathedrals, and of oak bark floating upon the
waters; and the cathedral was, he thought, blown up by a man
dressed in a pair of woman's Limerick gloves, and the oak bark
turned into mutton steaks, after which his great dog Jowler was
swimming; when, all on a sudden, as he was going to beat Jowler for
eating the bark transformed into mutton steaks, Jowler became
Bampfylde the Second, king of the gipsies; and putting a horse-whip
with a silver handle into Hill's hand, commanded him three times,
in a voice as loud as the town-crier's, to have O'Neill whipped
through the market-place of Hereford: but just as he was going to
the window to see this whipping, his wig fell off, and he awoke.
It was difficult, even for Mr. Hill's sagacity, to make sense of
this dream: but he had the wise art of always finding in his
dreams something that confirmed his waking determinations. Before
he went to sleep, he had half resolved to consult the king of the
gipsies, in the absence of the attorney; and his dream made him now
wholly determined upon this prudent step. "From Bampfylde the
Second," thought he, "I shall learn for certain who made the hole
under the cathedral, who pulled down my rick of bark, and who made
away with my dog Jowler; and then I shall swear examinations
against O'Neill, without waiting for attorneys. I will follow my
own way in this business: I have always found my own way best."
So, when the dusk of the evening increased, our wise man set out
towards the wood to consult the cunning man. Bampfylde the Second,
king of the gipsies, resided in a sort of hut made of the branches
of trees; the verger stooped, but did not stoop low enough, as he
entered this temporary palace, and, whilst his body was almost bent
double, his peruke was caught upon a twig. From this awkward
situation he was relieved by the consort of the king; and he now
beheld, by the light of some embers, the person of his gipsy
majesty, to whose sublime appearance this dim light was so
favourable that it struck a secret awe into our wise man's soul;
and, forgetting Hereford Cathedral, and oak bark, and Limerick
gloves, he stood for some seconds speechless. During this time,
the queen very dexterously disencumbered his pocket of all
superfluous articles. When he recovered his recollection, he put
with great solemnity the following queries to the king of the
gipsies, and received the following answers:-
"Do you know a dangerous Irishman of the name of O'Neill, who has
come, for purposes best known to himself, to settle at Hereford?"
"Yes, we know him well."
"Indeed! And what do you know of him?"
"That he is a dangerous Irishman."
"Right! And it was he, was it not, that pulled down, or caused to
be pulled down, my rick of oak bark?"
"And who was it that made away with my dog Jowler, that used to
guard the tan-yard?"
"It was the person that you suspect."
"And was it the person whom I suspect that made the hole under the
foundation of our cathedral?"
"The same, and no other."
"And for what purpose did he make that hole?"
"For a purpose that must not be named," replied the king of the
gipsies, nodding his head in a mysterious manner.
"But it may be named to me," cried the verger, "for I have found it
out, and I am one of the vergers; and is it not fit that a plot to
blow up the Hereford Cathedral should be known TO me, and THROUGH
"Now, take my word,
Wise men of Hereford,
None in safety may be,
Till the bad man doth flee."
These oracular verses, pronounced by Bampfylde with all the
enthusiasm of one who was inspired, had the desired effect upon our
wise man; and he left the presence of the king of the gipsies with
a prodigiously high opinion of his majesty's judgment and of his
own, fully resolved to impart, the next morning, to the mayor of
Hereford his important discoveries.
Now it happened that, during the time Mr. Hill was putting the
foregoing queries to Bampfylde the Second, there came to the door
or entrance of the audience chamber an Irish haymaker who wanted to
consult the cunning man about a little leathern purse which he had
lost whilst he was making hay in a field near Hereford. This
haymaker was the same person who, as we have related, spoke so
advantageously of our hero O'Neill to the widow Smith. As this
man, whose name was Paddy M'Cormack, stood at the entrance of the
gipsies' hut, his attention was caught by the name of O'Neill; and
he lost not a word of all that pasted. He had reason to be
somewhat surprised at hearing Bampfylde assert it was O'Neill who
had pulled down the rick of bark. "By the holy poker!" said he to
himself, "the old fellow now is out there. I know more o' that
matter than he does--no offence to his majesty; he knows no more of
my purse, I'll engage now, than he does of this man's rick of bark
and his dog: so I'll keep my tester in my pocket, and not be
giving it to this king o' the gipsies, as they call him: who, as
near as I can guess, is no better than a cheat. But there is one
secret which I can be telling this conjuror himself: he shall not
find it such an easy matter to do all what he thinks; he shall not
be after ruining an innocent countryman of my own whilst Paddy
M'Cormack has a tongue and brains."
Now, Paddy M'Cormack had the best reason possible for knowing that
Mr. O'Neill did not pull down Mr. Hill's rick of bark; it was
M'Cormack himself who, in the heat of his resentment for the
insulting arrest of his countryman in the streets of Hereford, had
instigated his fellow haymakers to this mischief; he headed them,
and thought he was doing a clever, spirited action.
There is a strange mixture of virtue and vice in the minds of the
lower class of Irish: or rather, a strange confusion in their
ideas of right and wrong, from want of proper education. As soon
as poor Paddy found out that his spirited action of pulling down
the rick of bark was likely to be the ruin of his countryman, he
resolved to make all the amends in his power for his folly--he went
to collect his fellow haymakers, and persuaded them to assist him
this night in rebuilding what they had pulled down.
They went to this work when everybody except themselves, as they
thought, was asleep in Hereford. They had just completed the
stack, and were all going away except Paddy, who was seated at the
very top, finishing the pile, when they heard a loud voice cry out,
"Here they are! Watch! Watch!"
Immediately all the haymakers who could, ran off as fast as
possible. It was the watch who had been sitting up at the
cathedral who gave the alarm. Paddy was taken from the top of the
rick and lodged in the watch-house till morning. "Since I'm to be
rewarded this way for doing a good action, sorrow take me," said
he, "if they catch me doing another the longest day ever I live."
Happy they who have in their neighbourhood such a magistrate as Mr.
Marshal! He was a man who, to an exact knowledge of the duties of
his office, joined the power of discovering truth from the midst of
contradictory evidence, and the happy art of soothing or laughing
the angry passions into good-humour. It was a common saying in
Hereford that no one ever came out of Justice Marshal's house as
angry as he went into it.
Mr. Marshal had scarcely breakfasted when he was informed that Mr.
Hill, the verger, wanted to speak to him on business of the utmost
importance. Mr. Hill, the verger, was ushered in; and, with gloomy
solemnity, took a seat opposite to Mr. Marshal.
"Sad doings in Hereford, Mr. Marshal! Sad doings, sir."
"Sad doings? Why, I was told we had merry doings in Hereford. A
ball the night before last, as I heard."
"So much the worse, Mr. Marshal--so much the worse: as those think
with reason that see as far into things as I do."
"So much the better, Mr. Hill," said Mr. Marshal, laughing, "so
much the better: as those think with reason that see no farther
into things than I do."
"But, sir," said the verger, still more solemnly, "this is no
laughing matter, nor time for laughing, begging your pardon. Why,
sir, the night of that there diabolical ball our Hereford
Cathedral, sir, would have been blown up--blown up from the
foundation, if it had not been for me, sir!"
"Indeed, Mr. Verger! And pray how, and by whom, was the cathedral
to be blown up? and what was there diabolical in this ball?"
Here Mr. Hill let Mr. Marshal into the whole history of his early
dislike to O'Neill, and his shrewd suspicions of him the first
moment he saw him in Hereford: related in the most prolix manner
all that the reader knows already, and concluded by saying that, as
he was now certain of his facts, he was come to swear examinations
against this villanous Irishman, who, he hoped, would be speedily
brought to justice, as he deserved.
"To justice he shall be brought, as he deserves," said Mr. Marshal;
"but before I write, and before you swear, will you have the
goodness to inform me how you have made yourself as certain, as you
evidently are, of what you call your facts?"
"Sir, that is a secret," replied our wise man, "which I shall trust
to you alone;" and he whispered into Mr. Marshal's ear that, his
information came from Bampfylde the Second, king of the gipsies.
Mr. Marshal instantly burst into laughter; then composing himself,
said: "My good sir, I am really glad that you have proceeded no
farther in this business; and that no one in Hereford, beside
myself, knows that you were on the point of swearing examinations
against a man on the evidence of Bampfylde the Second, king of the
gipsies. My dear sir, it would be a standing joke against you to
the end of your days. A grave man like Mr. Hill! and a verger too!
Why you would be the laughing-stock of Hereford!"
Now Mr. Marshal well knew the character of the man to whom he was
talking, who, above all things on earth, dreaded to be laughed at.
Mr. Hill coloured all over his face, and, pushing back his wig by
way of settling it, showed that he blushed not only all over his
face, but all over his head.
"Why, Mr. Marshal, sir," said he, "as to my being laughed at, it is
what I did not look for, being, as there are, some men in Hereford
to whom I have mentioned that hole in the cathedral, who have
thought it no laughing matter, and who have been precisely of my
own opinion thereupon."
"But did you tell these gentlemen that you had been consulting the
king of the gipsies?"
"No, sir, no: I can't say that I did."
"Then I advise you, keep your own counsel, as I will."
Mr. Hill, whose imagination wavered between the hole in the
cathedral and his rick of bark on one side, and between his rick of
bark and his dog Jowler on the other, now began to talk of the dog,
and now of the rick of bark; and when he had exhausted all he had
to say upon these subjects, Mr. Marshal gently pulled him towards
the window, and putting a spy-glass into his hand, bade him look
towards his own tan-yard, and tell him what he saw. To his great
surprise, Mr. Hill saw his rick of bark re-built. "Why, it was not
there last night," exclaimed he, rubbing his eyes. "Why, some
conjuror must have done this."
"No," replied Mr. Marshal, "no conjuror did it: but your friend
Bampfylde the Second, king of the gipsies, was the cause of its
being re-built; and here is the man who actually pulled it down,
and who actually re-built it."
As he said these words Mr. Marshal opened the door of an adjoining
room and beckoned to the Irish hay-maker, who had been taken into
custody about an hour before this time. The watch who took Paddy
had called at Mr. Hill's house to tell him what had happened, but
Mr. Hill was not then at home.
It was with much surprise that the verger heard the simple truth
from this poor fellow; but no sooner was he convinced that O'Neill
was innocent as to this affair, than he recurred to his other
ground of suspicion, the loss of his dog.
The Irish haymaker now stepped forward, and, with a peculiar twist
of the hips and shoulders, which those only who have seen it can
picture to themselves, said, "Plase your honour's honour, I have a
little word to say too about the dog."
"Say it, then," said Mr. Marshal.
"Plase your honour, if I might expect to be forgiven, and let off
for pulling down the jontleman's stack, I might be able to tell him
what I know about the dog."
"If you can tell me anything about my dog," said the tanner, "I
will freely forgive you for pulling down the rick: especially as
you have built it up again. Speak the truth, now: did not O'Neill
make away with the dog?"
"Not at all, at all, plase your honour," replied the haymaker:
"and the truth of the matter is, I know nothing of the dog, good or
bad; but I know something of his collar, if your name, plase your
honour, is Hill, as I take it to be."
"My name is Hill: proceed," said the tanner, with great eagerness.
"You know something about the collar of my dog Jowler?"
"Plase your honour, this much I know, any way, that it is now, or
was the night before last, at the pawnbroker's there, below in
town; for, plase your honour, I was sent late at night (that night
that Mr. O'Neill, long life to him! was arrested) to the
pawnbroker's for a Jew by Mrs. O'Neill, poor creature! She was in
great trouble that same time."
"Very likely," interrupted Mr. Hill: "but go on to the collar;
what of the collar?"
"She sent me--I'll tell you the story, plase your honour, out of
the face--she sent me to the pawnbroker's for the Jew; and, it
being so late at night, the shop was shut, and it was with all the
trouble in life that I got into the house any way: and, when I got
in, there was none but a slip of a boy up; and he set down the
light that he had in his hand, and ran up the stairs to waken his
master: and, whilst he was gone, I just made bold to look round at
what sort of a place I was in, and at the old clothes and rags and
scraps; there was a sort of a frieze trusty."
"A trusty!" said Mr. Hill; "what is that, pray?"
"A big coat, sure, plase your honour: there was a frieze big coat
lying in a corner, which I had my eye upon, to trate myself to: I
having, as I then thought, money in my little purse enough for it.
Well, I won't trouble your honour's honour with telling of you now
how I lost my purse in the field, as I found after; but about the
big coat--as I was saying, I just lifted it off the ground to see
would it fit me; and, as I swung it round, something, plase your
honour, hit me a great knock on the shins: it was in the pocket of
the coat, whatever it was, I knew; so I looks into the pocket to
see what was it, plase your honour, and out I pulls a hammer and a
dog-collar: it was a wonder, both together, they did not break my
shins entirely: but it's no matter for my shins now; so, before
the boy came down, I just out of idleness spelt out to myself the
name that was upon the collar: there were two names, plase your
honour, and out of the first there were so many letters hammered
out I could make nothing of it at all, at all; but the other name
was plain enough to read, any way, and it was Hill, plase your
honour's honour, as sure as life: Hill, now."
This story was related in tones and gestures which were so new and
strange to English ears and eyes, that even the solemnity of our
verger gave way to laughter.
Mr. Marshal sent a summons for the pawnbroker, that he might learn
from him how he came by the dog-collar. The pawnbroker, when he
found from Mr. Marshal that he could by no other means save himself
from being committed to prison, confessed that the collar had been
sold to him by Bampfylde the Second, king of the gipsies.
A warrant was immediately despatched for his majesty; and Mr. Hill
was a good deal alarmed by the fear of its being known in Hereford
that he was on the point of swearing examinations against an
innocent man upon the evidence of a dog-stealer and a gipsy.
Bampfylde the Second made no sublime appearance when he was brought
before Mr. Marshal, nor could all his astrology avail upon this
occasion. The evidence of the pawnbroker was so positive as to the
fact of his having sold to him the dog-collar, that there was no
resource left for Bampfylde but an appeal to Mr. Hill's mercy. He
fell on his knees, and confessed that it was he who stole the dog,
which used to bark at him at night so furiously, that he could not
commit certain petty depredations by which, as much as by telling
fortunes, he made his livelihood
"And so," said Mr. Marshal, with a sternness of manner which till
now he had never shown, "to screen yourself, you accused an
innocent man; and by your vile arts would have driven him from
Hereford, and have set two families for ever at variance, to
conceal that you had stolen a dog."
The king of the gipsies was, without further ceremony, committed to
the house of correction. We should not omit to mention that, on
searching his hat, the Irish haymaker's purse was found, which some
of his majesty's train had emptied. The whole set of gipsies
decamped upon the news of the apprehension of their monarch.
Mr. Hill stood in profound silence, leaning upon his walking-stick,
whilst the committal was making out for Bampfylde the Second. The
fear of ridicule was struggling with the natural positiveness of
his temper. He was dreadfully afraid that the story of his being
taken in by the king of the gipsies would get abroad; and, at the
same time, he was unwilling to give up his prejudice against the
"But, Mr. Marshal," cried he, after a long silence, "the hole under
the foundation of the cathedral has never been accounted for--that
is, was, and ever will be, an ugly mystery to me; and I never can
have a good opinion of this Irishman till it is cleared up, nor can
I think the cathedral in safety."
"What!" said Mr. Marshal, with an arch smile, "I suppose the verses
of the oracle still work upon your imagination, Mr. Hill. They are
excellent in their kind. I must have them by heart, that when I am
asked the reason why Mr. Hill has taken an aversion to an Irish
glover, I may be able to repeat them:-
"Now, take my word,
Wise men of Hereford,
None in safety may be,
Till the bad man doth flee."
"You'll oblige me, sir," said the verger, "if you would never
repeat those verses, sir, nor mention, in any company, the affair
of the king of the gipsies."
"I will oblige you," replied Mr. Marshal, "if you will oblige me.
Will you tell me honestly whether, now that you find this Mr.
O'Neill is neither a dog-killer nor a puller-down of bark-ricks,
you feel that you could forgive him for being an Irishman, if the
mystery, as you call it, of the hole under the cathedral was
"But that is not cleared up, I say, sir," cried Mr. Hill, striking
his walking-stick forcibly upon the ground with both his hands.
"As to the matter of his being an Irishman, I have nothing to say
to it; I am not saying anything about that, for I know we all are
born where it pleases God, and an Irishman may be as good as
another. I know that much, Mr. Marshal, and I am not one of those
illiberal-minded, ignorant people that cannot abide a man that was
not born in England. Ireland is now in his majesty's dominions. I
know very well, Mr. Marshal; and I have no manner of doubt, as I
said before, that an Irishman born may be as good, almost, as an
"I am glad," said Mr. Marshal, "to hear you speak--almost as
reasonably as an Englishman born and every man ought to speak; and
I am convinced that you have too much English hospitality to
persecute an inoffensive stranger, who comes amongst us trusting to
our justice and good nature."
"I would not persecute a stranger, God forbid!" replied the verger,
"if he was, as you say, inoffensive."
"And if he was not only inoffensive, but ready to do every service
in his power to those who are in want of his assistance, we should
not return evil for good, should we?"
"That would be uncharitable, to be sure; and, moreover, a scandal,"
said the verger.
"Then," said Mr. Marshal, "will you walk with me as far as the
Widow Smith's, the poor woman whose house was burnt last winter?
This haymaker, who lodged near her, can show us the way to her
During his examination of Paddy M'Cormack, who would tell his whole
history, as he called it, out of the face, Mr. Marshal heard
several instances of the humanity and goodness of O'Neill, which
Paddy related to excuse himself for that warmth of attachment to
his cause that had been manifested so injudiciously by pulling down
the rick of bark in revenge for the rest. Amongst other things,
Paddy mentioned his countryman's goodness to the Widow Smith. Mr.
Marshal was determined, therefore, to see whether he had, in this
instance, spoken the truth; and he took Hill with him, in hopes of
being able to show him the favourable side of O'Neill's character.
Things turned out just as Mr. Marshal expected. The poor widow and
her family, in the most simple and affecting manner, described the
distress from which they had been relieved by the good gentleman;
and lady--the lady was Phoebe Hill; and the praises that were
bestowed upon Phoebe were delightful to her father's ear, whose
angry passions had now all subsided.
The benevolent Mr. Marshal seized the moment when he saw Mr. Hill's
heart was touched, and exclaimed, "I must be acquainted with this
Mr. O'Neill. I am sure we people of Hereford ought to show some
hospitality to a stranger who has so much humanity. Mr. Hill, will
you dine with him to-morrow at my house?"
Mr. Hill was just going to accept of this invitation, when the
recollection of all he had said to his club about the hole under
the cathedral came across him, and, drawing Mr. Marshal aside, he
whispered, "But, sir, sir, that affair of the hole under the
cathedral has not been cleared up yet."
At this instant the Widow Smith exclaimed, "Oh! here comes my
little Mary" (one of her children, who came running in); "this is
the little girl, sir, to whom the lady has been so good. Make your
curtsey, child. Where have you been all this while?"
"Mammy," said the child, "I've been showing the lady my rat."
"Lord bless her! Gentlemen, the child has been wanting me this
many a day to go to see this tame rat of hers; but I could never
get time, never--and I wondered, too, at the child's liking such a
creature. Tell the gentlemen, dear, about your rat. All I know is
that, let her have but never such a tiny bit of bread for breakfast
or supper, she saves a little of that little for this rat of hers;
she and her brothers have found it out somewhere by the cathedral."
"It comes out of a hole under the wall of the cathedral," said one
of the older boys; "and we have diverted ourselves watching it, and
sometimes we have put victuals for it--so it has grown, in a
Mr. Hill and Mr. Marshal looked at one another during this speech;
and the dread of ridicule again seized on Mr. Hill, when he
apprehended that, after all he had said, the mountain might at last
bring forth--a rat. Mr. Marshal, who instantly saw what passed in
the verger's mind, relieved him from this fear by refraining even
from a smile on this occasion. He only said to the child, in a
grave manner, "I am afraid, my dear, we shall be obliged to spoil
your diversion. Mr. Verger, here, cannot suffer rat-holes in the
cathedral; but, to make you amends for the loss of your favourite,
I will give you a very pretty little dog, if you have a mind."
The child was well pleased with this promise; and, at Mr. Marshal's
desire, she then went along with him and Mr. Hill to the cathedral,
and they placed themselves at a little distance from that hole
which had created so much disturbance. The child soon brought the
dreadful enemy to light; and Mr. Hill, with a faint laugh, said,
"I'm glad it's no worse, but there were many in our club who were
of my opinion; and, if they had not suspected O'Neill too, I am
sure I should never have given you so much trouble, sir, as I have
done this morning. But I hope, as the club know nothing about that
vagabond, that king of the gipsies, you will not let any one know
anything about the prophecy, and all that? I am sure I am very
sorry to have given you so much trouble, Mr. Marshal."
Mr. Marshal assured him that he did not regret the time which he
had spent in endeavouring to clear up all those mysteries and
suspicions; and Mr. Hill gladly accepted his invitation to meet
O'Neill at his house the next day. No sooner had Mr. Marshal
brought one of the parties to reason and good humour than he went
to prepare the other for a reconciliation. O'Neill and his mother
were both people of warm but forgiving tempers--the arrest was
fresh in their minds; but when Mr. Marshal represented to them the
whole affair, and the verger's prejudices, in a humorous light,
they joined in the good-natured laugh; and O'Neill declared that,
for his part, he was ready to forgive and to forget everything if
he could but see Miss Phoebe in the Limerick gloves.
Phoebe appeared the next day, at Mr. Marshal's, in the Limerick
gloves; and no perfume ever was so delightful to her lover as the
smell of the rose-leaves in which they had been kept.
Mr. Marshal had the benevolent pleasure of reconciling the two
families. The tanner and the glover of Hereford became, from
bitter enemies, useful friends to each other; and they were
convinced by experience that nothing could be more for their mutual
advantage than to live in union.
MADAME DE FLEURY
"There oft are heard the notes of infant woe,
The short thick sob, loud scream, and shriller squall -
How can you, mothers, vex your infants so?"--POPE
"D'abord, madame, c'est impossible!--Madame ne descendra pas ici?"
said Francois, the footman of Madame de Fleury, with a half
expostulatory, half indignant look, as he let down the step of her
carriage at the entrance of a dirty passage, that led to one of the
most miserable-looking houses in Paris.
"But what can be the cause of the cries which I hear in this
house?" said Madame de Fleury.
"'Tis only some child who is crying," replied Francois; and he
would have put up the step, but his lady was not satisfied.
"'Tis nothing in the world," continued he, with a look of appeal to
the coachman, "it CAN be nothing, but some children who are locked
up there above. The mother, the workwoman my lady wants, is not at
home: that's certain."
"I must know the cause of these cries; I must see these children"
said Madame de Fleury, getting out of her carriage.
Francois held his arm for his lady as she got out.
"Bon!" cried he, with an air of vexation. "Si madame la vent
absolument, a la bonne heure!--Mais madame sera abimee. Madame
verra que j'ai raison. Madame ne montera jamais ce vilain
escalier. D'ailleurs c'est au cinquieme. Mais, madame, c'est
Notwithstanding the impossibility, Madame de Fleury proceeded; and
bidding her talkative footman wait in the entry, made her way up
the dark, dirty, broken staircase, the sound of the cries
increasing every instant, till, as she reached the fifth storey,
she heard the shrieks of one in violent pain. She hastened to the
door of the room from which the cries proceeded; the door was
fastened, and the noise was so great that, though she knocked as
loud as she was able, she could not immediately make herself heard.
At last the voice of a child from within answered, "The door is
locked--mamma has the key in her pocket, and won't be home till
night; and here's Victoire has tumbled from the top of the big
press, and it is she that is shrieking so."
Madame de Fleury ran down the stairs which she had ascended with so
much difficulty, called to her footman, who was waiting in the
entry, despatched him for a surgeon, and then she returned to
obtain from some people who lodged in the house assistance to force
open the door of the room in which the children were confined.
On the next floor there was a smith at work, filing so earnestly
that he did not hear the screams of the children. When his door
was pushed open, and the bright vision of Madame de Fleury appeared
to him, his astonishment was so great that he seemed incapable of
comprehending what she said. In a strong provincial accent he
repeated, "Plait-il?" and stood aghast till she had explained
herself three times; then suddenly exclaiming, "Ah! c'est ca;"--he
collected his tools precipitately, and followed to obey her orders.
The door of the room was at last forced half open, for a press that
had been overturned prevented its opening entirely. The horrible
smells that issued did not overcome Madame de Fleury's humanity:
she squeezed her way into the room, and behind the fallen press saw
three little children: the youngest, almost an infant, ceased
roaring, and ran to a corner; the eldest, a boy of about eight
years old, whose face and clothes were covered with blood, held on
his knee a girl younger than himself, whom he was trying to pacify,
but who struggled most violently and screamed incessantly,
regardless of Madame de Fleury, to whose questions she made no
"Where are you hurt, my dear?" repeated Madame de Fleury in a
soothing voice. "Only tell me where you feel pain?"
The boy, showing his sister's arm, said, in a surly tone--"It is
this that is hurt--but it was not I did it."
"It was, it WAS!" cried the girl as loud as she could vociferate:
"it was Maurice threw me down from the top of the press."
"No--it was you that were pushing me, Victoire, and you fell
backwards.--Have done screeching, and show your arm to the lady."
"I can't," said the girl.
"She won't," said the boy.
"She cannot," said Madame de Fleury, kneeling down to examine it.
"She cannot move it; I am afraid that it is broken."
"Don't touch it! don't touch it!" cried the girl, screaming more
"Ma'am, she screams that way for nothing often," said the boy.
"Her arm is no more broke than mine, I'm sure; she'll move it well
enough when she's not cross."
"I am afraid," said Madame de Fleury, "that her arm is broken."
"Is it indeed?" said the boy, with a look of terror.
"Oh! don't touch it--you'll kill me; you are killing me," screamed
the poor girl, whilst Madame de Fleury with the greatest care
endeavoured to join the bones in their proper place, and resolved
to hold the arm till the arrival of the surgeon.
From the feminine appearance of this lady, no stranger would have
expected such resolution; but with all the natural sensibility and
graceful delicacy of her sex, she had none of that weakness or
affection which incapacitates from being useful in real distress.
In most sudden accidents, and in all domestic misfortunes, female
resolution and presence of mind are indispensably requisite:
safety, health, and life often depend upon the fortitude of women.
Happy they who, like Madame de Fleury, possess strength of mind
united with the utmost gentleness of manner and tenderness of
Soothed by this lady's sweet voice, the child's rage subsided; and
no longer struggling, the poor little girl sat quietly on her lap,
sometimes writhing and moaning with pain.
The surgeon at length arrived: her arm was set: and he said "that
she had probably been saved much future pain by Madame de Fleury's
presence of mind."
"Sir,--will it soon be well?" said Maurice to the surgeon.
"Oh yes, very soon, I dare say," said the little girl. "To-morrow,
perhaps; for now that it is tied up it does not hurt me to signify-
-and after all, I do believe, Maurice, it was not you threw me
As she spoke, she held up her face to kiss her brother.--"That is
right," said Madame de Fleury; "there is a good sister."
The little girl put out her lips, offering a second kiss, but the
boy turned hastily away to rub the tears from his eyes with the
back of his hand.
"I am not cross now: am I, Maurice?"
"No, Victoire; I was cross myself when I said THAT."
As Victoire was going to speak again, the surgeon imposed silence,
observing that she must be put to bed, and should be kept quiet.
Madame de Fleury laid her upon the bed, as soon as Maurice had
cleared it of the things with which it was covered; and as they
were spreading the ragged blanket over the little girl, she
whispered a request to Madame de Fleury that she would "stay till
her mamma came home, to beg Maurice off from being whipped, if
mamma should be angry."
Touched by this instance of goodness, and compassionating the
desolate condition of these children, Madame de Fleury complied
with Victoire's request; resolving to remonstrate with their mother
for leaving them locked up in this manner. They did not know to
what part of the town their mother was gone; they could tell only
"that she was to go to a great many different places to carry back
work, and to bring home more, and that she expected to be in by
five." It was now half after four.
Whilst Madame de Fleury waited, she asked the boy to give her a
full account of the manner in which the accident had happened.
"Why, ma'am," said Maurice, twisting and untwisting a ragged
handkerchief as he spoke, "the first beginning of all the mischief
was, we had nothing to do, so we went to the ashes to make dirt
pies; but Babet would go so close that she burnt her petticoat, and
threw about all our ashes, and plagued us, and we whipped her. But
all would not do, she would not be quiet; so to get out of her
reach, we climbed up by this chair on the table to the top of the
press, and there we were well enough for a little while, till
somehow we began to quarrel about the old scissors, and we
struggled hard for them till I got this cut."
Here he unwound the handkerchief, and for the first time showed the
wound, which he had never mentioned before.
"Then," continued he, "when I got the cut, I shoved Victoire, and
she pushed at me again, and I was keeping her off, and her foot
slipped, and down she fell, and caught by the press-door, and
pulled it and me after her, and that's all I know."
"It is well that you were not both killed," said Madame de Fleury.
"Are you often left locked up in this manner by yourselves, and
without anything to do?"
"Yes, always, when mamma is abroad, except sometimes we are let out
upon the stairs or in the street; but mamma says we get into
This dialogue was interrupted by the return of the mother. She
came upstairs slowly, much fatigued, and with a heavy bundle under
"How now! Maurice, how comes my door open? What's all this?"
cried she, in an angry voice; but seeing a lady sitting upon her
child's bed, she stopped short in great astonishment. Madame de
Fleury related what had happened, and averted her anger from
Maurice by gently expostulating upon the hardship and hazard of
leaving her young children in this manner during so many hours of
"Why, my lady," replied the poor woman, wiping her forehead, "every
hard-working woman in Paris does the same with her children; and
what can I do else? I must earn bread for these helpless ones, and
to do that I must be out backwards and forwards, and to the
furthest parts of the town, often from morning till night, with
those that employ me; and I cannot afford to send the children to
school, or to keep any kind of a servant to look after them; and
when I'm away, if I let them run about these stairs and entries, or
go into the sheets, they do get a little exercise and air, to be
sure, such as it is on which account I do let them out sometimes;
but then a deal of mischief comes of that, too: they learn all
kinds of wickedness, and would grow up to be no better than
pickpockets, if they were let often to consort with the little
vagabonds they find in the streets. So what to do better for them
I don't know."
The poor mother sat down upon the fallen press, looked at Victoire,
and wept bitterly. Madame de Fleury was struck with compassion;
but she did not satisfy her feelings merely by words or comfort or
by the easy donation of some money--she resolved to do something
more, and something better.
"Come often, then; for haply in my bower
Amusement, knowledge, wisdom, thou may'st gain:
If I one soul improve, I have not lived in vain."--BEATTIE.
It is not so easy to do good as those who have never attempted it
may imagine; and they who without consideration follow the mere
instinct of pity, often by their imprudent generosity create evils
more pernicious to society than any which they partially remedy.
"Warm Charity, the general friend," may become the general enemy,
unless she consults her head as well as her heart. Whilst she
pleases herself with the idea that she daily feeds hundreds of the
poor, she is perhaps preparing want and famine for thousands.
Whilst she delights herself with the anticipation of gratitude for
her bounties, she is often exciting only unreasonable expectations,
inducing habits of dependence and submission to slavery.
Those who wish to do good should attend to experience, from whom
they may receive lessons upon the largest scale that time and
numbers can afford.
Madame de Fleury was aware that neither a benevolent disposition
nor a large fortune were sufficient to enable her to be of real
service, without the constant exercise of her judgment. She had,
therefore, listened with deference to the conversation of well-
informed men upon those subjects on which ladies have not always
the means or the wish to acquire extensive and accurate knowledge.
Though a Parisian belle, she had read with attention some of those
books which are generally thought too dry or too deep for her sex.
Consequently, her benevolence was neither wild in theory nor
precipitate nor ostentatious in practice.
Touched with compassion for a little girl whose arm had been
accidentally broken, and shocked by the discovery of the
confinement and the dangers to which numbers of children in Paris
were doomed, she did not make a parade of her sensibility. She did
not talk of her feelings in fine sentences to a circle of opulent
admirers, nor did she project for the relief of the little
sufferers some magnificent establishment which she could not
execute or superintend. She was contented with attempting only
what she had reasonable hopes of accomplishing.
The gift of education she believed to be more advantageous than the
gift of money to the poor, as it ensures the means both of future
subsistence and happiness. But the application even of this
incontrovertible principle requires caution and judgment. To crowd
numbers of children into a place called a school, to abandon them
to the management of any person called a schoolmaster or a
schoolmistress, is not sufficient to secure the blessings of a good
education. Madame de Fleury was sensible that the greatest care is
necessary in the choice of the person to whom young children are to
be entrusted; she knew that only a certain number can be properly
directed by one superintendent, and that, by attempting to do too
much, she might do nothing, or worse than nothing. Her school was
formed, therefore, on a small scale, which she could enlarge to any
extent, if it should be found to succeed. From some of the
families of poor people, who, in earning their bread, are obliged
to spend most of the day from home, she selected twelve little
girls, of whom Victoire was the eldest, and she was between six and
The person under whose care Madame de Fleury wished to place these
children was a nun of the Soeurs de la Charite, with whose
simplicity of character, benevolence, and mild, steady temper she
was thoroughly acquainted. Sister Frances was delighted with the
plan. Any scheme that promised to be of service to her follow-
creatures was sure of meeting with her approbation; but this suited
her taste peculiarly, because she was extremely fond of children.
No young person had ever boarded six months at her convent without
becoming attached to good Sister Frances.
The period of which we are writing was some years before convents
were abolished; but the strictness of their rules had in many
instances been considerably relaxed. Without much difficulty,
permission was obtained from the abbess for our nun to devote her
time during the day to the care of these poor children, upon
condition that she should regularly return to her convent every
night before evening prayers. The house which Madame de Fleury
chose for her little school was in an airy part of the town; it did
not face the street, but was separated from other buildings at the
back of a court, retired from noise and bustle. The two rooms
intended for the occupation of the children were neat and clean,
but perfectly simple, with whitewashed walls, furnished only with
wooden stools and benches, and plain deal tables. The kitchen was
well lighted (for light is essential to cleanliness), and it was
provided with utensils; and for these appropriate places were
allotted, to give the habit and the taste of order. The schoolroom
opened into a garden larger than is usually seen in towns. The
nun, who had been accustomed to purchase provisions for her
convent, undertook to prepare daily for the children breakfast and
dinner; they were to sup and sleep at their respective homes.
Their parents were to take them to Sister Frances every morning
when they went out to work, and to call for them upon their return
home every evening. By this arrangement, the natural ties of
affection and intimacy between the children and their parents would
not be loosened; they would be separate only at the time when their
absence must be inevitable. Madame de Fleury thought that any
education which estranges children entirely from their parents must
be fundamentally erroneous; that such a separation must tend to
destroy that sense of filial affection and duty, and those
principles of domestic subordination, on which so many of the
interests and much of the virtue and happiness of society depend.
The parents of these poor children were eager to trust them to her
care, and they strenuously endeavoured to promote what they
perceived to be entirely to their advantage. They promised to take
their daughters to school punctually every morning--a promise which
was likely to be kept, as a good breakfast was to be ready at a
certain hour, and not to wait for anybody. The parents looked
forward with pleasure, also, to the idea of calling for their
little girls at the end of their day's labour, and of taking them
home to their family supper. During the intermediate hours the
children were constantly to be employed, or in exercise. It was
difficult to provide suitable employments for their early age; but
even the youngest of those admitted could be taught to wind balls
of cotton, thread, and silk for haberdashers; or they could shell
peas and beans, &c., for a neighbouring traiteur; or they could
weed in a garden. The next in age could learn knitting and plain
work, reading, writing, and arithmetic. As the girls should grow
up, they were to be made useful in the care of the house. Sister
Frances said she could teach them to wash and iron, and that she
would make them as skilful in cookery as she was herself. This
last was doubtless a rash promise; for in most of the mysteries of
the culinary art, especially in the medical branches of it, in
making savoury messes palatable to the sick, few could hope to
equal the neat-handed Sister Frances. She had a variety of other
accomplishments; but her humility and good sense forbade her upon
the present occasion to mention these. She said nothing of
embroidery, or of painting, or of cutting out paper, or of carving
in ivory, though in all these she excelled: her cuttings-out in
paper were exquisite as the finest lace; her embroidered
housewives, and her painted boxes, and her fan-mounts, and her
curiously-wrought ivory toys, had obtained for her the highest
reputation in the convent amongst the best judges in the world.
Those only who have philosophically studied and thoroughly
understand the nature of fame and vanity can justly appreciate the
self-denial or magnanimity of Sister Frances, in forbearing to
enumerate or boast of these things. She alluded to them but once,
and in the slightest and most humble manner.
"These little creatures are too young for us to think of teaching
them anything but plain work at present; but if hereafter any of
them should show a superior genius we can cultivate it properly.
Heaven has been pleased to endow me with the means--at least, our
convent says so."
The actions of Sister Frances showed as much moderation as her
words; for though she was strongly tempted to adorn her new
dwelling with those specimens of her skill which had long been the
glory of her apartment in the convent, yet she resisted the
impulse, and contented herself with hanging over the chimney-piece
of her schoolroom a Madonna of her own painting.
The day arrived when she was to receive her pupils in their new
habitation. When the children entered the room for the first time,
they paid the Madonna the homage of their unfeigned admiration.
Involuntarily the little crowd stopped short at the sight of the
picture. Some dormant emotions of human vanity were now awakened--
played for a moment about the heart of Sister Frances--and may be
forgiven. Her vanity was innocent and transient, her benevolence
permanent and useful. Repressing the vain-glory of an artist, as
she fixed her eyes upon the Madonna, her thoughts rose to higher
objects, and she seized this happy moment to impress upon the minds
of her young pupils their first religious ideas and feelings.
There was such unaffected piety in her manner, such goodness in her
countenance, such persuasion in her voice, and simplicity in her
words, that the impression she made was at once serious, pleasing,
and not to be effaced. Much depends upon the moment and the manner
in which the first notions of religion are communicated to
children; if these ideas be connected with terror, and produced
when the mind is sullen or in a state of dejection, the future
religious feelings are sometimes of a gloomy, dispiriting sort; but
if the first impression be made when the heart is expanded by hope
or touched by affection, these emotions are happily and permanently
associated with religion. This should be particularly attended to
by those who undertake the instruction of the children of the poor,
who must lead a life of labour, and can seldom have leisure or
inclination, when arrived at years of discretion, to re-examine the
principles early infused into their minds. They cannot in their
riper age conquer by reason those superstitions terrors, or bigoted
prejudices, which render their victims miserable, or perhaps
criminal. To attempt to rectify any errors in the foundation after
an edifice has been constructed is dangerous: the foundation,
therefore, should be laid with care. The religious opinions of
Sister Frances were strictly united with just rules of morality,
strongly enforcing, as the essential means of obtaining present and
future happiness, the practice of the social virtues, so that no
good or wise persons, however they might differ from her in modes
of faith, could doubt the beneficial influence of her general
principles, or disapprove of the manner in which they were
Detached from every other worldly interest, this benevolent nun
devoted all her earthly thoughts to the children of whom she had
undertaken the charge. She watched over them with unceasing
vigilance, whilst diffidence of her own abilities was happily
supported by her high opinion of Madame de Fleury's judgment. This
lady constantly visited her pupils every week; not in the hasty,
negligent manner in which fine ladies sometimes visit charitable
institutions, imagining that the honour of their presence is to
work miracles, and that everything will go on rightly when they
have said, "LET IT BE SO," or, "I MUST HAVE IT SO." Madame de
Fleury's visits were not of this dictatorial or cursory nature.
Not minutes, but hours, she devoted to these children--she who
could charm by the grace of her manners, and delight by the
elegance of her conversation, the most polished circles and the
best-informed societies of Paris, preferred to the glory of being
admired the pleasure of being useful:-
"Her life, as lovely as her face,
Each duty mark'd with every grace;
Her native sense improved by reading,
Her native sweetness by good breeding."
"Ah me! how much I fear lest pride it be;
But if that pride it be which thus inspires,
Beware, ye dames! with nice discernment see
Ye quench not too the sparks of nobler fires."
By repeated observation, and by attending to the minute reports of
Sister Frances, Madame de Fleury soon became acquainted with the
habits and temper of each individual in this little society. The
most intelligent and the most amiable of these children was
Victoire. Whence her superiority arose, whether her abilities were
naturally more vivacious than those of her companions, or whether
they had been more early developed by accidental excitation, we
cannot pretend to determine, lest we should involve ourselves in
the intricate question respecting natural genius--a metaphysical
point, which we shall not in this place stop to discuss. Till the
world has an accurate philosophical dictionary (a work not to be
expected in less than half a dozen centuries), this question will
never be decided to general satisfaction. In the meantime we may
proceed with our story.
Deep was the impression made on Victoire's heart by the kindness
that Madame de Fleury showed her at the time her arm was broken;
and her gratitude was expressed with all the enthusiastic fondness
of childhood. Whenever she spoke or heard of Madame de Fleury her
countenance became interested and animated in a degree that would
have astonished a cool English spectator. Every morning her first
question to Sister Frances was: "Will SHE come to-day?" If Madame
de Fleury was expected, the hours and the minutes were counted, and
the sand in the hour-glass that stood on the schoolroom table was
frequently shaken. The moment she appeared Victoire ran to her,
and was silent; satisfied with standing close beside her, holding
her gown when unperceived, and watching, as she spoke and moved,
every turn of her countenance. Delighted by these marks of
sensibility, Sister Frances would have praised the child, but was
warned by Madame de Fleury to refrain from injudicious eulogiums,
lest she should teach her affectation.
"If I must not praise, you will permit me at least to love her,"
said Sister Frances.
Her affection for Victoire was increased by compassion: during two
months the poor child's arm hung in a sling, so that she could not
venture to play with her companions. At their hours of recreation
she used to sit on the schoolroom steps, looking down into the
garden at the scene of merriment in which she could not partake.
For those who know how to find it, there is good in everything.
Sister Frances used to take her seat on the steps, sometimes with
her work and sometimes with a book; and Victoire, tired of being
quite idle, listened with eagerness to the stories which Sister
Frances read, or watched with interest the progress of her work;
soon she longed to imitate what she saw done with so much pleasure,
and begged to be taught to work and read. By degrees she learned
her alphabet, and could soon, to the amazement of her
schoolfellows, read the names of all the animals in Sister Frances'
picture-book. No matter how trifling the thing done, or the
knowledge acquired, a great point is gained by giving the desire
for employment. Children frequently become industrious from
impatience of the pains and penalties of idleness. Count Rumford
showed that he understood childish nature perfectly well when, in
his House of Industry at Munich, he compelled the young children to
sit for some time idle in a gallery round the hall, where others a
little older than themselves were busied at work. During
Victoire's state of idle convalescence she acquired the desire to
be employed, and she consequently soon became more industrious than
her neighbours. Succeeding in her first efforts, she was praised--
was pleased, and persevered till she became an example of activity
to her companions. But Victoire, though now nearly seven years
old, was not quite perfect. Naturally, or accidentally, she was
very passionate, and not a little self-willed.
One day being mounted, horsemanlike, with whip in hand, upon the
banister of the flight of stairs leading from the schoolroom to the
garden, she called in a tone of triumph to her playfellows,
desiring them to stand out of the way, and see her slide from top
to bottom. At this moment Sister Frances came to the schoolroom
door and forbade the feat; but Victoire, regardless of all
prohibition, slid down instantly, and moreover was going to repeat
the glorious operation, when Sister Frances, catching hold of her
arm, pointed to a heap of sharp stones that lay on the ground upon
the other side of the banisters.
"I am not afraid," said Victoire.
"But if you fall there, you may break your arm again."
"And if I do, I can bear it," said Victoire. "Let me go, pray let
me go: I must do it."
"No; I forbid you, Victoire, to slide down again. Babet and all
the little ones would follow your example, and perhaps break their
The nun, as she spoke, attempted to compel Victoire to dismount;
but she was so much of a heroine, that she would do nothing upon
compulsion. Clinging fast to the banisters, she resisted with all
her might; she kicked and screamed, and screamed and kicked, but at
last her feet were taken prisoners; then grasping the railway with
one hand, with the other she brandished high the little whip.
"What!" said the mild nun, "would you strike me with that ARM?"
The arm dropped instantly--Victoire recollected Madame de Fleury's
kindness the day when the arm was broken; dismounting immediately,
she threw herself upon her knees in the midst of the crowd of young
spectators, and begged pardon of Sister Frances. For the rest of
the day she was as gentle as a lamb; nay, some assert that the
effects of her contrition were visible during the remainder of the
Having thus found the secret of reducing the little rebel to
obedience by touching her on the tender point of gratitude, the nun
had recourse to this expedient in all perilous cases; but one day,
when she was boasting of the infallible operation of her charm,
Madame de Fleury advised her to forbear recurring to it frequently,
lest she should wear out the sensibility she so much loved. In
consequence of this counsel, Victoire's violence of temper was
sometimes reduced by force and sometimes corrected by reason; but
the principle and the feeling of gratitude were not exhausted or
weakened in the struggle. The hope of reward operated upon her
generous mind more powerfully than the fear of punishment; and
Madame de Fleury devised rewards with as much ability as some
legislators invent punishments.
Victoire's brother Maurice, who was now of an age to earn his own
bread, had a strong desire to be bound apprentice to the smith who
worked in the house where his mother lodged. This most ardent wish
of his soul he had imparted to his sister; and she consulted her
benefactress, whom she considered as all-powerful in this, as in
every other affair.
"Your brother's wish shall be gratified," replied Madame de Fleury,
"if you can keep your temper one month. If you are never in a
passion for a whole month, I will undertake that your brother shall
be bound apprentice to his friend the smith. To your companions,
to Sister Frances, and above all to yourself, I trust, to make me a
just report this day month."
"You she preferred to all the gay resorts,
Where female vanity might wish to shine,
The pomp of cities, and the pride of courts."
At the end of the time prescribed, the judges, including Victoire
herself, who was the most severe of them all, agreed she had justly
deserved her reward. Maurice obtained his wish; and Victoire's
temper never relapsed into its former bad habits--so powerful is
the effect of a well-chosen motive! Perhaps the historian may be
blamed for dwelling on such trivial anecdotes; yet a lady, who was
accustomed to the conversation of deep philosophers and polished
courtiers, listened without disdain to these simple annals.
Nothing appeared to her a trifle that could tend to form the habits
of temper, truth, honesty, order, and industry: habits which are
to be early induced, not by solemn precepts, but by practical
lessons. A few more examples of these shall be recorded,
notwithstanding the fear of being tiresome.
One day little Babet, who was now five years old, saw, as she was
coming to school, an old woman sitting at a corner of the street
beside a large black brazier full of roasted chestnuts. Babet
thought that the chestnuts looked and smelled very good; the old
woman was talking earnestly to some people, who were on her other
side; Babet filled her work-bag with chestnuts, and then ran after
her mother and sister, who, having turned the corner of the street,
had not seen what passed. When Babet came to the schoolroom, she
opened her bag with triumph, displayed her treasure, and offered to
divide it with her companions. "Here, Victoire," said she, "here
is the largest chestnut for you."
But Victoire would not take it; for she staid that Babet had no
money, and that she could not have come honestly by these
chestnuts. She spoke so forcibly upon this point that even those
who had the tempting morsel actually at their lips forbore to bite;
those who had bitten laid down their half-eaten prize; and those
who had their hands full of chestnuts rolled them back again
towards the bag. Babet cried with vexation.
"I burned my fingers in getting them for you, and now you won't eat
them!--And I must not eat them!" said she: then curbing her
passion, she added, "But at any rate, I won't be a thief. I am
sure I did not think it was being a thief just to take a few
chestnuts from an old woman who had such heaps and heaps; but
Victoire says it is wrong, and I would not be a thief for all the
chestnuts in the world--I'll throw them all into the fire this
"No; give them back again to the old woman," said Victoire.
"But, may be, she would scold me for having taken them," said
Babet; "or who knows but she might whip me?"
"And if she did, could you not bear it?" said Victoire. "I am sure
I would rather bear twenty whippings than be a thief."
"Twenty, whippings! that's a great many," said Babet; "and I am so
little, consider--and that woman has such a monstrous arm!--Now, if
it was Sister Frances, it would be another thing. But come! if you
will go with me, Victoire, you shall see how I will behave."
"We will all go with you," said Victoire.
"Yes, all!" said the children; "And Sister Frances, I dare say,
would go, if you asked her."
Babet ran and told her, and she readily consented to accompany the
little penitent to make restitution. The chestnut woman did not
whip Babet, nor even scold her, but said she was sure that since
the child was so honest as to return what she had taken, she would
never steal again. This was the most glorious day of Babet's life,
and the happiest. When the circumstance was told to Madame de
Fleury, she gave the little girl a bag of the best chestnuts the
old women could select, and Babet with great delight shared her
reward with her companions.
"But, alas! these chestnuts are not roasted. Oh, if we could but
roast them!" said the children.
Sister Frances placed in the middle of the table on which the
chestnuts were spread a small earthenware furnace--a delightful
toy, commonly used by children in Paris to cook their little
"This can be bought for sixpence," said she: "and if each of you
twelve earn one halfpenny apiece to-day, you can purchase it
tonight, and I will put a little fire into it, and you will then be
able to roast your chestnuts."
The children ran eagerly to their work--some to wind worsted for a
woman who paid them a liard for each ball, others to shell peas for
a neighbouring traiteur--all rejoicing that they were able to earn
something. The older girls, under the directions and with the
assistance of Sister Frances, completed making, washing, and
ironing, half a dozen little caps, to supply a baby-linen
warehouse. At the end of the day, when the sum of the produce of
their labours was added together, they were surprised to find that,
instead of one, they could purchase two furnaces. They received
and enjoyed the reward of their united industry. The success of
their first efforts was fixed in their memory: for they were very
happy roasting the chestnuts, and they were all (Sister Frances
inclusive) unanimous in opinion that no chestnuts ever were so
good, or so well roasted. Sister Frances always partook in their
little innocent amusements; and it was her great delight to be the
dispenser of rewards which at once conferred present pleasure and
cherished future virtue.
"To virtue wake the pulses of the heart,
And bid the tear of emulation start."
Victoire, who gave constant exercise to the benevolent feelings of
the amiable nun, became every day more dear to her. Far from
having the selfishness of a favourite, Victoire loved to bring into
public notice the good actions of her companions. "Stoop down your
ear to me, Sister Frances," said she, "and I will tell you a
secret--I will tell you why my friend Annette is growing so thin--I
found it out this morning--she does not eat above half her soup
every day. Look, there's her porringer covered up in the corner--
she carries it home to her mother, who is sick, and who has not
bread to eat."
Madame de Fleury came in whilst Sister Frances was yet bending down
to hear this secret; it was repeated to her, and she immediately
ordered that a certain allowance of bread should be given to
Annette every day to carry to her mother during her illness.
"I give it in charge to you, Victoire, to remember this, and I am
sure it will never be forgotten. Here is an order for you upon my
baker: run and show it to Annette. This is a pleasure you
deserve; I am glad that you have chosen for your friend a girl who
is so good a daughter. Good daughters make good friends."
By similar instances of goodness Victoire obtained the love and
confidence of her companions, notwithstanding her manifest
superiority. In their turn, they were eager to proclaim her
merits; and, as Sister Frances and Madame de Fleury administered
justice with invariable impartiality, the hateful passions of envy
and jealousy were never excited in this little society. No servile
sycophant, no malicious detractor, could rob or defraud their
little virtues of their due reward.
"Whom shall I trust to take this to Madame de Fleury?" said Sister
Frances, carrying into the garden where the children were playing a
pot of fine jonquils, which she had brought from her convent.--
"These are the first jonquils I have seen this year, and finer I
never beheld! Whom shall I trust to take them to Madame de Fleury
this evening?--It must be some one who will not stop to stare about
on the way, but who will be very, very careful--some one in whom I
can place perfect dependence."
"It must be Victoire, then," cried every voice.
"Yes, she deserves it to-day particularly," said Annette eagerly;
"because she was not angry with Babet when she did what was enough
to put anybody in a passion. Sister Frances, you know this cherry-
tree which you grafted for Victoire last year, and that was
yesterday so full of blossoms--now you see, there is not a blossom
left!--Babet plucked them all this morning to make a nosegay."
"But she did not know," said Victoire, "that pulling off the
blossoms would prevent my having any cherries."
"Oh, I am very sorry I was so foolish," said Babet; "Victoire did
not even say a cross word to me."
"Though she was excessively anxious about the cherries," pursued
Annette, "because she intended to have given the first she had to
Madame de Fleury."
"Victoire, take the jonquils--it is but just," said Sister Frances.
"How I do love to hear them all praise her!--I knew what she would
be from the first."
With a joyful heart Victoire took the jonquils, promised to carry
them with the utmost care, and not to stop to stare on the way.
She set out to Madame de Fleury's hotel, which was in La Place de
Louis Quinze. It was late in the evening, the lamps were lighting,
and as Victoire crossed the Pont de Louis Seize, she stopped to
look at the reflection of the lamps in the water, which appeared in
succession, as they were lighted, spreading as if by magic along
the river. While Victoire leaned over the battlements of the
bridge, watching the rising of these stars of fire, a sudden push
from the elbow of some rude passenger precipitated her pot of
jonquils into the Seine. The sound it made in the water was
thunder to the ear of Victoire; she stood for an instant vainly
hoping it would rise again, but the waters had closed over it for
"Dans cet etat affreux, que faire?
. . . Mon devoir."
Victoire courageously proceeded to Madame de Fleury's, and desired
to see her.
"D'abord c'est impossible--madame is dressing to go to a concert,"
said Francois. "Cannot you leave your message?"
"Oh no," said Victoire; "it is of great consequence--I must see her
myself; and she is so good, and you too, Monsieur Francois, that I
am sure you will not refuse."
"Well, I remember one day you found the seal of my watch, which I
dropped at your school-room door--one good turn deserves another.
If it is possible it shall be done--I will inquire of madame's
woman."--"Follow me upstairs," said he, returning in a few minutes;
"madame will see you."
She followed him up the large staircase, and through a suite of
apartments sufficiently grand to intimidate her young imagination.
"Madame est dans son cabinet. Entrez--mais entrez donc, entrez
Madame de Fleury was more richly dressed than usual; and her image
was reflected in the large looking-glass, so that at the first
moment Victoire thought she saw many fine ladies, but not one of
them the lady she wanted.
"Well, Victoire, my child, what is the matter?"
"Oh, it is her voice!--I know you now, madame, and I am not afraid-
-not afraid even to tell you how foolish I have been. Sister
Frances trusted me to carry for you, madame, a beautiful pot of
jonquils, and she desired me not to stop on the way to stare; but I
did stop to look at the lamps on the bridge, and I forgot the
jonquils, and somebody brushed by me and threw them into the river-
-and I am very sorry I was so foolish."
"And I am very glad that you are so wise as to tell the truth,
without attempting to make any paltry excuses. Go home to Sister
Frances, and assure her that I am more obliged to her for making
you such an honest girl than I could be for a whole bed of
Victoire's heart was so full that she could not speak--she kissed
Madame de Fleury's hand in silence, and then seemed to be lost in
contemplation of her bracelet.
"Are you thinking, Victoire, that you should be much happier if you
had such bracelets as these? Believe me, you are mistaken if you
think so; many people are unhappy who wear fine bracelets; so, my
child, content yourself."
"Myself! Oh, madame, I was not thinking of myself--I was not
wishing for bracelets; I was only thinking that--"
"That it is a pity you are so very rich; you have everything in
this world that you want, and I can never be of the least use to
YOU--all my life I shall never be able to do YOU any good--and
what," said Victoire, turning away to hide her tears, "what
signifies the gratitude of such a poor little creature as I am?"
"Did you never hear the fable of the lion and the mouse, Victoire?"
"Then I will tell it to you."
Victoire looked up with eyes of eager expectation--Francois opened
the door to announce that the Marquis de M- and the Comte de S-
were in the saloon; but Madame de Fleury stayed to tell Victoire
her fable--she would not lose the opportunity of making an
impression upon this child's heart.
It is whilst the mind is warm that the deepest impressions can be
made. Seizing the happy moment sometimes decides the character and
the fate of a child. In this respect, what advantages have the
rich and great in educating the children of the poor! they have the
power which their rank and all its decorations obtain over the
imagination. Their smiles are favours; their words are listened to
as oracular; they are looked up to as beings of a superior order.
Their powers of working good are almost as great, though not quite
so wonderful, as those formerly attributed to beneficent, fairies.
"Knowledge for them unlocks her USEFUL page,
And virtue blossoms for a better age."--BARBAULD.
A few days after Madame de Fleury had told Victoire the fable of
the lion and the mouse, she was informed by Sister Frances that
Victoire had put the fable into verse. It was wonderfully well
done for a child of nine years old, and Madame de Fleury was
tempted to praise the lines; but, checking the enthusiasm of the
moment, she considered whether it would be advantageous to
cultivate her pupil's talent for poetry. Excellence in the poetic
art cannot be obtained without a degree of application for which a
girl in her situation could not have leisure. To encourage her to
become a mere rhyming scribbler, without any chance of obtaining
celebrity or securing subsistence, would be folly and cruelty.
Early prodigies in the lower ranks of life are seldom permanently
successful; they are cried up one day, and cried down the next.
Their productions rarely have that superiority which secures a fair
preference in the great literary market. Their performances are,
perhaps, said to be WONDERFUL, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, &C.
Charitable allowances are made; the books are purchased by
associations of complaisant friends or opulent patrons; a kind of
forced demand is raised, but this can be only temporary and
delusive. In spite of bounties and of all the arts of protection,
nothing but what is intrinsically good will long be preferred, when
it must be purchased. But granting that positive excellence is
attained, there is always danger that for works of fancy the taste
of the public may suddenly vary: there is a fashion in these
things; and when the mode changes, the mere literary manufacturer
is thrown out of employment; he is unable to turn his hand to
another trade, or to any but his own peculiar branch of the
business. The powers of the mind are often partially cultivated in
these self-taught geniuses. We often see that one part of their
understanding is nourished to the prejudice of the rest--the
imagination, for instance, at the expense of the judgment: so that
whilst they have acquired talents for show they have none for use.
In the affairs of common life they are utterly ignorant and
imbecile--or worse than imbecile. Early called into public notice,
probably before their moral habits are formed, they are extolled
for some play of fancy or of wit, as Bacon calls it, some juggler's
trick of the intellect; they immediately take an aversion to
plodding labour, they feel raised above their situation; possessed
by the notion that genius exempts them not only from labour, but
from vulgar rules of prudence, they soon disgrace themselves by
their conduct, are deserted by their patrons, and sink into despair
or plunge into profligacy.
Convinced of these melancholy truths, Madame de Fleury was
determined not to add to the number of those imprudent or
ostentatious patrons, who sacrifice to their own amusement and
vanity the future happiness of their favourites. Victoire's verses
were not handed about in fashionable circles, nor was she called
upon to recite them before a brilliant audience, nor was she
produced in public as a prodigy; she was educated in private, and
by slow and sure degrees, to be a good, useful, and happy member of
society. Upon the same principles which decided Madame de Fleury
against encouraging Victoire to be a poetess, she refrained from
giving any of her little pupils accomplishments unsuited to their
situation. Some had a fine ear for music, others showed powers of
dancing; but they were taught neither dancing nor music--talents
which in their station were more likely to be dangerous than
serviceable. They were not intended for actresses or opera-girls,
but for shop-girls, mantua-makers, work-women, and servants of
different sorts; consequently they were instructed in things which
would be most necessary and useful to young women in their rank of
life. Before they were ten years old they could do all kinds of
plain needlework, they could read and write well, and they were
mistresses of the common rules of arithmetic. After this age they
were practised by a writing-master in drawing out bills neatly,
keeping accounts, and applying to every-day use their knowledge of
arithmetic. Some were taught by a laundress to wash and get up
fine linen and lace; others were instructed by a neighbouring
traiteur in those culinary mysteries with which Sister Frances was
unacquainted. In sweetmeats and confectioneries she yielded to no
one; and she made her pupils as expert as herself. Those who were
intended for ladies' maids were taught mantua-making, and had
lessons from Madame de Fleury's own woman in hairdressing.
Amongst her numerous friends and acquaintances, and amongst the
shopkeepers whom she was in the habit of employing, Madame de
Fleury had means of placing and establishing her pupils suitably
and advantageously: of this, both they and their parents were
aware, so that there was a constant and great motive operating
continually to induce them to exert themselves, and to behave well.
This reasonable hope of reaping the fruits of their education, and
of being immediately rewarded for their good conduct; this
perception of the connection between what they are taught and what
they are to become, is necessary to make young people assiduous;
for want of attending to these principles many splendid
establishments have failed to produce pupils answerable to the
expectations which had been formed of them.
During seven years that Madame de Fleury persevered uniformly on
the same plan, only one girl forfeited her protection--a girl of
the name of Manon; she was Victoire's cousin, but totally unlike
her in character.
When very young, her beautiful eyes and hair caught the fancy of a
rich lady, who took her into her family as a sort of humble
playfellow for her children. She was taught to dance and to sing:
she soon excelled in these accomplishments, and was admired, and
produced as a prodigy of talent. The lady of the house gave
herself great credit for having discerned, and having brought
forward, such talents. Manon's moral character was in the meantime
neglected. In this house, where there was a constant scene of
hurry and dissipation, the child had frequent opportunities and
temptations to be dishonest. For some time she was not detected;
her caressing manners pleased her patroness, and servile compliance
with the humours of the children of the family secured their
goodwill. Encouraged by daily petty successes in the art of
deceit, she became a complete hypocrite. With culpable negligence,
her mistress trusted implicitly to appearances; and without
examining whether she were really honest, she suffered her to have
free access to unlocked drawers and valuable cabinets. Several
articles of dress were missed from time to time; but Manon managed
so artfully, that she averted from herself all suspicion.
Emboldened by this fatal impunity, she at last attempted
depredations of more importance. She purloined a valuable snuff-
box--was detected in disposing of the broken parts of it at a
pawnbroker's, and was immediately discarded in disgrace; but by her
tears and vehement expressions of remorse she so far worked upon
the weakness of the lady of the house as to prevail upon her to
conceal the circumstance that occasioned her dismissal. Some
months afterwards, Manon, pleading that she was thoroughly
reformed, obtained from this lady a recommendation to Madame de
Fleury's school. It is wonderful that, people, who in other
respects profess and practise integrity, can be so culpably weak as
to give good characters to those who do not deserve them: this is
really one of the worst species of forgery. Imposed upon by this
treacherous recommendation, Madame de Fleury received into the
midst of her innocent young pupils one who might have corrupted
their minds secretly and irrecoverably. Fortunately a discovery
was made in time of Manon's real disposition. A mere trifle led to
the detection of her habits of falsehood. As she could not do any
kind of needlework, she was employed in winding cotton; she was
negligent, and did not in the course of the week wind the same
number of balls as her companions; and to conceal this, she
pretended that she had delivered the proper number to the woman,
who regularly called at the end of the week for the cotton. The
woman persisted in her account, and the children in theirs; and
Manon would not retract her assertion. The poor woman gave up the
point; but she declared that she would the next time send her
brother to make up the account, because he was sharper than
herself, and would not be imposed upon so easily. The ensuing week
the brother came, and he proved to be the very pawnbroker to whom
Manon formerly offered the stolen box: he knew her immediately; it
was in vain that she attempted to puzzle him, and to persuade him
that she was not the same person. The man was clear and firm.
Sister Frances could scarcely believe what she heard. Struck with
horror, the children shrank back from Manon, and stood in silence.
Madame de Fleury immediately wrote to the lady who had recommended
this girl, and inquired into the truth of the pawnbroker's
assertions. The lady, who had given Manon a false character, could
not deny the facts, and could apologise for herself only by saying
that "she believed the girl to be partly reformed, and that she
hoped, under Madame de Fleury's judicious care, she would become an
amiable and respectable woman."
Madame de Fleury, however, wisely judged that the hazard of
corrupting all her pupils should not be incurred for the slight
chance of correcting one, whose bad habits wore of such long
standing. Manon was expelled from this happy little community--
even Sister Frances, the most mild of human beings, could never
think of the danger to which they had been exposed without
expressing indignation against the lady who recommended such a girl
as a fit companion for her blameless and beloved pupils.
"Alas! regardless of their doom,
The little victims play:
No sense have they of ills to come,
No care beyond to-day."--GRAY.
Good legislators always attend to the habits, and what is called
the genius, of the people they have to govern. From youth to age,
the taste for whatever is called une fete pervades the whole French
nation. Madame de Fleury availed herself judiciously of this
powerful motive, and connected it with the feelings of affection
more than with the passion for show. For instance, when any of her
little people had done anything particularly worthy of reward, she
gave them leave to invite their parents to a fete prepared for them
by their children, assisted by the kindness of Sister Frances.
One day--it was a holiday obtained by Victoire's good conduct--all
the children prepared in their garden a little feast for their
parents. Sister Frances spread the table with a bountiful hand,
the happy fathers and mothers were waited upon by their children,
and each in their turn heard with delight from the benevolent nun
some instance of their daughter's improvement. Full of hope for
the future and of gratitude for the past, these honest people ate
and talked, whilst in imagination they saw their children all
prosperously and usefully settled in the world. They blessed
Madame de Fleury in her absence, and they wished ardently for her
"The sun is setting, and Madame de Fleury is not yet come," cried
Victoire; "she said she would be here this evening--What can be the
"Nothing is the matter, you may be sure," said Babet; "but that she
has forgotten us--she has so many things to think of."
"Yes; but I know she never forgets us," said Victoire; "and she
loves so much to see us all happy together, that I am sure it must
be something very extraordinary that detains her."
Babet laughed at Victoire's fears; but presently even she began to
grow impatient; for they waited long after sunset, expecting every
moment that Madame de Fleury would arrive. At last she appeared,
but with a dejected countenance, which seemed to justify Victoire's
foreboding. When she saw this festive company, each child sitting
between her parents, and all at her entrance looking up with
affectionate pleasure, a faint smile enlivened her countenance for
a moment; but she did not speak to them with her usual ease. Her
mind seemed preoccupied by some disagreeable business of
importance. It appeared that it had some connection with them; for
as she walked round the table with Sister Frances, she said, with a
voice and look of great tenderness, "Poor children! how happy they
are at this moment!--Heaven only knows how soon they may be
rendered, or may render themselves, miserable!"
None of the children could imagine what this meant; but their
parents guessed that it had some allusion to the state of public
affairs. About this time some of those discontents had broken out
which preceded the terrible days of the Revolution. As yet, most
of the common people, who were honestly employed in earning their
own living, neither understood what was going on nor foresaw what
was to happen. Many of their superiors were not in such happy
ignorance--they had information of the intrigues that were forming;
and the more penetration they possessed, the more they feared the
consequences of events which they could not control. At the house
of a great man, with whom she had dined this day, Madame de Fleury
had heard alarming news. Dreadful public disturbances, she saw,
were inevitable; and whilst she trembled for the fate of all who
were dear to her, these poor children had a share in her anxiety.
She foresaw the temptations, the dangers, to which they must be
exposed, whether they abandoned, or whether they abided by the
principles their education had instilled. She feared that the
labour of years would perhaps be lost in an instant, or that her
innocent pupils would fall victims even to their virtues.
Many of these young people were now of an age to understand and to
govern themselves by reason; and with these she determined to use
those preventive measures which reason affords. Without meddling
with politics, in which no amiable or sensible woman can wish to
interfere, the influence of ladies in the higher ranks of life may
always be exerted with perfect propriety, and with essential
advantage to the public, in conciliating the inferior classes of
society, explaining to them their duties and their interests, and
impressing upon the minds of the children of the poor sentiments of
just subordination and honest independence. How happy would it
have been for France if women of fortune and abilities had always
exerted their talents and activity in this manner, instead of
wasting their powers in futile declamations, or in the intrigues of
"E'en now the devastation is begun,
And half the business of destruction done."
Madame de Fleury was not disappointed in her pupils. When the
public disturbances began, these children were shocked by the
horrible actions they saw. Instead of being seduced by bad
example, they only showed anxiety to avoid companions of their own
age who were dishonest, idle, or profligate. Victoire's cousin
Manon ridiculed these absurd principles, as she called them, and
endeavoured to persuade Victoire that she would be much happier if
she followed the fashion.
"What! Victoire, still with your work-bag on your arm, and still
going to school with your little sister, though you are but a year
younger than I am, I believe!--thirteen last birthday, were not
you?--Mon Dieu! Why, how long do you intend to be a child? and why
don't you leave that old nun, who keeps you in leading-strings?--I
assure you, nuns, and school-mistresses, and schools, and all that
sort of thing, are out of fashion now--we have abolished all that--
we are to live a life of reason now--and all soon to be equal, I
can tell you; let your Madame de Fleury look to that, and look to
it yourself; for with all your wisdom, you might find yourself in
the wrong box by sticking to her, and that side of the question.--
Disengage yourself from her, I advise you, as soon as you can.--My
dear Victoire! believe me, you may spell very well--but you know
nothing of the rights of man, or the rights of woman."
"I do not pretend to know anything of the rights of men, or the
rights of women," cried Victoire; "but this I know: that I never
can or will be ungrateful to Madame de Fleury. Disengage myself
from her! I am bound to her for ever, and I will abide by her till
the last hour I breathe."
"Well, well! there is no occasion to be in a passion--I only speak
as a friend, and I have no more time to reason with you; for I must
go home, and get ready my dress for the ball to-night."
"Manon, how can you afford to buy a dress for a ball?"
"As you might, if you had common sense, Victoire--only by being a
good citizen. I and a party of us denounced a milliner and a
confectioner in our neighbourhood, who were horrible aristocrats;
and of their goods forfeited to the nation we had, as was our just
share, such delicious marangues and charming ribands!--Oh,
Victoire, believe me, you will never get such things by going to
school, or saying your prayers either. You may look with as much
scorn and indignation as you please, but I advise you to let it
alone, for all that is out of fashion, and may, moreover, bring you
into difficulties. Believe me, my dear Victoire, your head is not
deep enough to understand these things--you know nothing of
"But I know the difference between right and wrong, Manon:
politics can never alter that, you know."
"Never alter that! there you are quite mistaken," said Manon. "I
cannot stay to convince you now--but this I can tell you: that I
know secrets that you don't suspect."
"I do not wish to know any of your secrets, Manon," said Victoire,
"Your pride may be humbled, Citoyenne Victoire, sooner than you
expect," exclaimed Manon, who was now so provoked by her cousin's
contempt that she could not refrain from boasting of her political
knowledge. "I can tell you that your fine friends will in a few
days not be able to protect you. The Abbe Tracassier is in love
with a dear friend of mine, and I know all the secrets of state
from her--and I know what I know. Be as incredulous as you please,
but you will see that, before this week is at end, Monsieur de
Fleury will be guillotined, and then what will become of you? Good
morning, my proud cousin."
Shocked by what she had just heard, Victoire could scarcely believe
that Manon was in earnest; she resolved, however, to go immediately
and communicate this intelligence, whether true or false, to Madame
de Fleury. It agreed but too well with other circumstances, which
alarmed this lady for the safety of her husband. A man of his
abilities, integrity, and fortune, could not in such times hope to
escape persecution. He was inclined to brave the danger; but his
lady represented that it would not be courage, but rashness and
folly, to sacrifice his life to the villainy of others, without
probability or possibility of serving his country by his fall.
Monsieur de Fleury, in consequence of these representations, and of
Victoire's intelligence, made his escape from Paris; and the very
next day placards were put up in every street, offering a price for
the head of Citoyen Fleury, SUSPECTED OF INCIVISME.
Struck with terror and astonishment at the sight of these placards,
the children read them as they returned in the evening from school;
and little Babet in the vehemence of her indignation mounted a
lamplighter's ladder, and tore down one of the papers. This
imprudent action did not pass unobserved: it was seen by one of
the spies of Citoyen Tracassier, a man who, under the pretence of
zeal pour la chose publique, gratified without scruple his private
resentments and his malevolent passions. In his former character
of an abbe, and a man of wit, he had gained admittance into Madame
de Fleury's society. There he attempted to dictate both as a
literary and religious despot. Accidentally discovering that
Madame de Fleury had a little school for poor children, he thought
proper to be offended, because he had not been consulted respecting
the regulations, and because he was not permitted, as he said, to
take the charge of this little flock. He made many objections to
Sister Frances, as being an improper person to have the spiritual
guidance of these young people; but as he was unable to give any
just reason for his dislike, Madame de Fleury persisted in her
choice, and was at last obliged to assert, in opposition to the
domineering abbe, her right to judge and decide in her own affairs.
With seeming politeness, he begged ten thousand pardons for his
conscientious interference. No more was said upon the subject; and
as he did not totally withdraw from her society till the revolution
broke out, she did not suspect that she had anything to fear from
his resentment. His manners and opinions changed suddenly with the
times; the mask of religion was thrown off; and now, instead of
objecting to Sister Frances as not being sufficiently strict and
orthodox in her tenets, he boldly declared that a nun was not a fit
person to be intrusted with the education of any of the young
citizens--they should all be des eleves de la patrie. The abbe,
become a member of the Committee of Public Safety, denounced Madame
de Fleury, in the strange jargon of the day, as "the fosterer of a
swarm of bad citizens, who were nourished in the anticivic
prejudices de l'ancien regime, and fostered in the most detestable
superstitions, in defiance of the law." He further observed, that
he had good reason to believe that some of these little enemies to
the constitution had contrived and abetted Monsieur de Fleury's
escape. Of their having rejoiced at it in a most indecent manner,
he said he could produce irrefragable proof. The boy who saw Babet
tear down the placard was produced and solemnly examined; and the
thoughtless action of this poor little girl was construed into a
state crime of the most horrible nature. In a declamatory tone,
Tracassier reminded his fellow-citizens, that in the ancient
Grecian times of virtuous republicanism (times of which France
ought to show herself emulous), an Athenian child was condemned to
death for having made a plaything of a fragment of the gilding that
had fallen from a public statue. The orator, for the reward of his
eloquence, obtained an order to seize everything in Madame de
Fleury's school-house, and to throw the nun into prison.
"Who now will guard bewildered youth
Safe from the fierce assault of hostile rage? -
Such war can Virtue wage?"
At the very moment when this order was going to be put in
execution, Madame de Fleury was sitting in the midst of the
children, listening to Babet, who was reading AEsop's fable of THE
OLD MAN AND HIS SONS. Whilst her sister was reading, Victoire
collected a number of twigs from the garden: she had just tied
them together; and was going, by Sister Frances' desire, to let her
companions try if they could break the bundle, when the attention
to the moral of the fable was interrupted by the entrance of an old
woman, whose countenance expressed the utmost terror and haste, to
tell what she had not breath to utter. To Madame de Fleury she was
a stranger; but the children immediately recollected her to be the
chestnut woman to whom Babet had some years ago restored certain
"Fly!" said she, the moment she had breath to speak: "Fly!--they
are coming to seize everything here--carry off what you can--make
haste--make haste!--I came through a by-street. A man was eating
chestnuts at my stall, and I saw him show one that was with him the
order from Citoyen Tracassier. They'll be here in five minutes--
quick!--quick!--You, in particular," continued she, turning to the
nun, "else you'll be in prison."
At these words, the children, who had clung round Sister Frances,
loosed their hold, exclaiming, "Go! go quick: but where? where?--
we will go with her."
"No, no!" said Madame de Fleury, "she shall come home with me--my
carriage is at the door."
"Ma belle dame!" cried the chestnut woman, "your house is the worst
place she can go to--let her come to my cellar--the poorest cellar
in these days is safer than the grandest palace."
So saying, she seized the nun with honest roughness, and hurried
her away. As soon as she was gone, the children ran different
ways, each to collect some favourite thing, which they thought they
could not leave behind. Victoire alone stood motionless beside
Madame de Fleury; her whole thoughts absorbed by the fear that her
benefactress would be imprisoned. "Oh, madame! dear, dear Madame
de Fleury, don't stay! don't stay!"
"Oh, children, never mind these things."
"Don't stay, madame, don't stay! I will stay with them--I will
stay--do you go."
The children hearing these words, and recollecting Madame de
Fleury's danger, abandoned all their little property, and instantly
obeyed her orders to go home to their parents. Victoire at last
saw Madame de Fleury safe in her carriage. The coachman drove off
at a great rate; and a few minutes afterwards Tracassier's
myrmidons arrived at the schoolhouse. Great was their surprise
when they found only the poor children's little books, unfinished
samplers, and half-hemmed handkerchiefs. They ran into the garden
to search for the nun. They were men of brutal habits, yet as they
looked at everything round them, which bespoke peace, innocence,
and childish happiness, they could not help thinking it was a pity
to destroy what could do the nation no great harm after all. They
were even glad that the nun had made her escape, since they were
not answerable for it; and they returned to their employer
satisfied for once without doing any mischief; but Citizen
Tracassier was of too vindictive a temper to suffer the objects of
his hatred thus to elude his vengeance. The next day Madame de
Fleury was summoned before his tribunal and ordered to give up the
nun, against whom, as a suspected person, a decree of the law had
Madame de Fleury refused to betray the innocent woman; the gentle