Part 7 out of 10
"Knowledge for them unlocks her _useful_ page,
And virtue blossoms for a better age."--BARBAULD.
A few days after Mad. 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 Mad. 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
[Footnote 1: To these observations there are honourable exceptions.]
Convinced of these melancholy truths, Mad. 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 Mad. 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 confectionaries 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 Mad. de Fleury's own woman
Amongst her numerous friends and acquaintances, and amongst the
shopkeepers whom she was in the habit of employing, Mad. 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
connexion 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 Mad. 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
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 mean time 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 good-will. 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 Mad. 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, Mad. 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; 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 shrunk back from Manon, and stood
in silence. Mad. 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 apologize for herself only by saying, that
"she believed the girl to be partly reformed, and that she hoped,
under Mad. de Fleury's judicious care, she would become an amiable and
Mad. 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 had habits were 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
"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 f�te_ pervades the whole French
nation. Mad. 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 any thing particularly worthy of reward, she gave them leave to
invite their parents to a _f�te_ 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 Mad. de Fleury in her absence, and
they wished ardently for her presence.
"The sun is setting, and Mad. 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 Mad. 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 pre-occupied by some disagreeable business of importance. It
appeared that it had some connexion 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,
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, Mad. de Fleury had heard alarming news.
Dreadful public disturbances, she saw, were inevitable; and whilst she
trembled for the fate of all who were dear to her, these poor children
had a share in her anxiety. She foresaw the temptations, the dangers,
to which they must be exposed, whether they abandoned, or whether they
abided by, the principles their education had instilled. She feared
that the labour of years would perhaps be lost in an instant, or that
her innocent pupils would fall victims even to their virtues.
Many of these young people were now of an age to understand and to
govern themselves by reason; and with these she determined to use
those preventive measures which reason affords. Without meddling with
politics, in which no amiable or sensible woman can wish to interfere,
the influence of ladies in the higher ranks of life may always be
exerted with perfect propriety, and with essential advantage to the
public, in conciliating the inferior classes of society, explaining to
them their duties and their interests, and impressing upon the minds
of the children of the poor, sentiments of just subordination and
honest independence. How happy would it have been for France, if
women of fortune and abilities had always exerted their talents and
activity in this manner, instead of wasting their powers in futile
declamations, or in the intrigues of party!
"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
"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 schoolmistresses, 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
Mad. 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 any thing 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 Mad. de Fleury. Disengage myself from her! I
am bound to her for ever, and I will abide by her till the last hour I
"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 _marangles_, and charming ribands!--Oh, Victoire,
believe me, you will never get such things by going to school, or
saying your prayers either. You may look with as much scorn and
indignation as you please, but I advise you to let it alone, for all
that is out of fashion, and may moreover bring you into difficulties.
Believe me, my dear Victoire, your head is not deep enough to
understand these things--you know nothing of politics."
"But I know the difference between right and wrong, Manon: politics
can never alter that, you know."
"Never alter that!--there you are quite mistaken," said Manon: "I
cannot stay to convince you now--but this I can tell you, that I know
secrets that you don't suspect."
"I do not wish to know any of your secrets, Manon," said Victoire,
"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 Abb� 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
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 Mad. 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 villany of others, without probability or
possibility of serving his country by his fall.
M. 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 abb�, and
a man of wit, he had gained admittance into Mad. de Fleury's society.
There he attempted to dictate both as a literary and religious despot.
Accidentally discovering that Mad. 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, Mad. de Fleury
persisted in her choice, and was at last obliged to assert, in
opposition to the domineering abb�, 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 any thing 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 �l�ves de la patrie_. The abb�,
become a member of the Committee of Public Safety, denounced Mad. 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 r�gime, _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 M. 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 every thing in Mad. de Fleury's
school-house, and to throw the nun into prison.
"Who now will guard bewilder'd youth
Safe from the fierce assault of hostile rage?--
Such war can Virtue wage?"
At the very moment when this order was going to be put in execution,
Mad. de Fleury was sitting in the midst of the children, listening to
Babet, who was reading �sop's fable of _The old man and his sons_.
Whilst her sister was reading, Victoire collected a number of twigs
from the garden: she had just tied them together; and was going,
by Sister Frances' desire, to let her companions try if they could
break the bundle, when the attention of the moral of the fable was
interrupted by the entrance of an old woman, whose countenance
expressed the utmost terror and haste, to tell what she had not breath
to utter. To Mad. de Fleury she was a stranger; but the children
immediately recollected her to be the _chestnut woman_, to whom Babet
had some years ago restored certain purloined chestnuts. "Fly!" said
she, the moment she had breath to speak: "Fly!--they are coming to
seize every thing here--carry off what you can--make haste--make
haste!--I came through a by-street. A man was eating chestnuts at my
stall, and I saw him show one that was with him the order from Citoyen
Tracassier. They'll be here in five minutes--quick!--quick!--You, in
particular," continued she, turning to the nun, "else you'll be in
prison." At these words, the children, who had clung round Sister
Frances, loosed their hold, exclaiming, "Go! go quick: but where?
where?--we will go with her." "No, no!" said Madame de Fleury, "she
shall come home with me--my carriage is at the door." "Ma belle dame!"
cried the chestnut woman, "your house is the worst place she can go
to--let her come to my cellar--the poorest cellar in these days is
safer than the grandest palace." So saying, she seized the nun with
honest roughness, and hurried her away. As soon as she was gone, the
children ran different ways, each to collect some favourite thing,
which they thought they could not leave behind. Victoire alone stood
motionless beside Mad. de Fleury; her whole thoughts absorbed by the
fear that her benefactress would be imprisoned. "Oh, madame! dear,
dear Madame de Fleury, don't stay! don't stay!"
"Oh, children, never mind these things."
"Don't stay, madame, don't stay! I will stay with them--I will
stay--do you go."
The children hearing these words, and recollecting Mad. de Fleury's
danger, abandoned all their little property, and instantly obeyed
her orders to go home to their parents. Victoire at last saw Mad. de
Fleury safe in her carriage. The coachman drove off at a great rate;
and a few minutes afterwards Tracassier's myrmidons arrived at the
school-house. Great was their surprise, when they found only the
poor children's little books, unfinished samplers, and half-hemmed
handkerchiefs. They ran into the garden to search for the nun. They
were men of brutal habits; yet as they looked at every thing round
them, which bespoke peace, innocence, and childish happiness, they
could not help thinking it was a pity to destroy what _could do the
nation no great harm after all_. They were even glad that the nun
had made her escape, since they were not answerable for it; and they
returned to their employer, satisfied for once without doing any
mischief: but Citizen Tracassier was of too vindictive a temper to
suffer the objects of his hatred thus to elude his vengeance. The next
day Mad. de Fleury was summoned before his tribunal, and ordered to
give up the nun, against whom, as a suspected person, a decree of the
law had been obtained.
Mad. de Fleury refused to betray the innocent woman: the gentle
firmness of this lady's answers to a brutal interrogatory was termed
insolence; she was pronounced a refractory aristocrat, dangerous to
the state; and an order was made out to seal up her goods, and to keep
her a prisoner in her own house.
"Alas! full oft on Guilt's victorious car
The spoils of Virtue are in triumph borne,
While the fair captive, mark'd with many a scar,
In lone obscurity, oppress'd, forlorn,
Resigns to tears her angel form."--BEATTIE.
A close prisoner in her own house, Mad. de Fleury was now guarded by
men suddenly become soldiers, and sprung from the dregs of the people;
men of brutal manners, ferocious countenances, and more ferocious
minds. They seemed to delight in the insolent, display of their
newly-acquired power. One of these men had formerly been convicted of
some horrible crime, and had been sent to the galleys by M. de Fleury.
Revenge actuated this wretch under the mask of patriotism, and he
rejoiced in seeing the wife of the man he hated a prisoner in his
custody. Ignorant of the facts, his associates were ready to believe
him in the right, and to join in the senseless cry against all
who were their superiors in fortune, birth, and education. This
unfortunate lady was forbidden all intercourse with her friends, and
it was in vain she attempted to obtain from her jailers intelligence
of what was passing in Paris.
"Tu verras--Tout va bien--Ca ira," were the only answers they deigned
to make: frequently they continued smoking their pipes in obdurate
silence. She occupied the back rooms of her house, because her guards
apprehended that she might from the front windows receive intelligence
from her friends. One morning she was awakened by an unusual noise in
the streets; and upon her inquiring the occasion of it, her guards
told her she was welcome to go to the front windows, and satisfy her
curiosity. She went, and saw an immense crowd of people surrounding a
guillotine, that had been erected the preceding night. Mad. de Fleury
started back with horror--her guards burst into an inhuman laugh, and
asked whether her curiosity was satisfied. She would have left the
room; but it was now their pleasure to detain her, and to force her to
continue the whole day in this apartment. When the guillotine began
its work, they had even the barbarity to drag her to the window,
repeating, "It is there you ought to be!--It is there your husband
ought to be!--You are too happy, that your husband is not there this
moment. But he will be there--the law will overtake him--he will be
there in time--and you too!"
The mild fortitude of this innocent, benevolent woman made no
impression upon these cruel men. When at night they saw her kneeling
at her prayers, they taunted her with gross and impious mockery; and
when she sunk to sleep, they would waken her by their loud and drunken
orgies: if she remonstrated, they answered, "The enemies of the
constitution should have no rest."
Mad. de Fleury was not an enemy to any human being; she had never
interfered in politics; her life had been passed in domestic
pleasures, or employed for the good of her fellow-creatures. Even
in this hour of personal danger she thought of others more than of
herself: she thought of her husband, an exile in a foreign country,
who might be reduced to the utmost distress, now that she was deprived
of all means of remitting him money. She thought of her friends, who,
she knew, would exert themselves to obtain her liberty, and whose
zeal in her cause might involve them and their families in distress.
She thought of the good Sister Frances, who had been exposed by her
means to the unrelenting persecution of the malignant and powerful
Tracassier. She thought of her poor little pupils, now thrown upon the
world without a protector. Whilst these ideas were revolving in her
mind, one night, as she lay awake, she heard the door of her chamber
open softly, and a soldier, one of her guards, with a light in his
hand, entered: he came to the foot of her bed; and, as she started up,
laid his finger upon his lips.
"Don't make the least noise," said he in a whisper; "those without are
drunk, and asleep. Don't you know me?--Don't you remember my face?"
"Not in the least; yet I have some recollection of your voice."
The man took off the bonnet-rouge--still she could not guess who he
was.--"You never saw me in an uniform before, nor without a black
She looked again, and recollected the smith, to whom Maurice was bound
apprentice, and remembered his _patois_ accent.
"I remember you," said he, "at any rate; and your goodness to that
poor girl the day her arm was broken, and all your goodness to
Maurice--But I've no time for talking of that now--get up, wrap this
great coat round you--don't be in a hurry, but make no noise, and
She followed him; and he led her past the sleeping sentinels, opened
a back door into the garden, hurried her, almost carried her, across
the garden, to a door at the furthest end of it, which opened into
Les Champs Elys�es--"La voil�!" cried he, pushing her through the
half-opened door. "God be praised!" answered a voice, which Mad. de
Fleury knew to be Victoire's, whose arms were thrown round her with a
transport of joy.
"Softly; she is not safe yet--wait till we get her home, Victoire,"
said another voice, which she knew to be that of Maurice. He produced
a dark lantern, and guided Mad. de Fleury across the Champs Elys�es,
and across the bridge, and then through various by-streets, in perfect
silence, till they arrived safely at the house where Victoire's mother
lodged, and went up those very stairs which she had ascended in such
different circumstances several years before. The mother, who was
sitting up waiting most anxiously for the return of her children,
clasped her hands in an ecstasy, when she saw them return with Mad. de
"Welcome, madame! Welcome, dear madame! but who would have thought of
seeing you here, in such a way? Let her rest herself--let her rest;
she is quite overcome. Here, madame, can you sleep on this poor bed?"
"The very same bed you laid me upon the day my arm was broken," said
"Ay, Lord bless her!" said the mother; "and though it's seven good
years ago, it seemed but yesterday that I saw her sitting on that bed,
beside my poor child, looking like an angel. But let her rest, let her
rest--we'll not say a word more, only God bless her; thank Heaven,
she's safe with us at last!"
Mad. de Fleury expressed unwillingness to stay with these good people,
lest she should expose them to danger; but they begged most earnestly
that she would remain with them without scruple.
"Surely, madame," said the mother, "you must think that we have some
remembrance of all you have done for us, and some touch of gratitude."
"And surely, madame, you can trust us, I hope," said Maurice.
"And surely you are not too proud to let us do something for you. The
lion was not too proud to be served by the poor little mouse," said
Victoire. "As to danger for us," continued she, "there can be none;
for Maurice and I have contrived a hiding-place for you, madame,
that can never be found out--let them come spying here as often as
they please, they will never find her out, will they, Maurice? Look,
madame, into this lumber-room--you see it seems to be quite full of
wood for firing; well, if you creep in behind, you can hide yourself
quite snug in the loft above, and here's a trap-door into the loft
that nobody ever would think of--for we have hung these old things
from the top of it, and who could guess it was a trap-door? So, you
see, dear madame, you may sleep in peace here, and never fear for us."
Though but a girl of fourteen, Victoire showed at this time all the
sense and prudence of a woman of thirty. Gratitude seemed at once to
develope all the powers of her mind. It was she and Maurice who had
prevailed upon the smith to effect Mad. de Fleury's escape from her
own house. She had invented, she had foreseen, she had arranged every
thing; she had scarcely rested night or day since the imprisonment of
her benefactress; and now that her exertions had fully succeeded, her
joy seemed to raise her above all feeling of fatigue; she looked as
fresh and moved as briskly, her mother said, as if she were preparing
to go to a ball.
"Ah! my child," said she, "your cousin Manon, who goes to those balls
every night, was never so happy as you are this minute."
But Victoire's happiness was not of long continuance; for the next day
they were alarmed by intelligence that Tracassier was enraged beyond
measure at Mad. de Fleury's escape, that all his emissaries were at
work to discover her present hiding-place, that the houses of all the
parents and relations of her pupils were to be searched, and that the
most severe denunciations were issued against all by whom she should
be harboured. Manon was the person who gave this intelligence, but not
with any benevolent design; she first came to Victoire, to display
her own consequence; and to terrify her, she related all she knew
from a soldier's wife, who was M. Tracassier's mistress. Victoire
had sufficient command over herself to conceal from the inquisitive
eyes of Manon the agitation of her heart; she had also the prudence
not to let any one of her companions into her secret, though, when
she saw their anxiety, she was much tempted to relieve them, by the
assurance that Mad. de Fleury was in safety. All the day was passed
in apprehension. Mad. de Fleury never stirred from her place of
concealment: as the evening and the hour of the domiciliary visits
approached, Victoire and Maurice were alarmed by an unforeseen
difficulty. Their mother, whose health had been broken by hard work,
in vain endeavoured to suppress her terror at the thoughts of this
domiciliary visit; she repeated incessantly that she knew they should
all be discovered, and that her children would be dragged to the
guillotine before her face. She was in such a distracted state, that
they dreaded she would, the moment she saw the soldiers, reveal all
"If they question me, I shall not know what to answer," cried the
terrified woman. "What can I say?--What can I do?"
Reasoning, entreaties, all were vain; she was not in a condition to
understand, or even to listen to, any thing that was said. In this
situation they were, when the domiciliary visitors arrived--they heard
the noise of the soldiers' feet on the stairs--the poor woman sprang
from the arms of her children; but at the moment the door was opened,
and she saw the glittering of the bayonets, she fell at full length
in a swoon on the floor--fortunately before she had power to utter a
syllable. The people of the house knew, and said, that she was subject
to fits on any sudden alarm; so that her being affected in this manner
did not appear surprising. They threw her on a bed, whilst they
proceeded to search the house: her children stayed with her; and,
wholly occupied in attending to her, they were not exposed to the
danger of betraying their anxiety about Mad. de Fleury. They trembled,
however, from head to foot, when they heard one of the soldiers swear
that all the wood in the lumber-room must be pulled out, and that he
would not leave the house till every stick was moved; the sound of
each log, as it was thrown out, was heard by Victoire: her brother
was now summoned to assist. How great was his terror, when one of the
searchers looked up to the roof, as if expecting to find a trap-door!
fortunately, however, he did not discover it. Maurice, who had seized
the light, contrived to throw the shadows so as to deceive the eye.
The soldiers at length retreated; and with inexpressible satisfaction
Maurice lighted them down stairs, and saw them fairly out of the
house. For some minutes after they were in safety, the terrified
mother, who had recovered her senses, could scarcely believe that
the danger was over. She embraced her children by turns with wild
transport; and with tears begged Mad. de Fleury to forgive her
cowardice, and not to attribute it to ingratitude, or to suspect
that she had a bad heart. She protested that she was now become so
courageous, since she found that she had gone through this trial
successfully, and since she was sure that the hiding-place was really
so secure, that she should never be alarmed at any domiciliary visit
in future. Mad. de Fleury, however, did not think it either just or
expedient to put her resolution to the trial. She determined to leave
Paris; and, if possible, to make her escape from France. The master of
one of the Paris diligences was brother to Fran�ois, her footman: he
was ready to assist her at all hazards, and to convey her safely to
Bourdeaux, if she could disguise herself properly; and if she could
obtain a pass from any friend under a feigned name.
Victoire--the indefatigable Victoire--recollected that her friend
Annette had an aunt, who was nearly of Mad. de Fleury's size, and who
had just obtained a pass to go to Bourdeaux, to visit some of her
relations. The pass was willingly given up to Mad. de Fleury; and upon
reading it over it was found to answer tolerably well--the colour of
the eyes and hair at least would do; though the words _un nez gros_
were not precisely descriptive of this lady's. Annette's mother, who
had always worn the provincial dress of Auvergne, furnished the high
_cornette_, stiff stays, boddice, &c.; and equipped in these, Mad. de
Fleury was so admirably well disguised, that even Victoire declared
she should scarcely have known her. Money, that most necessary
passport in all countries, was still wanting: as seals had been
put upon all Mad. de Fleury's effects the day she had been first
imprisoned in her own house, she could not save even her jewels. She
had, however, one ring on her finger of some value. How to dispose
of it without exciting suspicion was the difficulty. Babet, who was
resolved to have her share in assisting her benefactress, proposed
to carry the ring to a _colporteur_--a pedlar, or sort of travelling
jeweller, who had come to lay in a stock of hardware at Paris: he was
related to one of Mad. de Fleury's little pupils, and readily disposed
of the ring for her: she obtained at least two-thirds of its value--a
great deal in those times.
The proofs of integrity, attachment, and gratitude, which she received
in these days of peril, from those whom she had obliged in her
prosperity, touched her generous heart so much, that she has often
since declared she could not regret having been reduced to distress.
Before she quitted Paris, she wrote letters to her friends,
recommending her pupils to their protection; she left these letters in
the care of Victoire, who to the last moment followed her with anxious
affection. She would have followed her benefactress into exile, but
that she was prevented by duty and affection from leaving her mother,
who was in declining health.
Mad. de Fleury successfully made her escape from Paris. Some of the
municipal officers in the towns through which she passed on her
road were as severe as their ignorance would permit in scrutinizing
her passport. It seldom happened that more than one of these petty
committees of public safety could read. One usually spelled out the
passport as well as he could, whilst the others smoked their pipes,
and from time to time held a light up to the lady's face to examine
whether it agreed with the description.
"Mais toi! tu n'as pas le nez gros!" said one of her judges to her.
"Son nez est assez gros, et c'est moi qui le dit," said another. The
question was put to the vote; and the man who had asserted what was
contrary to the evidence of his senses was so vehement in supporting
his opinion, that it was carried in spite of all that could be said
against it. Mad. de Fleury was suffered to proceed on her journey.
She reached Bourdeaux in safety. Her husband's friends--the good have
always friends in adversity--her husband's friends exerted themselves
for her with the most prudent zeal. She was soon provided with a sum
of money sufficient for her support for some time in England; and she
safely reached that free and happy country, which has been the refuge
of so many illustrious exiles.
"Cosi rozzo diamante appena splende
Dalla rupe nat�a quand' esce fuora,
E a poco a poco lucido se rende
Sotto l'attenta che lo lavora."
Mad. de Fleury joined her husband, who was in London; and they both
lived in the most retired and frugal manner. They had too much of the
pride of independence to become burthensome to their generous English
friends. Notwithstanding the variety of difficulties they had to
encounter, and the number of daily privations to which they were
forced to submit, yet they were happy--in a tranquil conscience, in
their mutual affection, and the attachment of many poor but grateful
friends. A few months after she came to England, Mad. de Fleury
received, by a private hand, a packet of letters from her little
pupils. Each of them, even the youngest, who had but just begun to
learn joining-hand, would write a few lines in this packet.
In various hands, of various sizes, the changes were rung upon these
"MY DEAR MADAME DE FLEURY,
"I love you--I wish you were here again--I will be _very very_
good whilst you are away. If you stay away ever so long, I shall
never forget you, nor your goodness; but I hope you will soon be
able to come back, and this is what I pray for every night. Sister
Frances says I may tell you that I am very good, and Victoire
thinks so too."
This was the substance of several of their little letters. Victoire's
contained rather more information:--
"You will be glad to _learn_ that dear Sister Frances is safe, and
that the good chestnut woman, in whose cellar she took refuge, did
not get into any difficulty. After you were gone, M. T---- said
that he did not think it worth while to pursue her, as it was only
you he wanted to humble. Manon, who has, I do not know how, means
of knowing, told me this. Sister Frances is now with her abbess,
who, as well as every body else that knows her, is very fond of
her. What was a convent is no longer a convent: the nuns are
turned out of it. Sister Frances' health is not so good as it used
to be, though she never complains; I am sure she suffers much; she
has never been the same person since that day when we were driven
from our happy school-room. It is all destroyed--the garden and
every thing. It is now a dismal sight. Your absence also afflicts
Sister Frances much, and she is in great anxiety about all of
us. She has the six little ones with her every day, in her own
apartment, and goes on teaching them as she used to do. We six
eldest go to see her as often as we can. I should have begun, my
dear Mad. de Fleury, by telling you, that, the day after you left
Paris, I went to deliver all the letters you were so very kind to
write for us in the midst of your hurry. Your friends have been
exceedingly good to us, and have got places for us all. Rose is
with Mad. la Grace, your mantua-maker, who says she is more handy
and more expert at cutting out than girls she has had these three
years. Marianne is in the service of Mad. de V----, who has lost
a great part of her large fortune, and cannot afford to keep her
former waiting-maid. Mad. de V---- is well pleased with Marianne,
and bids me tell you that she thanks you for her. Indeed,
Marianne, though she is only fourteen, can do every thing her lady
wants. Susanne is with a confectioner; she gave Sister Frances
a box of _bonbons_ of her own making this morning; and Sister
Frances, who is a judge, says they are excellent; she only wishes
you could taste them. Annette and I (thanks to your kindness!) are
in the same service, with Mad. Feuillot, the _brodeuse_, to whom
you recommended us: she is not discontented with our work, and
indeed sent a very civil message yesterday to Sister Frances on
this subject; but I believe it is too flattering for me to repeat
in this letter. We shall do our best to give her satisfaction. She
is glad to find that we can write tolerably, and that we can make
out bills and keep accounts; this being particularly convenient
to her at present, as the young man she had in the shop is become
an _orator_, and good for nothing but _la chose publique_: her
son, who could have supplied his place, is ill; and Mad. Feuillot
herself, not having had, as she says, the advantage of such a good
education as we have been blessed with, writes but badly, and
knows nothing of arithmetic. Dear Mad. de Fleury, how much, how
very much we are obliged to you! We feel it every day more and
more: in these times what would have become of us, if we could
do nothing useful? Who _would_, who _could_ be burdened with us?
Dear madame, we owe every thing to you--and we can do nothing, not
the least thing, for you!--My mother is still in bad health, and
I fear will never recover: Babet is with her always, and Sister
Frances is very good to her. My brother Maurice is now so good a
workman that he earns a louis a week. He is very steady to his
business, and never goes to the revolutionary meetings, though
once he had a great mind to be an orator of the people, but never
since the day that you explained to him that he knew nothing about
equality and the rights of men, &c. How could I forget to tell
you, that his master the smith, who was one of your guards, and
who assisted you to escape, has returned without suspicion to his
former trade? and he declares that he will never more meddle with
public affairs. I gave him the money you left with me for him. He
is very kind to my brother--yesterday Maurice mended for Annette's
mistress the lock of an English writing-desk, and he mended it so
astonishingly well, that an English gentleman, who saw it, could
not believe the work was done by a Frenchman; so my brother was
sent for, to prove it, and they were forced to believe it. To-day
he has more work than he can finish this twelvemonth--all this we
owe to you. I shall never forget the day when you promised that
you would grant my brother's wish to be apprenticed to the smith,
if I was not in a passion for a month--that cured me of being so
"Dear Mad. de Fleury, I have written you too long a letter, and
not so well as I can write when I am not in a hurry; but I wanted
to tell you every thing at once, because, may be, I shall not for
a long time have so safe an opportunity of sending a letter to
Several months elapsed before Mad. de Fleury received another letter
from Victoire: it was short, and evidently written in great distress
of mind. It contained an account of her mother's death. She was
now left at the early age of sixteen an orphan. Mad. Feuillot, the
_brodeuse_, with whom she lived, added a few lines to her letter,
penned with difficulty and strangely spelled, but expressive of her
being highly pleased with both the girls recommended to her by Mad. de
Fleury, especially Victoire, who she said was such a treasure to her,
that she would not part with her on any account, and should consider
her as a daughter. "I tell her not to grieve so much; for though she
has lost one mother, she has gained another for herself, who will
always love her: and besides, she is so useful, and in so many ways,
with her pen and her needle, in accounts, and every thing that is
wanted in a family or a shop, she can never want employment or friends
in the worst times; and none can be worse than these, especially for
such pretty girls as she is, who have all their heads turned, and are
taught to consider nothing a sin that used to be sins. Many gentlemen,
who come to our shop, have found out that Victoire is very handsome,
and tell her so; but she is so modest and prudent, that I am not
afraid for her. I could tell you, madame, a good anecdote on this
subject, but my paper will not allow, and besides, my writing is so
Above a year elapsed before Mad. de Fleury received another letter
from Victoire: this was in a parcel, of which an emigrant took charge:
it contained a variety of little offerings from her pupils, instances
of their ingenuity, their industry, and their affection: the last
thing in the packet was a small purse labelled in this manner--
"_Savings from our wages and earnings, for her who taught us all we
"Dans sa pompe �l�gante, admirez Chantilly,
De h�ros en h�ros, d'�ge en �ge, embelli."
The health of the good Sister Frances, which had suffered much from
the shock her mind received at the commencement of the revolution,
declined so rapidly in the course of the two succeeding years, that
she was obliged to leave Paris, and she retired to a little village
in the neighbourhood of Chantilly. She chose this situation, because
here she was within a morning's walk of Mad. de Fleury's country-seat.
The Ch�teau de Fleury had not yet been seized as national property,
nor had it suffered from the attacks of the mob, though it was in
a perilous situation, within view of the high road to Paris. The
Parisian populace had not yet extended their outrages to this distance
from the city; and the poor people who lived on the estate of Fleury,
attached from habit, principle, and gratitude to their lord, were not
disposed to take advantage of the disorder of the times, to injure the
property of those from whom they had all their lives received favours
and protection. A faithful old steward had the care of the castle and
the grounds. Sister Frances was impatient to talk to him, and to visit
the ch�teau, which she had never seen; but for some days after her
arrival in the village, she was so much fatigued and so weak, that she
could not attempt so long a walk. Victoire had obtained permission
from her mistress to accompany the nun for a few days to the country,
as Annette undertook to do all the business of the shop during the
absence of her companion. Victoire was fully as eager as Sister
Frances to see the faithful steward and the Ch�teau de Fleury, and the
morning was now fixed for their walk: but in the middle of the night
they were awakened by the shouts of a mob, who had just entered the
village fresh from the destruction of a neighbouring castle. The nun
and Victoire listened; but in the midst of the horrid yells of joy, no
human voice, no intelligible word, could be distinguished: they looked
through a chink in the window-shutter, and they saw the street
below filled with a crowd of men, whose countenances were by turns
illuminated by the glare of the torches which they brandished.
"Good Heavens!" whispered the nun to Victoire: "I should know the face
of that man who is loading his musket--the very man whom I nursed ten
years ago, when he was ill with a jail fever!"
This man, who stood in the midst of the crowd, taller by the head than
the others, seemed to be the leader of the party; they were disputing
whether they should proceed further, spend the remainder of the night
in the village alehouse, or return to Paris. Their leader ordered
spirits to be distributed to his associates, and exhorted them in a
loud voice to proceed in their glorious work. Tossing his firebrand
over his head, he declared that he would never return to Paris till
he had razed to the ground the Ch�teau de Fleury. At these words,
Victoire, forgetful of all personal danger, ran out into the midst of
the mob, pressed her way up to the leader of these ruffians, caught
him by the arm, exclaiming, "You will not touch a stone in the Ch�teau
de Fleury--I have my reasons--I say you will not suffer a stone in the
Ch�teau de Fleury to be touched."
"And why not?" cried the man, turning astonished; "and who are you,
that I should listen to you?"
"No matter who I am," said Victoire; "follow me, and I will show
you one to whom you will not refuse to listen. Here!--here she is,"
continued Victoire, pointing to the nun, who had followed her in
amazement; "here is one to whom you will listen--yes, look at her
well: hold the light to her face."
The nun, in a supplicating attitude, stood in speechless expectation.
"Ay, I see you have gratitude, I know you will have mercy," cried
Victoire, watching the workings in the countenance of the man; "you
will save the Ch�teau de Fleury, for her sake--who saved your life."
"I will," cried this astonished chief of a mob, fired with sudden
generosity. "By my faith you are a brave girl, and a fine girl, and
know how to speak to the heart, and in the right moment. Friends,
citizens! this nun, though she is a nun, is good for something. When
I lay ill with a fever, and not a soul else to help me, she came and
gave me medicines and food--in short, I owe my life to her. 'Tis ten
years ago, but I remember it well; and now it is our turn to rule,
and she shall be paid as she deserves. Not a stone of the Ch�teau de
Fleury shall be touched!"
With loud acclamations, the mob joined in the generous enthusiasm of
the moment, and followed their leader peaceably out of the village.
All this passed with such rapidity as scarcely to leave the impression
of reality upon the mind. As soon as the sun rose in the morning,
Victoire looked out for the turrets of the Ch�teau de Fleury, and
she saw that they were safe--safe in the midst of the surrounding
devastation. Nothing remained of the superb palace of Chantilly but
the white arches of its foundation!
"When thy last breath, ere Nature sank to rest,
Thy meek submission to thy God express'd;
When thy last look, ere thought and feeling fled,
A mingled gleam of hope and triumph shed;
What to thy soul its glad assurance gave--
Its hope in death, its triumph o'er the grave?
The sweet remembrance of unblemish'd youth,
Th'inspiring voice of innocence and truth!"
The good Sister Frances, though she had scarcely recovered from the
shock of the preceding night, accompanied Victoire to the Ch�teau de
Fleury. The gates were opened for them by the old steward and his son
Basile, who welcomed them with all the eagerness with which people
welcome friends in time of adversity. The old man showed them the
place; and through every apartment of the castle went on, talking of
former times, and with narrative fondness told anecdotes of his dear
master and mistress. Here his lady used to sit and read--here was
the table at which she wrote--this was the sofa on which she and
the ladies sat the very last day she was at the castle, at the open
windows of the hall, whilst all the tenants and people of the village
were dancing on the green.
"Ay, those were happy times," said the old man; "but they will never
"Never! Oh, do not say so," cried Victoire.
"Never during my life, at least," said the nun in a low voice, and
with a look of resignation.
Basile, as he wiped the tears from his eyes, happened to strike his
arm against the chord of Mad. de Fleury's harp, and the sound echoed
through the room.
"Before this year is at an end," cried Victoire, "perhaps that harp
will be struck again in this ch�teau by Mad. de Fleury herself. Last
night we could hardly have hoped to see these walls standing this
morning, and yet it is safe--not a stone touched! Oh, we shall all
live, I hope, to see better times!"
Sister Frances smiled, for she would not depress Victoire's
enthusiastic hope: to please her, the good nun added, that she felt
better this morning than she had felt for months, and Victoire was
happier than she had been since Mad. de Fleury left France. But, alas!
it was only a transient gleam. Sister Frances relapsed, and declined
so rapidly, that even Victoire, whose mind was almost always disposed
to hope, despaired of her recovery. With placid resignation, or rather
with mild confidence, this innocent and benevolent creature met the
approach of death. She seemed attached to earth only by affection for
those whom she was to leave in this world. Two of the youngest of the
children which had formerly been placed under her care, and who were
not yet able to earn their own subsistence, she kept with her, and in
the last days of her life she continued her instructions to them with
the fond solicitude of a parent. Her father confessor, an excellent
man, who never even in these dangerous times shrunk from his duty,
came to attend Sister Frances in her last moments, and relieved her
mind from all anxiety, by promising to place the two little children
with the lady who had been abbess of her convent, who would to the
utmost of her power protect and provide for them suitably. Satisfied
by this promise, the good Sister Frances smiled upon Victoire, who
stood beside her bed, and with that smile upon her countenance
expired.--It was some time before the little children seemed to
comprehend, or to believe, that Sister Frances was dead: they had
never before seen any one die; they had no idea what it was to die,
and their first feeling was astonishment: they did not seem to
understand why Victoire wept. But the next day when no Sister Frances
spoke to them, when every hour they missed some accustomed kindness
from her,--when presently they saw the preparations for her
funeral,--when they heard that she was to be buried in the earth, and
that they should never see her more,--they could neither play nor eat,
but sat in a corner holding each other's hands, and watching every
thing that was done for the dead by Victoire.
In those times, the funeral of a nun, with a priest attending, would
not have been permitted by the populace. It was therefore performed
as secretly as possible: in the middle of the night the coffin was
carried to the burial-place of the Fleury family; the old steward, his
son Basile, Victoire, and the good father confessor, were the only
persons present. It is necessary to mention this, because the facts
were afterwards misrepresented.
"The character is lost!
Her head adorn'd with lappets, pinn'd aloft,
And ribands streaming gay, superbly raised,
Indebted to some smart wig-weaver's hand
For more than half the tresses it sustains."
Upon her return to Paris, Victoire felt melancholy; but she exerted
herself as much as possible in her usual occupation; finding that
employment and the consciousness of doing her duty were the best
remedies for sorrow.
One day, as she was busy settling Mad. Feuillot's accounts, a servant
came into the shop, and inquired for Mademoiselle Victoire: he
presented her a note, which she found rather difficult to decipher.
It was signed by her cousin Manon, who desired to see Victoire at her
hotel. "_Her hotel_!" repeated Victoire with astonishment. The servant
assured her that one of the finest hotels in Paris belonged to his
lady, and that he was commissioned to show her the way to it. Victoire
found her cousin in a magnificent house, which had formerly belonged
to the Prince de Salms. Manon, dressed in the disgusting, indecent
extreme of the mode, was seated under a richly-fringed canopy. She
burst into a loud laugh as Victoire entered.
"You look just as much astonished as I expected," cried she. "Great
changes have happened since I saw you last--I always told you,
Victoire, I knew the world better than you did. What has come of
all your schooling, and your mighty goodness, and your gratitude
truly?--Your patroness is banished and a beggar, and you a drudge in
the shop of a _brodeuse_, who makes you work your fingers to the bone,
no doubt.--Now you shall see the difference. Let me show you my house;
you know it was formerly the hotel of the Prince de Salms, he that was
guillotined the other day; but you know nothing, for you have been
out of Paris this month, I understand. Then I must tell you, that my
friend Villeneuf has acquired an immense fortune! by assignats, made
in the course of a fortnight--I say an immense fortune! and has bought
this fine house--Now do you begin to understand?"
"I do not clearly know whom you mean by your friend Villeneuf," said
"The hairdresser, who lived in our street," said Manon; "he became a
great patriot, you know, and orator; and, what with his eloquence and
his luck in dealing in assignats, he has made his fortune and mine."
"And yours! then he is your husband!"
"That does not follow--that is not necessary--but do not look so
shocked--every body goes on the same way now; besides, I had no
other resource--I must have starved--I could not earn my bread as
you do. Besides, I was too delicate for hard work of any sort--and
besides--but come, let me show you my house--you have no idea how
fine it is."
With anxious ostentation, Manon displayed all her riches, to excite
"Confess, Victoire," said she at last, "that you think me the happiest
person you have ever known.--You do not answer; whom did you ever know
that was happier?"
"Sister Frances, who died last week, appeared to be much happier,"
"The poor nun!" said Manon, disdainfully. "Well, and whom do you think
the next happiest?"
"Madame de Fleury."
"An exile and a beggar!--Oh, you are jesting now,
Victoire--or--envious. With that sanctified face, citoyenne--perhaps
I should say Mademoiselle Victoire, you would be delighted to change
places with me this instant. Come, you shall stay with me a week, to
try how you like it."
"Excuse me," said Victoire, firmly; "I cannot stay with you,
Manon--you have chosen one way of life, and I another--quite another.
I do not repent my choice--may you never repent yours!--Farewell!"
"Bless me! what airs! and with what dignity she looks! Repent of my
choice!--a likely thing, truly. Am not I at the top of the wheel?"
"And may not the wheel turn?" said Victoire.
"Perhaps it may," said Manon; "but till it does I will enjoy myself.
Since you are of a different humour, return to Mad. Feuillot, and
_figure_ upon cambric and muslin, and make out bills, and nurse old
nuns, all the days of your life. You will never persuade me, however,
that you would not change places with me if you could. Stay till you
are tried, Mademoiselle Victoire. Who was ever in love with you, or
your virtues?--Stay till you are tried."
"But beauty, like the fair Hesperian tree,
Laden with blooming gold, had need the guard
Of dragon watch with unenchanted eye
To save her blossoms, or defend her fruit."
The trial was nearer than either Manon or Victoire expected. Manon had
scarcely pronounced the last words, when the ci-devant hairdresser
burst into the room, accompanied by several of his political
associates, who met to consult measures for the good of the nation.
Among these patriots was the Abb� Tracassier.
"Who is that pretty girl who is with you, Manon?" whispered he; "a
friend of yours, I hope?"
Victoire left the room immediately, but not before the profligate
abb� had seen enough to make him wish to see more. The next day he
went to Mad. Feuillot's, under pretence of buying some embroidered
handkerchiefs; he paid Victoire a profusion of extravagant
compliments, which made no impression upon her innocent heart, and
which appeared ridiculous to her plain good sense. She did not know
who he was, nor did Mad. Feuillot; for though she had often heard
of the abb�, yet she had never seen him. Several succeeding days he
returned, and addressed himself to Victoire, each time with increasing
freedom. Mad. Feuillot, who had the greatest confidence in her,
left her entirely to her own discretion. Victoire begged her friend
Annette to do the business of the shop, and stayed at work in the back
parlour. Tracassier was much disappointed by her absence; but as he
thought no great ceremony necessary in his proceedings, he made his
name known in a haughty manner to Mad. de Feuillot, and desired that
he might be admitted into the back parlour, as he had something of
consequence to say to Mlle. Victoire in private. Our readers will
not require to have a detailed account of this t�te-�-t�te; it is
sufficient to say, that the disappointed and exasperated abb� left
the house muttering imprecations. The next morning a note came to
Victoire, apparently from Manon: it was directed by her, but the
inside was written by an unknown hand, and contained these words:--
"You are a charming, but incomprehensible girl--since you do not
like compliments, you shall not be addressed with empty flattery.
It is in the power of the person who dictates this, not only to
make you as rich and great as your cousin Manon, but also to
restore to fortune and to their country the friends for whom you
are most interested. Their fate as well as your own is in your
power: if you send a favourable answer to this note, the persons
alluded to will, to-morrow, be struck from the list of emigrants,
and reinstated in their former possessions. If your answer is
decidedly unfavourable, the return of your friends to France will
be thenceforward impracticable, and their ch�teau, as well as
their house in Paris, will be declared national property, and sold
without delay to the highest bidder. To you, who have as much
understanding as beauty, it is unnecessary to say more. Consult
your heart, charming Victoire! be happy, and make others happy.
This moment is decisive of your fate and of theirs, for you have
to answer a man of a most decided character."
Victoire's answer was as follows:--
"My friends would not, I am sure, accept of their fortune, or
consent to return to their country, upon the conditions proposed;
therefore I have no merit in rejecting them."
Victoire had early acquired good principles, and that plain, steady,
good sense, which goes straight to its object, without being
dazzled or imposed upon by sophistry. She was unacquainted with the
refinements of sentiment, but she distinctly knew right from wrong,
and had sufficient resolution to abide by the right. Perhaps many
romantic heroines might have thought it a generous self-devotion to
have become in similar circumstances the mistress of Tracassier;
and those who are skilled "to make the worst appear the better
cause" might have made such an act of heroism the foundation of an
interesting, or at least a fashionable novel. Poor Victoire had not
received an education sufficiently refined to enable her to understand
these mysteries of sentiment. She was even simple enough to flatter
herself that this libertine patriot would not fulfil his threats,
and that these had been made only with a view to terrify her into
compliance. In this opinion, however, she found herself mistaken. M.
Tracassier was indeed a man of the most decided character, if this
term may properly be applied to those who act uniformly in consequence
of their ruling passion. The Ch�teau de Fleury was seized as national
property. Victoire heard this bad news from the old steward, who was
turned out of the castle, along with his son, the very day after her
rejection of the proposed conditions.
"I could not have believed that any human creature could be so
wicked!" exclaimed Victoire, glowing with indignation: but indignation
gave way to sorrow.
"And the Ch�teau de Fleury is really seized?--and you, good old
man, are turned out of the place where you were born?--and you too,
Basile?--and Mad. de Fleury will never come back again!--and perhaps
she may be put into prison in a foreign country, and may die for
want--and I might have prevented all this!"
Unable to shed a tear, Victoire stood in silent consternation,
whilst Annette explained to the good steward and his son the whole
transaction. Basile, who was naturally of an impetuous temper, was so
transported with indignation, that he would have gone instantly with
the note from Tracassier to _denounce_ him before the whole National
Convention, if he had not been restrained by his more prudent father.
The old steward represented to him, that as the note was neither
signed nor written by the hand of Tracassier, no proof could be
brought home to him, and the attempt to convict one of so powerful a
party would only bring certain destruction upon the accusers. Besides,
such was at this time the general depravity of manners, that numbers
would keep the guilty in countenance. There was no crime which the
mask of patriotism could not cover.
"There is one comfort we have in our misfortunes, which these men can
never have," said the old man; "when their downfall comes, and come it
will most certainly, they will not feel as we do, INNOCENT. Victoire,
look up! and do not give way to despair--all will yet be well."
"At all events, you have done what is right--so do not reproach
yourself," said Basile. "Every body--I mean every body who is good for
any thing--must respect, admire, and love you, Victoire."
"Ne mal cio che v'annoja,
Quello e vero gioire
Che nasce da virtude dopo il soffrire."
Basile had not seen without emotion the various instances of goodness
which Victoire showed during the illness of Sister Frances. Her
conduct towards M. Tracassier increased his esteem and attachment;
but he forbore to declare his affection, because he could not,
consistently with prudence, or with gratitude to his father, think of
marrying, now that he was not able to maintain a wife and family. The
honest earnings of many years of service had been wrested from the
old steward at the time the Ch�teau de Fleury was seized, and he now
depended on the industry of his son for the daily support of his age.
His dependence was just, and not likely to be disappointed; for he had
given his son an education suitable to his condition in life. Basile
was an exact arithmetician, could write an excellent hand, and was a
ready draughtsman and surveyor. To bring these useful talents into
action, and to find employment for them, with men by whom they would
be honestly rewarded, was the only difficulty--a difficulty which
Victoire's brother Maurice soon removed. His reputation as a smith had
introduced him, among his many customers, to a gentleman of worth and
scientific knowledge, who was at this time employed to make models and
plans of all the fortified places in Europe; he was in want of a good
clerk and draughtsman, of whose integrity he could be secure. Maurice
mentioned his friend Basile; and upon inquiry into his character, and
upon trial of his abilities, he was found suited to the place, and
was accepted. By his well-earned salary he supported himself and his
father; and began, with the sanguine hopes of a young man, to flatter
himself that he should soon be rich enough to marry, and that then
he might declare his attachment to Victoire. Notwithstanding all his
boasted prudence, he had betrayed sufficient symptoms of his passion
to have rendered a declaration unnecessary to any clear-sighted
observer: but Victoire was not thinking of conquests; she was wholly
occupied with a scheme of earning a certain sum of money for her
benefactress, who was now, as she feared, in want. All Mad. de
Fleury's former pupils contributed their share to the common stock;
and the mantua-maker, the confectioner, the servants of different
sorts, who had been educated at her school, had laid by, during the
years of her banishment, an annual portion of their wages and savings:
with the sum which Victoire now added to the fund, it amounted to
ten thousand livres. The person who undertook to carry this money to
Mad. de Fleury, was Fran�ois, her former footman, who had procured a
pass to go to England as a hairdresser. The night before he set out
was a happy night for Victoire, as all her companions met, by Mad.
Feuillot's invitation, at her house; and after tea they had the
pleasure of packing up the little box, in which each, besides the
money, sent some token of their gratitude, and some proof of their
ingenuity. They would with all their hearts have sent twice as many
_souvenirs_ as Fran�ois could carry.
"D'abord c'est impossible!" cried he, when he saw the box that was
prepared for him to carry to England: but his good-nature was unable
to resist the entreaties of each to have her offering carried, "which
would take up no room."
He departed--arrived safe in England--found out Mad. de Fleury, who
was in real distress, in obscure lodgings at Richmond. He delivered
the money, and all the presents of which he had taken charge: but the
person to whom she entrusted a letter, in answer to Victoire, was not
so punctual, or was more unlucky; for the letter never reached her,
and she and her companions were long uncertain whether their little
treasure had been received. They still continued, however, with
indefatigable gratitude, to lay by a portion of their earnings for
their benefactress; and the pleasure they had in this perseverance
made them more than amends for the loss of some little amusements,
and for privations to which they submitted in consequence of their
In the mean time Basile, going on steadily with his employments,
advanced every day in the favour of his master, and his salary was
increased in proportion to his abilities and industry; so that he
thought he could now, without any imprudence, marry. He consulted his
father, who approved of his choice; he consulted Maurice as to the
probability of his being accepted by Victoire; and encouraged by both
his father and his friend, he was upon the eve of addressing himself
to Victoire, when he was prevented by a new and unforeseen misfortune.
His father was taken up, by an emissary of Tracassier's, and brought
before one of their revolutionary committees, where he was accused of
various acts of incivisme. Among other things equally criminal, it was
proved that one Sunday, when he went to see Le Petit Trianon, then a
public-house, he exclaimed, "C'est ici que la canaille danse, et que
les honn�tes gens pleurent!"
Basile was present at this mock examination of his father--he saw him
on the point of being dragged to prison--when a hint was given that
he might save his father by enlisting immediately, and going with the
army out of France. Victoire was full in Basile's recollection--but
there was no other means of saving his father. He enlisted, and in
twenty-four hours left Paris.
What appear to be the most unfortunate circumstances of life often
prove ultimately the most advantageous. Indeed, those who have
knowledge, activity, and integrity, can convert the apparent blanks
in the lottery of fortune into prizes. Basile was recommended to his
commanding officer by the gentleman who had lately employed him as
a clerk--his skill in drawing plans, and in taking rapid surveys of
the country through which they passed, was extremely useful to his
general; and his integrity made it safe to trust him as a secretary.
His commanding officer, though a brave man, was illiterate, and a
secretary was to him a necessary of life. Basile was not only useful,
but agreeable; without any mean arts, or servile adulation, he
pleased, by simply showing the desire to oblige, and the ability to
"Diable!" exclaimed the general one day, as he looked at Basile's plan
of a town, which the army was besieging. "How comes it that you are
able to do all these things? But you have a genius for this sort of
"No, sir," said Basile, "these things were taught to me, when I was a
child, by a good friend."
"A good friend he was indeed! he did more for you than if he had
given you a fortune; for, in these times, that might have been soon
taken from you; but now you have the means of making a fortune for
This observation of the general's, obvious as it may seem, is
deserving of the serious consideration of those who have children
of their own to educate, or who have the disposal of money for
public charities. In these times, no sensible person will venture
to pronounce that a change of fortune and station may not await
the highest and the lowest; whether we rise or fall in the scale of
society, personal qualities and knowledge will be valuable. Those who
fall, cannot be destitute; and those who rise, cannot be ridiculous or
contemptible, if they have been prepared for their fortune by proper
education. In shipwreck, those who carry their all in their minds are
the most secure.
But to return to Basile. He had sense enough not to make his general
jealous of him by any unseasonable display of his talents, or any
officious intrusion of advice, even upon subjects which he best
The talents of the warrior and the secretary were in such different
lines, that there was no danger of competition; and the general,
finding in his secretary the soul of all the arts, good sense,
gradually acquired the habit of asking his opinion on every subject
that came within his department. It happened that the general received
orders from the Directory at Paris, to take a certain town, let
it cost what it would, within a given time: in his perplexity, he
exclaimed before Basile against the unreasonableness of these orders,
and declared his belief that it was impossible he should succeed, and
that this was only a scheme of his enemies to prepare his ruin. Basile
had attended to the operations of the engineer who acted under the
general, and perfectly recollected the model of the mines of this
town, which he had seen when he was employed as draughtsman by his
Parisian friend. He remembered, that there was formerly an old mine,
that had been stopped up somewhere near the place where the engineer
was at work; he mentioned _in private_ his suspicions to the general,
who gave orders in consequence; the old mine was discovered, cleared
out, and by these means the town was taken the day before the time
appointed. Basile did not arrogate to himself any of the glory of this
success--he kept his general's secret and his confidence. Upon their
return to Paris, after a fortunate campaign, the general was more
grateful than some others have been, perhaps because more room was
given by Basile's prudence for the exercise of this virtue.
"My friend," said he to Basile, "you have done me a great service by
your counsel, and a greater still by holding your tongue. Speak now,
and tell me freely, if there is any thing I can do for you. You
see, as a victorious general, I have the upper hand amongst these
fellows--Tracassier's scheme to ruin me missed--whatever I ask will at
this moment he granted; speak freely, therefore."
Basile asked what he knew Victoire most desired--that M. and Mad. de
Fleury should be struck from the list of emigrants, and that their
property now in the hands of the nation should be restored to them.
The general promised that this should be done. A warm contest
ensued upon the subject between him and Tracassier; but the general
stood firm; and Tracassier, enraged, forgot his usual cunning, and
quarrelling irrevocably with a party now more powerful than his own,
he and his adherents were driven from that station in which they had
so long tyrannized. From being the rulers of France, they in a few
hours became banished men, or, in the phrase of the times, _des
We must not omit to mention the wretched end of Manon. The man with
whom she lived perished by the guillotine. From his splendid house
she went upon the stage--did not succeed--sunk from one degree of
profligacy to another; and at last died in an hospital.
In the mean time, the order for the restoration of the Fleury
property, and for permission for the Fleury family to return to
France, was made out in due form, and Maurice begged to be the
messenger of these good tidings:--he set out for England with the
Victoire immediately went down to the Ch�teau de Fleury, to get every
thing in readiness for the reception of the family.
Exiles are expeditious in their return to their native country.
Victoire had but just time to complete her preparations, when M. and
Mad. de Fleury arrived at Calais. Victoire had assembled all her
companions, all Mad. de Fleury's former pupils; and the hour when she
was expected home, they with the peasants of the neighbourhood were
all in their holiday clothes, and according to the custom of the
country singing and dancing. Without music and dancing there is
no perfect joy in France. Never was _f�te du village_ or _f�te du
Seigneur_ more joyful than this.
The old steward opened the gate--the carriage drove in. Mad. de Fleury
saw that home which she had little expected evermore to behold; but
all other thoughts were lost in the pleasure of meeting her beloved
"My children!" cried she, as they crowded round her the moment she got
out of her carriage--"My dear _good_ children!"
It was all she could say. She leaned on Victoire's arm as she went
into the house, and by degrees recovering from the almost painful
excess of pleasure, began to enjoy what she yet only confusedly felt.
Several of her pupils were so much grown and altered in their external
appearance, that she could scarcely recollect them till they spoke,
and then their voices and the expression of their countenances brought
their childhood fully to her memory. Victoire, she thought, was
changed the least, and at this she rejoiced.
The feeling and intelligent reader will imagine all the pleasure that
Mad. de Fleury enjoyed this day; nor was it merely the pleasure of
a day. She heard from all her friends, with prolonged satisfaction,
repeated accounts of the good conduct of these young people during her
absence. She learned with delight how her restoration to her country
and her fortune had been effected; and is it necessary to add,
that Victoire consented to marry Basile, and that she was suitably
portioned, and, what is better still, that she was perfectly
happy?--M. de Fleury rewarded the attachment and good conduct of
Maurice, by taking him into his service; and making him his manager
under the old steward at the Ch�teau de Fleury.
On Victoire's wedding-day, Mad. de Fleury produced all the little
offerings of gratitude which she had received from her and her
companions during her exile. It was now her turn to confer favours,
and she knew how to confer them both with grace and judgment.
"No gratitude in human nature! No gratitude in the lower classes of
the people!" cried she: "how much those are mistaken who think so!
I wish they could know my history and the history of these _my
children_, and they would acknowledge their error."
EMILIE DE COULANGES
"I am young, I am in good health." said Emilie de Coulanges; "I am
not to be pitied. But my poor mamma, who has been used all her life
to such luxuries! And now to have only her Emilie to wait upon her!
Her Emilie, who is but an awkward _femme de chambre_! But she will
improve, it must be hoped; and as to the rest, things, which are now
always changing, and which cannot change for the worse, must soon
infallibly change for the better--and mamma will certainly recover
all her property one of these days. In the mean time (if mamma is
tolerably well), we shall be perfectly happy in England--that charming
country, which, perhaps, we should never have seen but for this
terrible revolution!--Here we shall assuredly find friends. The
English are such good people!--Cold, indeed, at first--that's their
misfortune: but then the English coldness is of manner, not of heart.
Time immemorial, they have been famous for making the best friends in
the world; and even to us, who are their _natural enemies_, they are
generous in our distress. I have heard innumerable instances of their
hospitality to our emigrants; and mamma will certainly not be the
first exception. At her Hotel de Coulanges, she always received the
English with distinguished attention; and though our hotel, with half
Paris, has changed its name since those days, the English have too
good memories to forget it, I am sure."
By such speeches Emilie endeavoured to revive her mother's spirits.
To a most affectionate disposition and a feeling heart she joined
all the characteristic and constitutional gaiety of her nation; a
gaiety which, under the pressure of misfortune, merits the name of
philosophy, since it produces all the effects, and is not attended
with any of the parade of stoicism.
Emilie de Coulanges was a young French emigrant, of a noble family,
and heiress to a large estate; but the property of her family had been
confiscated during the revolution. She and her mother, la Comtesse
de Coulanges, made their escape to England. Mad. de Coulanges was in
feeble health, and much dispirited by the sudden loss of rank and
fortune. Mlle. de Coulanges felt the change more for her mother than
for herself; she always spoke of her mother's misfortunes, never of
Upon their arrival in London, Emilie, full of life and hope, went to
present some of her mother's letters of recommendation. One of them
was addressed to Mrs. Somers. Mlle. de Coulanges was particularly
delighted by the manner in which she was received by this lady.
"No English coldness!--no English reserve!--So warm in her expressions
of kindness!--so eager in her offers of service!" Emilie could
speak of nothing for the remainder of the day, but "cette charmante
Mad. Somers!" The next day, and the next, and the next, she found
increasing reasons to think her charming. Mrs. Somers exerted herself,
indeed, with the most benevolent activity, to procure for Mad. de
Coulanges every thing that could be convenient or agreeable. She
prepared apartments in her own house for the mother and daughter,
which she absolutely insisted upon their occupying immediately: she
assured them that they should not be treated as visitors, but as
inmates and friends of the family. She pressed her invitation with
such earnestness, and so politely urged her absolute right to show her
remembrance of the civilities which she had received at Paris, that
there was no possibility of persisting in a refusal. The pride of high
birth would have revolted at the idea of becoming dependent, but all
such thoughts were precluded by the manner in which Mrs. Somers spoke;
and the Comtesse de Coulanges accepted of the invitation, resolving,
however, not to prolong her stay, if affairs in her own country should
not take a favourable turn. She expected remittances from a Paris
banker, with whom she had lodged a considerable sum--all that could be
saved in ready money, in jewels, &c. from the wreck of her fortune:
with this sum, if she should find all schemes of returning to France
and recovering her property impracticable, she determined to live, in
some retired part of England, in the most economical manner possible.
But, in the mean time, as economy had never been either her theory or
her practice, and as she considered retreat from _the world_ as the
worst thing, next to death, that could befal a woman, she was glad to
put off the evil hour. She acknowledged that ill health made her look
some years older than she really was; but she could not think herself
yet old enough to become _devout_; and, till that crisis arrived, she,
of course, would not willingly be banished from _society_. So that,
upon the whole, she was well satisfied to find herself established
in Mrs. Somers's excellent house; where, but for the want of three
antechambers, and of the Parisian quantity of looking-glass on every
side of every apartment, la comtesse might have fancied herself at her
own Hotel de Coulanges. Emilie would have been better contented to
have been lodged and treated with less magnificence; but she rejoiced
to see that her mother was pleased, and that she became freer from her
_vapeurs noirs_. Emilie began to love Mrs. Somers for making her
mother well and happy--to love her with all the fearless enthusiasm of
a young, generous mind, which accepts of obligation without any idea
that gratitude may become burdensome. Mrs. Somers excited not only
affection--she inspired admiration. Capable of the utmost exertion and
of the most noble sacrifices for her friends, the indulgence of her
generosity seemed not only to be the greatest pleasure of her soul,
but absolutely necessary to her nature. To attempt to restrain her
liberality was to provoke her indignation, or to incur her contempt.
To refuse her benefits was to forfeit her friendship. She grew
extremely fond of her present guests, because, without resistance,
they permitted her to load them with favours. According to her custom,
she found a thousand perfections in those whom she obliged. She had
considered la Comtesse de Coulanges, when she knew her at Paris, as a
very well-bred woman, but as nothing more; yet now she discovered that
Mad. de Coulanges had a superior understanding and great strength
of mind;--and Emilie, who had pleased her when a child, only by the
ingenuous sweetness of her disposition and vivacity of her manners,
was now become a complete angel--no angel had ever such a variety of
accomplishments--none but an angel could possess such a combination of
virtues. Mrs. Somers introduced her charming and noble emigrants to
all her numerous and fashionable acquaintance; and she would certainly
have quarrelled with any one who did not at least appear to sympathize
in her sentiments. Fortunately there was no necessity for quarrelling;
these foreigners were well received in every company, and Emilie
pleased universally; or, as Mad. de Coulanges expressed it, "Elle
avoit des grands _succ�s_ dans la soci�t�." The French comtesse
herself could hardly give more emphatic importance to the
untranslateable word _succ�s_ than Mrs. Somers annexed to it upon
this occasion. She was proud of producing Emilie as her prot�g�e; and
the approbation of others increased her own enthusiasm: much as she
did for her favourite, she longed to do more.--An opportunity soon
[Footnote 1: _Vapeurs noirs_--vulgarly known by the name of _blue
One evening, after Mad. de Coulanges had actually tired herself with
talking to the crowd, which her vivacity, grace, and volubility had
attracted about her sofa, she ran to entrench herself in an arm-chair
by the fireside, sprinkled the floor round her with _eau de senteur_,
drew, with her pretty foot, a line of circumvallation, and then,
shaking her tiny fan at the host of assailants, she forbade them,
under pain of her sovereign displeasure, to venture within the magic
circle, or to torment her by one more question or compliment. It was
now absolutely necessary to be serious, and to study the politics of
Europe. She called for the French newspapers, which Mrs. Somers had
on purpose for her; and, provided with a pinch of snuff, from the
ever-ready box of a French abb�, whose arm was permitted to cross
the line of demarcation, Mad. de Coulanges began to study. Silence
ensued--for novelty always produces silence in the first instant of
surprise. An English gentleman wrote on the back of a letter an offer
to his neighbour of a wager, that the silence would be first broken by
the French countess, and that it could not last above two minutes. The
wager was accepted, and watches were produced. Before the two minutes
had expired, the pinch of snuff dropped from the countess's fingers,
and, clasping her hands together, she exclaimed, "Ah! ciel!"--The
surrounding gentlemen, who were full of their wager, and who had
heard, from the lady, during the course of the evening, at least a
dozen exclamations of nearly equal vehemence about the merest trifles,
were more amused than alarmed at this instant: but Emilie, who knew
her mother's countenance, and who saw the sudden change in it, pressed
through the circle, and just caught her mother in her arms as she
fainted. Mrs. Somers, much alarmed, hastened to her assistance. The
countess was carried out of the room, and every body was full of
pity and of curiosity. When Mad. de Coulanges recovered from her
fainting-fit, she was seized with one of her nervous attacks; so that
no explanation could be obtained. Emilie and Mrs. Somers looked over
the French paper, but could not find any paragraph unusually alarming.
At length, more composed, the countess apologized for the disturbance
which she had occasioned; thanked Mrs. Somers repeatedly for her
kindness; but spoke in a hurried manner, as if she did not well know
what she said. She concluded by declaring that she was subject to
these nervous attacks, that she should be quite well the next morning,
and that she did not wish that any one should sit up with her during
the night except Emilie, who was used to her ways. With that true
politeness which understands quickly the feelings and wishes of
others, Mrs. Somers forbore to make any ill-timed inquiries or
officious offers of assistance; but immediately retired, and ordered
the attendants to leave the room, that Mad. de Coulanges and her
daughter might be at perfect liberty. Early in the morning Mrs. Somers
heard somebody knock softly at her door. It was Emilie.
"Mrs. Masham told me that you were awake, madam, or I should not--"
"Come in, come in, my dearest Emilie--I am awake--wide awake. Is your
"Alas! no, madam!"
"Sit down, my dear, and do not call me _madam_, so coldly.--I do not
"My dear friend! friend of mamma! my dearest friend!" cried Emilie,
bursting into tears, and seizing Mrs. Somers' hand; "do not accuse
me of coldness to you. I am always afraid that my French expressions
should sound exaggerated to English ears, and that you should think I
say too much to be sincere in expressing my gratitude."
"My sweet Emilie, who could doubt your sincerity?--none but a brute or
a fool: but do not talk to me of gratitude."
"I must," said Emilie; "for I feel it."
"Prove it to me, then, in the manner I like best--in the only manner
I like--by putting it in my power to serve you. I do not intrude upon
your mother's confidence--I make no inquiries; but do me the justice
to tell me how I can be of use to her--or rather to you. From you I
expect frankness. Command my fortune, my time, my credit, my utmost
exertions--they are all, they ever have been, they ever shall be,
whilst I have life, at the command of my friends. And are not you my
"Generous lady!--You overpower me with your goodness."
"No praises, no speeches!--Actions for me!--Tell me how I can serve
"Alas! _you_, even you, can do us no good in this business."
"That I will never believe, till I know the business."
"The worst of it is," said Emilie, "that we must leave you."
"Leave me! Impossible!" cried Mrs. Somers, starting up.--You shall not
leave me, that I am determined upon. Why cannot you speak out at once,
and tell me what is the matter, Emilie? How can I act, unless I am
trusted? and who deserves to be trusted by you, if I do not?"
"Assuredly nobody deserves it better; and if it were only my affair,
dear Mrs. Somers, you should have known it as soon as I knew it
myself; but it is mamma's, more than mine."
"Madame la comtesse, then, does not think me worthy of her
confidence," said Mrs. Somers, in a haughty tone, whilst displeasure
clouded her whole countenance. "Is that what I am to understand from
you, Mille. de Coulanges?"
"No, no; that is not what you are to understand, dear madam--my dear
friend, I should say," cried Emilie, alarmed. "Certainly I have
explained myself ill, or you could not suspect mamma for a moment of
such injustice. She knows you to be most worthy of her confidence; but
on this occasion her reserve, believe me, proceeds solely from motives
of delicacy, of which you could not but approve."
"Motives of delicacy, my dear Emilie," said Mrs. Somers, softening her
tone, but still with an air of dissatisfaction--"motives of delicacy,
my dear Emilie, are mighty pretty sounding words; and at your age I
used to think them mighty grand things; but I have long since found
out that _motives of delicacy_ are usually the excuse of weak minds
for not speaking the plain truth to their friends. People quit the
straight path from motives of delicacy, may be, to a worm or a
beetle--vulgar souls, observe, I rank only as worms and beetles; they
cross our path every instant in life; and those who fear to give them
offence must deviate and deviate, till they get into a labyrinth,
from which they can never extricate themselves, or be extricated. My
Emilie, I am sure, will always keep the straight road--I know her
strength of mind. Indeed, I did expect strength of mind from her
mother; but, like all who have lived a great deal in the world, she
is, I find, a slave to motives of delicacy."
"Mamma's delicacy is of a very different sort from what you describe,
and what you dislike," said Emilie. "But, since persisting in her
reserve would, as I see, offend one whom she would be most sorry to
displease, permit me to go this moment and persuade her to let me tell
you the simple truth."
"Go--run, my dear. Now I know my Emilie again. Now I shall be able to
do some good."
By the time that Emilie returned, Mrs. Somers was dressed: she had
dressed in the greatest hurry imaginable, that she might be ready for
action--instantaneous action--if the service of her friends, as she
hoped, required it. Emilie brought the newspaper in her hand, which
her mother had been reading the preceding night.
"Here is all the mystery," said she, pointing to a paragraph which
announced the failure of a Paris banker. "Mamma lodged all the money
she had left in this man's hands."
"And is that all?--I really expected something much more terrible."
"It is terrible to mamma; because, depending on this man's
punctuality, she has bought in London clothes and trinkets--chiefly
for me, indeed--and she has no immediate means of paying these debts;
but, if she will only keep her mind tranquil, all will yet be well.
You flatter me that I play tolerably on the piano-forte and the harp;
you will recommend me, and I can endeavour to teach music. So that, if
mamma will but be well, we shall not be in any great distress--except
in leaving you; that is painful, but must be done. Yes, it absolutely
must. Mamma knows what is proper, and so do I. We are not people to
encroach upon the generosity of our friends. I need not say more;
for I am sure that Mrs. Somers, who is herself so well-born and
well-educated, must understand and approve of mamma's way of
Mrs. Somers replied not one word, but rang her bell violently--ordered
"Do not you breakfast, madam, before you go out?" said the servant.
"Not a dish of chocolate, ma'am?"
"My carriage, I tell you.--Emilie, you have been up all night: I
insist upon your going to bed this minute, and upon your sleeping till
I come back again. La comtesse always breakfasts in her own room; so I
have no apologies to make for leaving her. I shall be at home before
her toilette is finished, and hope she will then permit me to pay
my respects to her--you will tell her so, my dear. I must be gone
instantly.--Why will they not let me have this carriage?--Where are
those gloves of mine?--and the key of my writing-desk?--Ring again for
Between the acting of a generous thing and the first motion, all the
interim was, with Mrs. Somers, a delicious phantasma; and her ideas of
time and distance were as extravagant as those of a person in a dream.
She very nearly ran over Emilie in her way down stairs, and then said,
"Oh! I beg pardon a thousand times, my dear!--I thought you had been
in bed an hour ago."
The toilette of Mad. de Coulanges, this morning, went on at the usual
rate. Whether in adversity or prosperity, this was to la comtesse an
elaborate, but never a tedious work. Long as it had lasted, it was,
however, finished; and she had full leisure for a fit and a half of
the vapours, before Mrs. Somers returned--she came in with a face
radiant with joy.
"Fortunately, most fortunately," cried she, "I have it in my power to
repair the loss occasioned by the failure of this good-for-nothing
banker! Nay, positively, Mad. de Coulanges, I must not be refused,"
continued she, in a peremptory manner. "You make an enemy, if you
refuse a friend."
She laid a pocket-book on the table, and left the room instantly. The
pocket-book contained notes to a very considerable amount, surpassing
the sum which Mad. de Coulanges had lost by her banker; and on a
scrap of paper was written in pencil "Mad. de Coulanges must never
return this sum, for it is utterly useless to Mrs. Somers; as
the superfluities it was appropriated to purchase are now in the
possession of one who will not sell them."
Astonished equally at the magnitude and the manner of the gift, Mad.
de Coulanges repeated, a million of times, that it was "noble! tr�s
noble! une belle action!"--that she could not possibly accept of such
an obligation--that she could not tell how to refuse it--that Mrs.
Somers was the most generous woman upon earth--that Mrs. Somers had
thrown her into a terrible embarrassment.
Then la comtesse had recourse to her smelling-bottle, consulted
Emilie's eyes, and answered them.
"Child! I have no thoughts of accepting; but I only ask you how I can
refuse, after what has been said, without making Mrs. Somers my enemy?
You see her humour--English humours must not be trifled with--her
humour, you see, is to give. It is a shocking thing for people of our
birth to be reduced to receive, but we cannot avoid it without losing
Mrs. Somers' friendship entirely; and that is what you would not wish
to do, Emilie."
"Oh, no, indeed!"
"Now we must be under obligations to our milliner and jeweller, if we
do not pay them immediately; for these sort of people call it a favour
to give credit for a length of time: and I really think that it is
much better to be indebted to Mrs. Somers than to absolute strangers
and to rude tradespeople. It is always best to have to deal with
"And with generous persons!" cried Emilie; "and a more generous person
than Mrs. Somers, I am sure, cannot exist."
"And then," continued Mad. de Coulanges, "like all these rich English,
she can afford to be generous. I am persuaded that this Mrs. Somers is
as rich as a Russian princess; yes, as rich as the Russian princess
with the superb diadem of diamonds. You remember her at Paris?"
"No, mamma, I forget her," answered Emilie, with a look of absence of
"Bon Dieu! what can you be thinking of?" exclaimed Mad. de Coulanges.
"You forget the Russian princess, with the diamond diadem, that was
valued at 200,000 livres! She wore it at her presentation--it was the
conversation of Paris for a week: you must recollect it, Emilie?"
"Oh, yes: I recollect something about its cutting her forehead."
"Not at all, my dear; how you exaggerate! The princess only
complained, by way of something to say, that the weight of the
diamonds made her head ache.
"Was that all?"
"That was all. But I will tell you what you are thinking of,
Emilie--quite another thing--quite another person--broad Mad.
Vanderbenbruggen: her diamonds were not worth looking at; and they
were so horribly set, that she deserved all manner of misfortunes, and
to be disgraced in public, as she was. For you know the bandeau slipt
over her great forehead; and instead of turning to the gentlemen, and
ordering some man of sense to arrange her head-dress, she kept holding
her stiff neck stock still, like an idiot; she actually sat, with the
patience of a martyr, two immense hours, till somebody cried, 'Ah!
madame, here is the blood coming!' I see her before me this instant.
Is it possible, my dear Emilie, that you do not remember the
difference between this _buche_ of a Mad. Vanderbenbruggen, and our
charming princess? but you are as dull as Mad. Vanderbenbruggen
herself, this morning."
The vivacious countess having once seized upon the ideas of Mad.
Vanderbenbruggen, the charming princess, and the fine diamonds, it was
some time before Emilie could recall her to the order of the day--to
the recollection of her banker's failure, and of the necessity of
giving an answer to generous Mrs. Somers. The decision of Mad. de
Coulanges was probably at last influenced materially by the gay ideas
of "stars and dukes, and all their sweeping train," associated with
Mad. Vanderbenbruggen's image. The countess observed, that, after
the style in which she had been used to live in the first company
at Paris, it would be worse than death to be buried alive in some
obscure country town in England; and that she would rather see Emilie
guillotined at once, than condemned, with all her grace and talents,
to work, like a galley slave, at a tambour frame for her bread all the
days of her life.
Emilie assured her mother that she should cheerfully submit to much
greater evils than that of working at a tambour frame; and that, as
far as her own feelings were concerned, she should infinitely prefer
living by labour to becoming dependent. She therefore intreated that
her mother might not, from any false tenderness for her Emilie, decide
contrary to her own principles or wishes.
Mad. de Coulanges, after looking in the glass, at length determined
that it would be best to accept of Mrs. Somers' generous offer; and
Emilie, who usually contrived to find something agreeable in all her
mother's decisions, rejoiced that by this determination, Mrs. Somers
at least would be pleased. Mrs. Somers, indeed, was highly gratified;
and her expressions of satisfaction were so warm, that any body would
have thought she was the person receiving, instead of conferring, a