ERNESTINE or THE CHARMS OF VIRTUE
FOLLOWED BY NELLY OR THE YOUNG ARTIST
AND CAROLINE AND JULIETTE
BY Ms CESARIE FARRENC
twelfth edition, TOURS, ALFRED MAME AND SON, EDITORS 1870.
CHRISTIAN YOUTH LIBRARY APPROVED BY THE ARCHBISHOP OF TOURS 2nd series 1n-12
On the banks of the Seine, a short distance from Paris, stood a very pretty country house. Art had disputed with nature the care of embellishing it; in fine weather, arbors of honeysuckle almost entirely covered the walls; tall chestnut trees laden with flowers protected it from the sun's rays. A vegetable garden offered the useful combined with the pleasant. Further on, a bed containing rare flowers, adorned with the most brilliant shades, attested by its arrangement to the good taste of the owner of this little Eden. The traveler, passing in front of this delightful residence, stopped in spite of himself, envying the fate of its happy inhabitants. Mme Dorival had enjoyed pure and quiet happiness there for thirteen years. Left a widow at the age of twenty, she had moved away from a world that offered her few attractions, for she knew that the pleasures one tastes there are almost always mixed with bitterness. The natural dispositions which led her to melancholy had taken on a new development since the loss of a tenderly beloved husband; she found in solitude an inexpressible charm and sweetness. After her husband's death, she concentrated all her affections on Ernestine, the only child she had had from her marriage. To see her happy was from then on the object of all his desires; to care for and instruct her, her continual occupation.
Mmo Dorival had a sister whose fate she did not know. Still very young, Clara had given rise to fears about her future; she had shown herself frivolous, dissipated, and always ready to do the opposite of what her parents ordered her to do. Clara was pretty, and knew how, when she wanted to please, to put on the appearances of candor and naivety. A very rich lady, deceived no doubt by her seductive exterior, asked her mother to take her to Paris with her. Having no fortune, the poor mother was obliged to accept for one of her daughters the happy lot offered to her. After giving Clara wise advice, which she often interrupted with her tears, she saw the carriage flee and take away from her mother a young girl who still needed so much to be wisely guided.
Left alone in Provence with Julie, Ernestine's mother, she brought him up to practice the gentlest virtues. Julie, very different from her sister, was docile to her mother's lessons, and showed her at every moment a lively and deep attachment. Five years had passed since Clara's departure, and yet she had not yet given any news of him. The mother was cruelly hurt by this forgetfulness, this indifference, which she could not explain; Julie redoubled her attentions to her. She sent, without her mother's knowledge, several letters to Paris, in order to remind her sister of her duties; but they all remained unanswered. Not daring to believe her sister guilty, the good Julie thought from then on that Clara had left the capital.
About this time Julie's virtues won her the esteem of M. Dorival; his hand was requested and immediately granted. Indeed, this marriage promised Julie more happiness than her mother had dared to hope for her daughter: she would become the wife of a virtuous man and owner of a small property near Paris, whose income was to be sufficient to people who are moderate in their desires. No sooner had this marriage been concluded than Julie's mother died, peaceful as to the fate of her beloved daughter. This loss saddened the first months of the young woman's marriage.
“Let's get away from here,” Mr. Dorival said to his wife one day; nothing can keep us there any longer; let's live in the country, where you can indulge your simple and virtuous tastes. Giving in to her husband's entreaties, Julie left Provence, not without shedding a lot of tears. They were not the last that she was to spread: shortly after their arrival in their land, M. Dorival was struck by an attack of apoplexy against which all the help of the art failed. Two months after this new loss, Ernestine was born, as if she had come expressly to dry up her mother's tears. In fact, on seeing this interesting being who owed her life, Madame Dorival felt her pain subside; she armed herself with courage and resignation to fulfill the task imposed on her. Soon, when she found in Ernestine a little companion, she felt that motherhood is the sweetest and at the same time the strongest link by which Providence binds us to life; she made vows to live long, at least until her daughter could do without her protection.
Faithful to the route that her duty laid out for her, this good mother lived modestly on the produce of her small property, which sufficed for her needs; his only ambition was to educate Ernestine in the principles of virtue. The little girl, endowed with a graceful countenance and the most amiable qualities of the soul, responded more and more each day, by her exemplary conduct, to the tender care of her mother, and made her conceive the sweetest hopes. To obey her best friend, as she familiarly called her, was a duty as sweet as it was sacred to her; she had never caused him the slightest pain. Thanks to the solitude in which she lived and the serious conversations of her teacher, she had learned to reflect from her earliest years, and joined the charm and simplicity of childhood to the reason and serious ideas of middle age. .
Often the mother and daughter made excursions together in the neighborhood, visiting the poorest cottages by preference, and, although their fortunes were limited, they always found means of relieving the misery.
"Charity," said Madame Dorival to her daughter, "is a sublime virtue which gives us a lively interior satisfaction, and which makes our soul taste a heavenly pleasure." Often they withdrew a dish from their modest dinner in favor of the needy, and on that day a greater gaiety presided over the meal.
Ernestine had an aviary filled with charming birds which entertained her with their melodious songs. These little prisoners loved and knew the little hand that gave them abundant food; as soon as the young girl appeared, she was greeted by an amiable chirp, which made her experience extreme happiness.
Madame Dorival had neglected her daughter's education in no way; thinking more of the solid than of the agreeable, this virtuous mother had wished to establish her work on unshakable foundations; his conversations, grave and sweet at the same time, instilled in Ernestine's soul the beliefs and principles of the Catholic religion. Madame Dorival, who had owed to this divine religion such powerful consolations in her misfortunes, practiced it with fervor, and she had endeavored to make it dominate over all other thoughts in the heart of her daughter, well persuaded that she could ever find true happiness except in godliness. "Isn't it, in fact, building on sand, to base one's happiness on the chimerical enjoyments of earthly life, as soon as they vanish? Religion gives virtue, and without virtue there is no happiness. Thus spoke Madame Dorival. The young girl smiled softly, as if to say to him: "Yes, Mama, I know that, because you told me so, and my own experience has already proven it to me." »
Ernestine, at twelve, knew French and Italian perfectly; the history of his country was familiar to him; geography was for her a most pleasant pastime; passionate about music, she had a pretty voice, which she knew how to accompany with the guitar.
The hours, filled with varied occupations, passed too quickly according to the desires of the widow and her daughter. Shortening the long winter evenings by instructive and pleasant reading, they often heard with regret the hour of rest ringing; they still united their souls in an ardent evening prayer; then, tearing themselves away from the comforts of their peaceful home, they fell asleep, promising each other the same pure and tranquil pleasures for the next day.
Madame Dorival had made useless inquiries to find out what had become of her sister Clara, whose charming features Ernestine reminded her of. Fortunately for the latter, Heaven had given her a heart different from that of her aunt; for beauty would be without charms if the qualities of the soul did not come to join it.
All the efforts made to find Clara's tracks were useless, and Madame Dorival was very grieved when she had to give up unsuccessful attempts. She had never talked to her daughter about her secret sorrows and her worries about Clara's fate; she would have feared, by these sad confidences, to disturb the happiness, so calm and so pure, which Ernestine enjoyed. Let's hide from her, she told herself, let's hide the bad side of life from her, perhaps she'll learn to know it too soon; let her believe that all men's feelings are noble and generous, and let's not anticipate the disappointments that come with the years.
Madame Dorival also had an uncle in Paris, her mother's brother, who had spent part of his youth in the American colonies, where he had engaged in commerce, and had made a brilliant fortune. When she arrived in the capital, after her marriage and the death of her mother, Mrs. Dorival, accompanied by her husband, had presented herself to the millionaire. The latter had at first welcomed his niece with great kindness; but after the death of M. Dorival, the colonist's manners soon changed with regard to his widow. This one saw with pain close for her the heart of the only parent who remained to her; but, fearing that he would attribute to interested calculations the steps she might have taken with him, she withdrew into her solitude, and gave up seeing an uncle who rejected her. Guided by a laudable delicacy of feeling, the young widow bore this new misfortune with resignation; she had even almost entirely forgotten him. What was his surprise to receive one day a letter thus conceived:
Madame Dorival, delighted as well as astonished at this sudden return of affection from her uncle, and happy for Ernestine at the fortune he was offering her, could not, however, help feeling a painful impression. To leave this agreeable solitude in which she had passed such happy days, this solitude which suited so well the calm of her heart and her simple and modest virtues, was for her a painful sacrifice. She could not without fear think that she would have to return to society, especially to this tumultuous Paris; she could not without a painful effort change in one day all her habits, which had become her very existence; then she did not think without fear that it would be necessary to submit to all the tastes of an old man, who would doubtless be very different from her own. It was a complete revolution in his life; it was a new career into which he must enter.
These sad reflections worried her more than seduced her by the lure of the riches offered to her. It was especially for Ernestine that her maternal solicitude was alarmed. Would her daughter, so good, so candid, so modest in her humble condition, preserve, in the midst of an agitated life, that pure heart of which the happy mother had been justly proud until then? Opulence, that dangerous advantage so often fatal to the innocence of those who possess it, would it not destroy in a moment the work of so many years? Clara's example contributed above all to maintaining these sad ideas in Madame Dorival's heart. She trembled at the thought that love of fortune and the deceptive joys of the world had alone erased from the young girl's heart the respect and attachment she owed to her mother, and her friendship for her sister. At these dark thoughts, all the chords of pain vibrated in the depths of his soul, and his gentle countenance was veiled in sudden sadness.
Finally, after thinking for a long time, she exclaimed: "I am only an egoist, because above all I regret my freedom: Ernestine has too solid religious principles for me to be afraid of seeing her change her feelings." Should I be saddened by the event which will make her one of the richest heiresses in France, and allow this amiable child to exercise the goodness of her heart by relieving the unfortunate! 0 my God, forgive me my murmurings; I accept with gratitude the new benefits which I owe to your inexhaustible kindness. Then she traced the following letter:
When this letter was sealed and sent, Madame Dorival remained silent, deep in thought, leaning on the table on which she had just signed the change of her destiny. She had been for an hour a prey to this perplexity of mind, which almost made her regret the resolution she had just taken, when Ernestine joyfully entered the drawing-room. Seeing her mother thus preoccupied, she suddenly stopped, and prepared to go out so as not to interrupt her meditations. Madame Dorival, having seen her, called her back. "You are not superfluous here, my daughter," she said to her; sit down next to me. The young girl, troubled by her mother's visible emotion, obeyed her in silence. Madame Dorival continued: “Ernestine, you were fifteen yesterday; you are no longer a child: for a long time your precocious reason has allowed you to appreciate things at their just value, and I have become accustomed to sharing all my thoughts with you; listen to me then, my dear friend: you are going to leave the countryside, the solitude where you were brought up; you are going to find yourself in the middle of a world that is still unknown to you.”
Seeing the solemn tone in which her mother spoke to her, Ernestine felt her heart sink; when she learned that she had to leave the living room where she liked so much, she could not help shedding tears. The lovely child trembled at parting with his mother.
Madame Dorival, accustomed to reading her daughter's eyes, understood the cause of her fears: "Reassure yourself, my daughter," she said to her; I will never leave you. The smile immediately reappeared on the young girl's lips, and her beautiful blue eyes brightened with a new sparkle.
"Good, mother, speak like this, if you want me to listen to you without fear," she cried, placing her hand on her heart.
"Society," continued the mother, "is often filled with pitfalls for those who do not yet know how to discern what is dangerous in it from what is good in it; everything there is seductive, catchy: vice often borrows the language of virtue in order to make it better. Flattery is so sweet to the ears that one cannot protect oneself too much against its perfidious attractions. A young person must above all mistrust her inexperience and the impressions she receives; often a single inconsiderate word, a slight step, has compromised the most brilliant future, the most beautiful destiny. A young girl must walk like a blind man, who advances only by groping; she must constantly lean on her mother, who will be able to smooth out for her the thorny path of life. How many examples I could give you which would prove to you that a single thought hidden from a mother has often tarnished the whole life of a young girl! It is especially on the choice of a friend of your age that I want to see you difficult. Ernestine, one cannot take too many precautions before settling on the one to whom one reveals the secret of all one's thoughts, and to whom one devotes absolute affection. It is so easy for us to imitate those we love, that the rights of friendship should only be granted to a person whose virtue is proven and founded on our divine religion; for without true piety there is no solid virtue. We must be on our guard in the world of these people who are always ready to tell us that they love us: true friendship is a feeling which must follow esteem, and never precede it; one should therefore only give oneself up without reserve after having seriously studied the heart of the one whom one is thinking of making one's friend. The good La Fontaine, who knew men down to the most secret recesses of their thoughts, said of friendship: Nothing so common as the name, Nothing so rare as the thing. “Be polite and affectionate with ladies, reserved and modest with men. It is so easy to attract blame, and so difficult to deserve general consideration, that one must watch oneself strictly even in the smallest actions. Always prefers the society of sensible people to that of young people: the one gives us wise precepts, while the other always tends to destroy our firmest resolutions; the aged have sacred rights to our respect and our attentions.
“O my Ernestine! never before had I thought of protecting you against the snares that society sets for innocence and candor; the danger seemed to me so remote from you that it was useless to worry about it. What could I fear for you seeing you in the midst of solitude, occupying yourself only with your daily work, and practicing at every moment the virtues which procure an interior satisfaction so full of charms? But soon our existence will change: this thought makes me tremble, and I now fear to hand you over defenseless to the seductions of a corrupt world. An immense fortune is destined for you, my daughter; never take pride in it, always be simple, sweet Ernestine. Above all observe modesty in adornment; always have in your mind this multitude of unfortunates who lack bread, and whom you can effectively relieve by making them the sacrifice of those ruinous futilities that women too often seek. The pleasures of vanity corrupt the heart and are always poisonous, while the enjoyments found in the bestowal of benefits fill the soul with ineffable and pure joy.
“Dear child, your uncle intends his fortune for you; soon we will be near him. There, in the heart of this capital where the great misfortunes usually come to hide, just as the happy people of the world like to shine there with all their brilliance, it will be easy for you to soften the pains of those who groan under the weight of the misery. Always remember the first years of your life and the principles of wisdom and piety that you drew from the advice of your mother. I have often heard you repeat that your greatest happiness is to console misfortune. The Lord has understood your innocent joy and your virtuous desires. Never let this happy disposition slumber for a moment. If the pains of the poor inhabitant of the countryside have often saddened you, what will you not feel at the sight of the thousands of unfortunate people who populate the great city! Those who must be pitied and most eagerly sought out in order to spread balm on their wounds are the unfortunate who suffer in silence. What cries, what moans are stifled by the din of the great city and lost in its immensity! Virtue, repelled, misunderstood, constantly the butt of adversity, dies with joy, expecting only Heaven's reward for its resignation. By a plan of God, which poor human beings must not seek to deepen, vice sometimes thrives there; but one must not always believe in appearances: often, at the moment when everything seems to succeed for the rich, and while everyone envies his fate, he is obsessed with cruel thoughts and inner troubles, bitter fruits of an uneasy conscience that torments him. day and night. Often, when a smile is on his lips and he is proclaimed happy, the unfortunate would willingly give up all his wealth for a single moment of the rest of virtue.
“Among this crowd of unfortunates there are guilty men, who have fallen into misery by the abuse of all their faculties, and because they have not put a brake on their passions. How many beggars who reach out to us would say, if they wanted to be sincere, that it is their fault that they are suffering! Do not turn away your eyes in horror and contempt from these creatures worthy of all your pity: often a sweet charity, followed by an affectionate word, has brought back to the path of virtue lost beings. Remember that we are all brothers on earth, and that Christian charity contains in itself all the most sublime virtues. Ernestine, how many unfortunates stagger on the edge of the precipice! a benefit can draw them from it, oblivion plunges them into it without return.
"It is a sad truth to say, that the excess of misery can lead to crime, and that often man, too weak to bear the trials that God imposes on him, after having exhausted all the resources and sought in vain work, is seen in the cruel alternative of doing evil or starving to death. Cruel truth that proves that sometimes the rich man forgets that the poor man is his brother and the son of a God who takes into account a glass of water given in his name.
“Another month, and we will leave this peaceful abode, to which my memories will always like to refer.
"Will we ever come back to it, Mama?" replied Ernestine.
'It is probable, my daughter, that once we have arrived in Paris with our uncle, we will very rarely have the opportunity to return here; the recognition and deference we owe him will impose new duties on us. I know your feelings well enough not to need to recommend to you a perfect gentleness and an unfailing patience with regard to this respectable old man, who is on the edge of the grave; your good heart will inspire you with the conduct you should adopt. Above all, my dear Ernestine, what I recommend to you above all things, and what your duty makes you a rigorous obligation, is to always have with regard to your mother complete frankness and unreserved confidence. .
— 0 mother! have I not always given you proofs of it? said the poor child, with tears in her eyes, thinking that her mother was reproaching her.
"I know it," resumed Madame Dorival; if I speak to you thus, it is to engage you to persevere in your good behavior, and not to reproach you with dissimulation, which is unknown to you. Thus, my child, if you want to follow the maxims that I have just outlined for you, virtue will become for you the sweetest of pleasures; you will ensure your happiness in this life and for eternity. Sufficiently on guard against the pitfalls presented by human society, you will be able to launch yourself on the ocean of the world without fear of being shipwrecked there. »
Madame Dorival stopped talking. Ernestine did not know whether to rejoice or grieve at her change of fortune; she remained pensive, anxious.
"And my dear birds, Mama," she finally said with a sigh, "will we have to give up seeing them, taking care of them?"
'We'll take them away, Ernestine; Don't worry, replied the mother.
- Oh ! what happiness! exclaimed the young girl overjoyed.
Happy age! thought the mother; may his innocence and candor continue for a long time yet!
Arrived in Paris. — The good governess.
The time of departure was approaching. Madame Dorival had been constantly occupied with her preparations during the time she had asked for. Ernestine, for her part, enjoyed taking long and frequent walks; she was perhaps visiting for the last time all the places that were dear to her.
She was going to pray in the modest church where she had so often softened in the presence of the God of goodness, and she wondered if in the magnificent temples of the capital she
could raise his soul with as much simplicity towards his Creator, and implore him with the same confidence for his mother.
She was bidding farewell to the solitary valley where she had so often watched the sunrise, when its faint rays, barely still golden, came to revive all nature. She loved to see again that meadow where she had picked the fresh daisy. Before leaving these beautiful places, she liked to run on the lawn of the meadow with Medor, the faithful dog who watched over their safety. At other times, regretting that this pretty property could not be transported to the heart of the capital, where she was going to live, Ernestine bade touching farewells to the echoes which had often repeated both her joyous romances and the outbursts of her naive joy; then, light as a young doe, she roamed the hillsides, picking fragrant thyme, picking up here and there flowers of which she composed bouquets, and then entirely forgetting the sad thoughts which might have cast a shadow on the seductive picture she had before her. the eyes.
Finally the day of departure arrived. An elegant carriage led by two valets in rich livery stopped in the courtyard. Madame Dorival and Ernestine could not restrain their tears on seeing the deep sorrow their departure caused their farmers, who loved them with all their hearts, and whose sincere regrets sufficiently proved the constant kindness which their mistresses had shown towards them. Throughout the journey, the mother and the daughter were silent, not wanting to interrupt this kind of solitude of the heart in which we love to rediscover memories that are dear to us, or to nourish ourselves with even sweeter hopes.
"Here we are," said Madame Dorival at last.
Immediately Ernestine, putting her hand to the door, felt that first sensation which all children, and often even more experienced travellers, feel when seeing Paris so different from the picture that their imagination had traced itself from the stories and descriptions. that had been done to them. However, the injustice of this first impression is not long in being recognized, and the sight of the magnificent monuments with which the capital is adorned, developing successively, causes one to experience a deserved admiration.
“0 mom! exclaimed Ernestine, whose delicate ears, accustomed to the gentle tranquility of the fields, were already tired of the incessant tumult of the big city, so this is Paris so wonderful, so beautiful! Look at those horrible houses, so tall, so black! Look at all this people swirling in the streets, these cars overtaking or passing each other constantly! 0 my God! she continued, pressing herself against her mother and sighing, it is therefore in this chaos that we are going to live!
"My dear Ernestine," her mother said to her with the gentleness and kindness with which she accompanied all her words, "one must never lament like this." Who assures you that we will not return one day to live in our pleasant retreat? Remember that the future is a book closed to poor humans: to hope and to resign ourselves, such is our duty. Console yourself, my daughter, it is not with sadness on your face that you must appear before your old uncle. »
At this moment the carriage entered a large courtyard; several servants came to meet the ladies to help them out of the carriage and conduct them to the master of the house.
After passing through a long suite of richly decorated rooms, the travelers were ushered into an elegantly furnished salon. At their appearance, a bright-eyed, fresh-complexioned old man, sunk in his armchair, with one of his legs resting on a velvet cushion, tried to get up to receive them.
"Come on, come on, my dear children," cried M. Dupayel, holding out his arms to his nieces; For a long time I have longed for the happiness of seeing you. Julie, have you really forgiven me for my cruel indifference?
"I never dared to accuse your feelings, uncle," replied Madame Dorival; do not exaggerate such slight wrongs.
"Good Julie!" resumed M. Dupayel, deeply moved, how mad I was to deprive myself of your society and that of your dear child, who is truly charming! Now I am the happiest of mortals. I would have gone to look for you had it not been for that cursed drop that has kept me nailed to this armchair for two months. Finally, I hope that I will think less of my troubles now that you will help me to have patience. However, I must, my dear friends, warn you that I am inconvenient, chagrin, quinteux: I need all your indulgence to be able to be supported; however, I promise you that I will neglect nothing to make you happy.
“My good uncle, we will always be so when our care and our tenderness have succeeded in calming your pains; do not change your habits; it is up to us to conform to your tastes and needs. What would be the merit of a lively affection if we had only joys to share? We will do our best to make our company enjoyable for you.
"Excellent Julie," cried the old man, once again pressing his amiable nieces to his heart, "what good, what treasure I was pushing away from me!" At these words he rang. Madame Colin, an old housekeeper who had the full confidence of Monsieur Dupayel, presented herself respectfully.
"Here are my children, my dear Madame Colin," he said to her; you know with what impatience I awaited them, that is to tell you how I want to receive them. Conduct them to their apartments, and install them as mistresses of the house; recommend to all my people to obey them as to myself. Mrs. Colin showed herself eager and attentive for the nieces of a master whom she had served with attachment and fidelity for twelve years. After leading them through the whole house, she led them to their rooms, which were separated from each other only by a glass door, and which the good uncle had provided with all the conveniences and amenities. possible. However, the mother and daughter took very little pleasure in considering all this luxury unknown to their modest habits; left alone, they looked at each other sadly, doubtless regretting this pleasant freedom of the fields of which they saw themselves deprived.
"My dear mamma," said Ernestine, "is that how most of the rich live, sacrificing their freedom to the pleasures of the city?"
In this case, poverty seems to me much preferable; I'm going to be bored to death here, and if the thought that we're necessary to this good old man doesn't make it our duty to stay close to him, I don't hesitate to believe that we'd be leaving immediately.
— Without this reason, my dear child, replied the mother, we would never have left our pleasant solitude. But since we are at our uncle's, we must make ourselves worthy of his kindness. My mother's brother has sacred rights to our devotion and respect; his heart is excellent, and I am persuaded that our new duties will seem very pleasant to us. One of the greatest virtues, my daughter, is always knowing how to be happy with the fate in which it pleases God to place us.
"Besides, I feel," Ernestine retorted, "that we have no right to complain about ours, and I recognize that this generous old relative deserves all our tenderness." He seemed very good to me, he was crying imploring his forgiveness. I will do my best to please him and to soften his last years. In a word, I want him to love me soon as much as I cherish him myself.
"Very well, my daughter," replied Madame Dorival, "I like to hear you talk like that." Let us no longer think of the past except to continue practicing here the acts of religion and virtues which occupied us in our solitude, and entrust to Providence the care of our future. »
Madame Dorival saw with pleasure that her uncle had no worldly habits; he received only a few real friends, who usually came to visit him: besides, the old man spent all his time in the company of his nieces. Bringing all the seriousness of his age into this intimate circle, he knew how to put himself within reach of Ernestine, whom he loved more every day, because of the excellent qualities he constantly discovered in her. His gout had subsided, and he was beginning to walk about his apartments, leaning on the young girl's shoulder. Ernestine flew ahead of all her desires; often, to shorten the long winter evenings, and when no one came to see his uncle, the amiable child read a moral and instructive book which charmed the old man. The old uncle thought he was returning to the happy days of his youth: a gentle smile brightened his features and made the wrinkles of age disappear for a moment. Charmed more and more by the qualities and talents of his nieces, the poor old man could not have survived the grief of seeing himself separated from them again.
One day Ernestine had been left alone with her uncle while her mother was busy giving orders in the house. "My dear child," said the old man to her, drawing her to his side, "I am always afraid that you will not find yourself happy here.
"Good uncle," replied Ernestine, "did you think you noticed any signs of fatigue or boredom in me?"
“No, certainly; but be sincere: don't you sometimes regret, without daring to tell me, this beautiful countryside where you lived so joyfully and so freely?
- Well! my uncle, replied the young girl, I want to be completely frank with you: I confess to you that I experienced great sorrow when I learned that we would henceforth have to live in Paris; but then I didn't know you yet, I didn't know how good you must be to us: wasn't I excusable?
'You're reproaching me without suspecting it, my dear.
"How so, uncle?"
"Have I not shown myself harsh and unjust towards your good mother and towards you, by abandoning you for so long?" I reproach myself at every moment for this barbarity.
"Aren't we compensated for it today, since we have the good fortune to be near you?"
"So you were very sorry to leave the country?" interrupted M. Dupayel.
'Wasn't it natural, uncle,' Ernestine continued, 'to feel uneasy at leaving this pretty retreat where my peaceful childhood passed? Oh! I had become attached to this campaign like a child to its nurse, I loved it as we love the first objects that strike our imagination by speaking to our soul. I loved this rustic chapel where I went every Sunday to hear the word of God; I loved all those poor people who patiently awaited their daily alms. I think I can still hear their gentle prayers and the accents of their gratitude when I gave them what we had reserved for them; I liked to run and pick up under the withered grass the hazelnut that had escaped the discerning gaze of the farmers. I also liked to pick the spring flower and the one that the frost had spared; often I penetrated into thick and thorny hedges, to seize one preserved by miracle, and I made it my adornment. What I preferred to all this were my dear birds. Mama had my aviary brought here; but these poor little ones show a great deal of boredom: one would say that they miss the soil which gave birth to them: they no longer amuse me with their song; they hardly want to recognize me, the sight of whom once made them cry out for joy; they seem to accuse me of having destroyed their happiness, and their sadness tears my heart.
“Poor animals! said the uncle seriously.
Ernestine, thinking that her uncle was making fun of her with this exclamation, exclaimed: "Are you laughing at that, uncle?"
"No, no, my dear child," replied M. Dupayel; and to prove to you that I am not insensitive to what can give you some satisfaction, I want to give you another aviary more beautiful and better furnished than yours is doubtless. Ernestine, transported with joy, pressed her uncle's hand to her heart.
“I am persuaded, from what you have just told me, that your good mother taught you to practice benevolence; I want, dear Ernestine, that you continue to exercise it here; and for that a sum of one hundred francs will be given to you each month: you will use it as you see fit.
"0 my uncle!" exclaimed the young girl in the height of happiness, embracing the venerable old man with the most cordial affection.
“Why thank me so much, my dear? said M. Dupayel: am I not double-
happy, since by giving you such sweet joy I will contribute to relieving the misery of the poor? Madame Colin distributes some alms for me; take her as your guide; always listen to his good advice, dictated by wise experience and proven virtue. I also demand that you go for a walk every day for an hour; I can now do without such assiduous care. Besides, your mother, who doesn't like to go out, will keep me company. Mrs. Colin will accompany you and watch over you with solicitude, for she is a woman worthy of all my trust and yours.
"0 my good uncle!" how happy you make me! said Ernestine.
“I am very glad, my child, to see you satisfied; I wish nothing in the world more earnestly than to ensure your happiness. »
To possess a hundred francs each month to give to the unfortunate, what a source of delicious enjoyment for Ernestine! She ran quickly to her mother to share her joy. The next day, she wanted to start her shopping and go in search of unfortunate people worthy of her interest and her benefits. Since her arrival, she had not yet left her uncle's hotel; constantly occupied with the poor invalid, she had never even felt the desire to do so. The good Madame Colin, chosen to be Ernestine's guide and governess, promised herself to justify the confidence placed in her. "Come, Mademoiselle," she said to the young girl, "the weather is fine, and that is so rare in Paris that you have to know how to take advantage of it." They went to the Tuileries Gardens. Ernestine could not contain her astonishment and admiration at the sight of the palace and the magnificent monuments which struck her sight. She no longer thought she was in the same city, of which until then she had only seen the muddy, smoky neighborhoods through which the car had passed on arriving in Paris. Spring had just revived nature; it was then the month of May, that happy month which awakens even in the most afflicted soul thoughts of hope and happiness. Who has not experienced the sweet sensations caused at this time of the year by the awakening of creation? A leaf that turns green, a flower that
flourishes, the song of the birds inspires us with lively enjoyment. Seeing the return of spring one seems to receive the new assurance that nothing perishes entirely, that everything dies to reproduce itself.
Ernestine expressed the desire to sit down on a bench in the garden, to inhale with delight the sweet odor of the lilacs, whose half-open tufts were agitated by a light wind. She was happy in the midst of flowers and greenery, which pleased her much more than beautiful apartments, which she regarded as elegant prisons. As the day was beginning to advance, she resumed the road with her governess to the hotel. When she returned, M. Dupayel addressed a thousand questions to his niece, whose naive admiration entertained him all evening.
For several days she continued her walks, accompanied by Madame Colin.
"So there are no poor people in Paris?" she said one day to this lady; or else, if there are any, where should one go to meet them?
"No unfortunates in Paris, my dear young lady!" this city is teeming with them. In truth they do not beg. Those who reach out are not always the most to be pitied; there is a mute pain, much more worthy of pity than that which merges into groans: it is in the garrets, in the garrets that these unfortunates hide. Oh ! How many times, carrying help from your uncle to the attics inhabited by unfortunate people who are a prey to the most horrible indigence, have I reflected sadly on human miseries and follies! Imagine, my dear young lady, that the same house is often inhabited by all classes of society; while we dance on the first floor, we cry on the second, we groan on the third over the body of a cherished object that death has just taken away from its family; on the upper stories they work day and night to get a piece of bread; and often, alas! under the roofs one expires of need! Such is Paris, Mademoiselle; I cannot think of it without pain.
"I strongly share your feelings," said Ernestine, touched to tears; but I do not
I can't imagine that one can indulge in worldly pleasures, dancing, for example, when one knows that there, very close to one, there are tears to wipe away.
— Most of the rich are insensible to evils which they do not know; they flee misery as if it were contagious, and, if they meet an unfortunate person, they close their eyes and turn their heads away, lest the sight of his miseries disturb their pleasures. »
One day when Ernestine and her governess were attending a high mass at the church of Saint-Louis, the young girl found herself distracted in spite of herself, during part of the ceremony, by the sight of a poor woman kneeling near She. Although this woman was entirely covered in rags, a remnant of pretension had presided over her attire: a faded hat almost hid her face, which was turned towards the altar; a large shawl, all torn, but which must once have been very expensive, covered her shoulders; a calico dress pierced in several places and worn shoes completed her sad toilette. When the divine service was over, this woman sighed bitterly, and these words escaped her pain: “My God! send me faith, I doubt everything, I am very unhappy. »
Ernestine heard this strange complaint. The unfortunate! she thought, in fact, she is very miserable! I wish I could talk to her and ease her pain. At this moment the beggar got up; she was turning to go out, when her eyes fell on the young girl. Ernestine's beauty no doubt struck her; for she gazed at her with visible admiration, standing motionless before her, and fixing her dull gaze imperturbably on the modest and enchanting features of the young person. Ernestine, so pretty, so gracious, presented to the imagination of the unhappy woman smiling thoughts or memories of her youth; the sight of this young girl who seemed to her like an angel descended on earth, so much her face exuded innocence and candor, seemed to awaken in the mind of the old woman memories almost erased and feelings long forgotten.
Ernestine, disturbed by this long examination, and struck by the singular countenance of this beggar, who remained in ecstasy before her, said to her as she rose:
“Follow me, please; I want to talk to you. »
Ernestine's heart beat with joy at the thought that she was going to find a new opportunity to exercise her benevolence. Hearing these sweet words, the beggar seemed astonished: the benevolent invitation of the young girl surprised her, as if she were accustomed never to meet a friendly face; this gentle gaze, full of Christian charity, directed towards her, caused her an emotion as lively as it was sudden, and abundant tears sprang from her eyes. She recovered, however, and wiping her face, she silently followed the young girl, whose sweet voice had just flooded her heart with an unknown joy.
When they were far from the crowd coming out of the church, Ernestine, stopping, said with emotion to the poor beggar:
“You seem very unhappy, Madame; I desire to soften your sufferings, if you allow it.
- What ! exclaimed the unhappy woman, you would deign to approach me without fear of soiling yourself! Angel of purity, do you know who I am to talk to myself like this?
"You look unwell, that's enough for me," Ernestine replied.
"How kind," resumed the unfortunate woman, "for nearly twelve years I have been languishing under the weight of misery and despair, and no one until now has given me marks of charitable compassion!" Ah! it is that I am very guilty! it is that, virtuous and pure as you are, you cannot understand the faults which have reduced me to this state of poverty. Blessed are you, you who come like an angel to wipe away all tears without asking the cause! This mission you fulfill on earth is beautiful and noble, and if it is true that there is a God, you will one day rest in his bosom.
"You doubt it, Madame!" cried Ernestine: oh! it is now that you are truly worthy of pity! He who does not believe in God deprives himself of all consolation during the miseries of this life, and of the ineffable happiness which faith and virtue assure us forever in another world. It is not surprising that you have suffered so much: could God take you under his protection, you who doubted his power? Blame only yourself for your misfortunes. Never, Madame, Ernestine continued with fire, never should we accuse God of our reverses; we are almost always the authors of our sorrows; and, if it happens that we have nothing to reproach ourselves with, our duty is to respect the will of God and to resign ourselves to our fate. Patience and courage in adversity never fail to bring upon us the blessings of Heaven. There is a pure, delicious happiness, capable of compensating for the greatest pains, and which one can find under the purple as under the stubble: it is that which one experiences when one has no reproaches to make and that one can esteem oneself.
"It is precisely this happiness that I miss," said the beggar woman bitterly.
"At least," replied Ernestine, "repentance remains to you, which is always pleasing to God when it is sincere." »
The beggar lowered her head in silence. Never had a voice so sweet as that of Ernestine struck his ears; never had compassion used such persuasive language. She felt all the dryness and the sourness of her soul soften at these sweet accents, and, abandoning herself with delight to the tenderness which seized her, she walked respectfully beside the young girl, whom she listened docilely, and to whom she dared not raise her eyes.
Madame Colin, leaving Ernestine to follow the inspirations of her generous heart, followed her at some distance, admiring her candor and her generosity. However, the young girl, fearing to abuse the complaisance of her respectable governess, prepared to join her. Before going back to the hotel, she took two louis from her purse and wanted to give them to the poor woman; but, instead of accepting them, the beggar hid her hands under her shawl.
"What! you refuse help! said Ernestine, astonished.
"The happiness I experience in looking at you, in hearing you speak, is a more efficacious remedy for curing my heart," replied the unfortunate woman. Please, young girl, who seems sent from heaven, raise my dejected soul, bring it back to virtue, to religion! I need your presence a thousand times more than your help.
" Poor woman! said Ernestine, "so you have the means of existence?"
- It takes so little for one who feeds on tears and remorse!
- But you still need bread, and if you don't work, how do you manage to get it?
- The charity office provides for this first need.
- You have no parents?
- I am alone in the world.
- Where do you live? >»
The beggar gave her address.
- Your name?
- Count on me, Madam, continued Ernestine, I will go to see you.
- What! replied the beggar, starting, you would be so kind! you will deign to visit a poor creature like me! »
As she spoke thus, the eyes of the poor woman shone with happiness, and her withered face seemed to revive.
"Yes," continued Ernestine, "I'll go to your house tomorrow with Madame (she pointed to Madame Colin). In the meantime, take this; don't refuse me, if you want me to keep my promise. »
The two louis fell into Rosine's pocket. This unfortunate woman, after bowing deeply, returned to her home.
While talking of this adventure, which had sadly moved them, Ernestine and her governess returned to the hotel, promising each other to fulfill the engagement they had entered into with this unfortunate woman the next day. The young girl slept little that night: she could not shake from her mind the indefinable impression that this woman's language had left on her; she saw again in the darkness of the night her features ravaged by pain even more than by the years. A prey to the exaltation of her ideas, she persuaded herself that she had already seen this face somewhere before, which seemed to bring back to her some confused memory. This impression, which took root more and more in her mind, strengthened her in the resolution she had taken not to abandon the beggar, and to attach herself especially to her among all the creatures whom God called her to console.
In a hurry to go to Rosine's, she could not, as usual, work long with her mother. After kissing her tenderly, as well as her uncle, she ran to fetch Madame Colin to remind her of the time for the walk, which her impatience had anticipated that day.
“Are you here already? said the good governess; it seems that you have not forgotten poor Rosine.
- Oh ! Certainly not, replied Ernestine with vivacity, I thought of her all night.
— Allow me an observation, added Mrs. Colin respectfully.
- Speak, Madam, I will always listen to you with pleasure, and I will make sure to always be docile to your advice.
"I thank you, Mademoiselle, for this deference which you deign to grant me," replied Madame Colin; long experience has taught me to distrust what I see; Appearances sometimes hide sad truths from us. You must try as much as possible to moderate your generous sensitivity and the strong emotion you feel at the sight of all those whom you see overwhelmed with misery. Like a skilful surgeon, try to know the disease well, to sound its depth before applying the remedy. It is wise not always to yield to the first impulse of one's heart; charity must be enlightened; for, if it is noble and worthy of a Christian to succor misfortune, it is a misfortune and even a fault to favor vice by encouraging laziness and gluttony. Your new protegee perhaps owes her misfortunes to the faults I have just mentioned. If this is so, you must, before giving her money, make her understand that she must work to meet her needs. We are going to know his misfortunes today. »
Ernestine recognized the wisdom of this advice, and promised to comply with it. After this conversation, the two ladies set out; they arrived in a little street in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, where the garret occupied by Rosine was situated. They climbed a dark, narrow staircase. The beggar was waiting for them impatiently; she led her young benefactress and her governess into a dirty and disorderly room, dimly lighted by an opening in the ceiling.
"Deign to rest for a moment," she said to the ladies, presenting them with two shabby chairs. You see, Mademoiselle, the sad abode where I spend my days in tears and the nights without rest; it is here that I slowly finish dying. Oh ! I await death like a beneficent divinity, which must deliver me from all my anguish.
"Unfortunate!" exclaimed Ernestine, "do you believe then that after death there is nothing more?" Whether
you were convinced, as every good Christian should be, that there is an eternity, another life, where we will obtain the reward due to our good deeds or the just punishment for our bad ones, you would pray to God each day to prolong your existence and allow yourself time to repent and earn the Creator's compassion.
"I feel unworthy of it, Mademoiselle," replied Rosine, "and the thought alone discourages me." The memory of my faults persecutes me, burns my chest; it is an incurable wound. I am too guilty to hope for my forgiveness.
"When you recognize your wrongs," said Ernestine tenderly, "you are very close to repenting of them." Take courage, Madame, God will have mercy on you: he is a good father, always ready to forgive his children when they regret their faults. Ah! if you knew how salutary prayer is to our soul when we are unhappy, I am convinced that you would often raise your soul to heaven, and that you could acquire that peace of mind which you lack and without which life becomes a torture . Work and prayer should fill all your moments, and leave you no time to think of your misfortunes.
“If you deem me worthy of your trust, tell me of the trials you have undergone. Knowing better your subjects of grief, I will be able to bring you surer consolations.
"Forgive me, O my benefactress, if I refuse you what you expect of me: who better than you would deserve this full and complete confidence?" But I cannot bring myself to tell you what I once was. No, no, I could not renounce henceforth your benevolent compassion. Your touching interest in me can guide me towards virtue, and if you knew the culpable errors into which I have so often fallen, you would also forsake poor Rosine, you would turn your head away, overwhelming me with your just contempt!
“Ask me no more who I am or what I have done; don't be half generous.
“Since I heard your sweet voice, hope came into my heart; I believe in heaven, I am certain that virtue, of which you are the image, must be lovable, perfect; that it alone can make us love life; I regret this time, so quickly taken away, used in such a frivolous and fatal manner; I said to myself, in the midst of the bitterness of my thoughts: A few more interviews with my benefactress, a few more words of encouragement given in her gentle voice, and I shall know repentance and resignation! The future is mine: why shouldn't I be able to compensate by the constant practice of virtue for the moments foolishly lost? If my tutelary angel spoke to me of eternity, I would believe it; because I need to stop doubting, to repent and to become happy.
"You are wrong to think," replied Ernestine, "that the sincere confession of your existence could deprive you of my protection." To relieve misfortune, in whatever aspect it presents itself, such, in my opinion, is true beneficence. I don't believe you are criminal, Rosine; you exaggerate your faults, I am quite certain of it. Keep your secrets, since it would be painful for you to entrust them to me: perhaps you will be more expansive when you know me better. »
Rosine lowered her head painfully: abundant tears were escaping from her eyes, her hands had been joined since the arrival of Ernestine, whom she regarded as an angel sent from heaven to reconcile her with her God.
“Oh! If one knew how many evils the forgetting of duties gives birth to, continued poor Rosine, and if one knew the perpetual torments that I experience, one would carefully watch over oneself, in order to avoid a first fault, on which all the others depend! Deign, my young protectress, to complete the work you have undertaken: give me back peace and happiness, only you can. »
As she spoke thus, Rosine fixed her eyes anxiously on Ernestine, fearing to read a refusal in her eyes.
“I'll come back to see you,” said the young girl to calm her down, “I promise you; but also I require of you that you seek to work continually, to trust in God, and to attract his protection to you by praying to him with the sincere faith which he requires of you. »
Ernestine and Madame Colin were getting up to go out, when suddenly Rosine rushed to the
girl's feet and kissed them with the greatest humility.
" What are you doing there? cried Ernestine, annoyed at this action: get up, it is not before the creature, but before the Almighty and all-merciful God, that you must thus prostrate yourself; you will not be able to prove your gratitude to me better than by working for your rest and your eternal happiness. »
Illness of the good uncle. — Visit to Rosine.
Back at her uncle's, Ernestine learned of an event which caused her great anxiety. M. Dupayel had suffered considerably from a sudden attack of gout which had nearly caused his death: the violence of the illness had concentrated on the old man's chest; but, by dint of care and remedies, we managed to save him by recalling the intensity of the gout on his feet, which had become red and swollen. When Ernestine entered, the old man was lying down and plunged into a new fainting spell, less profound, however, than the previous ones. Madame Dorival, a prey to despair, pressed her daughter to her heart, and described to her the horrible fears she had experienced since her departure. At this moment, M. Dupayel came to his senses and reassured his nieces, whose eyes were marked with the liveliest anxiety.
"I am delighted to see you back, my dear child," he said to Ernestine, holding out a hand to her which she covered with kisses and tears. Oh ! I would have been very unhappy to die without seeing you again! Stay with your mother, Ernestine, never leave us! »
During the whole time of her uncle's illness, the young girl displayed the greatest sensitivity, and manifested in the most obvious manner the deep attachment she felt for him. Constantly at his bedside, she was attentive and obliging; her hand offered the healthy drink to the thirsty mouth of the old man, and her touching voice exhorted him to patience and hope. Sensitive to so much kindness, M. Dupayel could not prevent himself one day from showing it to his doctor, saying to him: "Doctor, this is the one that will know how to sweeten my last moments." When we hear him speak of eternity, we burn with the desire to know its enjoyments, while fearing to leave the one who paints such a touching picture of it for us. The young girl, confused by these praises, which she did not believe she deserved, moved away modestly from her uncle's bed to hide her blushes, and approached her mother, who kissed her tenderly.
For a month and a half the illness had lasted! M. Dupayel, Ernestine had hardly ever left her uncle's apartment except to retire to his own in the evening. Despite her earnest solicitations, Madame Dorival had not consented to her spending the night with the patient: this good mother spared her daughter's health more than her own, and resisted her entreaties, telling her that she would not should not undertake beyond his strength and deprive himself of the sleep necessary for his age. Ernestine yielded, not without experiencing great chagrin at not being able to share her mother's fatigues and watch with her; How many nights found her awake, listening incessantly if she was not called! for one of the faults of sensitive people is to be ingenious in exaggerating the evil, and to see the danger greater than it really is. Active surveillance, attentive and gentle care, joined to the benefits of art, triumphed over the obstinacy of the disease. M. Dupayel was finally able to get out of bed and sit down in his chair; he did not know how to express his heartfelt gratitude to his nieces; a silent tear ran down her cheeks. Is there any more eloquent language, especially when addressed to hearts such as those of Madame Dorival and her daughter? During the good old man's long illness, the many friends whom his amiable qualities had acquired for him had come to visit him assiduously. Few people had been admitted to his room, because of the tranquility and silence which the doctor had prescribed; but the great number of persons who had registered at the door, and the pressing questions addressed to the servants as to the state of their master, sufficiently proved the lively interest which M. Dupayel's health inspired.
Among the names on the visitor's list, the good old man noticed one that brought a smile back to his lips. "General Godelin," cried he, transported with joy; so he's back from Africa! My dear Julie, give orders that he will never be dismissed when he presents himself. It is to this excellent friend that I owe everything I possess: he has constantly helped me with his purse and his advice. I want to give you a friend, he said, kissing Ernestine tenderly. Hermance is worthy of your affection; he is an angel like you; she carries filial love to the point of the most complete abnegation; so the general is as proud of it as I am of you. I will celebrate my convalescence with a big dinner where I will gather all my friends. We have lived until now in too great a solitude; I want my Ernestine to be admired by everyone from now on as she is by her parents.
"You will end up inspiring me with too much pride, my dear uncle," said the young girl modestly, "and you will spoil all the work of my good mother, who always taught me to doubt myself."
"Still doubting yourself, my child," replied the old man; but also remain as you are now. Your mother is too good a teacher for me to want to touch her work. »
Although M. Dupayel had never believed in human perfection, the rare qualities of Mme Dorival and her daughter taught him that a truly virtuous woman is a treasure. That is why the good old man could not hide his ideas on the subject, and he expressed them with effusion, without thinking that his great-niece's modesty suffered continually from it.
Madame Dorival, according to her uncle's wishes, hastened the preparations for a little fete, which was to provide a happy diversion for the convalescent old man; and his daughter had written, under the dictation of M. Dupayel, all the invitations, which were sent to their addresses.
During her uncle's illness, Ernestine had neglected the poor beggar, although she had often thought of it. Madame Colin, according to her orders, had gone several times to Rosine's without ever meeting her.
"However, I would like to make him accept some money," said the young girl, "his must be exhausted."
'Don't worry,' replied the wise governess, 'Rosine enjoys good health, and if she told you the truth, she must have looked for work. To speak frankly, I believe she is not very active; the uncleanliness and the lack of order which reigned in her house are too sure indications of these faults. An author said: If you want to know a person's character and inclinations, enter his room. If this reasoning is correct, nothing proves in favor of your protegee.
“Excess of misfortune,” replied Ernestine, “makes you careless; do not be so severe towards this unfortunate woman, who expiates on a pallet the wrongs of her youth. I am convinced that Rosine comes from a distinguished family. How she must suffer then to see herself thus alone and neglected! "I see," said the governess, "that she knew how to inspire you with a very tender compassion." I am going to find out today if she deserves all your concern; I will make a thorough investigation into her account, and will know from her neighbors what she does, what she says, and what is her conduct.
"Come on, Madame Colin," said Ernestine joyfully; I am convinced that you will bring me good news. »
In fact, when the governess returned, she had only good information to give about the beggar. Rosine worked tirelessly; she had become affable to all who had previously suffered from her bad temper. “I don't know,” Rosine's closest neighbor had said to Madame Colin, “what happy revolution has taken place in her; but it is no longer recognizable. She had formerly refused a very lucrative work that I had wanted to give her, because she had aroused my sympathy. - Oh! I work now, she told me. My good angel appeared to me to teach me my duty. »
"That's more or less what I learned," continued Madame Colin; I am quite determined now to bring him everything you deign to dispose of in his favour.
"Tell her," replied Ernestine, handing two louis to her messenger, "that I shall go to see her soon, and that I am satisfied with her docility." »
Rosine showed great joy on receiving new proofs of Ernestine's kindness.
"I learned," she said to the governess, "to blush at myself by contemplating your young mistress: after having measured the enormous difference in our feelings, I bent down before her forehead surrounded by a halo of beauty. and virtue. To attract his esteem for myself by an unlimited submission to his will, such is my only thought, my last hope. »
Madame Colin was pleased to see the perfect order and cleanliness that shone this time in the attic; she mentioned it to Ernestine. “Ob! I want mamma to know my protegee, exclaimed the young girl with joy; his gentle exhortations will complete my work. »
The day of the grand dinner, impatiently awaited by M. Dupayel, had finally arrived. He demanded that Ernestine take off her simple clothes, which she much preferred to the elegant suits her uncle always gave her. The heiress to my wealth must be more elegantly dressed than you are, he said in a tone that allowed no reply.
Ernestine complied with her uncle's wishes, while feeling chagrin to think that she would henceforth be obliged to wear those ornaments which pleased the old man. When her mother's maid placed on the sofa in her bedroom a beautiful muslin dress, trimmed with lace, which she had just received from the hands of the seamstress, the simple young girl could not control her pain.
'My uncle,' she said naively, 'requires me to put on this dress?
'Yes, Mademoiselle,' replied the maid, 'and he asked me to present this present to you from him.
- My God ! what do I see! suddenly exclaimed Ernestine, troubled.
This exclamation made the servant smile. Ernestine then lifted a piece of paper which covered a case of fine pearls of the rarest beauty.
“Is it expensive? she said sadly.
— These pearls must be very expensive, for they are very beautiful. »
For all answer Ernestine sighed.
" What ! exclaimed the maid, "you are not delighted to receive such flattering tokens of your uncle's affection!"
- Oh ! they are always precious to me, good Josephine, do not doubt it; but isn't it distressing to see so much money spent on futile things which could be dispensed with?
— No, Mademoiselle, replied Josephine, you will know later that the world only judges by appearances. If M. Dupayel's grand-niece showed up in the drawing room on a ceremonial day, in front of the many guests, dressed in a simple, unadorned dress, one would not fail to make unfortunate suppositions, endless comments, which would perhaps not be to your uncle's advantage; because one could not suppose that your taste alone presided over your adornment.
"If that's the case," said Ernestine, "I'll never love this world where it's customary to spy on and bitterly censor all the acts of people into whose intimacy one enters under the mask of friendship. .
While they were talking, Josephine was artfully arranging Ernestine's hair, which she used to spread in wide bands, in the simplest manner. Impatient with this kind of torture to which she was condemned, she exclaimed aloud: "Fortunately my uncle will perhaps not often give dinners!" which explained to Josephine the annoyance the young girl had at being held under her iron.
"Be patient," Josephine told him; one more moment, and you will be charming! »
Indeed, Ernestine was ravishingly graceful and beautiful. “See,” continued the maid, drawing her to a mirror, “how pretty you are!
"Never have I been less to my liking," replied Ernestine, blushing.
She went down to the living room, where her uncle and her mother were already together.
"So there you are, Ernestine?" said the old man; this is how I wanted to see you, my child.
"I obeyed you, uncle," replied Ernestine.
At this moment a servant announced several guests.
It was General Godelin, accompanied by his daughter Hermance and his son, recently graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique, with the title of civil engineer.
M. Dupayel, with that ease which comes with age and social habit, introduced his family to his friend. Then, taking Hermance's hand, he put it in Ernestine's hand. 'Continue,' he said to them, 'this friendship of your parents, which will soon be extinguished; for we are already very old, my good man,” he continued, patting the general on the shoulder in a friendly way.
"It is true," replied the latter; We have known each other for more than forty years, and since that time our mutual affection has offered us very sweet consolations. ". !,„.(-
While M. Dupayel and M. Godelin thus recalled their early years, Ernestine and Hermance sat down side by side, feeling mutually attracted and disposed to form a sweet bond.
The general's daughter was not pretty; and yet the gentle expression of her features gave her countenance a charm more seductive than beauty. Strangers could not see Hermance without immediately loving him; but the people who had the good fortune to be admitted into the intimacy of the general, and who witnessed the attentive care and the respectful affection which she bore to her aged father, felt not only friendship for her , but even genuine admiration. Hermance had lost his mother when he was very young; her memory still represented her to him, when, on her deathbed, she had addressed these words to him, which her daughter never forgot: “I am dying, my dear child: I leave you alone here below to console your father; never give him trouble: may he find tenderness and consolation in you. As she finished these words, she expired. Hermance was then seven years old. Poor child! so young, and already so unhappy! How many tears she shed when she saw all the sad funeral preparations: those candles illuminating with their dark light the inanimate body of the one who could no longer guide her youth, help her with her experience and cover her with her gentle caresses!
The unfortunate young girl spent the night praying on her knees near the coffin; then, when they came to snatch the mortal remains of her mother, she let out heart-rending cries. “0 ma-
man! she said convulsively enjoining her hands, so it's over! I will stay here without you! O my God, I will be very wise, very obedient, give me back my mother, or reunite me with her forever! I want to die too! And her complaints died away in tears that suffocated her. Suddenly she thinks of her father; it seems to him that his mother's last accents still strike his ear, so present are they in his memory: "I leave you alone here below to console your father!" she repeated in the solemn tone her dying mother had assumed; and, in spite of this exhortation, I weep alone and without thinking of him! Then she wiped away her tears with a resignation that Heaven suddenly sent her, and went through the deserted apartments without meeting the one she was looking for.
Locked up in a small dark cabinet, the general, alone and seated on a sofa, gave free rein to his tears and his groans. Hermance, having heard his complaints, threw himself into his arms. " My father! she exclaimed, let us weep together today, that will relieve us; but, from tomorrow, I want your sorrow to ease. Mom ordered me to comfort you, I will never stop cherishing you. Oh ! I'll love you for two, since the good Lord took me away mom! So spoke the poor child. The general took her in his arms, and hugged her silently against his chest.
This lugubrious and painful scene, so keenly felt by Hermance, inspired him with precocious reflections on the short duration of existence, and veiled with a deep melancholy his childish thoughts. She presented on earth the living image of suffering and resignation, and seemed to attach some importance to life only because of her father.
The general paid for his filial devotion with the most tender return. Worried by the pallor of his darling daughter, and by the sad smile which replaced on her face the noisy and expansive gaiety of childhood, he believed in leading her into society to restore to her the joy which she had lost; but such a striking contrast with the solitary tastes of the young girl, far from distracting her, increased her grief still more. She could not share the mad gaiety of people whose carelessness makes them happy; she resembled a celestial spirit living in the midst of the errors of the earth, the spectacle of which afflicted her. Although still very young, her brow was sad and pensive: she was often compared to a rose which must live and die on a tomb, and whose mysterious perfume one would fear to profane or its flexible stem to break. The general's daughter inspired deep respect and a kind of veneration in all who approached her; they pitied her, everyone cherished her, saying to themselves involuntarily that the earth was not the fatherland of this young girl. If Hermance had not loved the author of his days so much, a cloister would have been the asylum of his choice; the profound peace and the melancholy reveries which are born in solitude, and which raise the soul towards the Creator, would have satisfied the pure desires of the young girl. But Hermanee knew her duties, she was jealous to fulfill them and to complete the mission which a dying mother had entrusted to her; that is why she was happy only with her father; the only pleasures were to prove his tenderness to him by lavishing on him a thousand attentive cares. Besides, she also loved her brother, who was a tender and devoted friend to her. What a celebration for these two lovely children when Jules came to spend the holidays with his family! How many times had the moon surprised them both, in the shade of the acacias in the garden, prolonging their conversations full of sweetness and melancholy! for most often their object was the good mother whom they had lost. At other times the future presented itself pure and brilliant to the gaze of the impetuous young man: “0 my good sister! he said, God willed it, let us know how to resign ourselves: don't we have our excellent father? Insensibly he managed to restore joy to Hermance's heart by the assurances of unfailing tenderness, and by the hope of seeing themselves reunited one day with their mother, from whom nothing could separate them. But when the end of the leave forced the brother and sister to separate, all their courage was shaken, and torrents of tears mingled with the farewells.
The education of a boy is very different from that of a young girl: studying at the same time dead languages, mathematics, history and the arts, Jules saw almost all his time taken up by serious work; barely out of college, he had to enter the Ecole Polytechnique.
Anticipating that afterwards he would have to travel, he could not think without sorrow that he would almost always be away from his father's house.
O my God, he said sometimes, when will I be reunited with my family? when can I take care of my father and console my sister, so sweet and so sad? Am I then destined to see her only in passing, and always agitated by the fear of hearing the hour strike which must tear me away from her! »
These sad thoughts excited his tears, and at these moments his comrades made vain efforts to make him share their gaiety.
Soon a new grief came over Jules and his sister; the general was ordered to go to Africa. The good father, fearing for Hermance the fatigues of a long and painful journey, an often perilous crossing, the sad influence of a climate so different from that of the north, wanted to entrust his daughter to Madame la Comtesse de Menval, who told him maternal tenderness. The courageous child would not consent to this separation.
“No, no, my father! she cried, I want to share your fatigues. Who would comfort you if you became unhappy? which hand would heal your wounds? No, you won't be cruel enough to leave me here! »
The general, overcome by the entreaties of his daughter, who held him close to her heart, finally consented to his request. Throughout the crossing, Hermance suffered weakly from this terrible malady which often makes the most robust men turn pale. Sitting on the deck, in the midst of the happy sailors, she tasted a new sensation filled with charms as she gazed with delight at this immense sheet of plain blue water, a magnificent work of God.
Often completely absorbed in a sweet reverie, at the sight of this majestic spectacle, she took pleasure in meditating on pious and holy subjects; but soon the gay refrains of the sailors came to tear him from his reflections and bruise his heart, filled with melancholy thoughts.
The crossing was short and pleasant. Upon discovering land, the crew burst into transports of joy. The general and his daughter were received with the honors due to their rank; a band of warriors played fanfares under the balcony from the top of which the general saluted the troops. Hermance felt a sweet satisfaction each time she witnessed the homage paid as much to the qualities as to the rank of her father.
During the two years they spent in Africa, Hermance would have led a pleasant enough life if two painful thoughts had not ceaselessly agitated her. Each time that her father marched against the enemy, she feared that he might fall victim to her courage, and she was a prey to inexpressible anguish, until the moment when he returned to press her tenderly to his heart, and compensate with a sweet kiss for all she had suffered. The memory of Jules, who had remained alone in France, also altered all the pleasure she might have enjoyed in these half-wild countries; for she liked to gaze at these immense plains where the vegetation is so beautiful that she hardly needs the help of men; where grows beside the palm tree the orange tree with its golden fruits; where tufts of oleanders intertwine with the green branches of large olive trees, whose foliage provides a protective shelter against the heat of a scorching sun. The young girl, deceived by a sweet illusion, thought she was seeing the earthly paradise, while men were reaping the fruits of the earth without having previously watered it with their sweat.
Whatever were the thoughts which filled his heart, Hermance was guided in his actions solely by the devotion which attached him to his father; also, when the general received the order to return to France, she forgot the new troubles which the noise and dissipation of the capital were going to cause her, to share sincerely the joy manifested by the author of her life.
The general received an affectionate farewell, which proved to him how many friends his brilliant courage and his noble qualities had won for him among his comrades in arms and among the former inhabitants of the country.
The African shores soon disappeared from the eyes of our travellers. The general, less in a hurry than on his first crossing, proposed to stop this time in the different towns they were to cross. They disembarked at the port of Toulon, this maritime city which saw Napoleon's first warlike exploits. The arsenal, situated at one end of the port, presents one of the most curious sights in the world; there, object of the just rigors of society, live thousands of criminals hit by human justice, and who for the most part seem, by the perversity of which they parade, to defy the much more formidable judgment that they will have to undergo one day. . They walk two by two, strongly attached by a double chain. What a source of painful meditation for a sensitive and thoughtful mind, the sight of these degraded beings, who seem to take pride in the crimes they expiate!
The general and his daughter, introduced into the interior of the penal colony, experienced such a painful impression that they could not bear the sight of this hideous spectacle, which spreads out under the most beautiful sky in the world. However, not wanting to leave the town without having seen all the curiosities it contains, the old soldier visited the rope factory, at which less culpable convicts work constantly and whose limbs are not chained; the armory especially pleased the general immensely. Imagine an immense building, the walls of which are entirely hidden by weapons of all kinds, of marvelous cleanliness, arrayed in an admirable order, rising in symmetrical piles, grouped in sparkling bundles, rounded in rosettes, contouring in capricious arabesques, and one will have an idea of this imposing collection. They also visited the room of the models, of the same size as the room of weapons; it is filled with small vessels, resembling children's toys, which serve as models for the construction of those large and majestic vessels which are the glory of the French navy. Seeing these immense masses sailing lightly on the waves, it is difficult to understand that they came from the hands of men; we are forced to pay homage to the genius of their builders, and to thank God, who condescended to grant such powerful means of execution to weak mortals.
The surroundings of Toulon are charming; nature shows herself everywhere fertile and gracious. On one side, the eye is lost in the immensity of the plains, while, on the other, hills shaded by pine and ancient oak offer picturesque and enchanting sites; the air is perfumed with wild violets or thyme, which is almost always in bloom. The gentle influence of the climate of these fertile lands extends even to the character of its happy inhabitants: the peasant and the cultivator, free from all fears, hum while working cheerful ditties, for the ploughshare is never stopped. by snow or ice.
Hermance, impatient to see again a brother whom she loved dearly, paid little attention to these beautiful countrysides, the aspect of which gave her father infinite pleasure. The young girl was not truly joyful until, locked in the carriage, she saw the lands which separated her from the object of her affection flee behind her. However, fearing to cause some grief to her father, she hid her impatience and accompanied him to Marseilles, one of the richest and most commercial cities of France.
Marseille is a well-built city, but devoid of remarkable monuments, except the cathedral and the stock exchange. The port, one of the largest and most convenient in existence, is constantly filled with merchant ships, waiting for the products which they must transport to distant lands. Live to acquire seems to be the motto of the good Provencals of this country. The countryside is not as beautiful there as in the Var department; high walls surround the city; you have to go very far to find pleasant countryside; the dust raised by the wind called the mistral often discourages pedestrians and makes them give up a long walk.
How often drought causes fear for the harvest! We ask God for a beneficent rain, waiting, like an unheard of happiness, for this so pure sky to be veiled at last with clouds, and to spread abundance on the earth with celestial dew. Every morning the peaceful owner opens his window tremblingly, hoping that his wishes will be granted; and, completely discouraged, he despairs while contemplating these brilliant rays of the sun which so many other climates envy to our southern countries.
The people of Provence are generally very religious. There is a pretty chapel on a mountain dedicated to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. This hermitage is in great veneration among the sailors; often, on the verge of being shipwrecked, the unfortunate travelers glimpse it through the mists and the storm, like the beacon of their last hope: in this terrible moment, those who are animated by a naive and sincere faith commend themselves to the holy Virgin.
Their confidence was never betrayed: they approach the port, protected by the divine Spirit, who watches over those who believe. Transported with gratitude, they go in procession to thank, at the foot of the statue of the Virgin-of-the-Guard, their invisible protector. We also have recourse to it when we want rain. In all its sufferings, in all its needs, the country turns to this benevolent and powerful mediator.
Hermance went to pray in the holy and rustic chapel. She, too, had thanksgiving to render to the benefactress of the travellers; Accompanied by her father, whom she helped to climb, they admired together the many herds grazing on the flowery lawn that adorns the hill on which the hermitage is located.
However, Hermance could no longer hide from his father his desire to return to Paris. The general, no doubt sharing it, promised not to stop until the end of their long journey; as proof of his resolution, he wrote to Jules, fixing to him the approaching time of his arrival.
Jules received this letter with transport: every day he accused time of being slow, and counted impatiently the moments which still separated him from his father and his sister.
This fortunate day was not long in arriving, and soon all the members of this so united family forgot in tender embraces their past anxieties and the sufferings of a long separation. Jules had made progress which satisfied the general; he was soon to leave the Ecole Polytechnique, and stay with his family for some time, before going to the post assigned to him. The good general was justly proud of his two children. Indeed, they were both such as a father's heart could desire them.
The preceding details must have made the friend whom M. Dupayel gave his niece sufficiently well known. The relationship which existed in the loving and virtuous hearts of Hermance and Ernestine gave birth almost immediately, between the two young people, to a tender sympathy which was not long in changing into a friendship as lasting as lively, because it was based on virtue. But let's go back to when we left the new friends, seeing each other for the first time in Mr. Dupayel's living room.
The dinner passed off cheerfully, for the general's outbursts and his old friend never ceased. For their part, the two young people, placed side by side, had promptly come to an understanding, and mutually made a thousand promises to see each other often.
"You will tell me what you have seen in your long travels," said Ernestine; it must be a very great pleasure to constantly visit new countries.
'For me,' answered Hermance, 'I prefer the sedentary and uniform life of the countryside; you must have been very happy when you lived in this pretty solitude situated on the banks of the Seine! Oh ! if you only knew how happy I am! my father and I have formed the most seductive plans for the future! we will leave Paris as soon as he retires, which cannot be long because of his age and his numerous wounds.
"I wish I could live with you!" Ernestine replied.
While talking thus, the two young girls formed those charming dreams which their happy age is so ingenious in inventing; these sweet projects seemed to them chimeras, and yet they were for the most part to be realized one day.
After dinner they passed into a drawing-room where the company gave themselves up to a lively and amiable conversation. M. Dupayel and the general played a game of trictrac, while other people were asking various games for an innocent diversion. While Madame Dorival was chatting with older people, Ernestine, Hermance and Jules, seated on a divan, gave themselves up to the sweet outpourings of friendship.
“I am charmed,” said the young man, addressing Ernestine, “that my sister has finally found a friend like you, whose age, feelings and tastes seem in all respects to match hers. When I am no longer with her, the sweet certainty of knowing that she has such an amiable companion will lessen the torments of absence for me.
- Oh ! I promise you to love her, cried Ernestine quickly, placing her lips on the forehead of her friend, who received this mark of tenderness with joy.
"Hermance is an excellent person," continued Jules; but she makes the very serious mistake of covering all objects with the somber colors which her melancholy imagination casts on all her thoughts. If the smile appears on his lips, it is a faint and fleeting gleam like lightning. I try, and often without success, to bring back to her soul a joy that she takes pleasure in pushing away. I even noticed that around her I also become, without really knowing why, taciturn and sad. Come on, beautiful dreamer, he said tenderly taking Hermance's hand, imitate this friend that Heaven has sent you: become cheerful like her.
"I'm not always as cheerful as I seem to you today," Ernestine went on. This morning again I cried for a long time.
- Cry! said Jules; why, then?
- Oh ! I dare not tell you.
“You pique my curiosity; come on, tell us your little sorrows; we will share them, and that will sweeten them.
"You may laugh at my simplicity.
- Never ! Never ! exclaimed both brother and sister.
- Well! said Ernestine, accustomed to the secluded and free life of the country, I cannot get used to the cruel customs of the city. I hate the toilet, for example.
"It doesn't seem like it," replied Jules, laughing.
This is the subject of my affliction, continued Ernestine naively. Am I not very unhappy to be thus upset in my tastes? I will never be happy in the midst of a world where you have to do the opposite of what you like.
"Dear Ernestine," said Hermance, with a lively feeling of pleasure, on seeing that she had at last met someone who thought like her, and who would certainly know how to understand her silent grief and respond to her sighs; dear Ernestine, she said, sometimes obliged to conform to the bizarre laws of society, we would like to find ourselves together, to compensate ourselves for the annoyance it will impose on us; we will moan together...
- God ! how fun it will be! replied Jules eagerly. I was counting on you, Miss-
saddle, to make my sister happy again; and you also need consolation! »
This apostrophe made them all laugh.
"Jules," Hermance said to his brother, "when will you stop ridiculing anything that doesn't come from a dizzy head like yours?"
— My dear sister, I do more justice than you seem to believe to serious thoughts when they are useful; but I do not want, like Heraclitus, that philosopher who wept incessantly over human errors, to abandon myself to a useless melancholy, which destroys health and happiness. However, I would not like to fall into another excess, and laugh at everything; but I believe that one must avoid abandoning oneself without reason to a vague sadness, which is a real illness of the mind. »
The good young man loved his sister with all the strength of his soul; it was therefore in no way to annoy her that he thus blamed Hermance's habitual tendencies: he had the praiseworthy desire to snatch her from a natural melancholy which he believed must be fatal to her.
Ten o'clock had just struck from the rich clock which adorned M. Dupayel's mantelpiece: they thought of parting.
"Dear General," said the old man to his friend as he finished the last game of backgammon, which he had lost, "when will I get my revenge?"
"Whenever you wish," replied the soldier. I'm free, let's take the opportunity to see each other often, because at any moment the country may need me. These young girls will not be sorry to see each other again.
'Certainly not,' said Hermance and Ernestine. 'Our greatest desire is to get together as often as possible. »
Each separated, promising to continue such sweet relations.
M. Dupayel was completely cured of his gout: one would have thought he was getting younger, seeing the freedom of his movements and the perfect health that shone on his face. He received people twice a week. Ernestine showed herself constantly amiable and affectionate towards all the persons admitted to her uncle's house; Hermance learned, each time she saw her, to cherish her more.
Ernestine had not ceased to give numerous alms; her usual errands were in no way interrupted by the new obligation in which she found herself to share with her mother the care of doing the honors of her uncle's house. She did not disdain to visit the garrets every day, where she distributed both help and consolation, so sweet and so precious to the unfortunate; she knew how to hide her numerous liberalities with a very rare modesty and discretion. Never a word had escaped her on this subject in her long conversations with Hermance: knowing that the true merit of a benefit consists in hiding it, she concealed her secrets and her happiness in the depths of her soul.
Above all, the pious child had taken good care not to abandon Rosine, her poor protegee; she saw with satisfaction that her lessons in virtue and religion had restored rest to this restless and troubled soul. Work made her quickly pass those long hours of the day, which once seemed eternal to her, and at night she tasted a refreshing sleep. Finally, Rosine, calm and resigned, had recovered a serenity of mind which she had not enjoyed even in the happiest moments of her life.
One day Madame Dorival, getting ready to go out for a walk, of which she had been deprived for a long time, wanted to take Ernestine with her.
Mama, said the young girl to her, I have often spoken to you of my protegee; you showed me your desire to meet her: well, if you want, we'll go and see her today. »
Madame Dorival consented to her daughter's wishes, and ordered the coachman to drive towards the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Ernestine, delighted with her good mother's complaisance, guided her to Rosine's room; the latter was near a small table covered with the paraphernalia of a seamstress; she uttered a cry of joy when she saw the young girl.
"Here is mamma," said Ernestine; she wanted to give me the pleasure of accompanying me to your house. »
Rosine, without daring to raise her eyes to the lady who deigned to visit her, silently
two chairs. During this time Madame Dorival gazed attentively at the stranger, thinking she recognized her features and saying to herself that this woman was certainly not unknown to her. However, she took a seat, awaiting with a kind of anxiety the explanation of a mystery in which she felt herself deeply interested. After reflecting for a long time, while Rosine showed Ernestine her embroidery work and asked her some advice, Madame Dorival exclaimed: "Tell me, Madame, in which country do you receive the day?" »
Rosine raised her head immediately, seeming annoyed at a question she hadn't expected.
"I was born a long way from Paris," she replied.
- Please, satisfy my curiosity, which would seem very excusable to you if you could understand the reason.
"You demand it," replied Rosine sadly.
it was Hyères, in Provence, that saw me born.
- Good Lord ! could it be? cried Madame Dorival. Your real name?
- My sister ! »
At the same time as she uttered this cry from the heart, Madame Dorival pressed her miraculously recovered sister in her arms, and could only express by sobs all the feelings which crowded into her soul. Ernestine, overwhelmed with surprise, could hardly believe everything she saw and heard.
What a state I find you in, poor Clara! exclaimed Madame Dorival.
— Alas! my dear Julie, replied Clara, lowering her head in confusion and weeping bitterly, while you are enjoying all the happiness that irreproachable behavior deserves and procures, I live here a miserable and abandoned existence. »
Madame Dorival blessed Heaven, which returned to her a sister whose fate had often caused her secret torment.
"My dear mamma," said Ernestine to her, "why did you hide your sufferings from me for so long?"
- It is true, my daughter, that I have always kept silence on this subject; but should I afflict you unnecessarily? And yet God, in his profound wisdom, used you to bring back to me this sister who took so much care to avoid my friendship.
'Dear Julie,' replied Clara deeply moved, 'don't accuse my feelings; my silence towards you was a tribute paid to your virtue: I dared not give you the sad spectacle of an existence that had become so miserable through my fault. Often I asked God for the favor of gazing at you without your being able to see me, in order to read on your face that deep calm that innocence and piety give, that pure tranquility that my remorse delighted me with. Alas! I didn't know your destiny, I thought you were in Provence. A letter, the last I received from this country, informed me of our mother's death; I accused myself of having hastened the end of his days by my indifference. 0 Julia! all happiness was reserved for you alone: for you doubtless received with his last sigh his farewell kiss and his tender benediction; while if my name escaped from her dying lips, it was no doubt to curse the day when she gave me life! »
While speaking thus, the unfortunate Clara, succumbing under the weight of her grief, shed a torrent of tears.
"No, my sister," resumed Madame Dorival, "my mother did not curse you." God places too much love in a mother's heart for the resentment of an offense to ever erase it entirely. Her last moments were calm, resigned like those that Heaven sends to a true Christian. »
Madame Dorival, whose sensibility was aroused by the cruel memory of her mother's death, could not resist a painful emotion, which Ernestine keenly shared.
“Finish, my dear Julie, your words spread a salutary balm on my wounds. It is therefore true that my mother did not pronounce the fatal anathema against me! Thanks be to you, O my God! »
As she said these words, Clara raised her hands to Heaven, whose goodness she did not know how to recognize. After a few moments of painful silence, Madame Dorival asked her sister why she had left the lady who had so generously adopted her.
"I am going to tell you in a few words," resumed poor Clara, "what has happened to me since I left you, and the faults of which I have been guilty." I will pass over in silence the faults which I never sought to overcome at an age when it is so easy to correct oneself when one has the firm desire to do so, faults which are the source of all my misfortunes. Proud and vain, I dreamed of wealth from a young age, feeling a deep disgust for this simple asylum where we lived happily. How often did my eyes stop with sadness on the antique and faded furniture which was one day to belong to us! I was indignant at such an unjust fate, and when I saw my image in a mirror, I dared to base a brilliant future, a rapid fortune on the beauty of my features. Such are the thoughts which agitate and dominate the heart of a young person whom a religious education does not shelter from these suggestions of hell. These crazy images in the contemplation of which I delighted pursued me even in sleep: in my dreams, I had castles, palaces, in which I commanded many subjects, always ready to obey my slightest movements. These dreams intoxicated me, and I had the pride and the weakness to believe that they would come true one day. I had reached my thirteenth year, and I saw with a secret despair that until then no change had taken place in my situation. Around this time, a lady who was traveling in Provence to restore her health, finding herself one day with one of our neighbours, and admiring the liveliness of the young Provençales, expressed the desire to attach herself to a young person who would like to give up her family to follow her to Paris. Alone, having lost all her children in succession, she was looking for a companion who, through her friendship and care, could shorten her long hours of boredom. My heart beat with force, and I dared to offer myself; she accepted, and the same day asked for the necessary authorization from our good mother. The latter, who had often moaned about my unfortunate dispositions and who had vainly sought to bring my exalted soul back to religion and simplicity, did not dare refuse a proposal which seemed to fulfill all my wishes. I left you then, Julie, and, I must confess here to my shame, I left you without answering your sad farewells with a single regret, a single tear.
During the trip, I showed myself attentive, grateful and eager to please my protectress, to whom I thought I owed one day that brilliant position which was the goal of all my ambition, the desire and the hope of my heart. This lady, satisfied with my consideration and my respectful attachment, showered me with praise and caresses. A superb hotel was our home in Paris; I had many servants under my orders: I was overjoyed.
Little by little, knowing all the friendship of this lady for me, I allowed my attentions towards her to slow down. A few reproaches on my disobedience and my levity made me understand, without bringing any change in my conduct, that Madame la Comtesse de Maville, endowed with an excellent heart, demanded on the part of her protected submission and consideration, and that she did not I had not forgotten the distance which separated me from her, a distance which her kindness never made me feel and which my vanity hid from my eyes. It was with great sorrow that I made this discovery, so painful for my self-esteem; I could not hide my ambitious projects for long. The reproaches of my protectress, dictated by the tenderest interest, did nothing but attract to her my contempt and almost my hatred; I held it against him, I sulked for whole days. She got angry; one day I even heard her reproach herself aloud for having brought me to Paris. From then on, a declared misunderstanding reigned between us.
Whatever desire I felt to stay forever in this brilliant hotel, I nevertheless made every effort, senseless as I was, to get myself banished from it forever. I did not yet know that kindness, gentleness and virtue alone can lead us to happiness and attract the esteem and benevolence of our fellow men. Madame de Maville fulfilled the duties of a good mother towards me; she exhorted me to work, to a gentle and orderly life; her greatest chagrin was to see my indocility and the coldness with which I repaid her tender solicitude. Sometimes, as he painted for me the hideous picture of the future that was in store for me if I did not seriously think of changing my conduct, tears of compassion escaped from his eyes; but the rebellious young girl who had shown herself deaf to the prayers and remonstrances of a mother was not to yield to the observations of a friend. Although I seemed to listen to him gratefully, I whispered, in my injustice, accusing him of caprices and tyranny: I was destined to furnish a terrible example to ambitious and rebellious young people. »
Continuation of Clara's story.
“Several years passed thus; I had reached my seventeenth year. We then learned of my mother's death; Madame de Maville was sincerely grieved by such an unfortunate event, which seemed to make her the sole arbiter of my destiny, by giving her the rights of the mother I had lost. But, as she was pious, she thought herself committed to God to always protect me.
If I listed for you all the faults of which I kept making myself guilty towards my well-being
maker, you would not deign to forgive me, dear Julie; I will therefore shorten this painful story. Madame de Maville summoned me to her study one day.
“Clara,” she said to me in a serious and solemn tone, “I want to marry you; a virtuous man capable of making you happy made me ask for your hand. Since Heaven has taken your parents away from you, I must replace them in this circumstance; I hope that you will yield to my advice, and that you will not reject the advantageous party which presents itself. In order to prove to you that in taking charge of you I had no other aim than that of assuring your happiness, I am giving you a dowry of twenty thousand francs.
"Who deigns to look at me?" I replied trembling.
"You know him," she said to me, "he's the son of our rich haberdasher."
- What ! I cried, indignant at a proposal so far removed from my dreams of wealth and ambition, "it is such a man you want to give me!" No, Madame, don't expect me to consent to a union so unworthy of me.
- So what are you claiming? replied the Countess, justly irritated. Your inconceivable pride and your ridiculous pretensions will finally tire me; the beneficence and the delicacy of the procedures have limits, when the person towards whom they are exercised is as unworthy of them as you.
“Think about it, Mademoiselle, give me an answer as soon as possible; for I warn you that if you do not yield to my desires, which seem reasonable to me, you can prepare to leave here. »
Back in my room, I gave free rein to my sobs. The match that was proposed to me seemed to me a most cruel humiliation. “Me haberdasher! I exclaimed painfully; I would be lowered to this point! My brilliant fortune and the honors to which I had believed myself destined would therefore ultimately end up at the miserable counter of a petty haberdasher! I will never consent to it, I cried; I prefer to leave this hotel and, since I have the freedom to do so, I will leave. »
No sooner had I taken this bold resolution than I packed up the clothes I
owed to the generosity of Madame de Maville. I I did not forget the jewels she had given me, and I left this protective and hospitable roof one morning, without saying a word to anyone, without letting a sigh, a single tear, on the threshold!
I began to run through the streets of Paris, as fast as if I had been chased. Alas! I had made myself too unbearable for anyone to think of calling me back. It often happens that after having done a bad deed, we reflect too late on the consequences it entails. I was not long in feeling it: seated on a bench on the Boulevard Saint-Martin, I began to think of the sad future that was reserved for me, almost regretting having taken such a desperate decision, which threw me into the middle of a an immense and unknown city, alone and devoid of any human protection. I stood there for more than an hour, not knowing which course to take. Soon, pressed by hunger, I entered a restaurant, without thinking of the singularity presented by my isolation. An old man had been watching me attentively since my arrival. Probably surprised to see me in this place, alone, sad, worried, and his eyes filled with tears, he approached me very respectfully. “Aren't you looking for a job, my child? " he told me. On my affirmative answer, he conducted me to a fine hotel; and immediately introduced me to an old lady whom he called his sister. This lady received me coldly at first, and put a thousand questions to which I answered with an appearance of ingenuity; I took care to greatly amplify what had passed between my protectress and me: I spoke only of her alleged violence to wring my consent to an odious marriage. The air of good faith which reigned in this lying story soon dispelled the suspicions which Madame Durval (thus my new protectress was called) had entertained; she pitied me and showed me the most tender interest from then on, offering to keep me with her until she found a favorable place for me. I accepted this generous offer with feigned gratitude.
M. Durval's sister was very languid; she devoted herself only with difficulty to the tedious details of a household. It was on me that she counted to spare her these cares; she therefore invested me with the title of housekeeper, which greatly displeased me, so much did my self-respect find it difficult to be silent. Thus I had refused to be a haberdasher, and I saw myself condemned to watch over servants, to take care of the linen, in a word, to exercise an active supervision over all the details of a house. I resigned myself at first, forcing myself to hide my affliction; but soon I brought culpable negligence into my new duties. The servants complained of my insulting haughtiness and the cruel empire I exercised over them. The subordinate position in which my benefactors held me also contributed to inspiring me with disgust for them. Sitting at their table, I had to keep silent; several times I tried to strike up a conversation with strangers who had been invited, a stern look from Madame Durval caused my sentence to expire on my lips, which I bit in spite. When we were alone, she used to say to me: “Know then, Clara, that a young girl must know how to make herself admired for her modesty; think that, having no position in the world, you must not seek to make yourself noticed there; do not imitate those free and insane people who speak indiscriminately, fearing very little to attract public blame: modesty is a woman's finest adornment, and silence, on certain occasions, lends her more eloquence and charms. In response, I nodded, unconvinced of these truths so opposed to my ideas.
An old woman whose age had in no way matured her reason, for, in the decline of her days, she was mad and dissipated, habitually frequented the Durval house. This wicked and false woman, jealous of M. Durval's fortune, hid under the appearance of friendship a deep hatred for my protectress, who was far from suspecting her evil designs.
This odious person soon noticed how little I liked the kind of life I led in this house. One day, having remained alone with me in the salon, she spoke to me this way: "Poor young lady, must one, when one is gifted by nature with so
floors, to be forced to vegetate under such severe discipline! “My friend is proud of her wealth, and I'm sure she abuses you often; for these new rich are so ridiculous and so foolishly exacting! »
This language, which would have offended a wise and grateful young girl, pleased me infinitely; I added my sarcasm to his, and we tore without pity the one who had held out her hand to me in my misfortune, and who, on the simple faith of my words, had generously introduced me into the interior of her family. Ungrateful and indiscreet, I revealed to my mistress's enemy her little weaknesses, her most innocent habits, which I presented from an odious and ridiculous point of view. I was only too well encouraged by my cruel confidante, who, under the guise of friendship, wanted to plunge me into an abyss of misfortune.
My benefactress, more and more ill, consulted the doctors, who ordered her distraction as a salutary remedy. M. Durval bore her a lively affection, of which she showed herself worthy by the friendship which she herself had vowed to him. This good brother, hoping to provide
his sister amusements favorable to his health, invited him safely to their acquaintances, and they left me alone at the hotel during the long winter evenings. One day I heard M. Durval speak of a concert for the benefit of the poor; thanks to his pressing entreaties, his sister promised to accompany him there. The old lady who had become my evil genius was at home then. Remaining with me, she did not fail to tell me with feigned sadness that she had been outraged at the lack of consideration they had for me. “What do we want to do with you? she said to me: do they want to condemn your youth to a sad seclusion? If Mademoiselle Durval felt the slightest affection for you, she would certainly not have refused to take you with her. »
I was only too ready to listen to these baleful insinuations, and soon showed myself as irritated as if I had really received a gross offence. After having perfidiously confirmed me in these feelings, the bad counsellor, who had just conceived an infernal project, suddenly exclaimed: “Clara, if you like, we will go to this concert tomorrow evening; your business being over, nothing can prevent you from disposing of the evening as you please. »
This invitation transported me with joy. Go to the concert, in the world; to excite general admiration by my beauty, which I so complacently knew how to exaggerate, was my secret wish, my most ardent desire: to offer myself to go to this concert was to offer myself more than I would have dared to hope; so I accepted with extreme eagerness.
In the intoxication of my joy, I began to review all my dresses to find the freshest and most elegant. Soon, finding none that suited me, I sighed sadly. “Child,” said the wicked old woman to me, “at your age and with your face, one is always quite dressed up: you will be the prettiest at this concert. »
This coarse flattery sufficed to bring back a smile to my lips, and my caressed vanity persuaded me that no one was more worthy of my friendship and my confidence than she who had so well managed to find means of submitting me to her fatal influence.
The concert was to take place the next day. Mademoiselle Durval was doing her modest dressing; I helped her in these various details, rejoicing in my heart at deceiving her. I pictured to myself her surprise when she saw me in the room, and the fine triumph I was going to obtain in her eyes by the effect I could not fail to produce. Scarcely had Mademoiselle Durval and her brother left when the lady arrived. “Come now,” she said to me, “hurry up and get dressed, for a cab is waiting for us at the door. In order to be ready sooner, I turned everything upside down in my room; my companion, who seemed as impatient as I, helped me arrange everything; she herself took care of doing my hair: as she told me that I had to put flowers in my hair, when I had my hair done I hastened to put on the top of my head an enormous bouquet of hydrangeas torn from a hat.
We soon arrived; the concert had just begun. On entering the room, I was struck by the bright, brilliant light of the chandeliers, which brought out the elegant finery of the ladies. When I had recovered from this first emotion, I was not long in realizing how much my toilet, of which I had had such a good opinion at first, differed from that of the people around me. However, my habitual vanity came to my aid, and if I counted less on my finery, I still relied on my own merit.
During the intervals which separated the different pieces, I saw a few telescopes move towards me, then a crowd of eyes were fixed on me; believing the moment of my success had arrived, I strutted about and put myself out there as much as possible. However, the general attention seemed to be fixed more and more on us; I heard whispers and stifled laughter beside me which seemed to me to be a bad omen, and the people with whom we were found seemed to be trying to get away from us, as if to testify that they were not from our society and that they refused to show any solidarity with us.
My heart sank more and more as I noticed these menacing symptoms. Soon we laughed louder and more often around us, and a group of young people who were not far from me often gave themselves up to bursts of gaiety for which I felt we were paying the price; finally one of these young people, who looked at us in such a way as to make me blush, exclaimed loud enough for me to hear him: “Where does this caricature come from? "Do you ever see such a hairstyle?" "Do you like hydrangeas?" we put it everywhere.”
These words and others not less cruel, which I half understood, made me understand only too well the kind of effect I produced, and threw me into the greatest confusion. Out of myself, and barely able to hold back my tears, I said to my companion: “Let's get out of here, I'm going to be sick. And saying these words I led this wicked woman out of the room, whom I overwhelmed with reproaches interspersed with bitter tears.
Back at the hotel, I retired to my room, where I gave vent to my pain. Two hours later, I heard M. Durval's equipage rolling in the yard; the concert was over: fatal concert, to which I had attached so many hopes, which had changed into cruel humiliations!
I did not sleep all night, so agitated and tormented was I by the painful emotions which had so violently offended my self-respect. When my eyes closed in spite of myself, I thought I could still hear the sounds of music and especially those prolonged laughs that my foolish pretension had attracted.
The next day, I silently resumed the course of my occupations. Hoping to have escaped during the cruel evening of the previous evening from the gaze of my protectors, I went with some firmness to the dining room. On seeing me, Mademoiselle Durval assumed a serious and displeased air.
“Clara,” she said to me, “you went to the concert yesterday without asking my permission; you have failed in the duties imposed on you by the submission and recognition you owe us; moreover, you have shown an unpardonable levity in going to a place where a modest and virtuous young girl should only go accompanied by her mother or her substitute. So you have experienced all the bitter consequences; I have heard remarks that would make anyone other than you blush: everyone wondered who you were, where you came from; you have been subject to annoying comments, which you could have spared yourself if you were not driven by an insatiable desire to shine. Despite all the interest that your sad situation inspired in us, we can no longer keep at home a young girl who at such a tender age announces vices made to wither and spoil her whole existence later on; it is painful for us to tell you to look for another job from this day on; but we warn you that henceforth all relations must cease between us. »
Humiliated, but unrepentant, I leaned my head on my chest, not answering a single word. I counted on the support and protection of the old lady who had brought me this misfortune. I made my package, and without thanking my profiteers, without asking their forgiveness, I hurriedly left the hotel and headed for the home of the one I called my friend. »
End of Clara's story. - Conclusion.
“I found my companion from the day before in a room that could have passed for a menagerie: a big cat was in front of the fire, near two dogs lying limply on a large armchair; a parakeet uttered an incomprehensible jargon, and several birds with deafening warbling completed this grotesque gathering.
"There you are, Clara," she said to me; I bet you were fired.
'Yes, Madame,' I replied, 'I now find myself unemployed; but fortunately I have confidence in your perfect friendship.
"And that's why you come to my house?" interrupted that wicked woman; it is very well reasoned, in truth. So you don't know, you little fool, that I have no fortune, and that I can do nothing for you, absolutely nothing.
- Oh! you might well, I think, keep me until I find a house where I am happier than I was with Mlle Durval.
"So what do you need to be happy?" she told me. Ah! I understand: you would like to become your mistress, and not deny yourself any approval. Know then that, when one does not possess any wealth, one must know how to attract by one's gentleness and docility the benevolence of others, and especially of those to whom fate submits us.
'You didn't talk to me like that,' I replied, surprised at his language, 'and without you I would still be at Mlle. Durval's.
'No, no, you wouldn't have stayed there. My friend often spoke to me of your haughtiness, the stiffness of your character and your wild pretensions. No, Clara, you would not have stayed there; you have hastened your disgrace only a few days.
"What will become of me now?" I exclaimed; I see it, you do not deign to
interested in my fate.
"I couldn't, even if I wanted to." You see the large family that surrounds me: these dear little ones absorb all my friendship, and my low income is barely enough for us. »
Seeing the cruel way in which this selfish old woman treated me, I left her, not without having first told her all that I thought of the falsity of her character.
I was soon in the street, as unhappy as when the charitable M. Durval met me. I still did not suffer enough; God was too good to me, because I had never thought of winning his protection by rising to him through prayer.
What a lesson I have just received! I exclaimed, sorry for everything that was happening to me; it is therefore true that kindness and submission alone attract us sincere friends! I feel right now that ingratitude always bears bitter fruit. Wasn't I lacking in gratitude towards Madame de Maville and Mademoiselle Durval? I am well punished! Ah! if some benevolent person deigned to grant me protection, I would henceforth watch over myself with extreme care.
Such were the reflections to which I gave myself up; but these laudable resolutions had only the duration of a flash; my vanity and my laziness soon took over all my other feelings.
After having walked for a long time in Paris, I thought of getting myself a room. At that moment I read above a door: Hotel de Provence; this word Provence produced a magical effect on me, and awakened a host of memories in my heart.
"Let's come in here," I said to myself, "perhaps the name of my country will be favorable to me." » I ask for a room; a small apartment was given to me. After putting my things in a chest of drawers and counting my money, which amounted to about a hundred francs, I went downstairs and asked for dinner. I sat down at a small table; I was looking through the Petites- Affiches when suddenly my eyes rested on the following notice: A lady wants a well-bred young lady for companion.
“That's what I need, I said to myself with joy, I was quite right to hope that this hotel would bring me happiness. As soon as I had finished my meal, I made my way to the Marais district, where the lady's house was located. After I told a servant my name and the object of my visit, I remained alone for a moment in the antechamber; soon he ushered me into a salon. The mistress of the hotel was seated on a rich ottoman; two young girls of rare beauty stood beside her. I stood in the doorway, not daring to approach.
“Advance without fear,” she said to me kindly. Where are you from?
"I read about the Petites-Posters...
"Good, good," she answered, interrupting me; no doubt you have guarantors?”
So I told him the same lies as to Madame Durval.
She reflected for a few moments; then she continued thus: "If it is true that you are an orphan, I will take you on trial, and, if you agree with me, we will arrange things later."
Satisfied beyond my hopes, I ran to fetch my little package, and soon I was back at the hotel of Madame la Baronne de Marcy.
Scarcely had I installed myself in the room which was intended for me, when the Baroness's two daughters came to see me there.
Laurette and Flora were their names: these two young girls combined perfect beauty with charming goodness and candor.
They wanted to help me put away my things, and without waiting for my answer, they took off the big shawl which hid the poverty of my clothes. Judging their feelings by mine, I felt the blush rise to my brow at the thought that they were witnesses to my misery; but they did not notice it, so different was their heart from mine.
So they came to tell us that they were expecting us for dinner. An old man, father of Madame la Baronne, and her husband made up the whole family. The baroness introduced me to these two gentlemen, who addressed me a gracious and benevolent bow, to which I replied in a respectful manner.
This happy family possessed the solid and amiable virtues which make one find charm in the interior of a house: work and entertainment shared the hours of the day. Laurette and Flora were well educated; they possessed to a very high degree several arts of pleasure: after having usefully filled the day, they knew how to occupy their evenings in an agreeable manner, and distract their parents, either by making music, or by indulging in innocent amusements. Laurette excelled on the harp, and Flora touched the piano with rare skill. Soon to my other faults was added the dreadful torment of jealousy: so true is it that a heart where religion does not reign is successively a prey to all the vices, and that all the attacks of the devil find it defenceless. Pushing ingratitude to the point of ignoring the care that these amiable children took to make my destiny sweeter, I was not long in envying their fate.
“Clara,” the good Laurette would say to me sometimes, “I don't like to see you so sad; take confidence in us, mother will never abandon you. And the young girl, believing me to be as candid as she was, tenderly placed a kiss on my forehead, which was covered with redness, feeling herself unworthy of such a favour.
Barely three months had passed since my entry into this house, and I had already drawn reproaches from Madame de Marcy: sometimes it was for my abruptness towards everyone, sometimes for the nonchalance that I displayed in executing his orders. One day she reproached me more severely than usual for the continual absent-mindedness I showed during the duration of the mass, where I accompanied her every Sunday. Could it be otherwise? I brought to this religious ceremony a heart empty of love and faith for the Creator!
Madame de Marcy entertained a brilliant company during the long winter evenings. Laurette and Flora saw with extreme pleasure the approach of this cold season, so pleasant for the rich and so sad for the unfortunate. For several days they had been rehearsing on their instruments, in order to please their parents, the various pieces which they were to perform at a party given by their mother. This evening so impatiently awaited finally arrived. Mme de Marcy made me wash, insisting that I stay in the salon. Already several people had arrived; the gaming tables were beginning to fill up; a group of young people surrounded Laurette and her sister. Sitting next to the two young girls, I imagined that my self-esteem was so excessive that all these great personages cast on me only a furtive glance of disdain, perhaps of commiseration. Preoccupied with these sad thoughts, I was unaware of the misfortune that awaited me.
Around ten o'clock in the evening, the two leaves of the drawing-room door open, and I hear an announcement, O disgrace! Madame the Countess of Maville. This name rang in my ears like a death sentence. A cold sweat covered my brow when I saw my first protectress advance towards Madame de Marcy and take her place at her side: I wished at that moment that the earth would open up to swallow me up. I pushed my chair back a little, hoping to escape his gaze, hiding behind the young people who were standing next to Flora, whose brilliant acting they admired. Suddenly the door opens again, and I see Mr. and Mrs. Durval. Oh! I thought to myself in the confusion into which their appearance threw me, it is a veritable conspiracy! My head was lost... I am convinced that if someone had spoken to me, the inconsistency of my answers would have made me take myself for a madwoman. I wanted the music to last forever; but it ceased, and the young people who hid me returned to their places.
I could not long avoid the looks of so many people I was known to; soon I saw Madame de Marcy conversing with Mademoiselle Durval and Madame de Maville, and I felt faint when I thought of all the faults these three people had to reproach me for. My fate was not long in doubt: Madame de Maville, approaching me without affectation, ordered me, in a dry tone which was not usual for her, to retire immediately to my room; I barely had the strength to obey.
When I was alone, I abandoned myself to a violent pain, and I made belated reflections on all the faults I had committed. “There then,” I said to myself, “here is where my inconsistency and my foolish vanity have led me. I filled with contempt for me benevolent and charitable people, under whose protection I could live happy and considered. A vain ambition, a ridiculous vanity, made me reject the happiness that was offered to me, and I will again find myself reduced to despair and delivered to the sufferings of misery and isolation! The faults I have committed will now pursue me everywhere, my existence is now branded by my fault and doomed to misfortune. »
Such were the cruel thoughts that agitated me during the last night that I spent at Madame de Marcy's hotel. The next day, early in the morning, a servant came to put an end to it by telling me that Madame la Baroness was waiting for me in her room. I went there trembling.
"Mademoiselle," Madame de Marcy said to me, "persons who know you thought it their duty to inform me of your past conduct." You must have understood already that it is impossible for you to stay here; I cannot keep with my daughters a young person accustomed to lying and given over to mad vanity: they could not receive examples of religion and virtue from you, so I must send you away. Come on, Mademoiselle Clara, try to find a place elsewhere; try above all that this lesson reminds you of the principles of wisdom and piety which alone can ensure happiness here below; you are going to leave the hotel this very morning; but as I don't want to expose you to misery and its dangerous temptations, here is what should protect you from need until you have found a job. »
As she said these words, Madame de Marcy handed me a well-stocked purse, which I took without even
thank her, I was so humiliated and beside myself. I left firmly resolved not to apply for a job anywhere. "I'll be free, I said to myself, and no one will have the right to make me blush anymore." So I rented a small room, determined to earn my living there by my work. However, I still lacked the courage and perseverance necessary to carry out such a project; I always put off until the next day to look seriously for work; my savings were diminishing every day, and I saw the need which already presented itself to me in the most hideous forms.
I will not spread before you the sad story of the new errors into which my unfortunate inclinations led me. There are no real conversions except those which are due to religion: without it all the morality of the world cannot lead back to good in a lasting way. I still had many wrongs, and, always running after a vain phantom of happiness, I dragged on a constantly suffering and unhappy life. The memory of my mother alone could prevent me from falling to the last degree of degradation, and preserve me from complete loss; however, I changed my name, for I was above all afraid of being recognized in the horrible misery into which my unfortunate faults had plunged me.
Good advice no longer held sway over me, and religion alone could prevail in my heart over the vices which had taken root there. One day as I was strolling through a deserted corner of the Luxembourg garden my misery and my sad reflections, I was accosted by a worthy old man who had been observing me for some time and who, sensitive to the sighs which were exhaled from my chest, asked kindly about my position and my needs. I wanted to avoid it, so afraid was my embittered soul of revealing its torments and remorse. His kindness made him insistent; he kept me with him, forced me to accept a few pieces of gold, and promised to find me work. The charitable interest he showed me had touched me for a moment, and a few tears had relieved my oppressed heart; but I was so attached to my habits of laziness, that I postponed from day to day going to this generous man to seek the work he had promised me, and I ended by no longer daring to present myself there. Besides, I found a kind of bitter sweetness in the excess of my ills, and one would have said that I did not want to lose the right I thought I had to complain about fate.
At the time when this angel appeared to me, I lived ignominiously on precarious alms, and my spirit was too restless, too agitated, for me to be able to devote myself to work with continuity and perseverance. Lying on my miserable pallet, which I watered with tears, I invoked death with loud cries. The time that I could have usefully employed in improving my position, I wasted in useless complaints, blaming fate for all my misfortunes, for which I should have blamed myself alone. I reveled in the dark despair that had seized me: prey to the most poignant moral tortures, I suffered in advance a part of the torments that await the guilty in unhappy eternity.
It was reserved for your daughter to get me out of this horrible situation: her voice, which penetrated
deliciously my heart by the resemblance that I found to yours, oh my dear Julie, his angelic kindness, tore me from despair and shame. I hope to redeem part of my wrongs by the wisdom of my conduct, and the complete confidence that I now have in Providence; for if God did not watch over us incessantly, and if he did not forgive the wrongs for which we feel sincere regret, would you be there in my poor garret? would I be reunited with you, with my tender and good sister? »
On ceasing to speak, poor Clara, exhausted with fatigue, fell at her sister's knees and begged her for a generous pardon. Madame Dorival picked her up.
"Your wrongs are serious, my dear friend," she said to her, "but they are not serious enough to close the way to salvation to you." The crimes of the earth cannot exceed the immense mercy of the Lord. Your sincere repentance has already brought upon you the clemency of the Almighty, since he finally returns you to a family who cherishes you. »
Madame Dorival, questioned in her turn on the present situation, told her sister all the events of her life. Her uncle's extreme kindness was not forgotten. “Come, Clara,” she said to him; come and share the fortune of our mother's brother: we have often spoken of you, and, from what I could understand, he regretted having only one niece to cherish.
"Good Julie, that's too much!" Far from claiming such generous forgiveness, of which I am unworthy, I only ask for a little compassion for myself. I want to end my career in penance: no, I don't want to go back into the world. It is in solitude, and in the midst of remorse and prayer, that an existence must end, the beginning of which was marked by such a deplorable forgetfulness of Christian virtues. »
Madame Dorival, Ernestine and Clara got into the car to go to see their uncle. M. Dupayel was beginning to worry about the long absence of his nieces, when the rolling of the carriage put an end to his tender solicitude. Ernestine was the first to throw herself into his arms. Clara could not restrain a cry of surprise and fear on recognizing her uncle for the old man who had given her alms in the Luxembourg: she threw herself at the knees of her mother's brother imploring his forgiveness, without daring to raise her eyes, in the fear of seeing him irritated.
M. Dupayel did not know what to think, then recalling his memories:
"So it was my niece that I was helping without knowing it," he said. This interest so strong, so powerful that you inspired me is finally explained to me! While speaking thus, the virtuous old man lifted up the unfortunate Clara, whom he dared not yet press to his heart, fearing that he would not be able to esteem her.
Madame Dorival understood her uncle's thought. "Kiss her, uncle," she cried; Clara has never failed in honor. The unfortunate woman has long expiated the wrongs of inconsistency, laziness and pride. May your forgiveness complete the purification!
"God be praised!" replied M. Dupayel, moved to tears; then, raising his hands to heaven and bringing them back to Clara's head, who had knelt down, he said to her: “Daughter of my sister, may Heaven's forgiveness descend on your head with my blessing. »
It was in vain that they wanted to keep the repentant Clara in Paris: she felt the need of retirement, she consented to live in the pretty solitude so dear to her sister and to Ernestine.
Eight days later she was taken to this delicious asylum, which everyone saw again with lively joy.
“Dear child,” said Clara to Ernestine, “promise me to come and visit me sometimes, don't neglect your work; yes, I am happy to tell you: I owe you my conversion and my happiness.”
Madame Dorival felt an inexpressible satisfaction at finally knowing that her sister, whose fate had secretly occupied her constantly, was henceforth safe from all danger.
General Godelin wanted to put the last seal of happiness on the destiny of this interesting family. Having obtained his retirement, he wished to live with his old friend, and he believed he could not better ensure their reunion than by asking for his son Ernestine's hand, which was granted to him with joy. Thus these two virtuous families brought together became one.
My young readers will, I hope, draw from this story the conviction that true happiness is only found in virtue, and that bad behavior always brings misfortune and remorse in its wake.
END OF ERNESTINE
NELLY or THE YOUNG ARTIST
Birth of Nelly. - Departure of his parents.
M. Justin, son of a rich merchant from Marseilles, had married a young person as remarkable for the qualities of her heart as for her beauty. Everything contributed to the happiness of these virtuous spouses: three little girls named Adèle, Clémence and Nelly, fruits of their union, came to fulfill their wishes.
Mr. Justin had properties in America, where business connections imperiously demanded his presence. Anticipating that her husband's absence would be long, Mrs. Justin would not
not let him go without her: it was decided that Adele and Clemence would accompany their parents on this long and perilous journey.
Little Nelly, still in the arms of her nurse, was the object of much hesitation on the part of her parents, who felt it was hard to abandon her; but she was still too young and of too delicate a temperament to bear the fatigues of a long journey. Besides, would the nurse agree to leave her husband, her children? This thought was hardly admissible. Finally, after having formed a thousand projects, abandoned as soon as they were conceived, the couple decided that little Nelly should be left in France.
M. Justin had a younger brother in Marseilles who engaged in commerce; this brother was united to a virtuous wife; and both felt a deep sorrow every day at not having a child. It was to their care that Mr. and Mrs. Justin entrusted Nelly, begging them to watch over her as over their own daughter. Mr. Justin young having accepted with joy, the parents, calm on the future of Nelly made their preparations for departure. Adèle and Clémence, like all children, liked the change very much: they jumped for joy when they went with their mother to visit the merchant ship on which they were to make the crossing. Soon everything was ready for departure, we only waited for the favorable wind to set sail. When the moment of separation arrived, it was sad and solemn for both families. A separation as long as it seemed to be could not take place without deep sorrow. In order to shorten its duration, we promised each other a thousand times to write to each other. Poor Nelly's mother especially felt her heart breaking; she kept repeating to her sister-in-law: "Love my my child, take the place of her mother, teach her to pronounce our name and to cherish us, train her in virtue." As she spoke thus, the voice of the poor mother was lost in her emotion and in tears. Nelly's aunt made a sacred pledge never to abandon her, whatever might happen, and to take as much care of her upbringing as if she were her own daughter.
Let Mr. Justin Senior sail quietly with his family towards the shores of America; let's stay in Marseilles, near Mr. Justin young and his worthy companion. For a long time this woman, endowed with a good and sensitive nature, felt the pain of a separation all the more cruel because it had been unforeseen; she loved her husband's parents as her own. “Oh! she sometimes said to herself, why did the interest and the desire for wealth come to break our so sweet relations and destroy my happiness! Do we know, alas! when we separate, if we will ever see each other again! O my God, watch over these dear travellers, and deign to protect them! »
Time, which knows how to lessen the most stinging pains, came to bring calm to his sadness. Eight months later, a letter from America helped to console her completely; Mr. Justin wrote to his brother that the trip had been very short and very pleasant, and that his whole family enjoyed perfect health. This good news was received with extreme pleasure.
Each time the nurse brought Nelly to her aunt, it was with transports of joy that this good relative pressed her to her heart and repeated in a low voice: "She's my daughter now, I'll always love her." At two years old, Nelly was very intelligent; her patience and gentleness made her dear to her nurse, who was distressed at the thought that she would soon have to part with her. For his part, the child showed for her nurse, whom she believed her mother, a boundless tenderness. Mrs. Justin waited impatiently for the moment to call her little niece home. When Nelly had reached her third year, the good woman was notified of the order to bring her back; it was on the one hand a day of celebration, and on the other a day of sorrow, when the little girl was placed back in the arms of her parents. To console the poor peasant girl, who wept bitterly, they promised to take the child sometimes to her cottage, which was not far away. Nelly cried out when she saw her nurse leave this time without her, which made her aunt predict that she would have a sensitive and grateful heart. Nelly cried out when she saw her nurse leave this time without her, which made her aunt predict that she would have a sensitive and grateful heart. She gave him toys, sweets, which she immediately threw away without looking at them; she was rolling in despair on the living room carpet calling for her mother, the only one she knew.
Mrs. Justin was sorry; she overwhelmed him with kisses, which Nelly erased with her small hand. Then, when she examined her aunt's apartment, so different from the one where she had been brought up; when her eyes fell on her aunt's elegant toilet, which seemed singular to her by comparing it to that of her nurse, she hid behind a screen and closed her eyes so as not to see these unknown objects.
Little by little Nelly ends up getting used to this new life; she transferred to Madame Justin all the attachment she had had for her nurse, without, however, ceasing to love the latter. She followed her aunt throughout the house with a caressing air, and often amused her by the ingenuousness of her questions and her witty retorts. She was taught prayers at an early age, which she was very fond of repeating; she often aroused the tenderness of the company assembled in the drawing-room by kneeling down and praying aloud to God. Everything she heard developed her ideas; everything was a subject of interest to his young imagination.
One day she asked her aunt where her mother was.
'I must have one,' she told him, 'since the one in the countryside is not mine, as you told me. I wish you were my mother; but you are only my aunt. Where is she then? is she in heaven?
'No, no, my daughter,' replied the aunt, 'your mother is very far from here, in America; she felt a lot of grief leaving you here alone; but I hope she will come back soon. You also have two little sisters who love you very much. »
So Nelly wanted to know their names, and from that day she added to her prayers: "My God, you who are so good and so powerful, deign to bring back Mama, Adele and Clemence quickly!" »
Nelly was barely four years old when she showed so much reason and sensitivity. Madame Justin had often noticed in her a precocious intelligence which already made her find in this child a pleasant company; she took pleasure in talking with her, and in instructing her in the duties and obligations which one contracts at birth.
“By following my advice, my beloved,” she added, “you will become happy; everyone will praise you and cite you as a model for children your age, who are often very unreasonable. »
Madame Justin herself took upon herself the task of teaching her to read: it was while playing and without suspecting it that Nelly received her lessons; after two months she was reading fluently. Every morning, after her prayers and her breakfast, she would come and sit next to her aunt who was working, and her questions would begin again. When she thought she had exhausted her patience, she picked up a book and read it aloud. When she did not understand an expression, she asked for an explanation and made observations which testified to the correctness of her reasoning. They both spent whole hours in long conversations, in which Nelly found more charm than in the noisy games of her age.
Mrs. Justin wanted to redeem by a solid and brilliant education the wrongs of nature towards this dear child. Nelly was ugly: a very dark complexion and irregular features did not look favorably on her at first sight; but this impression vanished as soon as one could appreciate his thoughtfulness, his kindness and his wit. Then her smile seemed softer, and her countenance took on a charm which had its source in the qualities of her heart. Her aunt hoped that as she grew up she might look better; moreover, this thought occupied her very little, for she knew that virtue and goodness eclipse ugliness and often efface it altogether. Beauty is so fleeting that sensible people count it for little, preferring solid qualities, which must always remain, to a fleeting brilliance.
" Poor little girl ! she sometimes said to her husband when speaking of Nelly, she would form a great contrast next to her sisters, if they came back one day, for they said they were going to be very pretty.
"It is true," replied Mr. Justin; but my brother was careful to repeat it to them, which contributed to making them vain and frivolous. Our Nelly, by her good heart, her kindness and the talents that we will give her, will be preferable to her sisters, and, if she were to suffer one day from the proud contempt of these young people, she would have our heart and our love for refuge. Let us neglect nothing for her, my friend, let us make her perfect as much as possible. »
Thus sometimes spoke these virtuous spouses; full of attachment for Nelly, they neglected nothing to protect their adopted daughter from all the misfortunes that might threaten her future.
Although still very young, Nelly knew how to recognize all the care her parents had for her: subject to their wishes, she tried to read in their eyes what could be pleasant to them, and did so immediately without hesitation. Her aunt especially exercised an empire over her which increased day by day. When the young girl saw her suffering, she had no rest, the smile fled from her lips; she seemed to share his ills, to such an extent that this good relative was often obliged to conceal her inconveniences.
Nelly had never known lying; she would have blushed to abandon her heart to such a frightful defect, which destroys the purity of our ideas and renders us suspect and odious to those who recognize us as impostors. She was affectionate towards the servants, pitied them for the unfortunate fate that subjected them to the will of the often unjust masters, and sought all possible means to alleviate their condition. From the tenderest age she had become accustomed to order and cleanliness; she was never scolded for a stain or tear.
"Aunt," she said one day, "are you very rich?"
“A merchant's fortune,” replied Madame Justin, “varies very often, Nelly: he can suddenly fall into the deepest misery; therefore one has to get accustomed to economy in wealth as well as in poverty.
"So my papa doesn't send you anything to pay the expenses you incur for me?"
continued Nelly; I'm sure I'm costing you a lot of money.
"Your affection and obedience amply compensate us for our sacrifices," replied Mrs. Justin.
Despite all these explanations, Nelly was still not satisfied. I have no doubt been forgotten, she sometimes thought with sorrow; but immediately remembering the tenderness of her uncle and aunt, she reproached herself for this supposition, and redoubled her care and affection for them.
Mr. Justin, in agreement with his wife, resolved to put Nelly in a good boarding school for a few years, and to give her teachers of music and drawing. The young girl had shown an inclination for this last art at an early age: she had often traced on paper profiles, drawings of all kinds, the precision and truth of which were surprising. The event which we are about to relate decided Mr. Justin in his desire to see her as soon as possible under the direction of a skilful master.
One morning, she was busy daubing some paper when her nurse came in. After tenderly kissing her, Nelly said to her:
“Apropos of you, my mother; here, stand there, don't move, and above all look me straight in the face. The good woman understood nothing of this kind of torture imposed on her by her child: accustomed to satisfying his little whims, she obeyed without saying a word. Nelly took a pencil and said, “Oh! now you will be absent, I will see you every day. Come on, little mother, keep quiet, just a little more patience. Don't laugh like that, please, I'm almost done. At these words she exclaimed, giving a last stroke of her pencil: "Here, look, here is your portrait." »
The good nurse, freed from the constraint that had been imposed on her, could not restrain her joy at seeing her perfect likeness. “O my dear Nelly! she said, you are an angel of spirit and talent. »
The two then ran to show this little masterpiece to Mr. Justin, who exclaimed, placing his hand on the child's head: "You will one day be a famous artist!" The expression of the peasant woman's face had been so well rendered, the posture of the head and the village costume so well captured, that all the servants named the nurse when they saw this portrait.
The day Nelly went to boarding school still saw many tears flowing: everything in life is sacrifice. “O my dear aunt! she said to Madame Justin, come and see me often: I promise to apply myself so well that we will not be separated for long. »
Madame Bernard had for several years held a boarding school for young ladies; she rightly enjoyed an excellent reputation. A solid and pure piety was the first basis of the education she gave to her students. As her boarding house brought together the children of the most distinguished families in the city, she had enlisted educated and experienced teachers. It was in this house that Nelly entered as a boarder. The first day one spends in a house of this kind is always very sad: the new boarder regrets the parents she has just left; she is bored among all these young strangers frolicking around her; she is solitary in the midst of this crowd which does not spare her curious or indifferent glances as they pass. Nelly experienced all this, too; she shed tears in silence; but the habit which she had acquired of reflecting marked out for her the next day the course of action she was to adopt. She consoled herself and firmly promised herself to take advantage of all her moments. How many young people think differently, and, without worrying about the sacrifices and often the embarrassment of their parents, imagine that they only have to do their homework mechanically, without hastening by their application and their good will progress if desirable for them, and the slowness of which becomes so burdensome to their families! They in no way think of the hours which flee without return; time wasted is a theft from the past, the future always avenges itself by giving us useless regrets. Happy is he who cultivated his mind in his youth! Pleasant memories and a precious education will come to charm his old age, and he will descend into the grave without trouble and without remorse.
Nelly, faithful to the promises she had made to her uncle and aunt, thought only of studying: soon all the boarders sought her out because of her excellent character and her equanimity, and sought his friendship. Madame Bernard herself had a special affection for him; but she was careful not to show the slightest preference for her, knowing that a teacher must avoid arousing jealousy in the hearts of her pupils. More than any other, this lady knew how to hide under an air of dignity and impartiality the friendship she felt for some of them.
During recess, far from indulging in noisy and frolicsome games, like all her companions, Nelly asked her piano or her cherished pencils for relaxation in more serious studies.
Her aunt came to see her every Thursday. One day she said to him as she entered:
“Rejoice, Nelly, here is a letter for you.
- Ah! it's from mom, I bet! she cried.
"You guessed it," replied Mrs. Justin.
Nelly, trembling with emotion and joy, read aloud the following:
My dear Nelly, my beloved daughter,
“It is your mother, your mother whom you do not know, who is writing you this letter. You are already nine years old: I like to think that your heart is sensitive and your mind enlightened: then you will doubtless include among your sweetest pleasures that of receiving news from me.
“My heart was very grieved, my daughter, when I could not tear you, still too small, from the arms of your nurse, to expose you to the fatigues of a long journey. My heart broke thinking that I had to leave you, my dear child, before I heard her stutter our name, before I received your first caresses. However, I left you in maternal and affectionate arms: your aunt possesses a thousand virtues. This thought consoles me, because I am convinced that she loves you as if you belonged to her. Love her in turn with all the affection you would have had for your mother, if God
would have liked to leave her near you. Love me also very tenderly: it is a duty that you have to fulfill, and, if you are good and sensitive as I have been told, it must be a need for your heart. Dear Nelly, I would like to have some details about you, about your person: tell me everything in your answer. May modesty not hide you under its veil: a mother must know everything, the qualities and faults of her children.
“Alas! yours is very unhappy, since she does not have the happiness of knowing her daughter! How dreadful does this ocean seem to me, especially when it separates me from my beloved child! You probably know that you have two sisters, Adèle and Clémence. They are very pretty, but they are poorly educated. Your father doesn't want us to tire them: Clemence is above all the object of his blind predilection, which makes her very capricious and not very docile to my lessons and my advice. I cannot allow myself the slightest reprimand; he always has some excuse to oppose me, which makes my observations useless by producing on the mischievous child a completely different effect.
milk to the one I was expecting. I moan about it all. Suffering is the lot of women; resignation must be their virtue, as said an author whose virtuous maxims I love. I recommend you, my dear Nelly, to write to me by the next ship. I will count the days I have left to pass before I receive your letter.
“I end, my child, by telling you that I have the sweet hope of seeing you again next year. Praise Heaven that it may come true!
"Farewell then, my darling daughter, I send you a thousand kisses and hug you to my heart with all the love I feel for you
“Your poor mother, etc. »
This letter, so tender, so melancholy, made sensitive Nelly shed tears. His mother loved him, she thought, she was so unhappy! Oh ! how she would have liked to be able to console her for all her sorrows!
Mrs. Justin and her niece talked together for a long time after the reading of this letter was finished. "Write to your mother," she said to Nelly, getting up to leave. I will come tomorrow
to seek the answer which must soften the sorrows of my poor sister. »
Left alone, Nelly sadly went back to class. When the hour of study was over, she took up the pen, and her heart dictated to her the following letter:
“My dear and good mother,
“I cannot express to you the joy I felt on receiving a letter from you. I've kissed her a thousand times, I've put her on my heart, she never leaves me, she's a precious treasure for me. You have suffered, you tell me, my dear mother; I, too, sighed bitterly, thinking that I grow up without knowing you, that my years go by without my lavishing on you the care of my respectful love. O my tender mother! this thought is very cruel to me. How I envy the fate of my sisters, a thousand times happier than your Nelly! Alas! since I can think and speak, I pray God to bring you all back to France. Only then will I feel truly happy.
“You ask me for details on my account, and you recommend that I be sincere: I always will be, were the truth to be painful to me. I will tell you, my dear mother, that I am very ugly. This thought bothered me a great deal in the past. I had the folly to grieve at the irregularity of my features; for I did not yet know that the beauty of the body is only a frail perishable pleasure, which sometimes destroys by the foolish vanity it inspires all the qualities of the soul, a thousand times preferable. Today, if I look in a mirror, it is only to fortify myself in the good and not to grieve me, as when I was very small.
“As regards my conduct, my excellent aunt, whom I cherish with all my heart, never reproached me. Is this indulgence on his part, or accuracy on my part in fulfilling my duties? I leave it up to you to decide the truth for yourself. I am in a good pension, where I learn music and drawing. I want, dear mother, to send you my portrait, quite similar, which I made myself. But what am I saying? you give me the hope of knowing you and seeing you soon: I would rather give myself entirely to you than send you an ugly portrait which could not make you forget my ugliness by telling you how much I love you. Come, my dear mother, I long to kiss you.
“While waiting for this happy moment, I kiss you a thousand times, and call myself the most submissive and the most respectful of girls.
Reversal of fortune. - A friend. — First Communion.
At this time, Mr. Justin experienced considerable losses, several bankruptcies reduced his fortune to extremely modest proportions. He barely had enough to live on, despite all the economy of his worthy wife. This misfortune afflicted them both, but did not dampen their courage, based on virtue and religion. Their greatest regret was to think that Nelly would be deprived of a fortune they intended for her. Full of generosity and tenderness for their young niece, they agreed to leave her masters, even if these sacrifices imposed the harshest privations on them. “Above all, they said to themselves, let her ignore our misfortunes: the sensitive child would then reject an education so dearly purchased. The unfortunate woman will now only have her talents for all good: for who can answer that her father will not experience the same fate as us? If you believe me, my friend, added Mrs. Justin, we will leave this sumptuous apartment: a simple room will be enough for us. I am still young, I have courage; I will know how to do without servants: let us suppress all the expenses which are not absolutely necessary; by this means Nelly will be able to stay at least two more years with Mme Bernard. »
Mr. Justin approved his wife's generous resolution; he admired her virtues and her devotion to his brother-in-law's child, and only loved him the more. He sold the luxury furniture which seemed to him superfluous, and dismissed all his servants. Madame Justin got rid of several ornaments of fine pearls and brilliants, which could not serve her in the obscure position in which she was about to bury herself. Besides, Nelly was the most beautiful diamond her heart could desire. By dint of privations, two thousand francs were carefully hidden in a cupboard: it was for Nelly.
However, this beloved young girl, with a smile on her lips, joy in her heart, was completely unaware of the cruel position of her uncle and her aunt, who continued their frequent visits without speaking to her of anything. Ah! If she could have guessed the truth, as generous to her parents as they were to her, the amiable child would have heartily dismissed teachers whose lessons were so burdensome to them.
About this time, Nelly became acquainted and befriended a young person who, like her, possessed an excellent heart and the most estimable qualities. Camille de Saint-Severin was his name. His father was commander of Fort Saint-Nicolas in Marseille. She had had the misfortune not to know her mother, who died giving birth to her. She became the idol of her father, who neglected nothing to form his heart to virtue. Far from spoiling her, he happily succeeded in making her as he wished, pious, kind, good and studious.
Her father was, next to God, what she loved most, and every moment of her life passed in the fulfillment of her duties and in the midst of the cares of filial love. Having been taken to Madame Bernard's boarding house to perfect her education, and knowing that her father was suffering from his absence, the sweet young girl promised herself to hasten by her application the moment which was to unite her to him forever. Like Nelly, Camille only sought to learn and took advantage of her recreation. They both met one day in the music room. Camille studied the harp, and Nelly the piano. They had never spoken to each other before. For a quarter of an hour they had looked at each other furtively without daring to say a word. It must be very nice to have a friend, they thought quietly, and, as if to hide their mutual embarrassment, they made their instruments ring loudly. Camille could not restrain a great burst of laughter, which gave Nelly the courage to say a few words to her, and looking at her gently, she said: “Oh! this cacophony is really charming! »
Camille replied immediately:
“If you will allow it, we will talk together during the rest of the recess; for for a long time I have desired the pleasure of conversing with you.
"I don't mind," said Nelly, drawing her chair closer to that of her companion; I too have long desired your friendship.
"I love you all the more," continued Camille, "because you seem to have tastes conforming to mine." I am not very friendly with these young ladies, because none of them has ever understood what is going on in me; they give me the epithets of pedant, of philosopher, and a thousand others of this kind which cannot offend me, for they are very far from the truth. But I recognize in their feelings an insurmountable antipathy for those whom I experience, so that none of them excites sympathy in me. Most of the young people in this house have never known pain. Constantly celebrated and caressed by their tender mothers, who constantly think of them, they only see the good side of life. As for me, I never liked games, because I was useful, indispensable to the happiness of my father, to whom I sacrificed all my tastes and my affections: I learned at the school of misfortune to have only serious thoughts early on. »
As she spoke thus, Camille placed her hand on her heart with a sigh.
“So you are unhappy, too,” cried Nelly.
- Oh ! yes, certainly, replied Camille, raising her tearful eyes to heaven; it is a cruel pain that I feel. But don't you yourself have something to worry about?
— Alas! said Nelly, I would be wrong to complain about my destiny; but it is so distressing not to know one's mother! it is the greatest misfortune that can happen to a child. »
Then Nelly recounted everything that had happened to her since she was born, without forgetting the tender attachment she had for her aunt, who took the place of her mother.
"You, at least, have some hope of seeing her again," replied Camille; while I will never be able to see mine again in this world: she is forever delighted with my caresses and my love. Oh ! How many times have I heard my poor father sigh as he looked at me! No doubt he was thinking then that he owed the loss of his wife, of his companion, to my birth. This thought breaks my heart; every time she comes to my mind, I can't hold back my tears. I try to educate myself as soon as possible, in order to return to him to make him forget, if I can, all that he has lost. Nelly, let's be friends; if you agree, we will sometimes talk about our troubles, we will doubtless lighten them by sharing them. »
The two young girls rushed into each other's arms, and swore eternal friendship.
The bell calling them to work rang too early that day for the two new friends; they returned to class, not without casting tender glances at each other.
Nelly had just reached her tenth year; his wisdom and his piety were noticed by
the boarding school chaplain. Following the desire he expressed, she was designated by the good pastor, despite her young age, as having to make her first communion the following year. Camille had the same happiness. From then on everything became common between the two friends; their days passed happy and peaceful; for they had the same tastes, the same characters, the same pious duties to fulfill, the same condition. They studied their catechism together, and had it recited to each other; they knew that as soon as their first communion was made, they would no longer stay in the boarding school. "One more year of study," they said to themselves; our friendship will shorten its duration. »
With what ardor the two young girls sought to make themselves worthy of this first sacrament, which they were about to receive and which was to renew their lives! Indeed, when one has the happiness of having received communion, one should no longer occupy oneself with frivolous and futile things. One must then feel the duties to which one is called; we must above all apply ourselves to assuring ourselves later, in a better country, of infinite happiness.
Nelly and Camille, like two angels, walked with a sure step towards eternal bliss; their friendship was further strengthened by the virtuous sentiments which they recognized in each other. They soon had only one soul, one will; nothing but noble, grand, generous, was the object of their common desires. Oh ! the friendship of two pure and candid young souls is a blessing that God bestows upon them; it is an anticipated reward, it is a foretaste of celestial joys!
The day of communion soon arrived; time passes so quickly when every hour is usefully and wisely employed!
Strengthened by prayer and by an ardent faith, the two friends believed themselves worthy to receive their Creator. On that day they refused each other the innocent testimonies of their affection, truly rising above perishable and earthly things.
This is how communion should be made; the Lord only wants at his table pure hearts, who give themselves to him without sharing. Woe to him who retains sentiments opposed to Christian virtues, and who regards the sacrament of the Eucharist as a simple act of life which must be accomplished, as a duty which must be hastened to completion, without thinking that a deep and pure faith is the guarantee of future happiness!
Nelly and Camille, as well as several other boarders, tasted, under the eyes of their parents and of a pious and recollected assembly, this divine happiness which they had waited for for a long time with impatience.
Nelly's aunt, as you might well imagine, took care not to miss this touching ceremony; she hugged her beloved niece to her heart.
"Be patient again," she said to him; soon you will come back to us.
"God grant," exclaimed the sensitive child, "that time is not far off!" »
In this hope, she began to devote herself with ardor to her studies. Her progress in drawing was so rapid and so extraordinary, that at the age of twelve she had already made a host of portraits of striking resemblance. His works, exhibited in the museum of Marseilles, excited the admiration of all connoisseurs. The praises she received did not make her any more vain; she received them with distrust and modesty, not believing she deserved them. With such a superior and decided talent, she was safe from the blows of fate; this thought compensated her uncle and aunt for the many sacrifices they had made for her.
However, the time that Madame Justin had set for her daughter to return to France had long since passed; Nelly's hope of seeing her mother again had almost vanished. Although young M. Justin had informed his brother of his unfortunate position, he received no news of it, and consequently no relief. Not knowing what to attribute such indifference to, he lost himself in conjectures, unable to unravel the truth.
Camille, who loved Nelly with a lively affection, wished to introduce her friend to her father. To this end, having to go out for the whole day on a Sunday, she invited Nelly to accompany her to her father's house; the young girl accepted, on condition, however, that her aunt was willing to consent. Camille having advised him to write a short note, the answer was in accordance with their wishes. At daybreak the two friends began to dress with transports of joy, which increased when M. de Saint-Séverin's servant came on his behalf to fetch the two young girls. In the presence of people who were strangers to her, Nelly was quite shy, and only felt at ease when she saw herself supported by Camille, who never lost sight of her. Before dinner, they climbed the towers of the fort, from the top of which you can see the beautiful city of Marseilles. At the sight of this immense sea, whose majestic waves break and groan at the foot of the ramparts; at the sight of these numerous ships sailing hither and thither on the wave and disappearing from his eyes, Nelly exclaimed, her eyes full of tears:
" Oh ! when will I see the ship that will bring my mother back to me! »
Camille, seeing her friend's sudden emotion, wrapped her caressing arms around her.
“Come,” she said to him; let's go down, the sea air is too brisk. »
A servant then came to inform them that the invited persons had arrived, and that dinner was served. Among the guests were many friends of M. de Saint-Severin. The latter, proud of his daughter, enjoyed introducing her to those he loved. Nelly sat down next to her friend, and both, with the appetite of their age, did honor to this splendid dinner, so different from that at the boarding house.
They talked in low tones, for fear of interrupting the conversation of people older than themselves. Soon they were forced to pay attention to what was being said: it was the name of M. Justin that one of the guests had just uttered, without suspecting that the niece of this estimable merchant was a member of the company.
“Yes, my dear fellow,” said an old decorated officer to M. de Saint-Séverin, “the circumstances of life are sometimes very extraordinary; it is a continual variation of prosperity and misfortune. How many virtues poverty brings to light, and which would remain buried in mystery and oblivion in the midst of opulence! What noble and generous actions poverty is responsible for revealing to the world! the example of poor Justin is a striking proof of this...
"Justin!" exclaimed an interlocutor, Justin, the rich shipowner? so what happened to him?
- How ! you don't know that?
- No really.
“However, that is the story of the day; we don't really know which one to admire more, him or his virtuous wife.
- Really! Well, please satisfy our curiosity by recounting his misfortune. »
Nelly and Camille dared not breathe.
"The Justins," continued the narrator, "were two brothers who had gained public esteem for themselves by their good conduct and their loyalty in business: they obtained the confidence of all those who had commercial relations with them, and arrived at the highest high degree of wealth. The eldest left for the colonies about ten years ago, leaving in the care of his brother a little girl still in the cradle. As they have written only once or twice since their departure, it is unclear what has become of them. However, the youngest and his wife are so attached to this poor, neglected little girl that they have always showered her with blessings; they gave her a brilliant education, and neglected nothing to make her perfect. They even put her in a boarding school, where the best teachers are reserved for her. It is said, moreover, that this child responds perfectly to the care given to her, and that she is rapidly advancing to fame, for she is already very good at painting.
- Well ! interrupted another personage with a careless air, Justin did only his duty: I don't see anything extraordinary in this conduct. What is so astonishing and meritorious about it?
- Very good ! replied the narrator: I would think like you if I did not know the rest.
Everyone listened to these words, and Nelly, as you might imagine, more than anyone.
“Yes, gentlemen,” he continued, “fortune is a blind man, a cruel woman, who deprives the most virtuous of her favors. Justin is ruined; he was forced to dismiss his servants, and to exchange his superb apartments for a single, very modest room.
“His wife has sold her diamonds in favor of her niece: wanting to complete the work they have so happily begun, they leave her unaware of the misfortunes that have befallen them.
Justin is ruined, he has lost everything; numerous bankruptcies swallowed up all his property. He languishes in deep misery, while the poor child, abused and quiet, receives such onerous lessons from her uncle in her present situation.
"Nelly!" Nelly! exclaimed Camille suddenly with the greatest terror, encircling her unconscious friend in her arms. Oh ! Gentlemen, she exclaimed, sobbing and turning towards the people who crowded around the child; there she is, it's her, it's Nelly Justin! »
Everyone was amazed; they carried the unhappy child on a sofa: they made her breathe salts. Alas! nothing called her back to life.
"Come back to yourself! exclaimed Camille painfully, prostrating herself beside her, come back to yourself, my dear Nelly! She will die of it, she is so good, so sensitive! Oh ! if I had known this deplorable story, it would not have been told in front of her! M. de Saint-Séverin and his guests did not know that the young person bore the name of Justin. The celebration was changed into a sudden mourning. Finally the unfortunate Nelly opened her eyes, she put her hands on her forehead, as if to recall her memories. Seeing Camille kneeling next to her, she leaned towards her friend, shedding copious tears which relieved her a little. Everyone apologized to him for this imprudent revelation.
Oh ! cried the poor child, you have just done me a real service: far from blaming you, I owe you a thousand obligations. »
The whole society showed itself benevolent and affectionate for a young girl who was as interesting as she was unhappy.
As night approached, a servant drove the two friends back to the boarding house. Nelly wrote a note to her uncle, asking him to come the next day without fail to remove her from Madame Bernard's; she alleged that the reason for such a sudden resolution was an insurmountable disgust which prevented her from staying there a moment longer. Mr. and Mrs. Justin were extremely surprised at such novel language on the part of sweet Nelly; they feared for such precious health. "Go, my friend," said Mrs. Justin to her husband; Run to find this child: here she will finish her already very advanced education. »
From seven o'clock in the morning, M. Justin was in Madame Bernard's drawing-room, to whom he told the subject of his morning visit. The good teacher experienced great pain when she saw her dearest pupil taken from her. Although she had to resign herself to a foreseen misfortune, Nelly could not help herself from a sharp pain at the moment of parting from her dear Camille, from Camille who knew all her secrets and who knew how to console her so well. They kissed each other a thousand times, and promised in the most tender terms never to forget each other.
Nelly sadly followed her uncle, who, not knowing what to think of his niece's prompt and firm resolution, put this question to her:
"You were really bored at your boarding school, my dear Nelly?"
- To die ! my uncle, since yesterday only.
'It came to you very suddenly, my child. Did someone hurt you? Tell me.
"Yes, uncle, they don't deign to tell me what's going on, they overwhelm me with
__ I don't understand you at all, my niece. No doubt you will tell your good aunt the answer to this riddle.
- Oh ! no doubt, because I have nothing to conceal. »
While speaking thus, they arrived at the door of a house of the meanest appearance.
"Are you staying here now?" said Nelly to her uncle.
— Yes, my child: I have moved closer to the center of my affairs.
'You want to deceive me, uncle; you push your devotion to a poor orphan too far.
"I don't understand your words at all," replied Mr. Justin.
The good aunt was waiting for Nelly at the top of the stairs: when she saw the young girl, she rushed towards her and pressed her to her heart with the most tender effusion, then she led her into a very miserably furnished room.
“0 my God! is this where I meet you, my aunt! cried Nelly bitterly
— Yes, my Nelly, our fortunes have been diminishing for some time.
"And you hid it from me, O my generous parents!" I know everything: strangers have informed me of your misfortunes. When the whole city resounded with praise due to your supreme devotion, for me, I was unaware of your misfortunes, and I received your generous sacrifices with carelessness, without being able to appreciate them. 0 my beloved aunt, you have pushed kindness for your Nelly too far! You stripped yourself in my favor of all your finery; a few more days, and you would have imposed yourself to sustain me the most cruel privations. Yes, my dear parents, the only ones I know, I learned everything yesterday: I almost died of pain at the story of your misfortunes.
As she finished these words, often interrupted by the sobs which suffocated her, Nelly kissed the knees of her uncle and her aunt, and watered them with her tears. Mr. Justin and his wife looked like two culprits caught in the act.
" Well ! yes, Nelly, they said at last, you were told the truth, but we have accomplished in your regard what our duty and our heart dictated to us. May the virtues and talents you possess make you happy, and we will be amply rewarded for all that we have done for you: you will at least be able to get out of trouble, for it is probable that fortune has not been more favorable to your father than to us. Self-acquired ease is the surest and sweetest. As for us, little good suffices for our ambition: the testimonies of your gratitude and your friendship will be more precious to us than the goods we have lost; we are still rich in possessing you!
— O my virtuous parents! exclaimed Nelly with enthusiasm, from this day on I devote my whole existence to you. May I be happy enough to procure you some consolation in your old age, that is the most ardent of all my wishes! »
As soon as Nelly learned of her uncle's misfortunes, she conceived a noble project about which she resolved to keep absolute silence until its complete accomplishment. In order to realize this, she wrote Camille the following letter: "My dear friend,
It is the exact truth that a stranger revealed to me last Sunday at your father's house; that is me, alas! well proven now. It was no longer in vast and brilliant apartments that I saw my aunt again; those beautiful rugs on which my first steps had been taken have disappeared, and with them the elegant sofas on which I had fallen so gently to sleep. Coarse chairs replace them. A single room, almost devoid of furniture, forms our abode; a small closet, a bed of straps like at a boarding school, such is my domain. But, my dear Camille, it is not for me that I moan (and you have learned enough to know me to believe my words today); it is for my virtuous parents, whose disastrous position afflicts me. Formerly I only loved them; now I can no longer express the feelings they inspire in me. I seem to see in them celestial beings descended to earth; I am ready to throw myself at their knees when I see them or when they speak to me. O holy religion, how your power shines here! for it is you who inspire in weak mortals such sublime actions, noble and generous thoughts. Isn't it, in fact, the angelic virtue of my aunt that alone has been able to make her husband support, with some resignation, all the calamities that have gathered on his head? Yes, Camille, if you were, like me, a witness of this lively solicitude, of this continual benevolence which makes a paradise of our sad retreat, you could not help thinking that a virtuous woman embellishes the existence of all those who live there. surrounds them, and makes them find some charm, even in the midst of the most dreadful misery, when she knows so well how to put to use the consolations and the infinite sweetness which should be the share of our sex.
“.I am determined to become an artist for the rest of my life. Well! I will be, and I take pride in it, since my art, which I learned as a simple amusement, could become indispensable even to the future of my dear parents.
"Thus, my dear Camille, I am counting on you, on your friendship, on your father and on his many friends who have shown me an interest in procuring me the means to make portraits, the price of which will be intended for my aunt. Can you imagine the happiness that such an attractive future makes me feel in advance! I will go tomorrow to find your respectable father, I will beg him to lend me his support. Alas! I am perhaps still too young, barely thirteen! but misfortune will give me courage. Won't you, Camille, take an interest in me, help me with all your power with your father's friends, and they won't refuse my wishes when they know that the price of my work is intended for my so dear and so virtuous aunt?
“Such are my hopes, I like to believe that they will not be disappointed.
"Farewell, my dear Camille.
"Your friend for life,
“Nelly, the young artist. »
Terrible news. — Adele and Clemence. Success of Nelly.
A new life suddenly appeared in Nelly's eyes. Strengthened by the courage given by adversity and a blameless conscience, confident in the art she loved, Nelly dreamed of glory, wealth, happiness; and dreams of this kind are sometimes worth the same reality. One day, having obtained permission from her aunt to go and see Camille's father, she headed for Fort Saint-Nicolas. M. de Saint-Séverin was in his study; surprised to see his daughter's young friend, he asked her several questions. Nelly told him of her hasty departure from boarding school and her desire to paint portraits to relieve the misery of her family. So much candor and nobility of feeling touched the commander with a tender interest; he promised the young girl to be useful to her, and assured her, moreover, of the protection of all her friends.
“Lovely child,” he said to him, “there are beings whose merit must be proclaimed on the face of the earth; you are of that number. God will surely protect your noble efforts. Hope. »
These encouraging words fortified Nelly's hope.
"You will no doubt learn with pleasure," continued M. de Saint-Séverin, "of Camille's arrival; next Sunday I will see her again, never to part with her again; I could no longer do without her care and tenderness. Come and see her often; my daughter can only gain by your society; you will set up your paint shop here.
"I accept your obliging offer, sir," replied Nelly, all the more willingly as I
wanted to leave my uncle unaware of the use I will make of my time, because he would not want me to undertake work which he believed to be harmful to my health.
'It is agreed,' replied the Commandant, 'next Monday you will find people here who will consider themselves happy to be of use to you and to possess their portraits done by such a skilful hand. »
Nelly smiled at Camille's father's flattering compliment. After bowing gracefully, she happily resumed her way home.
Five more days, she thought, and my future is assured! »
But his joy soon turned to sadness. Arriving at her parents' house, she found them reading a letter they had just received. From the pain she saw reigning over their faces, she judged that something extraordinary was happening.
“What new misfortune is still coming to swoop down on us? she asked anxiously.
— My dear Nelly, replied Madame Justin, drawing her on her lap, all my forecasts have changed, alas! in cruel certainties.
Arm yourself with courage and resignation to support the new misfortune that reaches you; think that the decrees of Heaven are mysterious and impenetrable in the eyes of men, and that it is by a tortuous road strewn with thorns that God calls us back to himself. You are really an orphan, my dear child, as well as your sisters. You have suffered an irreparable loss; you no longer have father or mother. The unfortunate, after having seen the hopes of wealth which they had conceived vanish, did not have the strength to support their misfortune; they let themselves be overcome by grief, which led them successively to the grave. Adèle and Clémence are in the lazaretto, where they are finishing their quarantine: your uncle will soon be picking them up. »
Nelly, who believed herself to be very strong against the blows of fate, did not expect the man who suddenly came to overthrow her dreams of glory and happiness; she mingled her tears with those of her sad family. However, little by little she regained her serenity: however painful this loss was, she was less sensitive to Nelly than to any other; because she had never known her parents.
She thanked God for having saved her uncle and aunt for her, and kept repeating to them as she kissed them:
“Am I not still very happy that you are still with me, and should I not thank Providence, which, by depriving me of the authors of my life, has placed me under your protection? I am even unfair to complain; because you replace them in my heart, and you are for me the best parents. »
M. Justin seemed greatly affected by this double loss; his wife and Nelly tried to console him.
"We are very unhappy, it is true," the young girl would sometimes say; but, thanks to you, my dear uncle, I will perhaps be able to repair the injustice of fortune, I will work.
— Come on, said the aunt, admiring Nelly's resignation, no more crying! we must think of our common happiness while concealing our anxieties; despair is an evil that can be earned, banish it from our souls; God wants us to endure with resignation the trials he sends us. Your sisters will come tomorrow to share our fate; I hope they will be right and that they will help us in our work; I will also know how to use my time...
"Stop, my aunt," cried Nelly; I will never allow you to work, no, never!”
As she spoke thus, the black eyes of the young artist shone with an unearthly expression, self-assurance and strength of character. Madame Justin, this time bathed in sweet tears, showered her with caresses.
They looked that same day for a more comfortable room and a cabinet for the new arrivals. Nelly experienced a secret pleasure in seeing that their new residence was not far from Fort Saint-Nicolas, and that she could go every day to Camille's father; she helped her parents to arrange the new lodgings, showing in all these preparations an activity and an order that was all the more surprising in that she was not accustomed to all these little domestic details. So the two spouses regarded her as a treasure, often saying to each other: “A benefit is never lost! »
M. Justin went alone to fetch his two nieces, who were very pretty, and whose beauty was enhanced by mourning. They received their uncle very coldly.
"You are no doubt Mr. Justin, our uncle?" said the eldest, simpering.
"Yes, my dear friends," he replied, opening his arms to them; I am your unfortunate father's brother. »
The two young girls were forced to kiss her.
“Come to my house,” continued Mr. Justin kindly; you will find in me the feelings of affection which I had for my poor brother. The same calamities also overturned my brilliant fortune.
- How ! uncle, exclaimed Adele, are you also ruined?
"So what did we come to do in France?" Clemence added, crying.
Mr. Justin did not know what to answer to these proud young girls who spoke so lightly of such serious matters. 0 Nelly! he thought to himself, it was not with this cold indifference that you learned of your uncle's misfortunes!
“Come, my children,” he continued, addressing his nieces ironically, “resign yourselves to the misfortune of once again losing your last hopes; for it seems that it was rather to enjoy our fortune than our affection that you recklessly crossed the seas. »
Adele and Clemence, seeing that their uncle had understood them so well, tried to find vain excuses; but they were so forbidden that they did not have the strength to invent the slightest lie.
“Come with me,” Mr. Justin told them; your aunt and your lovely sister are waiting for you. »
The two young girls silently followed their uncle, who led them home. Mrs. Justin pressed them to her heart; but they received his caresses with very marked indifference.
"Where is Nelly?" they asked.
"She will come," replied Mrs. Justin; the lovely child has long desired your presence. She is so good, this poor little one! »
At this moment Nelly entered in a simple percale dress, her hair disheveled, unpretentious.
She ran to embrace her sisters, repeating those names of Adele and Clemence which she so often took pleasure in pronouncing. Far from responding to her tender caresses, her sisters welcomed her with a cold and mocking air, and could not help crying out: “God! how ugly she is! These cruel words pronounced in a dry, not to say malicious tone, hurt Nelly's sensitive soul; they rang in his ear like the sentence of death to that of the culprit, and oppressed his heart like a heavy and icy weight. Yet it was not offended vanity that made her suffer cruelly: it was that affection on which she had so often relied, and which she saw vanish; it was this tenderness which she had so deliciously dreamed of since her earliest years, and which she saw so ill rewarded! Poor Nelly! she stood before her sisters, like a statue; his gaze was lowered to the ground.
Madame Justin, indignant at the odious indifference of Adele and Clemence, undertook to avenge her cruelly outraged niece. After addressing harsh and damning words to the two culprits, she drew Nelly onto her knees, lavishing her with the most tender caresses and the most affectionate consolations. Nelly, sensitive to so much kindness, smiled at this friend who was so generous, so devoted.
“My dear child,” her aunt told her, “do not envy the sterile gifts of passing beauty. The beauty of your sisters is a mockery, a treacherous gift of nature, made at the expense of the heart! Woe to the young person who relies only on her charms to win the esteem and friendship of sensible people! What does ugliness matter when, like you, one is sure to always please? Be gentle, be wise, always be good and patient Nelly, and everyone will always cherish you. »
Adele attempted some excuses when she saw her aunt's annoyance; but the latter, justly indignant, laying down her natural kindness for the first time in her life, pushed her away harshly, for she had been hurt in all that she held most dear.
However, Nelly dared not raise her eyes to her sisters, fearing to read a coldness in their eyes which deeply affected her. She dared not speak to them, hoping later to be able to attract the affection she was sorry to see refused. Adele and Clemence found it difficult to put up with each other; for friendship is unknown to vain and frivolous minds. Adornment and pleasures were their only thoughts; constantly in front of the only mirror in the house, they studied their gestures and attitudes, wasting endless time combing their hair and gracefully arranging the folds of their dresses. Mrs. Justin, tired of lecturing, shrugged her shoulders and despaired of restoring them to wisdom and reason.
Such were the occupations of the two young girls during the first days. Nelly would have liked a tender word from them to soften the bitterness of their first meeting. Unaware of what was going on in hearts so different from her own, she hesitated to make advances, for fear of seeing the last hope that her naive soul still loved to nourish vanish. This sentence, God! how ugly she is! stopped the outpouring of his feelings, and the words of friendship, nearly escaping him, died silently on his lips. At other times she would whisper to herself on seeing them: You will love me one day; I will erase by my kindness this ugliness which harms me in your thoughts. Yes, you will say to me: Nelly, we love you because you are gentle and patient. I don't quite understand that I need to be pretty to make you love me. Camille is not my sister, and yet she likes me! Where can this difference come from?
The innocent Nelly did not know that there are selfish, denatured and basely envious hearts. The praise which the good aunt made of Nelly in each letter which she wrote to their mother, had excited the jealousy of Adele and Clemence. Every sentence containing the detail of her rare qualities and talents was a severe criticism of her two sisters, vain and frivolous. Their narrow, uneducated minds were constantly busy contrasting their beauty with Nelly's ugliness. It was therefore maliciously, and to avenge themselves on the sweet young girl, whose praise the good aunt repeated incessantly, that they had exclaimed on seeing her: "God." how ugly she is! »
Nelly saw the arrival of the day fixed by M. de Saint-Séverin with extreme pleasure. Six o'clock had hardly struck when the young girl, already dressed, was on her knees, busy praying to God; then she embraced her uncle and aunt, and asked their permission to go and spend the whole day with Camille. Mrs. Justin, charmed to see her take this diversion, granted it to her with joy. A few moments later, Nelly was climbing the main stairs of the fort. Camille was waiting for him impatiently on the steps. When she saw him, she held out her arms to him: Nelly rushed into them, crying. Her heart poured into that of her friend all her little sorrows.
“You ugly! my Nelly, exclaimed Camille, justly indignant. Oh ! never was an affront less deserved. Poor Nelly! example of angelic virtues, are you on earth only to suffer unjustly!
— Calm down, said Nelly, wiping away her tears, never murmur. God no doubt wants to test my courage, we must respect his mysterious decrees. »
While speaking thus, Nelly closed her friend's mouth with her hand.
"Come," Camille said to him; a large company is gathered at my father's, everyone is waiting for you there. »
The two friends, arms intertwined, went up to the living room, where about thirty people were gathered. Everyone wanted to know and see again the interesting artist who, without speaking of her virtues, showed at a tender age talents which are ordinarily acquired only by long experience. Several people in society knew Mr. and Mrs. Justin, and the admirable conduct they had shown towards their niece. Nelly, not expecting to find such a large circle, remained at the door, quite intimidated.
Several ladies having come to beg her to come in, she bowed gracefully and sat down beside Camille, who smiled kindly as she shook her hand.
Scarcely had she been seated than M. de Saint-Severin came up to her and said in an affable tone: "You would like to paint portraits, wouldn't you, my beautiful child?"
"Yes, sir," Nelly answered shyly.
"In that case, you won't lack work," said M. de Saint-Séverin; because all the people who are here want to have theirs.
- Oh! Sir, how thank you! exclaimed the young girl, filled with a very natural emotion.
So Camille's father had a servant bring everything necessary for painting. Nelly, charmed by the surprise that had been so delicately arranged for her, smiled at the whole assembly, who enjoyed her modest embarrassment and the pleasure that colored her cheeks with a vivid blush. At that moment no one would have dared to say that she was ugly; his countenance was radiant with happiness and emotion. Nelly prepared her little workshop with perfect ease; all eyes were on her. Camille was delighted to see the attention and interest shown in her friend.
When all the preparations were done, she turned back to the company asking who was the person who wanted to pose first. A young lady came and sat down in the most favorable position for a young artist. A profound silence soon succeeded the talks. Nelly began: an hour is enough for her to sketch the whole portrait. Then everyone approached, and a cry of admiration arose from all sides in honor of the young artist. The face was very similar: the features, the smile of the young lady, were rendered with marvelous exactness. One could not tire of congratulating Nelly, who, her eyes moist with tears, lowered her head modestly, as if to express that these praises seemed to her more flattering than deserved.
She rested for a moment, following the invitation made to her; but soon she picked up her brushes again and began to work with ardor.
The late hour did not allow him to complete the portrait that day. She promised to finish it the next day. The lady nevertheless wanted to make him accept the price.
"That will bring you luck, my child," she said, slipping three hundred francs in gold into the young artist's work bag.
Nelly stubbornly refused; M. de Saint-Severin was obliged to interpose his authority to engage him not to reject what was his due. The whole society joined him in lavishing on the young girl the praise which her precocious talent deserved; the ladies especially overwhelmed him with caresses and kisses. Nelly had to give her sittings every day at the Commandant's; the latter promised him, independently of the portrait of his whole family, to order a collection of small landscapes which were to occupy him for two whole years. Nelly didn't know how to express her gratitude; but his silence and his emotion said more than any words. The various sensations which succeeded one another in his soul, reflected on his expressive face, were understood by everyone. Camille, moreover, was there: she had undertaken the task of giving thanks for her friend.
A large dinner was served: the name of the young orphan was often repeated there. We drank to its prosperity, to its success. When night fell, each parted cheerfully, promising to see each other again the next day.
M. de Saint-Séverin accompanied Nelly to his uncle's. She ran rapidly up the stairs, and, eagerly putting down her straw hat, she sat down beside her aunt, after kissing her several times.
"I was worried about you, Nelly," said the good aunt. Your absence for so long weighed on me: I needed to tell myself often that you were at Camille's, so as not to be alarmed.
"Oh aunt, how good you are!" replied Nelly; however, you will have to accustom yourself to seeing me often far from you.
- Why is that? immediately said Mr. and Mrs. Justin, astonished at these words.
- Oh! exclaimed her sisters, "Mademoiselle prefers to have fun and let us die of boredom in this sad room!"
— My sisters are mistaken, answered Nelly gently, I never feel as much pleasure as with my aunt; and far from her, it is still her and her future that I concern myself with.
- And how? said Adele and Clemence with a smile of incredulity.
'Dear child,' said Mrs. Justin, placing a gentle kiss on her niece's candid and pure forehead, 'you have only noble and wise thoughts.
That's the price of my first works, Nelly went on, taking the gold coins out of her bag and putting them on the knees of her aunt, who couldn't believe her eyes. You have sown profusely, she continued, it is up to you to reap: all that belongs to you.
— Explain this mystery to me, my dear Nelly, said the good aunt, astonished: would it be possible, my child! have my presentiments not deceived me?
"I hope to give you such a sum often," added Nelly;
Mr. Justin and his wife were shedding tears of joy; the two sisters bit their lips in spite, while trying to hide their guilty feelings under an appearance of satisfaction. Nelly, unwittingly, had avenged herself at that moment for their contempt; for the true means of imposing silence on malevolence is not to oppose insult to insult, but to show a firm and generous conduct.
The young artist couldn't sleep a wink the following night; joy, as well as sadness, has its insomnia. On her second visit to the fort, she received the same praise, the same caresses, and responded to the expectations of her admirers. In a short time she had amassed the sum of two thousand francs, which gave her the hope of finding herself one day in possession of a small fortune. However, Adele and Clemence were beginning to realize how wrong they had been up to that point, believing they had the upper hand over Nelly because of the regularity of their features and the whiteness of their complexion. They also began to recognize that one should not take pride in a natural gift, and that the qualities and talents acquired by study are the only ones worthy of praise. A circumstance which occurred contributed to completely curing them of their ridiculous self-esteem, which would infallibly have become fatal to them.
The concert. — Young virtuosos. Vanity corrected.
M. de Saint-Séverin, wishing to celebrate the anniversary of Camille's birth, invited the most distinguished persons of the town. Camille was to perform a new and very difficult piece on the harp; Nelly was chosen to accompany him on the piano. Although our young artist had little time to devote to music, which she loved very much, she had taken an hour from her work for several days to study this piece, which Camille wanted to perform with her. The major enjoyed in advance the surprise his guests would feel on hearing these two young girls, who were playing with a delightful ensemble. A ceremonial dinner was to be served after the concert. M. de Saint-Séverin, wishing to receive M. Justin with his family that day, sent him a very affectionate letter of invitation, which the honest merchant could not refrain from accepting.
Adele and Clemence, since their arrival, had not yet appeared in society. "We're going to beat Nelly this time," they said to each other. In the world, talents fade away, virtues are appreciated only in private, while the face is the main object to which we attach ourselves, because no one can help admiring a beautiful and regular physiognomy. »
Thus spoke these two ignorant and frivolous young girls; then they busied themselves with getting their toilets ready, which they regarded as a very serious affair. Dresses of fine, very white muslin, fresh pink ribbons for the sash, an artistically curled hairstyle, such was the finery from which they expected a thousand praises.
Nelly had chosen a very simple dress, in percale; her hair, naturally curly, fell scattered over her shoulders. Nelly only liked art in paintings. When a servant announced Mr. Justin and his family, a murmur of benevolence and esteem rose from all sides in the large drawing-room, and everyone rose to welcome him eagerly. With special attention, Nelly's place had been assigned to Camille.
When all the expected persons had arrived, M. de Saint-Séverin had the desks lighted, near which were placed Camille's harp and Nelly's piano.
"I hear you're expecting musicians," said a lady, addressing the captain. You didn't tell us that we would have the pleasure of a concert. You are very ingenious in providing us with pleasant surprises.
"The musicians are in the salon," replied M. de Saint-Severin. Here they are,” he added.
taking Nelly and Camille's hand, leading them to their instruments.
The two young girls sat down trembling and intimidated. “Will we be able to play in front of everyone? they whispered to each other.
Soon, encouraged by a few kind words, they preluded with a few chords. When they had performed their brilliant duet, which had been listened to from start to finish in profound silence and with ever-increasing interest, loud and prolonged applause proved the satisfaction of all the listeners. People crowded around the major and Mr. and Mrs. Justin, congratulating them on their happiness in having children so amiable and endowed with such precocious talent.
The two young virtuosos were overwhelmed with caresses and compliments by all the ladies, who disputed the pleasure of kissing them. Mrs. Justin was overjoyed. But, oh cruel disappointment for Adèle and Clémence! for all their beauty, they were completely forgotten. They felt their eyes wet with tears of spite, perhaps of repentance; adornment, beauty, all remained in shadow and unnoticed. They would have liked to be able to escape to cry in freedom, but that was impossible for them; they had to exhaust the chalice to the dregs. We went into the dining room. Nelly and Camille again obtained all the votes, and alone attracted everyone's attention; they showed themselves as educated as they were modest. Finally midnight struck; everyone thought of withdrawing. Everyone was satisfied; Adele and Clemence alone were distracted and troubled.
What was the surprise of Mr. Justin and his wife, when entering their home Adele rushed to the feet of her aunt, her hands joined:
" Oh ! forgive me, she cried with extreme emotion, I beg you, all the harm I have done to you, all the wrongs of which I have been guilty towards my poor sister, to whom I am if lower. Yes, I felt this evening, for the first time in my life, how foolish and ridiculous I was in believing that I was being cherished and admired without deserving it by my knowledge and my virtues. I despise her, this beauty that has caused my misfortune. It is a fatal gift from Heaven, when it does not have goodness for a companion. Oh ! forgive me, my good and generous aunt! And you, Nelly, my good sister, will you ever be able to forget both my insult and my odious indifference? I will right my wrongs, I swear it to you; I beg your forgiveness on my knees.
At the sight of Adele supplicating at his knees, the whole family was seized with pity and tenderness. Nelly ran to her, and, raising her kindly: "Adèle," she said to her, "my heart had been pleading your cause for a long time." I love you, oh! I love you dearly! your dear name, as well as that of Clemence (and she drew her other sister to her heart), was added to my childhood prayers. Very young still I learned to pronounce them; I only needed your love to be completely happy. »
All three then embraced each other tenderly.
Mr. and Mrs. Justin, seeing this union so desired, raised their hands to heaven and addressed touching thanksgiving to God.
From that moment the two young people sought to follow in Nelly's footsteps.
“My dear sister, Clemence sometimes said, we have now recovered from our disastrous error. May your example teach all young girls who might be tempted to imitate our ridiculous blindness that Christian virtues and useful talents are a thousand times preferable to beauty! »
END OF NELLY
* * *
CAROLINE AND JULIETTE or The two orphans
First years of Caroline and Juliette. Miss Dorvigny. — Illness of Madame Durosel.
Madame Durosel lived in a sumptuous hotel in Paris; she had been a widow for some years, and all her affections as well as her hopes rested on her two daughters, Caroline and Juliette. Although the eldest was endowed with a gentle and agreeable countenance, her features lacked the regularity which made those of Juliette remarkable; but she possessed, in compensation for this slight advantage, of which nature had deprived her, infinitely more precious gifts.
Caroline was of a perfect gentleness, which won her the friendship of all those who knew her. She joined to it an exquisite sensibility, and had for her mother the liveliest attachment and the most tender respect. Passionate about study, and animated by religious principles, she experienced no sweeter charms and greater satisfaction than when she had accomplished all her duties. It was not the same with Juliette: frivolous and dissipated, she worried very little about the just reproaches of her mother, whom she nevertheless loved very much. Her greatest happiness consisted in seeing herself excused, by some great pleasure or by the care of her toilet, from studying her lessons or occupying herself with needlework. Madame Durosel heaved frequent sighs on noticing the great difference that existed between her two daughters; nevertheless, through the deviations to which Juliette often indulged, she had recognized in her an excellent heart, which made her hope that her daughter would come to her senses when time had calmed the ardor of young age, and that the example Caroline's continual good conduct and piety would have proved to her that there is no real happiness apart from serious thoughts and solid virtues.
Madame Durosel, possessing a considerable fortune, and accustomed by birth and by the rank she held in the world to frequent high society, could not leave it abruptly. However, she often felt that it would be wise and prudent to do so, because of Juliette, who must find continual distractions there and draw dangerous tastes from them. Well convinced of this thought, this wise and prudent mother shut herself up more than ever, since the death of her husband, in the interior of her house, avoiding as much as possible to indulge in this practice which becomes so pernicious when reason and moderation does not put a brake on it. From then on she made a choice among all her acquaintances, keeping only a few people in her society who could give her daughters examples of wisdom and piety, principles of gentle and amiable virtue. Caroline, barely twelve years old, already had all the qualities that distinguish a sensible woman; very often she received from her mother's friends the most flattering praise on her precocious and cultivated mind, on her talents, and above all on the amiable modesty which veiled her perfections without hiding them. The poor child then blushed, and was sincerely distressed at obtaining attention and preferences which seemed to diminish her sister's tenderness for her, by exciting in the young girl's heart an annoying jealousy. Caroline would have liked to be dear to Juliette as much as she loved her herself; so she often shed tears when, both of them having retired to their room, Juliette showed her nothing but coldness.
Madame Durosel had inspired her daughters, from their earliest childhood, with a love of religion. If Juliette had listened only with condemnable distraction to the pious lessons of her good mother, Caroline had silently collected all her words in her heart.
Yes, she said to herself sometimes, and when Juliette had caused her some grief, yes, my mother is right. The love of God and the peace of conscience can alone compensate for pains, and assure even here below true enjoyments. I felt much relieved of my afflictions when I bore them in expiation for the faults I commit daily. Is there a greater good than to tell oneself that one has fulfilled one's task, however difficult it has been? Is not the consoling hope of one day being rewarded in heaven a powerful spur to lead us to virtue? O Father of the afflicted, just and merciful God, she cried, her eyes wet with sweet tears, and prostrating herself on her knees, send me a ray of light, so that I may know more and more each day what I must do to obtain your protection and your divine grace.
While Caroline gave herself up to the most holy enthusiasm, Juliette thought only of the means of pleasing and prevailing over her sister in the eyes of this world in which she had hitherto placed all her affections and all her pleasures. Thus, although equally good, these two young girls followed quite opposite paths: it was up to Caroline to dispel the errors of her beloved sister. Madame Durosel had neglected nothing for the education of her daughters. Juliette had profited remarkably from the dance and music lessons she had received; she bowed gracefully, and sang with infinite charm, accompanying herself on the harp or the piano. But the works essential to a woman who was one day to become a mother, and the cares of the household, were completely foreign to her, although her mother had wisely endeavored to inspire her with a taste for them, by making her feel the need for them. Indeed, this knowledge can offer a great resource when adversity comes to order us imperiously to think of work, and they know how to make life more peaceful and sweeter to those who must live and die in the bosom of riches. Economy, order and continual surveillance in the interior of a household, are an essential part of the qualities peculiar to woman, it is a duty from which she must never deviate, because it consolidates fortune. of the one who fills him exactly, and attracts him the recognition of his husband, his children, and the general respect.
Juliette refused to understand this truth, not conceiving that Caroline could be praised for her modest and lackluster virtues, while only barely applauding the execution of a difficult piece, which testified to a brilliant way in favor of his precocious talents. Caroline found herself so gently moved when she received her good mother's approval that she neglected nothing to deserve it constantly. All her actions proved to Madame Durosel that her daughter's tastes were always in keeping with her own, and that she conformed in everything to her advice.
Among the friends who habitually frequented the hotel was a lady whom Madame Durosel had known for a very short time; an indefinable sympathy had brought together these two hearts, equally virtuous and susceptible of a deep friendship. Madame Dorvigny was about forty years old; her countenance bore the impress of the misfortunes which she had doubtless experienced, and from which she seemed to suffer constantly, in spite of her fortune, which was considerable; her face, still very beautiful, was often overshadowed by bitter memories; tears sometimes escaped from her eyes in the presence of her friends, without her being able to restrain them.
The most tender friendship has its fears, its scruples: one does not like to snatch a confidence which may bring to mind bitter pain, one expects all the time and the confidence which one will know how to inspire later. Such was Madame Durosel's position with regard to her unfortunate friend; she had never dared to ask him a question that tended to provoke a confession. She confined herself to feeling sorry for her friend, to consoling her vaguely, without trying to penetrate her secrets. Caroline, whose heart was loving and sensitive, attached herself every day to this lady, whose sorrows she strove to calm. For her part, Madame Dorvigny had well distinguished this young girl who was so remarkable for her angelic soul; she envied Madame Durosel the happiness of having such a daughter, and, finding only in this virtuous family true consolations, she ceaselessly sought the company of her friends. Very often admitted to their table, she had sometimes witnessed the charm which a child can cast upon his mother's existence. Oh! How badly does a young girl understand her interests when she blindly refuses all those pleasures which this mutual exchange of tenderness must procure for her in her turn! A mother's love, the joy one gives her, are the sweetest emotions that a sensitive heart can feel. When they have been tasted, the traces are indelible in the mind, until the end of life. Happy the child who does not have to reproach himself for his mother's grief and who does everything to soften it! it is a precious consolation reserved for him when cruel trials come to affect his destiny. Sooner or later Heaven keeps a palm to the grateful and devoted child.
Caroline, thoroughly immersed in her duties, gave her mother a taste of all the happiness she deserved. If she saw Madame Durosel given over to sadness, she immediately made the strings of her harp vibrate gaily; then, approaching her mother and embracing her tenderly, she sought to distract her from her gloomy thoughts, by speaking to her of all that she knew to be agreeable to her and of a nature to interest her. So she always managed to bring joy back to her soul and a smile to her lips.
Madame Durosel's greatest happiness was to devote herself to benevolence; she was never happier than when she managed to save a poor family from misery. Going out on foot, dressed with the greatest simplicity, she did not disdain going up to the unfortunate man's house. Accompanied by her two daughters and more often by Caroline alone, she distributed gold, which brought her a much more precious interest, according to her heart, than that which the miser, greedy to increase his treasures, derives from it. Often she refused to go to parties to which she had been invited, for the sole purpose of finishing a trousseau which she intended for some destitute mother.
Madame Durosel had poor people whom she also called her children; she was for them a tutelary angel who hovered above their existence. Caroline assisted her admirably in these various occupations so pleasing to God. One day, Mme Dorvigny was giving a party following a dinner offered to a newly arrived relative; she urged Madame Durosel and her daughters to embellish this reunion with their presence: the good mother found herself in a cruel embarrassment: it was painful for her to refuse her friend's invitation, and yet a layette not yet finished was expected on early next day, with a poor woman about to give birth. In this alternative, Madame Durosel expressed to her two daughters all the regret she felt at finding herself obliged to comply with Madame Dorvigny's wishes; she prepared her toilette, sighing and casting sad glances at the little chest which contained the trousseau intended for the poor destitute.
As she was getting into the car, another grief came to oppress her heart: Caroline complained of a sudden headache, and begged her mother not to take her to Mme Dorvigny, adding that she had nothing to worry about. of his indisposition, which could not withstand a few hours of rest. Madame Durosel wants to stay. Caroline conjures her not to cause this grief to their friend. Finally, her smile and her repeated entreaties convince her mother that she is not seriously ill, and succeed in dissipating all fear in her. Mrs. Durosel leaves quieter about her daughter's condition. Left alone, the young girl sits down near a pedestal table, and, by the light of a torch, she sets to work, to complete the trousseau that her mother intended for the beggar.
"What will my good mother's joy be to-morrow," she cried, "when she sees her work completely finished!" How happy she will be at my innocent trickery! Oh ! I am a thousand times happier at this moment than if I had been present at one of those brilliant evenings from which I have often only reported a frightful emptiness, and almost always a great deal of boredom. Midnight struck when the virtuous Caroline finished the task she had voluntarily imposed on herself. Her face was beaming with happiness as she carefully arranged her finished work in the little chest, which was to produce such a pleasant surprise for her dear mother the next day. Then she went to bed and soon fell asleep. However, Madame Durosel had remained, perhaps for the first time, sad and bored at her friend's house; the latter had inquired with tender interest of the reason which had prevented Caroline from attending her party. She had already promised herself to present her to her relative as a young person who deserved his esteem and admiration: so her grief was extreme when she learned that her protege was ill. She had to resign herself and put off for a few days the pleasure she had promised herself.
Madame Durosel went to visit her daughter as soon as she got back to the hotel. Caroline slept so soundly, the freshness of her cheeks was so vivid, the beating of her heart was so regular, that the good mother, looking at her, banished all sorts of anxiety. But what pen could accurately trace all the sweet emotions she felt when, on opening the trunk the next day, she recognized Caroline's pleasant ruse? The pious child, pressed in her mother's arms, felt the soft tears that she caused to flow down her face.
“0 mom! she exclaimed, I am well rewarded at this moment for what you call
a sacrifice. What pleasure can be worth that of making you happy? »
Juliette, present at this touching scene, had never understood Caroline's superiority over her so well; but this time she felt no jealousy. A salutary repentance crept into her heart, and when she saw her mother's eyes shining with joy, drowned in sweet tears, she advanced towards Caroline, and hugged the young girl, whose celestial virtues she admired. .
“O mamma,” she cried, “I want to imitate my sister from this day on; I want to join her, so that you can only shed tears of happiness and satisfaction. Madame Durosel, doubly joyful, pressed her two daughters to her heart.
From that day Juliette showed herself in every way similar to Caroline, to whom she showed a lively affection; she competed with her in regard and consideration for her happy mother, and ended by overcoming the disgust she had formerly felt for a retired life. Wanting to become skilful in the works she had neglected, she spent whole hours embroidering or sewing, no longer afraid to ask her sister for advice on a host of things of which she was unaware.
Juliette was beginning to taste the sweet fruits of good conduct: she showed herself less dissipated, less vain; his mother's approval and kisses were enough for his heart. For her part, Madame Durosel, in the silence of her soul, thanked God for having granted her most ardent wishes, and addressed to him the most touching thanksgiving.
However, the happiness she had enjoyed for so little time was coming to an end. Heaven, whose mysteries are impenetrable to blind humans, would not allow this sweet bliss to continue any longer. So many prosperous days and delicious hopes were to be succeeded by tears and mourning. Madame Durosel felt pains which compelled her to remain in bed. A most serious illness declared itself in a few days, and gave rise to the liveliest fears for his life.
Caroline and Juliette, reduced to despair, never left his bedside, lavishing him with the most delicate and affectionate care. Ah! it is when an unforeseen misfortune comes to threaten us that we feel regrets awakening in us, often too belatedly, for having neglected our duties. Poor Juliette, at that cruel moment when she saw death hovering over her mother's head, felt bitter but salutary remorse. How much she regretted not having always been what she had recently become! How many moments of happiness she had voluntarily lost! The sensitivity of her heart suggested to her a thousand reproaches against herself, to such an extent that she sometimes accused herself of having destroyed her mother's health by forcing her to address her reproaches, instead of the caresses that this good mother would have liked so much to lavish on him. Seeing the smile brush the lips of the dying woman each time her sister approached the bed, she felt her heart break; for she understood, by these tender demonstrations of maternal love, the difference which had existed between her and her sister for so many years. However, as she was eager to obtain at least the last marks of a tenderness which she had not always deserved, Juliette redoubled her attention and her love for her mother; it was his hand which almost always brought the cup containing the drink ordered by the doctor to the patient's mouth. Caroline was careful not to envy him this sad duty; she willingly left it to her sister to do it. The attractive young girl understood the motive which made Juliette so eager, and she liked her the more for it. Despite the efforts of those skilled in the art and the continual vigils of her two daughters, Madame Durosel's last hour was soon to strike; God had decided that he would call this angel back into his bosom.
One night, the two young girls, in deep and silent pain, anxiously awaited the effects of a calming potion, which, according to the doctor, should bring about a favorable change: sitting by the bed of pain, they succumbed in spite of themselves to the sleep, when the patient, who seemed motionless, called Caroline in that sweet voice which knew how to convey even reproaches without bitterness. "Here I am, my dear mother," cried the young girl, suppressing the sobs which escaped from her chest.
"Caroline," repeated the patient, "I feel much more oppressed, I have a weight on my heart that is suffocating me." Come closer, Caroline, so that I can talk to you without fatigue. »
The young girl put her ear to her mother's mouth. During this time Juliette, in agony, even held her breath.
“Dear child,” resumed the poor mother after a moment's silence, “it is cruel to separate me from you, my dear daughters; of you, my Caroline, who for fourteen years made me taste so many sweet joys; but God orders it, he tears me away from your love, my children. Beware of murmuring, remember that by withdrawing me from this world he must not separate us forever. There is a happier country where the dreadful heartbreaks of farewells are not known. Yes, do not doubt it, if God removes a mother from his children, it is so that from the height of heaven she will still watch over them, and prepare for them the way which must reunite them later.
“Don't cry, Caroline, and you, my Juliet, be gentle and patient, as well as resigned. Listen to me carefully, Caroline, arm yourself with courage, and call to your aid all the virtues that you always know how to practice, to hear the confessions that I must make to you at this solemn moment. You, dear Juliette, come to me too; you must know, as well as your sister, what my duty commands me to teach you. »
The two young girls, approaching the funeral bed, lend an attentive ear to what the dying woman is going to entrust to them.
After a rather long silence, Madame Durosel sought to revive her exhausted strength, and in a faint voice told the story which will be read in the following chapter.
The secret revealed. — Death of Madame Durosel.
“It will soon be seventeen years since I formed the knots of marriage; my husband, the most virtuous of men, swore at the foot of the altar to make me happy, and he kept this oath inviolably until his death. I like to remember those days spent in admirable accord and mutual tenderness. I take pleasure in paying today, my children, a last homage to his qualities; yes, never the least movement of bad humor came to cool the charm of our sweet alliance. Equally jealous of pleasing each other, we ran at will to meet our desires, we lived for each other; our days passed in peace and in the practice of Christian virtues. Two years had passed since my marriage without God having granted me the favor of becoming a mother. However, I wanted to know this happiness; I begged Heaven every day to grant me this grace. What happiness can be compared to that of being a mother, when one understands all the duties imposed by this title! Raising, forming a young soul that is close to ours by nature, seeing a little being who belongs to us grow, and who must in turn pay for the tenderness we show him with his recognition and tenderness, is a delight. that a single mother can understand and can never express well enough. Such was my deepest desire, which was soon to be granted.
“My husband found an infinite charm in benevolence, and never missed a single opportunity to exercise it. All the surplus of our fortune was used to alleviate the misery of those who, not daring to raise a complaint, die forgotten, misunderstood, without ever having obtained the help of their fellows. We loved to seek the cause of their misfortune, and very often we relieved of degradation of the unfortunates who had seen themselves disdainfully rejected from society, without however having been unworthy of it. I cannot help feeling an indescribable joy when I recall to my mind the little good that I have been able to do; these sweet thoughts spread a sweet perfume which revives the heart of a dying person. But I come back to my subject, from which I digressed for a moment.
“One evening, it was in the month of December (it was very cold that year; for a few days the snow had hardened under the feet of passers-by), alone, my husband and I, with a crackling fire, we talked to each other about the sadness and the needs of the poor, which were to increase still further due to the harshness of the season and the high cost of food. Eleven o'clock had just struck on our clock when my maid rushed into the drawing-room. My surprise was extreme when she pulled out from under her coat a little girl, about two years old, who was smiling at us in spite of the tears that darkened her eyes.
"Madame," cried Rose, laying her precious burden on the carpet by the fire, "this child no longer has a mother: do you want to become hers? ... I was coming back," she continued, "from the faubourg Saint-Germain, when, crossing the Pont-Neuf, I heard a plaintive voice which sought to attract the commiseration of passers-by. I approached the place from which she left: it was a young woman who thus invoked public compassion. She held this child in her arms: “I am dying! she said with a heartrending accent; Charitable souls, have pity on my daughter! I want to lavish help on her, the unfortunate girl falls backwards. While the crowd gathers around her, I seize her little girl, believing that I cannot better execute her last wishes than by handing over her child to you; and I hasten here, leaving to the other persons the care of giving him the last aid which his position required. I have no doubt that at this moment she has given up her soul to God. »
“I blamed Rose for her haste; I would have liked her to have stayed with the stranger until her death had become certain: for I imagined how painful it would be for this woman, in the event that Providence preserved her life, not to no longer find her child in her arms. However, happy to be able to be useful to this little girl, so pretty, so gracious, giving myself up to the seductive hope of having a young child with me who would give me the sweet name of mother, I soon felt all my scruples vanish. ; I thought only of consoling, of warming up the unfortunate young woman who was coming to me in such a miraculous way. From that moment she truly became my daughter through the love I felt for her. Dear Caroline, this child who has since rewarded me so well for my good deed, this child whom I cherish and whom I leave with so many regrets, have you not yet guessed that it is you?
Caroline, suffocated by her tears, in the height of astonishment, had prostrated herself on her knees, her soul agitated by a thousand different sensations. What light she had just acquired! What! Madame Durosel, for whom she had felt all the feelings of the most tender filial love, was bound to her only by the bond of pity! the most dreadful destiny had led her alone to this hotel, where her carefree and playful childhood had passed! What had become of his real mother? All these thoughts clashed in her head, her heart beat violently, burning tears streamed down her cheeks and fell in torrents onto her hands, which she held joined with convulsive force; for her part, Juliette shared his surprise and his pain.
“Finish, O you whom I have called my mother! exclaimed the sensitive Caroline, finish revealing to me all your benefits. Ah! if you have felt the liveliest tenderness for me, what names should I give to the feelings you have been able to inspire in me! O my mother, my friend, my excellent benefactress! do not believe that your confessions can alter the affection that I have for you. Why did you reveal this mystery to me, so cruel and so sweet at the same time? I was happy in believing myself united to you by ties of blood, and yet I am even more satisfied to add a new degree to the gratitude for which I paid for all your care. What do I know, oh my God! what was the fate of my poor parents? Ah! may the Creator postpone the end of your existence, so that I can testify to you more vividly the feelings that I have for you! Thus expressed Caroline at the height of exaltation.
While she tried to express all that was going on inside her, the dying woman tried to gather new strength to speak to her again before leaving her. "Dear child," she went on, rising with difficulty, "I sincerely desire that Heaven will allow you to learn one day who your parents were. Before appearing before our supreme judge, I must reveal to you all the wrongs of which I have been guilty. A selfishness that I cannot define otherwise than by the tenderness that I vowed to you from the moment you were put back in my arms, made me neglect to do research on the authors of your days. I could have made your existence and the place where you lived publicly known: your mother, who perhaps survived her sufferings, would have come to claim you. What must have been her despair when, coming to her senses, she no longer found you with her! This cruel idea has often destroyed the charm that your innocent caresses caused me. Several times I felt ready to confess to you what seemed to me a crime, to teach you the secret of your destiny; and always I hesitated, I differed! This is how self-love paralyzes our best resolutions. Now I deplore more than ever that I did not accomplish what duty prescribed to me, since God is calling me to himself, and you are going to find yourself alone in the world, without a name, without support. Poor Caroline! listen to what I'm going to tell you: in my secretary you'll find a little red chest, containing the calico dress and the little clothes you were wearing the day Rose, who's been dead for ten years, took you from the arms of your unfortunate mother. These objects, which I have religiously kept, will be used to convince your parents that you belong to them. Caroline is your name; that's what your mother called you when she felt faint. Now you know everything, my beloved. It remains for me to beg you to accept the sum of twenty thousand francs which I bequeath to you; you will find the document in the trunk containing your effects.
“Approach, my Juliet, my daughter; before expiring I want to tell you that my tenderness for the one you called your sister has in no way diminished that which I owed to my true daughter. I suffered a lot when I saw you insensitive to my observations. Caroline's example has succeeded in convincing you that without virtue there can be no real happiness. Has she not thus rewarded me for all that I have done for her? You owe him a lot, dear child, never forget that; promise me never to separate you from her, to follow all her wise advice and to cherish my memory, as Caroline will do. I am going to leave you, my dear daughters; I need, in order to fall asleep gently in the grave, that the pact of your eternal friendship be concluded near my deathbed.
— O my mother! exclaimed Juliette, all in tears, and embracing Caroline with effusion, I will always love her like a sister, and I will endeavor to imitate her virtues! The two young girls could add nothing, so suffocated were the tears.
"I am at peace, my children," added Madame Durosel, "since I am taking to the grave the hope of seeing you always united." Call my confessor, I need to open my heart to him again and ask God for new strength for the formidable passage that I will soon have to cross. »
Juliette hastened to obey her mother's wishes, while Caroline, still on her knees, was absorbed in the saddest reflections. The unfortunate woman foresaw that fate had in store for her harsh conditions that she was beginning to feel, and that Madame Durosel was undoubtedly going to cease to live. If the poor young girl found some alleviation of her pain, she owed it at this moment only to religion, which defends us from despair by always showing us an assured refuge in the merciful bosom of the Lord. Happy are those who, well imbued with eternal truths, know how to resign themselves to all the sufferings that the will of God imposes on them!
Juliette entered her mother's apartment, accompanied by a venerable priest. His air was melancholy, his words serious and touching. He whispered to Madame Durosel while her daughters were praying.
As long as the ceremony of holy viaticum and extreme unction lasted, their tears did not stop flowing. Plunged into a divine ecstasy, the dying woman almost no longer belonged to the earth. In this supreme moment so formidable for the wicked, the soul of the just enjoys in advance the happiness of the elect: no anguish, no remorse comes to make difficult and painful the passage from one world to another: all his thoughts are sweet and consoling; she experiences the ineffable sensations of a child about to join a beloved father.
Suddenly, awakening from a lethargic sleep, Madame Durosel had a last flash of life; his dull eyes shone with new brilliance; she hugged her children tightly to her bosom, consoled and blessed them; then his mouth murmured some unintelligible words; and, without effort, his soul escaped from its terrestrial envelope, and ascended towards the heavens.
It is impossible to express the grief felt by the two poor orphans when they saw themselves alone with their mother, over whom the funeral shroud was thrown. In vain the most affectionate consolations were lavished on them: they did not reach their hearts, a prey to the most violent despair. At the sight of this bed on which their darling mother had exhaled her last breath, their only wish, their only desire was to be reunited with her forever.
However, although Caroline was no less afflicted than Juliette, she was the first to calm down and remind her sister that it is often meritorious to contain one's pain within the bounds of reason and patience.
"Let us dry our tears, my dear Juliette," she said to her, holding her tightly in her embrace; let us remember at this moment how much she whom we regret loved to see us subject to the decrees of Providence. Let us pray, my sister, and let us resign ourselves. »
A distant relative of Juliette's father, the only one left to him, was appointed her tutor and the arbiter of the young orphan's fortune. This man, whose ambition knew no bounds, greedily accepted the guardianship of Juliette, whose great wealth, which he had to manage until the young girl came of age, offered prey to his insatiable greed as well as to his vanity. M. de Saint-Gert was about forty years old; his countenance bore the mark of the insensitivity of his heart; his manners were brusque and often brutal.
When he presented himself at the hotel to draw up an inventory of all that was there, the “two young girls could not see him without immediately feeling an involuntary dislike for him. This rude man, forgetting the respect he owed to the orphan and her companion, spoke only of the rights he had just acquired, without thinking of consoling the two young people who passed so quickly from the most complete happiness to the saddest situation.
“Come over, Juliette,” he said casually, “and tell me what you know of your late mother's disposition. As from today my wife and I have to replace her with you, we do not think we can show you our great concern better than by coming to live in this hotel, furnished in such a shabby and bizarre manner. This young girl is not your sister, I have just learned from the will; I don't understand the mania some people have for bringing strangers into their families, and perhaps more than any other, your mother has made many mistakes in her life.
"Stop, sir," cried poor Juliette indignantly, "don't profane the ashes of my virtuous mother!" Know that nothing can diminish the friendship, the tender attachment that I have for Caroline; she is truly my sister, and I hear that she shares with me the heritage of the one who named her her daughter. Such is my express will, nothing is capable of changing it. »
While speaking thus, Juliette hugged Caroline, who had just experienced such a cruel humiliation.
The insensitive tutor's only answer was to shrug his shoulders, promising himself to disregard his ward's ideas.
Such was the state of the affairs of the orphans. Shut up in their room, they abandoned themselves to sad outpourings of heart, which strengthened their affection and their veneration for the memory of the one they had lost. There, at least, they gave themselves up freely to the bitterness of their regrets, which only time could lessen. Madame Durosel's numerous friends came successively to visit them; but no one knew better than Madame Dorvigny the means of alleviating their grief. However, she was still ignorant of Caroline's secret; never a single word from the two girls had lifted the veil that hid the birth of one of them. By revealing this mystery, they would have thought they were doing an insult to their mother, who had hidden it for so long.
M. de Saint-Gert, as he had announced, took up residence in the orphan's hotel. His wife, on whom the two sisters counted on relying, showed herself in every way so similar to the tutor, that her presence became for them a new cause of affliction. This young woman combined a bad nature with vicious inclinations: to acquire wealth at the expense of her conscience and her peace of mind, such was the object of her desires. Also, without feeling any kind of affection or even esteem for her husband, she had consented to become his wife for the sole reason that he possessed a considerable fortune. So she threw herself into society, and set no limits to her whims. For his part, M. de Saint-Gert, attaching no value to the advantages of a good and virtuous heart, had at first been proud of his wife's beauty. This prestige, which had seduced him for a moment, was not long in vanishing when, shutting himself up in the interior of his household, he found there only boredom and disgust. His wife was not his friend; on the contrary, she proved to him on a thousand occasions that she had only loved his fortune in him. However, M. de Saint-Gert had succeeded in preserving an intact reputation; everyone up to that time regarded him as an honest man, although in many circumstances he had acted secretly with little delicacy.
Such was the man who had been entrusted with the guardianship of Juliette, for he was the only relative the orphan had. M. de Saint-Gert and his wife were delighted with this happy event; they promised themselves from then on to use cunning and above all the authority given them by law, to demand that the young girl conform to their slightest wishes. Caroline, two years older than Juliette, seemed to them an obstacle to what they were meditating on; having recognized in her much more reflection and judgment than in her sister, they feared the advice she might give him, enlightening him on the measures they were planning. From then on they hated poor Caroline, and neglected nothing to prove to her that she was a stranger under the hospitable roof where she had spent so many happy days. It was always with an ironic smile that they heard the tender protestations that Juliette addressed to him.
This culpable conduct did not escape Caroline, whose sensitive and loving heart she grieved; and if Juliette had not restrained her, she would have left this house forever, where she found only coldness and ironic compliments. And then, how could she have abandoned, without dying of grief, the one who lavished so much love on her, and whose features reminded her of her beloved benefactress? This effort would have been too painful for Caroline: so she suffered with resignation. Only, when she found herself alone, she gave free rein to her tears, asking God and the one she had loved so much for the favor of becoming even more patient.
Thus passed the existence of the two young orphans; having no other distractions than those which they procured for themselves, they did not neglect their talents in painting and music. They always watched with regret as mealtimes approached, when they were forced to see people they could not love. So they hastened to leave them to return to their room, where their reciprocal friendship spread an ever new charm over their solitude; there, not a thought which was not understood, not a sigh which did not have its echo. The two young girls had only one desire, it was never to be separated. If the hope of seeing her parents again, whom she had never known, made Caroline's heart beat faster, she cried aloud: "Juliette will not abandon me."
"No, my good sister," replied Juliette, who had understood her; never, never can anything separate us! »
While speaking thus, the two orphans threw themselves into each other's arms, and held each other closely embraced for a long time.
Story of Madame Dorvigny. — Unexpected discovery. Conclusion.
Juliette was becoming day by day gentler and more sensible; she continually reproached herself for not having always been what she had become. Convinced that the relations of a mother with her children still subsist after her death, she liked to believe that hers approved of all her good deeds. Each time Madame Dorvigny came to visit the two orphans, the conversation was constantly brought back to Madame Durosel; this excellent friend saw with difficulty the isolation in which the young girls persisted in remaining, and which could become unhealthy; she had sometimes succeeded in leading them on a solitary walk; but they had never consented to return to the society of which they had made the ornament and the charm. Caroline rightly thought that two young people would be very out of place in the world, no longer having their mother to accompany them there; Madame Dorvigny could only applaud such wise and modest conduct.
While the two orphans condemned themselves to retirement, it was not the same with M. de Saint-Gert and his wife; their new position allowing them to follow their disordered tastes for the expense, they reappeared in the world with more brilliance than ever: diamonds of great value and trinkets of a very high price adorned the toilet of the young woman. woman, and a lavish crew rode her to all the parties where she could shine her luxury. But this display of pomp gave much to think about to those who knew thoroughly the burdened position in which M. de Saint-Gert found himself before accepting the tutelage of Juliette. Everyone whispered as he approached; people came to feel sorry for the orphans who had been entrusted to him, and, far from attracting public consideration, he received only justly deserved contempt. It is in vain to try to impress the penetrating gaze of the public, who often judge better than they think; in vain we try to cover a bad behavior with a thick veil, we always allow others to see what we would like to hide from ourselves.
Although Madame de Saint-Gert realized that she had lost in public opinion, far from reforming her conduct, she contrived unceasingly to torment her two poor victims. One vice always leads to another, and a fatal blindness often prevents the culprit from retracing his steps. When at last he has fallen into the abyss, only then does he begin to experience repentance, alas! late and ineffective.
For his part, M. de Saint-Gert was not at ease. Seeing the deficit which a single year of mismanagement had caused to the fortune of his ward, he wanted to repair his losses by indulging in commercial operations, in speculations on the stock market, and he threw himself into it with all the more of fury that he still continued to lose.
Reflecting that the inexperienced young girl had no relative who could call her to account for management, and not supposing that justice was concerned with the interests of the orphan, he hoped, in case his projects should come to be disappointed, escape by flight from the rigor of the laws.
While he thus indulged in excesses of all kinds, and marched with great strides towards his ruin, the two young orphans, whom a deplorable misfortune had entrusted to his care, remained plunged in sadness and loneliness. . However, he enveloped all his actions in profound mystery; the more he compromised Juliette's future, the more dissimulation he displayed: in order not to arouse her suspicions, he became attentive and attentive to his ward.
These subterfuges did not escape Caroline; although still very young, she possessed a discernment and a tact which took the place of experience. After trying to find out where such an extraordinary change came from, she came to suspect that Juliette's interests were seriously compromised. Rightly alarmed at this discovery, she resolved to draw from Madame Dorvigny's wisdom and friendship advice on the conduct she should adopt in such circumstances.
One evening when she was absorbed in her thoughts, Madame Dorvigny came to visit the orphans; as soon as she had embraced the two sisters, she could not restrain her tears; her pain, so long suppressed, sought to escape from her oppressed chest. Seeing her so sadly afflicted, Caroline withheld her confidences to concern herself only with her friend; she would very much have liked to know the sorrows of this lady, the more surely to offer her consolations. For her part, Madame Dorvigny wanted to break the silence she had imposed on herself towards them: she burned to pour out her soul into that of these young people, who seemed bound to understand her.
Nothing could result from the confidence that she was going to give them anything but relief for his heart: it is so sweet to shed tears when a friendly hand has to wipe them away! "My dear friends," she said, heaving a bitter sigh, "it is in vain that I have kept until this day a profound silence on the sufferings which overwhelm me. I can no longer conceal my misfortunes from you. You see in me the most unfortunate woman who has ever lived!
- Oh! talk, talk! cried Caroline. Deign to tell us what afflicts you. May we succeed in restoring you a little calm! »
Madame Dorvigny wiped away her tears and spoke thus:
“I am the daughter of a wealthy lawyer from Marseille. I never knew my mother; but I had the best of fathers. My happy childhood passed in ease and peace. My father was my only teacher; he sought to inspire me, with a taste for virtue, a taste for the sciences. We both enjoy the summer in a charming property located a few kilometers from the city, in a delightful site, in the shade of the fig trees which border a river with clear, silvery waters. It was there that he took pleasure in instructing me; he uplifted and strengthened my young heart, teaching me to distrust myself and to rely entirely on him for the care of my destiny, so that I did nothing without consulting him, and all his thoughts were the mine. I can tell you, my dear friends, I pushed filial love to the point of enthusiasm and self-abnegation. Oh ! how much is enough for the soul, this virtuous feeling which makes us consecrate all our love to our parents! Yes, my father, the love which snatched you from my tenderness has still not been able to stifle the joy which the memory of my youth causes in me. They are always present in my thoughts, these days so gently passed under your benevolent protection. Nothing can destroy its charm; my last sigh will be for you and for another being no less dear to my heart. You see, my friends, I like to rest on the first years of my existence. So many others have succeeded bringing me nothing but disappointment and despair!
“So I was completely happy then; my father's idol and treasure, his Amélie was necessary to his happiness. He taught me Latin, geometry and some sciences for which he had recognized in me a pronounced taste.
“My progress was rapid, and I obtained flattering encouragement from several men of letters friends of my father. Sitting on their knees, I was the object of their admiration and astonishment. But if the votes I obtained there flattered my young pride, it was because they gave my father inexpressible pleasure. My eyes, constantly turned towards his when I answered the various questions which were addressed to me, sought to read in advance the satisfaction that my answers were going to cause him. Versification was also taught to me by him, and I liked to express in my verses all my religious and melancholy sentiments. I often went to sit under the thick pines which raise their majestic tops to the sky; I made the echoes of my poetic and inspired accents resound. If sometimes my father happened to surprise me, he smiled gently and said to me: “Good, good, my Amélie! I like to see you so studious and thoughtful; science and religion, my daughter, give us an infinite charm, even in the midst of the cruellest adversity. Then he hung me on his arm, and we returned gaily to our house.
"I had reached my adolescence: fifteen years of unalloyed happiness had passed like a dream, and the moment was already approaching when I was to pay for my happiness with bitter tears. Introduced by my father to the best clubs in the city, I was received there with flattering affability and distinction. Soon I made the acquaintance of M. Dorvigny there. Although he belonged to a distinguished family and was to inherit a considerable fortune after his parents' death, he was, however, little equipped to ensure the happiness of the wife he was to choose. He joined to a brusque and impulsive character the most insensitive soul; deceitful and dissembling, he placed in the forefront of what he called qualities the art of skilfully deceiving. Despite such pronounced vices, no one suspected his bad conduct, which he took care to hide under an apparent frankness. It is sometimes enough in the world to have gold to possess all the desirable virtues. He was received with favor in the societies where my father and I had received each other, and very often I saw mothers wanting him to condescend to cast their eyes on their daughters.
“M. Dorvigny, accustomed from his earliest childhood to follow his bad inclinations, later gave himself up to it without reserve, and his tastes became passions. It was thus that he abandoned himself without measure to the habit of gambling, the most fatal of all, since it destroys, in the heart which it gnaws at, even the last germ of sensibility.
“I had the misfortune to please this man, either because my air of gentleness made him hope to find in me only a complacent and resigned victim, or because the dowry that my father reserved for me satisfied his ambition. He began to seek me with a constancy which touched my virtuous father, too frank and too honest a man to suspect of falsity the one who implored his esteem and his friendship as a grace, and the hand of his daughter as a pledge of his future happiness. . Nevertheless my father, having at heart to see me happy, inquired about M. Dorvigny. Alas! they were all in accordance with his wishes. Thus a barbarous destiny threatened to overtake me. I had to endure it in all its rigor. My father loved M. Dorvigny; he always repeated that he would consider himself happy to see me united to him: this desire which my father expressed became a law to which I resolved to submit; I hid from him the antipathy which I felt for this man, and which I reproached myself with as an injustice.
“With a smile on my lips and the saddest presentiments in my heart, I uttered the fatal yes which chained me to him forever. I think I still hear the voice of my tender father, who said to him, placing my hand in his: “I give you my only treasure; Amélie is sweet and good like the angels; make her happy! »
“M. Dorvigny wanted to parry the victim whom he attached to his destiny; he showered me with magnificent presents which he thought suited to the tastes of a young person. Little envious of shining, foreign to the coquetry of the ladies of high society, I only wished to find in my husband a friend, and to see him respond to the affection which my duty commanded me to bear him. It didn't take long for me to see all the dreams of happiness that I had once formed vanish. Never the slightest word of sweetness charmed my ear; I kept wondering how my husband had chosen me for his companion. Alas! I learned it too much later!
“I will quickly glide over the account of my misfortunes. These sad details, my dear friends, would afflict your sensitive souls, and would only serve to reopen still bleeding wounds. Our fortune was being dissipated day by day by the disorders, the prodigalities, and the fatal passion of M. Dorvigny. The death of his parents, which left him master of his property, only increased our distress, allowing him to dissipate our last resources. Misery was at our doorstep, its gloomy appearance did not stop my husband on the edge of the precipice into which he had no doubt sworn to plunge us. My poor father, overwhelmed with regrets and sorrows, died two years after my marriage, and left me without strength and without courage. Most of my time was spent in prayer. This elevation of my soul to God, if it did not calm my too just pain, at least prevented me from giving myself up to despair.
“About this time I became a mother. I received this favor from Heaven with inexpressible gratitude. When my first transports had calmed down, I shuddered with fear when I thought of the unhappy fate that was reserved for my child, and I did not know whether I should rejoice or grieve at having given birth to him. My daughter was only fifteen months old when my husband, pursued by numerous creditors, despised by all honest people, resolved to flee his native town and settle in Paris, where he hoped to be able to rebuild his fortune.
“So the three of us set out, and we arrived almost helpless in the capital. Locked up with my daughter in a small attic, I sought consolation in the tender words she already knew how to stutter. This name of mother, which she gave me, imposed on me the duty of making myself worthy of it and of living for it. I tried to hold back my tears, which seemed to distress the sweet little creature.
“I hoped his love would make my future less cruel. We had been living in Paris for several months; and M. Dorvigny, carried away from us by new acquaintances, seemed to forget that we existed to suffer and lack everything.
“If I ever complained about his absence, it was only because I was on the verge of starving to death and being thrown out of the garret for which he had neglected to pay the rent.
“What I feared happened. One evening the owner, without pity for my tears and my despair, threw me inhumanely at the door. For two days I had not taken any food, reserving for my daughter the little food that I could get... My head lost, my clothes in disarray, holding in my arms the only good I had left on earth. , I walked through the streets of Paris, imploring the pity of passers-by, who remained deaf to my sad complaints. I was exhausted with need and grief; my legs gave way, I fell unconscious...”
Then Madame Dorvigny covered her face with both hands, unable to finish, so suffocated was her sobs. Caroline, bewildered, agitated, awaited with inexpressible anxiety the continuation of this story.
“Finish! complete! exclaimed the young girl with exaltation. You fainted, and when you regained your senses, your daughter, your little Caroline was no longer with you! Isn't that how it all happened?
- What do I hear! exclaimed Madame Dorvigny; who disclosed this mystery to you, my dear friend?” And she looked at her with piercing, questioning eyes... "It's true that I couldn't find her again, and, like you, her name was Caroline...
- My mother ! O my good mother! exclaimed Caroline; there she is, your daughter! I am that child who was taken from you. Press me to your heart! Ah! I need your hugs.
"Isn't this still a dream that is about to vanish, a happiness that we will have to renounce?" replied Madame Dorvigny. Are you telling the truth? are you not deceiving me? Don't play with the pain of a poor mother! So you are not Madame Durosel's daughter and Juliette's sister? »
While Madame Dorvigny was thus multiplying her questions, she covered Caroline's face with her tears and burning kisses.
“No, no, I am not deceiving you, my good mother,” replied Caroline, placing on her mother's knees the little calico dress she was wearing the day Madame Dorvigny lost her; then she related all that Madame Durosel had taught her on her deathbed.
The happy mother, convinced of such a sweet truth, did not know how to express her gratitude to Juliette's mother, who had taken care of her child and had made her so good and so perfect. Juliette, as happy as Caroline, was embraced in turn by her friends, who showered her with the most touching marks of affection.
When the first transports of their joy had subsided a little, Madame Dorvigny wanted to continue the narration of what had happened to her since her daughter had been taken from her.
“From now on,” she said to Caroline, looking at her lovingly, “my misfortunes are repaired; all that I have suffered is forgotten, since my Caroline has been restored to me. Go, nature is not deceptive, I see it today. Drawn to you by an irresistible inclination, I preferred your presence and your friendship to all the pleasures that could be offered to me; but it was impossible for me to suppose that Madame Durosel's daughter was the child who had been taken from me. O just and good God! you didn't want to allow me to leave this world before knowing the sweet caresses of my daughter! I am going, my child, to instruct you rapidly in all that remains for me to teach you. Desperate that I had been brought back to life, since you had been taken from me, I made the air resound with my heart-rending cries; I called you, my Caroline, and no one returned you to my tenderness. All I could learn about your fate was that a woman had taken you away. However, I did not lose hope: you existed, and from then on I could find you one day. “A passer-by who had taken care of me during my fainting wanted to know the cause of my distress. I informed him of my misfortunes; he was touched by it, and offered to give me refuge with him, assuring me that I would become useful to him. This man, already very old, was endowed with a noble and generous heart; he was alone, without relatives, and possessor of a considerable fortune. My company became agreeable to him; he became attached to me by esteem and compassion, and, wishing to calm my maternal pains, he caused notices to be inserted in the Paris newspapers which were to inform those who had kidnapped you that your mother still existed. The years passed without any light being given to me on your fate.
“I never saw your father again; but my benefactor, having had the kindness to inquire about him, learned that he was in the most dreadful destitution, and that, not knowing what to do to get a piece of bread, he was obliged to exercise a profession manual. What a lesson for all those who would like to imitate him! One day when I was sadder than usual, and was waiting for my protector, whose long absence inspired me with some fear, I perceived, when he returned, that his noble face was pale, that he seemed agitated.
“— Madame, he said to me, take courage and resign yourself.
" - Good Lord ! I exclaimed, you know news of my daughter! She may no longer be! Deign to finish...
“'No, no, I don't know anything about your child, but it's about your husband; he has just ended his life: he ended as his behavior would lead one to presume, he breathed his last in the hospital! »
“At this news, I could not hold back my tears. Yes, I made your father cry, Caroline: this title made him dear to me.
“I was free, and, but for the grief your disappearance caused me, I could have thought myself happy and at peace. The honest man who lavished so much generous help on me, and whose esteem and friendship I had acquired, sought to make me forget my misfortunes by constant consideration and delicate consideration. But a very sharp sorrow was still reserved for me. As I told you, my benefactor was old and infirm; his strength declined daily, to the point that he was soon forced to stay in bed until his death. I did not leave him for a moment, and he seemed satisfied with my gratitude and my concern for his health.
“He died making me his universal legatee. I therefore saw myself mistress of an honorable fortune, which I received with joy, because I still retained the hope of finding you again. I sought in the exercise of benevolence touching consolations: I had known misfortune too well not to sympathize with that of others. I lived isolated from the world, and, despite the care I took to avoid new acquaintances, God allowed me to feel drawn to Madame Durosel. Ah! why did I not deposit in his heart the burden of my sorrows! For two years, Caroline, I would call you my daughter! Madame Dorvigny, finishing her speech, hugged her darling daughter in her arms and held her there for a long time. Then Caroline informed her mother of the sad state of affairs of Juliette, whom she always called her sister.
“O my mother! she said to Madame Dorvigny, try to protect her interests. It's time to do him justice. Madame Dorvigny was getting up to take care of the orphan's business, when a servant came running up saying that Monsieur de Saint-Gert and his wife had fled, taking all the money they had been able to get. . This news dismayed Madame Dorvigny and the young people. Juliette no longer owned anything but the hotel where she lived. While she was lamenting her misfortune, Caroline presented her with the contract for twenty thousand francs that Madame Durosel had given her.
"It's yours too," she told him, kissing him. Juliette can count on my protection and my tenderness, added Madame Dorvigny; I am the most fortunate of mothers: I had lost a child, and I find two again. May I, my dear Juliette, return to you the care that your mother lavished on Caroline! From this moment you are my daughter, and you will never leave me. »
Then Madame Dorvigny pressed the young girl to her heart, and all her life she strove to console her for the cruel loss she had suffered, by taking her place of mother and showering her with care and friendship.